The memories/moments of my life and service in the community and mission

I, Mary John, was born into a God fearing Catholic family on February 18, 1941 in Kalloorkad, Ernakulam district, Kerala state to John Thottumarickal and Annamma John. We belonged to Ernakulam diocese now bifurcated to Kothamangalam diocese. I am the youngest in my family of five children, two boys and three girls. One of my brothers, Joseph, died when he was twenty-two years old due to an illness. Since Joseph’s passing I have three siblings: my brother John, and sisters, Thresiakutty and Aleykutty. John and Thresiakutty are married. When I was seven years old, my father suffered from water phobia (rabies) and expired on August 14, 1947 and my mother died of cancer on May 31, 1956. From early childhood, my parents taught me all the common prayers. Every day they woke us up for prayer at 4.00 am. I was sleepy most of the time and could hardly keep awake. My parents were faithful to God and they trusted in God’s providence in everything and it helped me to pray. My father’s death was a shocking experience in my early childhood. With both of my parents gone, I felt their absence keenly in my life. God was good to me that my brother and sisters took good care of me.

I was seven years old when I went to school. Continuing my education was a struggle as we were not financially well off. However, God provided us all that was necessary. Without failing in any class, I passed my SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) in May 1960. I experienced God’s loving hand leading me and guiding me throughout my student life.

Sister Karuna and her family in 1972

My first attraction to religious life began when I interacted with the St. Joseph’s Sisters of Dharamgiri in our parish hospital. I liked their life style, prayer life and their loving and compassionate care of the sick. I wished one day I also would become a ‘Sister Nurse’ like them. When I passed my SSLC exam, one of my classmates told me that a few missionary Sisters were coming from Patna to take girls to the missions. She also told me that her sister, Aleyamma was a nursing student at Nazareth Hospital. Aleyamma was home for holidays in September and she took me to meet SCNs Mary Martha Wiss, a doctor, and Crescentia Wise in Bharananganam. I shared with them my desire to join a convent. The Sisters accepted me and invited me to join them. Within five days, Aleyamma helped me to get ready with all the necessary things. We, thirteen candidates, Aleyamma and the two Sisters boarded a train to Madras on September 6, 1960. We reached Mokama on September 11, 1960. Since there was no house for candidates in Mokama we were sent to Gaya for our initial training. We were nineteen candidates in Gaya. We had classes in English and Hindi and many other classes including singing, piano lessons, typing, etc. We enjoyed our time with Sister Patricia Mary Kelley, the candidate director. During recreations, we made rosaries and learnt to sing many traditional English songs. We spent six months in Gaya before going to Mokama.

The present convent building was ready in 1961. Some of our classmates went to the novitiate and three of us, Maria Palathingal, Lucia Thuluvanickel and I joined nursing. We faced many difficulties at this time since we had to join other candidates for prayer, spiritual reading, etc. during our duty time. Our classmates were unhappy that they had to do extra work and criticised us. After finishing nursing studies in October 1965 we had our home visit, which I enjoyed very much.

We, six candidates, Lucia, Maria, Joel Urumpil, Rosemarie Lakra, Thankamma Xavier and I entered postulancy on December 27, 1965. Sister Teresa Rose Nabholz was our postulant and later novice director. I still remember the previous night of my vestition getting my beautiful long hair cut short. It was a painful experience to let go off my lovely hair. Life in the novitiate was very peaceful. In fact, I had longed to enter the novitiate to become a Sister since I did nursing as a candidate.

We made our First Vows on July 19, 1968. Many of my friends from the hospital were present for the day. After that we had six months juniorate in Ranchi. I learnt some craft work along with tailoring, purse making, etc. at Yogada Mutt, a Hindu monastery near our house.

Sister Karuna and the 1968 vow group with Sister Teresa Rose Nabholz

In 1969, I came back to Nazareth Hospital to work as a staff nurse. I was made the supervisor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (OB/Gynae) ward. I enjoyed working with the nurses in caring for the maternity patients, especially in the labour ward. I became aware of the struggles and pain that a woman experiences to bring forth a life into the world. I was able to be a consoling presence for many of those women.

After working two years in the maternity ward, I worked in the operation theatre as an intern for two years with Mary Joseph Pamplaniel, SCN, who was an anaesthetist. During this time, I went to Mercy Hospital, Jamshedpur for practical experience in anaesthesia for six months. I also worked part time in the wards and in the operation theatre until 1978.

In 1978, Margaret Rodericks, SCN, provincial asked me to go to Bakhtiarpur to replace Mary Francis Sauer, SCN in Obstetrics/Gynae department. Since there was no one else to take care of the community health work in the villages, I was asked to do that also which I did not expect. I had no exposure or training in that field. Bakhtiarpur was my first and only mission away from Mokama. Life in the community was difficult and I also went through some struggles in my work situation. I shared my difficulties with Sister Margaret. Since there was no one to give anaesthesia as Sister Mary Joseph had surgery I was assigned back to Nazareth hospital in 1979. I stayed on in the hospital till 2012, when the hospital was closed down temporarily.

I had a total of forty-six years of work experience in the various departments at Nazareth hospital. I worked as the anaesthetist and as supervisor of the out-patient department, OB/Gynae and medical and surgical wards until 2012.

I did not count the number of hours I worked in serving the sick. My greatest desire was to be a bed-side nurse. In fact, I was asked to go for a degree course in nursing which I declined preferring to continue as a bed-side nurse.

It was a great joy for me to see a critical patient getting well after going through anaesthesia for major surgery. In fact, I used to work with the very serious patients until they regained their consciousness no matter how many hours it took. We used to get victims of accidents, gun-shots, ruptured ectopic pregnancies, etc. for surgery. We had no ventilators in the hospital and we had to often use ambu-bags for resuscitation of patients.

There were times, when I knew that patients who were posted for emergency surgeries had no one to give blood, I have donated my own blood and walked into the operation theatre after that. I trusted in God that the patients would be saved. Often, the patients recovered, got-well and went home which was a great joy for me as an anaesthetist. Surgeons were extremely cooperative and supportive of my work.

One of my gifts has been my patience with people. I educated and directed the young nursing staff, students and other support staff to care for the patients with love, empathy and understanding. As the supervisor of wards, I had good relationship with patients and their relatives as well as the entire nursing and support staff. I worked very cordially with them even when the circumstances were not that favourable.

Sister Karuna with the head nurses of medical surgical wards in Mokama

The hospital wards were always full. Many patients came to the hospital because of the good name of our doctors. It was a great joy to hear the patients ask for certain doctors and Sisters. Many patients said that ours was the only hospital where they could come freely for treatment. Doctors D’Cruz, B.K. Setty, and women doctors, Kaveri Punanacha, Rosa Erinchery, a religious Sister, and Anne Elizabeth Elampalathottiyil, SCN, were some of our outstanding doctors who made a difference in the hospital to become well-known and sought after for various treatments.

When we shifted to the new hospital in May 1984, the patient flow was the same as in the old hospital. We hired many more employees because of the vastness of the area to be cleaned. The wards were divided according to the category of patients. We, the Sisters also were asked to be employees and follow the rules and regulations of a regular employee.

Patients paid minimum charges at the hospital and accordingly all employees were paid. The doctors were paid well but the Sisters took the minimum for their expenses. However, the fourth class employees were not satisfied with their salaries. They used to compare themselves with other government and semi-government employees nearby. Hoping to get better salaries they formed the employees’ union without the knowledge of the hospital administration.

Our hospital was kept spick and span day and night. Patients and their relatives admired the cleanliness of the hospital and its surroundings. The work culture took a down-turn when the employees joined the union. Many of the senior-most doctors retired and left the hospital which brought down the good name of the hospital. The local people began to spread the rumours that Nazareth hospital had no more good doctors. Thus the number of patients decreased as the years went by.

In such trying times, it was very hard for me to care for the limited number of patients in the wards. Many of my co-workers, who used to be very cooperative and did anything for the care of the patients, had no more concern for the patients or the institution. They said to me, “It is your hospital and not our hospital” as many of them felt alienated and worked against the hospital administration. There was no sense of belonging among them. The whole situation was something like a sword piercing through my heart to watch the hospital going down, day by day.

I worked until the last day, when the province administration decided to close down certain departments of the hospital temporarily in June 2012. It was a shock for me to hear this news all of a sudden. Officially, I was asked to resign from the hospital in August 2012. I still feel that I am part of the hospital even though I am not there.

At present I am staying at Ashirvad North, one of the residences of the SCNs working in the hospital situated on the hospital campus. I take care of the house accounts of the community; spend time in prayer and contemplation. I enjoy being hospitable to all those who come to our community.

I spent forty-six long years at Nazareth hospital, four years as a nursing student and the rest as a humble servant of the hospital. Except for the six months I spent in Bakhtiarpur, my entire religious life has been in Mokama. Whatever I could do, I did well. I loved our people, the Sisters, patients whom I cared for with compassionate love. Caring for the patients is a special gift which God has given me because of my painful experiences in my childhood.

Sister Karuna with Sister Jessie Saldanha at Nazareth Hospital in Mokama

My greatest faith experience was my success in finishing the matriculation examination and my call to religious life. I was an average student in school but I passed in the Board examination in the first attempt. Some of my friends who were smarter than me failed and I heard the headmaster say to someone that I passed because of my prayer and trust in God.

Once a patient was almost dying in one of the wards in the hospital and I continued to care for him with continuous intercessory prayers. He was healed and went home happily. I do believe, I can do nothing without God’s help and I do pray and trust in God in everything. Jesus is the one I call upon in all my struggles and God has never forsaken me. Whenever I am in trouble, I go to Jesus who helps me at all times.

Looking back over the past seventy-six years of my life, I am happy that I have lived a full and meaningful life. God has taken care of me until now. I have had no major sicknesses in my life. Lately, I am experiencing some knee pain which is a sign of aging and I am not worried about it.

I am proud to be an SCN because my community has helped me to be a woman of God filled with compassion and love. One thing which I have appreciated in our Congregation is that we have everything in common for our use. Life has taught me how to be satisfied with what I have and I have enjoyed the SCN way of life.

The lessons which life has taught me is that I don’t have to follow others’ way of life but go on with my convictions which help me to come closer to God each day of my life.

In looking forward to the future, I continue to pray that we become more and more women of God, rooted in faith and trusting in divine providence at all times and be a reconciling force in our broken world. I would like to be an example to the young Sisters in the way I act, interact, pray and live in my local community.

The 1968 vow group with Sister Susan Gatz

In my religious life there were struggles, happiness, joys and difficulties and all those experiences helped me to become a God-oriented person. I thank God for my parents who helped me to grow in faith and love. I am also grateful to the Sisters in my local community who have helped me to grow closer to God by their prayer and example. I am thankful to my Congregation for looking after me for all these years. I did not have to worry about clothing, food or shelter. Everything was a free gift given to me by God and my SCN Congregation. I thank God for every moment of my life.

A religious life is a free gift given by God to certain persons. It is also the way we love God and live in faith. It is a commitment to prayer and mission to serve the people of God with compassionate love.

Karuna Thottumarickal, SCN

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