Gentle and loving, Sister Mary Jude (Henrietta) Howard is more than a memory. She is a living presence, still with us like a mother as she rests in peace at the cemetery in Mokama. With gratitude we remember Sister Mary Jude for her forty-one long years of simple and selfless service at Nazareth Hospital, Mokama. “Sister Mary Jude was great because she was simple and did great things in her own quiet way.” – Allen R. Johannes.
Mary Jude was born on July 11, 1915, in Whitesville, Kentucky, USA. Her mother, Helen Elizabeth Wedding, died in 1920, and her father, Edmund Howard in 1925. She had one brother, Tommy, who was a guitarist. Sister Mary Jude was raised by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth until the age of fourteen when she went to live with the James Hagen family. She graduated from St. Frances Academy in Owensboro in 1932, at the age of 17. Mary Jude entered the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth on January 18, 1935, received the religious habit on July 18, 1935, and the religious name Mary Jude. She made her first vows on July 19, 1936.
Sister Mary Jude studied nursing at St. Joseph Hospital, Lexington, KY from 1937 to 1941. She completed her Masters in Pediatric Nursing. Later, in 1954, she also did her Midwifery from Tripolia in Patna City, Bihar, India.
After fourteen years of ministry in the US, she chose to minister in India and arrived in Mokama on November 26, 1950, along with Sisters Ann Bernadette Ormond and Ellen Maria Ballew. Her vision, experiences, commitment and dedication contributed significantly to making Nazareth Hospital known far and wide not only in Bihar, but throughout India and in other parts of the world, as well. Sister Mary Jude was simple and did great things in her own quiet way. Her spirit of service and generosity led to the rapid growth of Nazareth Hospital from a small establishment in 1948 to a 282-bed hospital eventually! She worked for and among the poor as a nurse, instructor and administrator till she retired.
Excerpts from the writing of Sister Cassilda Castell, SCN to the Sisters in the Patna province after the funeral of Sister Mary Jude: “… Till the end, Sister Mary Jude was active, alert and a lively person. She was very regular in attending daily Mass, both at the Convent and the hospital. Ringing the bell at the ‘Elevation and Doxology’ from the prie-dieu where she always knelt, was a ‘duty’ Sister never wanted to miss. Sister’s absence at Mass was felt by all on January 9 and 10, 1992. On January 11th Sister was admitted to Nazareth Hospital. Though she had a mild stroke that night, she felt much better in the morning. After that, her condition kept fluctuating. There were times when she was in her usual jovial mood, cracking jokes, singing ‘good-ole-songs’ and telling stories to those around her. During the week there was a steady flow of visitors from far and near. Sisters kept watch with her in prayer round the clock. On January 19th, Sister was in good spirits and she expressed a great desire to return to her room. She sat up in bed, fed herself and looked great! On the 20th, around 2.00 a.m., Sister woke up coughing and feeling restless. Immediate medication gave her some relief. By 3.30 a.m., she began to show breathing difficulty and she continuously prayed to Our Lady. She asked for water and took in a few sips along with the needed medication. She complained of chest pain and said, “I am finished” and asked for Holy Water. Her last words were, “Rose Mystica, Sweet Lady”! At 5.00 a.m., Sister Mary Jude took her last breath very peacefully. Nazareth Hospital bid farewell to Sister Mary Jude by celebrating the Holy Eucharist in the Hospital chapel at 2.00 p.m. by Reverend Father Mathew Uzhuthal, Vicar General of Patna diocese. Patients and their attendants lined up in the passage in a reverential silence. Following the Mass, her body was taken in procession to the convent where Sisters and friends kept vigil all through the night singing and praying. On the 21st, Most Reverend Benedict Osta, SJ, the bishop of Patna, concelebrated the Holy Mass along with twenty-three priests of the diocese and the Patna Jesuits in the convent chapel at 9.00 a.m. The bishop thanked the SCN Congregation for giving such a great missionary to the Patna diocese and exhorted us to aspire to the qualities of such a saintly person with whom we were privileged to live. A crown of roses was placed on Sister Mary Jude’s head by the bishop and Sister Sarita Manavalan, SCN, provincial. The chapel was packed from wall to wall and many more crowded outside waiting to pay their last respects to their beloved one. Sister Mary Jude is buried at the Shrine cemetery, a peaceful resting place, in Mokama. As her body was lowered into the grave, there was a shower of flower petals amidst the chanting of “Sister Mary Jude amar rahe” (Long live Sister Mary Jude) by the people.”
People who knew Sister Mary Jude say that she was a saintly woman, always helping people, especially oppressed persons. She was a “friend raiser” and fund raiser for the sake of the poor. She bought land for many people and built small houses, so that the poor could own them. She was a woman of prayer and deep faith. Because of these virtues, she was saved from many dangerous situations such as dacoity (armed robbery committed by a gang) and attacks from criminals. She served the hospital for forty-one years with great dedication.
Excerpts from the reflections given by Patricia Mary Kelley, SCN, at a memorial service for Sister Mary Jude Howard at Nazareth, KY: “… Sister Mary Jude’s death holds us who knew her well in its great arms of mystery. Memories of what she was for us in her school days, in the nurse’s training, and as a young Sister at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Lexington, Georgetown University Hospital, or in India cause us to wonder if such a vibrant soul could really be taken away from our life. We celebrate her journey with a bit of shyness. What to say before her great spirit, so strong a personality, a highly intelligent nurse, one whose heart was full of laughter, fun and song? She sang and danced like a trained performer. Sister Mary Jude was a vibrant soul, so full of life!
“But life and death stand so close together, and there are many different kinds of death. Mary Jude learned that in childhood when her parents died an early death. She also learned that life is increased if we fold up our tents, as it were, and lay aside our plans and desires, new life and joy come to us. Her many deaths of sacrifice and unpleasant chores accepted gracefully were so quickly followed by signs of increased power within. This dying and rising also became characteristic of her.
“Sister Mary Jude took to India this buoyant spirit of service and generous sacrifice. She took pride in her training as a nurse and rejoiced in sharing her skills with student nurses and in service to the poor. Her gifts to Nazareth Hospital when it was struggling to be rooted in the soil of India were marvelous.
“At Georgetown Hospital in Washington, DC, she had everything at hand to exercise her nursing skills with excellence yet Sister Mary Jude shifted to the barrenness of Mokama as it was in 1950 with apparent ease. This was indeed a time when she had to fold her tent and die to much that was important to her. She met these challenges with creative love and spunk. When the Sisters knew that the very sick new-born babies could only be saved by an incubator, Sister Mary Jude led the group in making an incubator. Two large oil tins were turned on the side, one on top of the other. Two kerosene lanterns placed inside the bottom tin and a pillow in the top one. The side of the upper tin was then removed to make an open bed for the infant. The whole thing was covered by a blanket and a flashlight left inside so the baby and a thermometer placed beside it could be monitored. Many of those incubator babies are living even today!
“Joy was synonymous with her life until the changes of Vatican II. Giving up her beloved Latin Mass and changing the Gregorian chant to hymns in the vernacular were another kind of death for Sister Mary Jude. Even the universal changes in religious life took their toll. Her Sisters wished that she might have been able to accept change in order to become once more full of life and her own joyful self again. Sadly that was not to be. She experienced the cross of that tension to the end of her days!
“One constant in her life was her undying love for the poor. It was nothing to her to spend hours and days in their service. No one could say that Sister Mary Jude showed more respect or honour or concern for the governor of the State, a Bishop or dignitary than she did for the poorest persons she most recently met. She heard the cry of the poor and always answered.
When the time came for Sister Mary Jude to fold her tent again and give up active duty, she spent her days and nights in prayer. When death finally came she closed her eyes and saw that God was the same life and joy that she found so often following her sacrifices, except that for now that life is Eternal!”
Excerpts from the reflections shared by Teresa Rose Nabholz, SCN, at the funeral service of Sister Mary Jude Howard at Mokama: “… Sister Mary Jude had great respect for railway coolies (porters) always that more than twenty were there to pay their respect to her. These coolies rushed to Sister’s compartment when she returned after a day of shopping in Patna on every Friday. They carried the many boxes of medicines and hospital supplies to the hospital. Later on, year after year, even until her body had begun to fail, she faithfully carried out Mother Lucille’s advice that she get out of the hospital at least one day a week, her Friday visits to Patna resulted in no big loads anymore. It was companionship that she needed then and these coolies must have felt privileged to be the chosen ones to see her safety across the tracks, and home. They had become her friends and no doubt each was indebted to her for some material benefits or personal kindness over the years.
“… Sister Mary Jude had great love for the orphans. Bessie and Metilda, the two orphans present at the funeral of Sister Mary Jude, were inconsolable at the loss of their ‘mother’. She personally cared for the orphans that Nazareth Hospital sponsored during the first years of its existence. Bessie had been among that group. Matilda came as a young girl for nurse’s training from an orphanage elsewhere. Both had experienced her maternal love. Now such a tangible part of their cherished history was gone and their grief seemed to exceed that of most others.”
Sister Mary Jude operated from a system of trust. She would say, ‘Give people a chance.’ Many employees who knew this trust of hers first-hand had come to say in their hearts, “Thank you for the chance you gave to me when I was in need.” One of those persons was Daniel Rosario, a retired driver of the hospital weeping like a baby. Sister Mary Jude hired him at a critical stage in his life. Many others like the managers of Bata Show Tannery and the then Britannia Engineering Works, local lawyers and the Mokama business community all were enriched by their contacts with Sister Mary Jude. The tributes paid to her by two representatives of the Mokama Rotary Club at the end of Mass bore witness to their long-lasting respect for her. In their estimation, Sister Mary Jude was a ‘goddess’, the ‘Mother Teresa of Mokama’!
The employees, past and present, doctors and their families of Nazareth hospital were present grieving their great loss. They were there silently and each face, a memory. There had been good days and bad days as Sister Mary Jude exerted her leadership at Nazareth Hospital, and there were also times she erred. The erring though was always on the side of compassion and generosity, and the employees knew that. The general public also knew the compassion and generosity of Sister Mary Jude. They brought their sick ones to be treated, often asked for concessions when it came to pay the bill, sought her advice, begged for a loan, and in time deemed her as ‘mother’.
Many priests and religious, business men and Manzur, the rickshaw puller from Patna, had come to pay their respects to Sister Mary Jude. Some of these priests had ministered to Sister in her own spiritual need, others were befriended by her especially in their younger priestly days and still testify to the encouragement she gave them.
Sister Mary Jude lived her vows faithfully, sometimes fiercely, until the end. Nothing in her eyes should ever stand in the way of our commitment to God. And the discipline with which she increasingly lived out her promises seemed to be her way of saying to the world: “I love God. I want to live for God. Nothing is so very important to me as God and God’s people.” The prie-dieu at the back of the chapel looked almost sacred for having supported Sister Mary Jude, day after day as she worshipped our God there, always on her knees and fully attentive.
Sister Mary Jude lived a life of tremendous love. She had a funny side, too, like her special recitations of ‘In and Out,’ her “Dorsey-Do’ square dance sessions with both Sisters and nurses, and her Latin classes for the novices of old. I suspect the memory jar will never really empty, but even when memories fail, those of us who knew and loved her, we are sure that Sister Mary Jude’s spirit will live on. For hers was a spirit of love, and love never dies.”
We, your Sisters, feel privileged to have been a part of your life of selfless service, your joy in giving and sharing, your ever-smiling face out of kindness for one and all, creativity, befriending people, singing in high notes and faithfully enjoying playing ‘Bridge and 500’. By your example you have taught us to love and live for God in selfless service. You continue to inspire us as your priority in religious life has always been to fully and freely love and live for God. As you are enjoying your eternal reward with our God whom you loved much, pray for us, “Oh Sweet Lady, Mother and Sister of Mokama!”
Sing of a Woman
(for Sister Mary Jude: 20-01-1992)
Sing of a woman, how intensely she lived
How she smiled and said “hello” to everyone she met
Young and old, sick, well, poor and rich, friend and stranger,
She lived for others, never thinking of herself.
Spread kindness, goodness and gladness everywhere.
Tireless in patient care, teaching, administration,
She enjoyed giving time for her “Glee Club”.
All the while the left hand not knowing
What the right hand was doing for the needy,
Her motto seemed to be, ‘Give and you shall receive’.
The unusual crowd at the funeral service spoke volumes,
As the spacious chapel was filled with people
Of all walks of life, people from far and near
The railway porters, blind and lame, poor and rich, young and old.
Heart touching heart, she had touched every one of them!
She walked distributing love to everyone she met
Her constant prayer was that God’s mercy may flow all over our world
As it did while Jesus’ blood flowed from His heart on the Cross
And we who dare to follow in her footsteps
May we continue our walk with the sick, the poor and the needy.
Not finding the road hard, our love, energy over flow
In this same ‘spirit of love’ as did hers.
Pray a blessing, remembering how she walked
Walking in faith, distributing love to everyone who comes our way.
By Rose Kochithara, SCN
Combined and edited by SCNs Ann George Mukalel and Malini Manjoly
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