A Church of Scotland missionary from the Lothians who has spent most of her life in Pakistan is to be honoured with a prestigious award in her adopted country.
Catherine Nicol was born in Haddington, East Lothian, in December 1935.
She was educated at the town’s Knox Academy and Dollar Academy, in Clackmannanshire, before studying at Edinburgh University, where she graduated with an MA before training as a teacher at Moray House.
Appointed a missionary of the Church of Scotland in April 1960, she sailed to Pakistan ten months later, serving in Gujrat and Sialkot but also at Murree Christian School.
Over a 50-year period, Catherine worked with and influenced thousands of girls and young women, many of them from poor and underprivileged backgrounds.
In 2001, she retired and returned to Scotland. The then-convener of the board of World Mission – the employment body within the Church of Scotland – spoke of Catherine’s “amazing record of service” and her “tremendous commitment and dedication” at that year’s General Assembly. She was then awarded an MBE by the Queen “for services to the local community, Sialkot, Pakistan”.
So deep was her commitment to the people of Sialkot that she returned to Pakistan after fulfilling her obligations in Scotland, and has been there ever since.
Now she is set to receive the Tamgha-e-Quaid-e-Azam – Medal of the Great Leader – from Pakistan’s president. The honour is a civil award conferred by the government on those who have attained academic distinction.
Andrew McLellan, convener of the Church of Scotland’s World Mission Council, visited Pakistan last year and witnessed first-hand Catherine’s work.
He said: “She lives in a girls’ hostel. I sat at her table and watched an unstoppable flow of people coming in and out all day with problems, questions and requests.
“These were not trivial matters. Often the safety of a very vulnerable child was at stake. With patience and cheerfulness and in flawless Urdu, as far as I could tell, Catherine listened, thought and acted over and over again.
“This is very exciting for us as this is a very high level of recognition indeed and the whole Church of Scotland should be celebrating this. She did try to retire and move back to Scotland but found it impossible. That shows you the dedication she feels towards the people there.”
Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the High Commissioner for Pakistan in London, added: “We are very proud that Catherine Nicol has won this award. We need more great people like her and there can be no doubt that the contribution she has made has been immense, irrespective of one’s religious beliefs.”