By Dr. Sohail Ansari
Sister Gertrude Lemmens, founder of Darul Sukun: She was the Angel of Karachi and ‘mama’ to the residents of Darul Sukun.Born on 14 July 1914 in Venray, Netherlands, she departed on 30 October 2000 in Karachi.She was the daughter of a Dutch factory manager and was engaged to be married to a university professor in the Netherlands. She arrived to Karachi in October 1939 at the age of 25 to visit her brother, Fr. Salesius Lemmens. He was the Apostolic Prefect of the Catholic Church in Karachi and died in 1942 at the age of 39 in a drowning accident. Having seen the plight of the poor and following her brother’s death she decided to stay back to continue her brother´s mission for special children and broke off her engagement. She joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Christ the King.
She was a nun, a midwife and a teacher of English at Christ the King School.She first returned to her native country in 1957, some 18 years after she left it.In 1969, when Archbishop Joseph Cordeiro of Karachi bought single-storey property on Kashmir Road for setting up a school, she convinced him to turn over the property to her so that she could start a home for children with special needs. Darul Sukun was, thus, founded on 17th February 1969.In 1970 she again travelled back to Holland and made TV appearances and newspaper appeals for aid for the struggling home. She successfully obtained help from philanthropists and Dutch companies like KLM. The home was supported by the Dutch people with approximately half a million euro raised to finance the project between 2004 and 2008.
The queen of the Netherlands presented an award to Sister Lemmens in 1975. The government of Pakistan awarded its own Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam to her in 1989.