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In Memoriam

Sir Sigmund Sternberg (1921-2016)

The John Templeton Foundation mourns the passing of 1998 Templeton Prize Laureate Sir Sigmund Sternberg, a tireless force for interfaith dialogue over five decades, on October 18 at the age of 95.

Sternberg, a Hungarian-born businessman and philanthropist who made his fortune in the metals industry and real estate, was the former Chairman of the Executive Committee of the International Council of Christians and Jews, founder of the Sternberg Centre for Judaism in London, and, with Rev. Marcus Braybrooke and Dr. Zaki Badawi, co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum in 1997.

His quiet diplomacy played a critical role in relocating a Carmelite convent at Auschwitz in 1993, helping to organize the first-ever papal visit to a synagogue in 1986, and cultivating links between the Vatican and Jewish leaders which led to the recognition of the State of Israel by the Holy See in 1993.

Sternberg was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1976 for his charitable and political services. He was named a Knight Commander of the Pontifical and Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 1985. Sternberg’s wife, Lady Hazel, who died in 2014, was named Dame of the Pontifical Order of St. Sylvester in 1997, the first Jewish woman ever to be made a Papal Dame.

Sir Sigmund Sternberg (1921-2016)
Lady Hazel Sternberg with Sir Sigmund Sternberg as he receives the 1998 Templeton Prize from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace, with the Rev. Wilbert Forker, former executive director of the Prize.
Credit: Templeton Prize/Clifford Shirley

At the 1998 Prize news conference held at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York, Sternberg said: “It is time for religion to come out of the church, the synagogue, the mosque, the temple and to create bonds between people which, while it is recognized that all religions have their own truths, and these shall be unassailable, there is a sense of a spirit which soars above all else and which, if harnessed, could contribute to the creation of caring societies as nothing else could.”

Speaking at the Templeton Prize public ceremony later that year at the United Nations General Assembly building in New York, Dr. Jack Templeton noted that “Sir Sigmund has pioneered and proved inter-religious dialogue as a new force for reconciliation and the understanding of God. He has pointed to the need for a much more effective holistic cooperative work for peace and justice, for dynamic ethics and renewed spirituality. He is bringing his vision of ‘Shalom’ to make religion not a constraint, but a liberating and reconciling force.”

In a statement released on October 19, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the 2016 Templeton Prize Laureate, said: “Sir Sigmund Sternberg was an irresistible, indefatigable force for good interfaith relations - a one-man campaign for reconciliation between Christians, Muslims and Jews. Endlessly optimistic and good humoured despite all the difficulties and setbacks, he was a living exception to the Second Law of Thermodynamics that says that all systems lose energy over time. Sir Sigmund never lost energy. He was unique and irreplaceable, and all who knew him will mourn his loss.”

“I remember with great joy the many dinners and meetings that Jack and I shared with Siggy and Hazel in London at the time of the annual Prize presentation over these many years,” said Pina Templeton, “and especially how wonderful it was to have Sir Sigmund and Lady Hazel with us at Buckingham Palace when HRH Prince Philip honored him and seven other past Prize Laureates in 2011. The John Templeton Foundation and my family extend our thoughts and prayers to the Sternberg family in this time of sorrow, and to the countless individuals whose lives were touched by Sir Sigmund.”