At the St Mary's University graduation ceremony at Westminster Cathedral on 17th July, Cardinal Vincent presented the Benedict Medal, the university's highest honour, to Sr Berchmans in recognition of a lifetime's teaching and promoting interfaith relations.
Sr Berchmans joined the Convent of Jesus and Mary in 1951 in Willesden and has spent over 65 years teaching, mostly in Pakistan, where she taught students of different faiths at the Convents of Jesus and Mary in Lahore, Murree and Karachi.
Among her pupils were Benazir Bhutto, the first female Muslim Prime in the world, and MIT astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala.
Calling Sr Berchmans a 'constant inspiration to many generations of teachers and student', the Cardinal said in his homily that she 'is a shining example of all that is to be found at the heart of Catholic education: not a narrow self-interest but a radical openness to our human family'.
He added: 'Our desire is always to offer all that is best to whoever will come, contribute and receive, wherever there is space and opportunity, which is not easy to achieve in some present circumstances. This, of course, is the vision of Catholic education that shapes St Mary’s University: committed to the common good of society, open to other faiths in dialogue and respect, firm in its foundations of service and truth, generous in the personal effort invested in the work.'
Indeed Sr Berchmans was awarded the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam, one of the highest civil honours by the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in 2012, for the 'great contribution she has made to the well-being of that country,' as the Cardinal explained.
Many of her pupils in Karachi, where Sr Berchmans currently teaches, and their parents wrote to the Cardinal 'asking that St Mary’s recognise Sister’s dedication and achievements with a great award'.
Sr Berchmans is only the fifth recipient of the award, named in honour of Pope-Emeritus Benedict.
Also present at the ceremony were two important guests with links to Sr Berchmans' life. Representing the Republic of Ireland, where Sr Berchmans was born in 1930, was Ambassador Adrian O'Neill. Representing Pakistan was High Commissioner, Mohammad Nafees Zakaria. They are pictured in the photo with Sr Berchmans and the Cardinal.