Wounded yet Chosen, Rose Kochithara, SCN Bared All in Total Self-Emptying

I thank my Creator God in whose holiness I was conceived, who chose me even before the world was made, made hidden plans for me!

Sister Rose Kochithara is fondly remembered for her modern art forms, linguistic ability, prolific writing – articles and letters, prayerfulness and compassion towards the poor who were sick. Though Sister Rose went to her heavenly home on January 10, 2006 we remember her in a special way as her group celebrates its Diamond Jubilee in the Congregation this year.

Rose Augustine Kochithara was born on August 24, 1927, on the feast day of Saint Rose, in Alleppey, Kerala to Augustine Kochithara and Mary Moosariparampil. Alleppey is a coastal town and well developed compared to other parts of Kerala. Rose had two sisters and two brothers and she was fondly called Sosamma at home. Being the first born, she learned a disciplined life from the very early years onwards. Rose wrote, “My mother, a humble servant of the Lord and my father, a radical Christian, with great aversion for the institutional church, both on two levels, I, the first born was wounded in the womb itself… I longed for my parents’ love and attention in vain. I carried this pain all through my life.” Rose spent her childhood days in her maternal grandparents’ home, a joint family. She completed her Senior Cambridge (General Certificate of Education examinations) at St. Joseph High School, Alleppey, run by the Canosian Sisters. 

As Rose completed her Cambridge, she wanted to join a religious congregation. Her father strongly objected. Though disappointed, she moved to North India and joined the nursing school at Patna City, Bihar, run by the Medical Mission Sisters around the year 1950. As a student she was an active member of the Catholic Nurses’ Guild of India (CNGI) and came to know Reverend Father George Ziebert S.J., the regional director of CNGI. In those days, students were sent to Nazareth Hospital, Mokama to help out and to get a wider experience. Rose had spent a month in Mokama. As a full-fledged nurse, Rose worked in Shimla, a beautiful hill station in Jammu & Kashmir. 

The work of Sister Crescentia Wise with the leprosy patients in Mokama attracted Rose. “… Sister Crescentia was a great missionary with a great big heart. All the pharmacy staff called her ‘Mamma’. She set up the pharmacy, and taught Pharmacology. Her communication was out of this world, but people got her message. She sprinkled a little Hindi in her English and managed quite well!”

From now excerpts from her writing: “… It was in December 1956 that I walked into Nazareth Hospital, a rather small ‘L’ shaped health facility. I came with the idea of working for a month. I felt that this was the greatest risk I took, to come to such an unknown village hospital. The decision was made merely out of my great regard for Father Ziebert, SJ, chaplain here. He invited me to Mokama as graduate nurses were needed here. I worked in the hospital in various capacities and all the Sisters inspired me. I found Sister Mary Francis Sauer totally mission oriented. But I wrestled with God as did Jacob. I experienced a disc herniation and paralysis of leg. So, I couldn’t run away! 

“I had fear to share the misery of the poor who seemed to be the lost majority. Yet, the desire to be a missionary was very much alive in me; it took root when I was twelve.

“During the three days of Holy Week retreat in 1957 in the chapel I felt a gentle touch on my left shoulder, and heard a soft voice within, “If these American Sisters can do, you can.” I became calm, a moment of unusual grace, like that of Saul. I experienced a peace and harmony within me. And I began to eat my meals and sleep normally. I had lost 20lbs in two months. “This is the place”, I began to feel; no more running away…

“I wanted to go back and join the Medical Mission Sisters. They had called me. I didn’t answer as I wanted to check my health after illness; and enjoy working in places of natural beauty before settling down. Now, God captured me in Mokama. While speaking to Sister Lawrencetta Veeneman I prayed hoping she would say no, I could conveniently escape. But to my great surprise, Sister Lawrencetta said “yes’!

“During my annual leave, I went home, and shared the news. While giving me a happy farewell my father told me that I would be welcome back home in case I didn’t like my choice. And then as I used my freedom and chose a way of life he disliked.

“… January 6, 1958 was my entrance day. My co-workers and friends were excited but I was calm. Around 10:00 am, Sister Lawrencetta, the formation in-charge came to call me and I followed her into the novitiate, the present II South Wing. My companions were Aloysia Mary, Ann George (Annamma Mukalel), Anne Marie Thayilchirayil (Annamma Joseph) and Teresa Martin (Lilly Rita Thundiyil). … During my posutlancy I worked full-time in the Admitting Office. I didn’t need language courses. What I really dreamed was to live among the sick, and serve them for the rest of my life. However I have done so, only indirectly throughout the years.”

Rose became a novice on December 8, 1958 and took the name Sister Augustine Marie which was changed to Sister Rose Kochithara later. “… In the novitiate days too, I was working in the hospital. The pre-Vatican style of no expressions and sacred silence practices, I allowed myself to be totally inhibited. The silent spiritualistic life shocked me. My life in the novitiate didn’t seem to move fast enough for me. I used to read a lot during my free time. As a second year novice, I got to look after sick Sisters like Sisters Lawrencetta, Crescentia, and James Leo Goldsborough. I was anaesthetist for a while when Sister Ann Cornelius went to Darjeeling. Sister (doctor) Mary Martha Wiss guided me very gently. … December 8, 1959 was a great day of rejoicing as the first group of Indian Sisters made their first vows. It was in the shrine. My group made first vows on December 21, 1960, and right away they left for their mission to Gaya. My first vows was delayed for six months due to my ill health; yet the thought of turning back did not occur to me. The Lord’s hidden plans for me were revealed when Sister Lawrencetta told me in a very casual manner, “If you get well, you make vows; if not, you go home, but you have a vocation. That was 25 years (written in 1984) ago!” Sister Augustine Marie made her first vows on June 21, 1961 and final vows on December 21, 1966.

“… I had my own struggle to live with. Religious life in those days seemed rather formal. Uniqueness of the human person was not considered. We seemed to be super-human beings, with no human possibilities to be weak. Then, there was my father’s concept of religious life. He was a radical Christ to me. He expected us to live our vow of poverty that is actual poverty; come out of the comfortable convents and so on. Our “strange costume” and “strange names picked from heaven” all these were meaningless for him. I did not blame him, I agreed with his thinking. But the pain is that I never got a letter from him from the week I entered, till he slept into eternity in 1970 while he stored my letters in his Bible. Now with his pan-cosmic vision, I feel that he is happy about my life. 

Sister Rose Kochithara

“… There was a point I observed in community and ministry. The individual existed for community, for ministry as needed, as directed by authority. There was no question of job satisfaction. I suffered much. My satisfaction came on the side, from sharing the pains and struggles of individual patients and their families. Suffering has deeply carved into my being. As a result, the Lord had changed the world a bit, before my inner eyes. I have received a new sense of God, and some realities of life. The sufferings of the sick vibrate in my heart. Within me there was pain and struggle, yet, I felt, ‘the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made from the beginning.’ (Eph. 1: 9)

“I see our pioneer Sisters as faith-filled, vibrant, God-experienced women, urged by the love of Christ, animated by the spirit of Catherine Spalding and of Sister Lawrencetta, daring to take risks, responding to the needs of our times and situations, meeting changing circumstances, touching all God’s people in a marvellous way, in His way. I see deep awareness, sensitivity, readiness, generosity, simplicity, sincerity, respect and understanding, which I freely share and care, and live for others in deep joy and peace. 

“Mokama was a very insignificant little village, unheard of in history or geography, as obscure as the Nazareth of old. Now Mokama is well known because of Nazareth and the pioneer women who made it what it is, over the years. Just like Mary of Nazareth, our Sisters said their ‘yes’ to their God with simple trust, and opened themselves in simple faith to follow his strange plans in this strange planet. In the process, he led them to the experience of the Magnificat. 

“In my own SCN journey, I came with fears, apprehensions, indifference, with a closed mind and heart: “Can anything good come from this place, Nazareth?” … I have seen and experienced, I see and experience daily, great things, the marvels of our God happen in this Nazareth. And I believe the Lord will continue to work His wonders, He is a faithful God.

“An opportunity to study at Nazareth, Kentucky was a blessing. Being in Rome en-route, and that, at the canonization of Martin de Porres, another very special grace! I was called to take care of the Sisters in the first floor Infirmary, and finally full time, final semester, final year, though I missed the study, was another special opportunity. Getting an Art Minor, through the very kind Dean was a great surprise from God! She had heard that I walked around the Art Department on Sundays! I became sick, expressing suppressed sorrow through bronchial asthma; I discontinued my study of Hospital Administration. Several great SCNs are enshrined in my heart. They enriched me greatly. Practically every living moment brings with it a little of the ‘Divine Life’, happy surprises and coincidences. Every little happening is a pure gift of God. Having enjoyed freedom, and self-responsibility, living, studying, growing, working, and then coming to this life style, the most unexpected type of life, I broke my back with stress overload and broke my life, far ahead of my time.

“… God created me a nurse in my mother’s womb, so I was delighted to hear the call back to the sick! This was the beginning of the numerous gifts and surprises, God had hidden inside my brokenness. During the prolonged period of illness and process of recovery, I felt a call to pastoral ministry. “Comfort, comfort my people, speak to their hearts” (Is. 40), I began to hear while quietly working in the office with Sister Margaret Rodericks, the then provincial. Preparing for the pastoral ministry, I got books from Sister Mary Jude Howard and I studied them. I pioneered the pastoral department of Nazareth Hospital, Mokama as early as 1990. Before that, while working at Nazareth Academy, Gaya, in helping out in the administration, God inspired me to buy the book, “Death and Dying” by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. God knows all about every detail of us! All was going well. Again, the wounded inner broken child was looking for affirmation from a significant person! It is in my shadow that I more often meet God! I still pass through burnout and new life, dying and rising. This has been a consistent pattern all along: it still is. Sister Shalini D’Souza invited me to take a correspondence course in Scripture and Journalism. I took one unit of each and enjoyed it very much. What a surprise gift from God. At parental death, another difficult situation, I went into depression suppressing sorrow, diagnosed as “Manic Depressive”, another ‘mood swings’. In my experience, drugs suppress symptoms, while listening heart helps healing. 

“… Numerous blessings and possibilities for growth were hidden in my life, during the long walk on the pre-Vatican II road. I learned too late. To have the privilege of being in Sister Lawrencetta’s room, made holy by her, next to Jesus, through Sister Shalini’s kindness! Unable to go for refresher/renewal courses, I bought books. I praise God for giving me interest in reading, since childhood. So I can be close to the sick, and all people. Writing and art too are God-given gifts of therapeutic healing. Writing this paper is a God given catharsis. All my life experiences have taught me a great deal. I continue to enjoy my ministry, receiving large amounts of positive energy. What a fantastic God we have! He knows everything in our heart, knows perfectly well what He means. His goodness and kindness follow me every day of my life.”

Sisters Anne Marie Thayilchirayl, Rose Kochithara, Lawrencetta Veeneman, Rose Sebastian, and Ann George Mukalel

Sister Rose reached out to the poor, sick and their suffering relatives and friends through counselling, mentoring and writing letters. 

“… While studying in Class IX I was drawn to the ‘Silent Presence’ of the Eucharist, in an astounding way. That Presence is the center of my life. My love for our Blessed Mother, instilled in childhood by my mother, has taken deeper roots. Her cordial and gracious acceptance touched me deep inside. I even wanted to die on the feast of Annunciation; even on that day I wrote my funeral liturgy in detail! One person told me, on March 25th if I die on the feast day, they can’t celebrate the feast! So, now I let God choose the day!” God chose Sister Rose to her eternal reward on January 10, 2006. Sister Rose had planned her funeral Mass readings and hymns. At the beginning of the funeral liturgy of Sister Rose, Sister Teresa Kotturan, provincial said, “I feel that her passing to eternity is like a ‘lost coin’ for those of us who knew her. Sister Rose was a writer, a poet, an artist, a dreamer, and above all a mystic!

“Sister Rose had served in various capacities at Nazareth Hospital, Mokama, Catholic Hospital Association, Delhi, Provincial Office at Nazareth Convent, Mokama, Nazareth Academy, Gaya, Community Health Centre, Bakhtiarpur and Nazareth Bhavan, Sokho. Rarely did Sister Rose miss a day on her pastoral rounds at Nazareth Hospital. For almost thirty years, she was beside the patients in the wards, in the private rooms, in the out-patient department and even in the waiting area with the relatives assuring them with a smile, a comforting word, a blessing, or a healing prayer. She was sought after by everyone. She could easily call the regular patients by their names and enquire after their family members. 

“Relationships were important to Sister Rose and she took great pains to stay connected with ordinary persons who had long hospitalizations to let them know that she was concerned about their total recovery. She communicated with many nurses who were alumni of Nazareth School of Nursing and who were employed in the big cities of India and abroad. To help her in this apostolate, she welcomed gifts in the form of postal supplies and stamps, as her personal allowance could not support this extra expense. 

Left to right: Sisters Rose Kochithara, Rose Sebastian, Anne Marie Thayilchirayl, and Teresa Vellothara

“Sister Rose lived a simple life, a few sets of clothing, whose colours evoked renunciation. Gifts were received graciously, but they had a way of reaching the needy. 

“As a prolific reader, Sister Rose always looked out for new books on spirituality, Scripture and personal growth. She corresponded with authors to give her feedback on the content of their writing. She was a gifted writer, who used every opportunity to write letters to various Catholic and Nursing magazines on relevant current issues. Her many poems were published on a regular basis. A collection of her poems called “Inspirations” was published in 2004 by the India Province.”

In continuing the journey of Sister Rose “… So my sacred journey goes on, at my level and speed. Faith starts the journey; hope keeps it going, with God’s love, the power for the journey continues. I enjoy all beauty around, during my evening walk with God, to the Shrine of our Blessed Mother of Divine Grace. Childhood memories of watching sunsets from the beach, brings great joy, as I follow the setting sun! I praise your hidden plans, Oh Christ, from the beginning of my life. Paul Claudel’s words come to my mind:

“Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it;

He came to fill it with His presence.”

“Sister Liz Wendeln’s words to me speak often, “Rejoice in God’s unfolding love.” I am learning, though late, to follow God’s agenda in peace!

“Happily sharing my gifts of today, I live one day at a time, listening to and praising this silent, patient, kind and gentle God. I am healed for all past regrets, for my unused past gifts, and unmet aspirations. Joyously, I praise our God, who brings good out of all things.”

Sister Rose Kochithara

Sister Rose, we, your Sisters joyously praise our silent, patient, kind, gentle and magnificent God for your faith journey lived fully in total surrender to God in loving service to God’s people.

What a Call to Mary … our Mother

Father, you looked over the whole world
at all the young women
and chose this young, humble, village girl,
Her village, Nazareth, not even mentioned in history,
an insignificant little place
And you chose this humble, simple girl
Surely it was a big surprise for her,
‘How can this be’ she spoke in astonishment.
Getting the answer, she gently, humbly accepted
Your call, Father
‘I am the Lord’s Servant’ she said
‘be it done in me according to His Word.’
What a fine model for us, weak humans.
Mother, you pondered through life
Help us to a happy, fruitful, meaningful life
All in your name, Jesus, for your glory and praise! 

Rose Kochithara, SCN

Lovingly compiled and edited by SCNs Ann George Mukalel, Anne Marie Thayilchirayil, Malini Manjoly and Mary Chackalackal as a tribute to our mystic, Sister Rose Kochithara, in the year of her Diamond Jubilee!

December 22, 2020

 

Called by Name

Lord, you have chosen and called by name
These young, simple women,
To live in love in your presence,
To trust in your leadership,
To believe, to follow,
To surrender totally, to be for others,
To cherish, to nourish,
To speak tenderly, to speak to hearts.
To be a Sister, a mother, a friend, a servant,
To let your light shine,
To be a sign of hope, a sign of the beyond,
You have chosen and called by name,
These young, simple women.

Rose Kochithara, SCN