Sister Gertrude (Truus) Lemmens (14 July 1914, Venray, Netherlands - 30 October 2000, Karachi, Pakistan), was a Dutch nun and founder of Darul Sukun, a home for the mentally handicapped in Karachi, Pakistan.
She was the sister of Fr. Salesius Lemmens OFM who served the city of Karachi from the mid-1930s until his death in 1942.
In October 1939, at the age of 25, Gertrude Lemmens, traveled from her hometown of Venray, the Netherlands, to visit her brother, Fr. Salesius Lemmens OFM, who was a missionary priest serving what, at that time, were the Sindh and Baluchistan provinces of India, but today are part of Pakistan. She arrived on November 1 of that year, and she accompanied him for a month on his rounds of social work in under-privileged communities. She came to be tremendously moved by how poor and needy the people were. After her return to her homeland, she felt compelled to live in a way which helped those in such poverty as she had come to know. She returned to India and joined the only indigenous religious institute of Sisters in the region, the Franciscan Missionaries Sisters of Christ the King.
She then made a commitment to the dispossessed of the country, touring the slums and reaching out with heart and mind to anybody who needed her help. She would teach at Christ the King School in Khudadad Colony in the morning and would go out to do social work in the slums of the city in the afternoons. She was particularly concerned with the treatment of the mentally retarded, the real victims in the vicious pecking order of society. Because of the outbreak of World War II, communication with her homeland had become difficult, and she was able to return for a visit only in 1957. It was an experience which strengthened her commitment to the suffering of the new nation of Pakistan.
In 1969 Archbishop Joseph Cordeiro, then the head of the Archdiocese of Karachi, bought a single-story property on Kashmir Road to start an English School. Sister Gertrude convinced him instead to let her utilize the property as a home for the metally handicapped. He agreed, and Darul Sukun was created.
Sister Gertrude accepted anyone and everyone, so that, far from being simply a home for the mentally handicapped, Darul Sukun became a beacon of hope for all in need. Orphans, the old and destitute, the physically handicapped, disfigured babies all came to the house or were deposited on its doorstep. Realizing that one center could not possibly cope with such diverse demands, Darul Sukun spawned a network of homes including a home for orphan boys called Dugout, one for the old and destitute called Peace Haven, and Janiville for children from broken homes. A chapter of the home for the physically handicapped operates in Lahore.
In 1970 Sister Gertrude again traveled back to Holland and made TV appearances and newspaper appeals for aid for the struggling home. With help from philanthropists and Dutch companies like KLM, they managed to scrape by. The home continues to be supported by the Dutch people with approximately half a million euro being collected to finance the project between 2004 and 2008.
Since 2000 Sister Ruth Lewis has been in charge of the institution.
Awards and recognition
In time, Sister Gertrude came to be described as the "Mother Teresa of Pakistan " or the Angel of Karachi. In recognition of her work for the homeless, the needy and the handicapped, she received the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam (Order of the Great Leader) on March 23, 1989 from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, one of the highest honors given to foreign nationals. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto attended the ceremony.
Sister Gertrude died in October 2000, and was buried on November 1, which was the sixty-fourth anniversary of her first arrival in the country. According to an obituary, her colleagues described her as loveable, warm and full of humour. "Her face beamed from pictures on the mantle in the lounge of Darul Sukun".