South Koreans seek to recommend Austrian nuns for Nobel prize for lifetime service to leprosy patients

By Catherine Chung
  • Published : Aug 7, 2017 - 14:36
  • Updated : Aug 8, 2017 - 09:55
South Korea's provincial government is moving to launch a committee to recommend two Austrian nuns who worked for local leprosy patients for 40 years for the Nobel Peace Prize, officials said Monday.

The envisioned committee will campaign for Marianne Stoeger, 82, and Margareta Pissar, 81, who devoted their life to the treatment of leprosy patients on South Korea's most famous leper colony of Sorok Island off the country's southern coast.

The campaign has been led by the government of South Jeolla Province and the archdiocese in the southwestern city of Gwangju. 

In this photo released by the Goheung municipality on Aug. 7, 2017, sister Marianne Stoeger (C, front) from Austria poses for a photo with people including President Moon Jae-in (2nd from R, front), then former leader of the ruling Democratic Party, after receiving honorary citizenship of the southwestern South Korean town on May 16, 2016. (Yonhap)

They have discussed the establishment of a 50-member committee and recently agreed to push to appoint former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik as the head of the committee and first lady Kim Jung-sook as its honorary head.

On Monday Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon relayed the proposal to the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, which gave a positive response, the officials said.

The prime minister, a former South Jeolla governor, has shown keen interest in the two nuns.

Lee asked Kim Youn-joon, a priest of the cathedral on the island, to show a documentary about their life to government officials.

After graduating from the nursing college of the University of Innsbruck, the two women came to the island in 1962 and 1966, separately, upon hearing that the colony was in need of nurses. They resided on the island for more than 40 years to work at the National Sorok Island Hospital before returning to their home country in 2005.

Despite their long years of duty, the two, often called "the Angels of Sorok Island," did not receive any remuneration for their service and only devoted themselves to caring for leprosy patients there.

According to the officials who met them in Austria in June this year, the two are currently in a healthier condition than worried, though Marianne developed cancer a few years ago and Margaeta is suffering a mild case of dementia.

The government presented them with medals in 1972, 1983 and 1996 for their contributions to the country and awarded them certificates of honorary South Korean citizenship in June this year.

The Sorok colony was founded on the small island in 1916 during Japan's colonial rule of Korea (1910-1945), as they attempted to quarantine patients with leprosy. Infected people were rounded up and taken to the island for isolation and treatment.

The South Korean government forced them to remain there until 1963, nearly two decades after Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Hundreds of people who suffered from the disease still reside on the island even after having been cured.