A PRIEST who helped Mother Teresa of Calcutta nurse the dying returns to her home city of Durham today (Monday, February 4) to be sworn in as a freeman.

The Reverend Joan Donkin, who has served for the last decade in a parish some 70 miles west of Stockholm, Sweden, will follow in the footsteps of her 94-year-old dad, Norman, when she is installed as a member of the 400-year-old joiners’ guild.

Rev Donkin said: “All in all, becoming a member of the joiners’ guild seems very fitting, especially since my heavenly boss started his life alongside his father in a carpentry shop.”

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Rev Donkin went to India in the 1970s with the Anglican Church to help build up schools on the pavements of Calcutta for children of poor families living in cardboard homes and it was there she first met Mother Teresa.

She added: “Mother Teresa came to the cathedral and when she found out what I was doing invited me help at a home for the dying where she was involved.”

The City of Durham Freemen’s oldest guilds and companies are believed to date back to 1327 and until last February had been an all-male institution for nearly 700 years.

A change in laws governing admission allowed the first women to be admitted a year ago. Among five others being sworn in today are sisters Susan Lyle and June MacKay who will be following their brother, father, uncle and grandfather into the drapers’ guild.

Susan and husband John have worked as steward and stewardess at the Durham City Golf Club for the past 20 years while June, who lives in Darlington, is a retired teacher.

Heather Forster and her 19-year-old student son Jonathon, who live near Chester-le-Street, will also be strengthening long-standing family ties when they join the butchers’ guild.

Heather’s husband Guy is already a member and her father, retired policeman John Stout, is warden of the guild.

Another newcomer, Eric Bulmer, from Brandon, is a retired head of construction and engineering at Newcastle College, who trained with a well-known decorating firm in the Durham City between 1956 and 1961.