Sister Philomena at the hospice Christmas party
A Kilkenny nun has been publicly lauded by Queen Elizabeth for her pastoral work with prisoners and her care for the terminally ill and their families.
Sister Philomena Purcell was born in Mullinavat before moving to England in the 1950s, where she joined the Ursuline order. The 77-year-old has been working with prisoners at Chelmsford Prison since 2002 while also working one day a week at the St Francis Hospice in Essex.
After retiring as a teacher in 2001, she joined the chaplaincy service in Her Majesty’s Prison in Chelmsford.
She has now been awarded the British Empire Medal. She also received her second High Sherriff’s Award for Lifetime Achievement, the first awarded 10 years previously for her work on Fathers Inside, a training programme helping prisoners become better fathers.
“Sister Philomena is the longest-serving member of the chaplaincy team at HMP Chelmsford,” said prison governor, Rob Davis.
“She continues to offer exceptional service to both staff, prisoners, and the community at the age of 77 with an enthusiasm and energy seldom seen in people 30 years younger.
“Sister Philomena is an extraordinary woman and has always had a knack of knowing when perhaps I have been distracted or am slightly low in mood,” he added.
“She has a natural gift for raising people’s spirits and uses this for the benefit of all. and is a great advocate for all the prisoners of all religions and none. Chelmsford prisoners have a great respect and love for her.”
Her co-workers in St Francis Hospice in Essex, said that they were thrilled for ‘Sister Philomena’, adding that she was very deserving of this award.