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Ruth Pfau (1929 – 2017)

by Legacy Staff

Pakistan’s Mother Theresa aided fight against leprosy…

Ruth Pfau, a German-born nun who was known as the Mother Theresa of Pakistan for devoting her life to efforts to rid that country of leprosy, died Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, in Karachi, Pakistan. She was 87.

Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau was born Sept. 9, 1929, in Leipzig, Germany. After World War II, when Russia occupied East Germany, she and her family, including a brother and four sisters, escaped to West Germany.



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In 1949, she began to study medicine at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. She felt unfulfilled, however, so she joined a Roman Catholic order, the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. The order sent her to India, but she became stuck in Karachi because of a visa issue.

As a result of the snafu, Pfau ended up dedicating the last 50 years of her life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan. She became known as the Mother Theresa of Pakistan, a reference to Mother Theresa of India, the nun and missionary who became a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Mother Theresa, who died in 1997, was canonized Sept. 4, 2016.

Pfau first witnessed leprosy, an infectious disease that affects the skin and other organs of the body, in Karachi.

“Well if it doesn’t hit you the first time, I don’t think it will ever hit you,” she told the BBC in 2010.

“Actually, the first patient who really made me decide was a young Pathan. He crawled on hands and feet into this dispensary, acting as if this was quite normal, as if someone has to crawl there through that slime and dirt on hands and feet, like a dog.”

In 1996, the World Health Organization declared that Pakistan had the disease under control, one of the first Asian countries to do so.

In 2010, she was awarded Pakistan’s high civil honor, the Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam, for public service.

In 2012, Pfau received a Bambi award during a presentation at the Stadthalle Duesseldorf in Germany. Bambi media awards go to people “with vision and creativity who affected and inspired the German public” during the award year, according to the award sponsors. The award is named for the character in German author Felix Salten’s book “Bambi, A Life in the Woods” that inspired the famous Walt Disney animated film “Bambi.”

She also was awarded Germany’s Order of Merit in 1969.

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