I, Aleykutty George, was the third child of my parents, Varkey and Aleyamma Kaniyamkandathil. I was born on January 15, 1952 in Kuruthikalam, Arakkulam parish, in Palai Diocese, Kerala. I had three brothers and two sisters, Michael, Marykutty, Thomas, Aleykutty (Kiran, SCN), George and Annakutty. At present, only Michael, Marykutty and I are alive. In 1962, at the age of fifteen, my brother Thomas, a class ten student was drowned in a pond. As a child I mingled mostly with my younger sister and brother as we were close in age. My father was a farmer and worked hard in the fields to support and maintain the family. He never complained about anything though life was difficult and the weather was not always suitable for farming. He used to reach out to others in need and seldom got angry with anyone. He was very strict with us children about our studies, going to church, learning prayers, etc. I was very fond of my father and learnt many things from him. My mother was also a very hard working woman and saved every penny whenever possible. My mother was only fourteen years old when she was married and did not know much about how to raise a family. Being a faithful and obedient wife, my mother cared a lot for my father. She had to work very hard but my paternal grandmother was not pleased with her efforts and often ill-treated her. After a few years, my family moved to Arakkulam Puthanpally parish where I did my studies. My brothers and sisters were very thoughtful and loving. When I began to go to school, my younger brother and sister missed me very much. They used to keep eatables and wait for me to come home. I have learned to be simple, obedient, generous, thoughtful and self-sacrificing from my family. It is from my family that I learnt to be one with the poor and the needy, reaching out to them in compassion and love.
From my high school days, I had the desire of becoming a missionary. A cousin of mine, Josephine Naduvilekunnel (one of the former SCNs), visited our home whenever she came to recruit new candidates. When I passed my S.S.L.C. (Secondary School Leaving Certificate), I told her that I, too, wanted to join her Congregation. She accepted me and told me to get ready with all that was required. When I went for a medical checkup I met some nurses and I began to think about becoming a nurse like them. When I came back home I told Josephine that I wanted to become a nurse not a religious Sister. She told me that Sisters also can be nurses. So I liked the idea and came to Mokama in 1970 along with twenty other girls. I found the Sisters very loving and caring and I was very happy. Learning Hindi and English was very difficult for me in the beginning. My “guardian angel”, Sister Anupa Moozha took good care of me as a candidate. After two years, I went to Nirmala College, Ranchi for Intermediate studies and stayed in the college hostel. Studies were rather easy but the hostel food did not appeal to me and very little food was given to us. Disappointed, I thought of going back home. It was a salvation for us when Sister Ann Bernadette Ormond, our local superior, visited us on Saturdays with some food items.
After my studies, I joined the postulancy on September 2, 1974 in Mokama. Sister Shalini D’Souza was our postulant director. She was very loving, caring, thoughtful and impartial towards us. Our first year novitiate was in Kerwateri Ashram, Sokho under the direction of Sister Patricia Mary Kelley. Having lived in Mokama and Ranchi for five years, we found it very hard to adjust in a remote village. The difficult life situations and the ashram set up were very taxing on us, young novices. Sister Patricia Mary tried to give us as much love and care as she could. Dealing with the people also was difficult since they did not speak Hindi.
While we were in Sokho there was a major flood in 1976 and I thought we would be drowned. I was very scared. In the dormitory I sat on my bed holding on to all my belongings in a small aluminum trunk and kept on praying for an hour. I was trembling with fear and slowly the water receded. It was a near-death experience for me. We returned to Mokama for our second year novitiate. Shalini, like a loving mother and friend cared for us to the best of her ability. I enjoyed her many classes. As a novice I went with Sister Anjali Olickal to Bakhtiarpur for community experience. Sister Mary Francis Sauer taught us to make cakes. The Sisters there cared for us as one of them. The eleven of us in the group had a good retreat in Varanasi before making our first vows on September 27, 1977.
My first mission was at St. Xavier’s School, Mokama working with Sister Roselyn Karakattu, headmistress, who helped me a lot. Along with Sisters Alice Mulavelipuram and Sudha Puthoor I did my nursing studies at Nazareth School of Nursing in Mokama from 1979 to 1983. We lived with the Sisters at Nazareth Convent. We found our studies easy. There were plenty of patients and we could hardly complete all the work we were assigned. I enjoyed working in the ward and felt very happy when the patients got well. I was inspired by the lives of our Sisters who were then working in the hospital. Once I made a mistake for which I thought that I would be penalized. I was worried but I admitted my mistake to the authorities and my director was very supportive. This incident was a turning point in my life. Ever since, I take great precaution in administering any medicine to anyone. The support and assurance I received from my Sisters and companions is unforgettable. I was an ordinary student, yet I was declared ‘Best Nurse’ of the year during my graduation in January 1984.
I was sent to Biharsharif on February 23. From there I went for a four-month preparation for my final vows. I felt so very privileged to make my final vows on December 1, 1984 in Mokama along with thirteen other SCNs. I went back to Biharsharif and remained there till 1987 serving the sick in the villages and taking care of the sick boys and girls in the hostel.
During my Post Basic B.Sc. (Bachelor of Science) Nursing studies in Ahmadabad, Gujarat, from 1987 to 1989, Sister Ann Roberta Powers was very much concerned about my health and encouraged me to buy sufficient food to sustain me. I worked as the supervisor of the public health department at Nazareth Hospital, Mokama from 1989 to 1991. I moved to the out-patient department as the supervisor for the next three years.
In 1992, my younger brother died of lung cancer at the age of thirty-eight. When I got the news that he was seriously ill I went home and was with him when he died. He was very close to me and I could not reconcile with God for taking him away so early in life. I cannot think of my home without his presence. The thought of my aging parents and the brother’s family to be cared for, disturbed my peace of mind. I felt as though they had no one to look after them. A year later when I went for a home visit I was surprised to find that my parents and my brother’s family carried on with their life comfortably. I felt assured that whatever God does is for our good.
I joined the Delhi community in January 1995 to take health classes in Vishwas Nagar slums for three months. I served as the administrator of the Provincial house, Patna, for another three months.
I was in Sokho from June 1995 to 2000 for the health ministry. In July 2000, I got a severe malaria attack. I went into a delirium due to the medication and my community members were afraid that I would die. I prayed and asked God for me to be in ministry at least for a few more years. Gradually, I felt better and I was taken to Mokama for further treatment and rest.
My next mission from 2000 to 2007 was in Bakhtiarpur where I had heavy work combined with night duties. At that time, I remembered the favor that I had asked God while I was sick in Sokho, “To give me a few more years to be in ministry”. Thus I could not complain of having too much work or difficulties. My faith in God who gave me the grace to do all the work as administrator and coordinator of the community was strengthened. When my father passed away on October 5, 2005, I was the only one present with him. In the following year, my sister, Annakutty expired on July 16, 2006 with pneumonia and diabetes and I could not attend her funeral.
From 2007 to 2014, I was in Navjyoti, Shapur. The people there, in general, were very poor and I treated them for various illnesses at our Health Centre. In August 2008, there was a major flood when the Koshi River overflowed due to heavy rains. This river is known as the ‘River of Sorrow’ in Bihar. As we got the news of the impending flood, we informed the parents to take their children home from the hostel. The very next day, the flood waters gushed into our house up to four feet. The entire area was submerged in water. We accommodated the flood victims from the villages on our school terrace. The Province was informed about the situation and they asked us to leave the place but we did not have the heart to leave our people to fend for themselves. As a community we decided to stay back and do what was needed immediately. Some of our Sisters from Patna travelled to Saharsa, the nearest town and reached Shapur in a makeshift boat. We felt greatly supported by the whole Congregation. Many people from non-governmental organizations and international non-governmental organizations that came for the relief work stayed at our dispensary. With everyone’s help and cooperation, we reached out to over a hundred thousand people with relief materials. The water remained for a month. The reconstruction work in the villages continued for a number of years. Everyone – including those who were suspicious of us – appreciated our services.
One of the important services that we rendered besides giving relief supplies, food and medicines, was recharging their mobile phone batteries which was the only means of communication. We also received phone messages from the distant migrant workers for their families in the villages. I experienced God’s providential protection all through this difficult time in the history of Shapur mission. My mother who died of old age on December 20, 2009 saddened me and I reached home for her funeral.
In June 2014, I returned to the Community Health Centre, (CHC) Bakhtiarpur as administrator. I also served as the coordinator of the community for four years. Around sixty to seventy patients from the nearby town and the surrounding villages visit the out-patient clinic daily. CHC is known throughout the area for the diagnosis and treatment of sterility with almost ninety-five per cent success. In the weekly immunization program, over one hundred children under age five are immunized for fifteen preventable diseases. In this endeavor we collaborate with the local primary government health center. Occasionally, we conduct normal deliveries at CHC.
CHC also has a well-organized village out-reach program for various groups such as youth, children and self-help-groups for women. We organize programs for cobblers, cycle rickshaw-pullers, rag-pickers and barbers who sit on foot-path for work. We conduct literacy classes for non-school going children and coaching for the government school students. For adolescent girls we have tailoring classes at CHC besides having programs for women’s day and all other important national and international days and festivals.
In August 2016, there was an unexpected flood in Bakhtiarpur area and water gushed into our compound and house. Many of the villagers lost their homes, their meager belongings, live-stock and fodder. We reached out to them with immediate relief work including food, clothing and later livelihood programs in collaboration with the Church and other religious groups. Leena Padam, SCN, the outreach program coordinator, spent time counseling people in the relief camps and suggested ways to obtain relief materials from the government.
From June 2018, I have the greatest privilege of caring for our retired and sick Sisters at Shalom, a part of Nazareth Convent in Mokama. I take care of their medical needs and for serious problems they are admitted at Nazareth Hospital. I am happy when I see that the Sisters are satisfied and appreciative of my presence and care. I have the full support of my local community Sisters and I am grateful to the three dedicated women staff who serve our Sisters 24/7. Other convent workers also help us out in lifting the Sisters to and from the bed. It is a very fulfilling job for me that I care for our Sisters as though they are my own mother/sisters though I did not have the opportunity to care for my parents.
Looking back over the years of my life, I feel very proud of my identity as an SCN and I am proud of our Congregation. The willingness and readiness to respond in a timely manner to the needs of the mission is a part of our remarkable charism. As Mother Catherine has said, “If we are simple and humble, we can do all things well and bear all things.” We are fortunate that we are willing and ready to follow in the footsteps of Mother Catherine and St. Vincent de Paul.
My hope is that more brave young girls will join us to take forward the mission started by our founders. Though we are aging, my hope is that we continue to be fruitful in service in whatever little ways each one can contribute towards the common good of all.
My religious life has been fulfilled with my total commitment to God and community in the service of humanity. My life is a reflection of what ‘I am and I have been’ able to accomplish through my active ministry. All that I am is because of my faith in God and with the support of the collaborators with whom I have labored. To be meaningful our religious commitment has to be deeply rooted in God and our way of life in community.
Kiran Kaniyamkandathil, SCN
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