2018 AANF Humanitarian Award Recipient: Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart

The Assyrian American National Federation Humanitarian Award was established to recognize extraordinary Assyrian leaders who have made outstanding contributions locally or internationally to humanitarian causes.

Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart was born and raised in Kirkuk, Iraq, where she lived through four wars—one of them the Iran-Iraq War. She was only thirteen when it started, but she was not spared the horrors of war: Her middle school was bombed, and she recalls the dead that suddenly surrounded her, including her classmates and teachers.

As a teenager, she was a volunteer with the Assyrian Church of the East, where she says there were multiple funerals each day. In a 2014 interview with Aleteia, she said, “They used to bring burned, dead bodies from the war zone. We couldn’t even identify them...I used to watch family members come close to identify their loved ones: a new bride, pregnant, who spent just a month with her husband before he was deployed, coming to identify her husband and she couldn’t even see his face because they just brought the lower part of his body, hearing all these words, witnessing the sorrow and grief of my people, year after year.”

In 1993, Mother Olga started a lay movement called Love Your Neighbor, inviting young men and women from Christian and Muslim communities to serve the needs of the poor in Iraq. Two years later, she established the order of Marth Maryam Sisters—Missionaries of the Virgin Mary, the first order for religious sisters in the Assyrian Church of the East in 700 years.

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and Hematology from Erbil University in Iraq and a Master’s in Philosophy and Theology from Babylon College, which is affiliated with the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome. She also has a diploma in Islamic studies and a certificate in the Theology of the Body. In her homeland, Mother Olga was involved in pastoral ministry for college students and youth in parishes throughout Iraq. She also served prisoners, homeless, elderly, and handicapped of war for many years. The Iraqi government gave her a humanitarian award for her service to the poor.

She came to the United States in 2001 to continue her studies, obtaining her Master’s Degree in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College. But, when her host country invaded her homeland, she returned to Iraq and ministered to Iraqi people and American troops. Mother Olga said she felt it was part of her calling to serve as a bridge between communities. “I work to build bridges between Christians and Muslims, so we can rebuild our country and heal the wounds of our people from those wars,” she said in a 2016 interview.

Mother Olga was received into the Roman Catholic Church on September 8, 2005, making her perpetual vows in December later that year. She served as a part-time campus minister at Boston University for six years, where she became known as “Blue Lightning,” a reference to her boundless yet intensely-focused energy. In 2010, she was named the university’s Catholic Chaplain, the second woman to ever hold that position.

Mother Olga continues to be recognized for her service to those in need. In 2008, she received the Religious Sister of the Year Award at Boston Catholic Women’s Conference. In 2010, she received the Saint Paul the Apostle Award from the Archdiocese of Boston, and a year later received an honorary Scarlet Key Award from Boston University.

With the blessing of Cardinal Séan Patrick O’Malley, Mother Olga founded a new religious community of sisters in the Archdiocese of Boston called the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth in 2011. She continues to serve vulnerable communities.

Mother Olga is known for her efforts to build bridges among war-torn communities and heal wounds that keep neighbors divided. Her work has touched the lives of so many and has had a tremendous impact worldwide.