Family: Born on October 9, 1937 in Paravoor parish, Ernakulam, Kerala, I, Lucy Therese, am the sixth child of my parents, Ittyerah and Achamma Kozhipat. We were three boys and five girls and they are (in order of birth), Paul, Jacob, Zenobia, Rithamma, Baby (Mary Philomina), Lucy Therese, Celine (Rose Celine) and Jose Antony Bosco. Two of my brothers, Paul and Jacob are no more.

My father was a practising advocate in Perumbavoor and later moved to Paravoor where I was born. My mother, one of thirteen children of the Kunnunkal family, was a boarding student at St. Teresa’s Convent English School. She was fluent in English and remained at school till Class VIII when she got married. My father was the eldest of five children, three boys and two girls. He was only fourteen years old when his father expired. He had then the responsibilities of educating and settling his siblings while he himself was a student at St. Joseph College, Trichy.

My family has been blessed with religious vocations. One of my aunts became a member of the Missionaries of Ajmir in Rajasthan and an uncle joined the Jesuits in Spain and died while he was a regent. The other uncle settled in Cylone (now Sri Lanka) and died there. My mother had seven brothers who became priests. One became the Prefect Apostolic of Jammu-Srinagar in 1978 and the first Bishop of Jammu-Srinagar diocese from 1986 to 1998. My mother’s three sisters became religious. Only two children, a brother and sister were married.

Sister Ancilla’s mother with her brother, the Bishop of Jammu-Srinagar, and two of her sisters (Sister Ancilla’s aunts and uncle)

When I was five years old, my father moved to Trivandrum (now Thiruvanathapuram) to start his practice at the High Court. We travelled to Trivandrum through the back waters with our belongings in two Kettuvallams (big boats). We stopped at every beach to rest and to enjoy and it took us ten days to get there. That was one of the most enjoyable and memorable times of my childhood.

Another incident that I remember as a small child is that my sister, Celine and I were watching our newly-made pond getting filled with water. Suddenly Celine fell into the pond and began to cry. Since no one was coming to rescue her, I cried out loudly, “Celine fell into the pond”. My mother who had almost reached her full-term of pregnancy, hurried and jumped into the water to lift her up. I was relieved to see Celine alive.

Our devout parents brought us up in strong faith. Daily Mass and evening prayer were a must in our family. God was good to us that we were always fortunate to live near the church. We also visited the church in the evenings. My sister, Zenobia was an inspiration to me to do well in my studies. She always stood first in her class in academic subjects as well as in catechism and she won many prizes.

I studied at Holy Angel English Medium School, Trivandrum along with my Sisters up to class VIII. In Trivandrum, along with the neighbourhood children, we used to organise plays/dramas and invited our parents to see them.

We had financial difficulties when my father could not get enough clients at the court and also when he was sick for a year and could not attend the court. As a young girl I found it difficult to understand this situation. In those hard times, I assured my Appan (father) that he would get favours from God and we would be alright. I had such a great faith in prayer that whatever I prayed for would be granted.

Around the time of my First Holy Communion at the age of eight, I got locked up in the church after one of our evening visits there. I was very scared and cried out for help. My mother rescued me from the locked church. In order to get over that fear, my mother took me to Father Michael, an older priest in the parish to bless me. I received my First Holy Communion on the feast of St. Michael. Therefore I never forget my First Holy Communion day.

When the two states of Travancore and Cochin merged to become one state, Thirukochi, the High Court was shifted to Ernakulam. So our family also moved to Ernakulam. For a year, I studied at St. Augustine’s School, Alwaye. From class IX onwards I studied at St. Mary’s High School, Ernakulam, run by the Sisters of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel.

After completing Class X as we were saying goodbye to our school Sisters, our Hindi teacher, Sister Digna asked us who all wanted to become religious. I told her that I would not join any convents in Kerala but wanted to be a missionary. She teased me saying that a convent would be started just for you. That was in 1954[i]. I always wanted to be a missionary. Since my uncle was a Jesuit priest in Patna, he used to send us their newsletters. I liked to read articles about the SCN Sisters working with the leprosy patients. I asked my uncle to let me know more about the SCNs. He gave me the address of Sister Lawrencetta and I started communicating with her. When I asked my father permission to join the convent in Mokama he told me to complete my college studies. He wanted his daughters to complete their basic college education before choosing their vocation in life. Therefore I did my Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) from St. Teresa’s College, Ernakulam. In the college I was a member of the “Legion of Mary’ and I regularly visited patients in the hospital. In that way I was very much attracted to the healing ministry.

Sister Ancilla with all four of her sisters when they visited Mokama in 2007

Call to religious life: When I completed my intermediate studies in 1956, I got a letter from Sister Lawrencetta asking me to meet the two candidates, Teresa Martin Thundiyil (former SCN) and Anne Marie Thayilchirayil who were travelling to Bihar with Eugenia Muething, SCN. My parents did not allow me to meet them since I had not completed my college. Immediately after my college, my brother, Jacob and sister, Baby, were married. Celine and Jose went to France for medical studies. Suddenly my parents were left home alone and they insisted that I stay with them for a year. While staying with my parents, I helped my father in translating an English book to Malayalam and also helping in his business of publishing a book each month. He was a prolific writer, publisher and translator of English Bible to Malayalam. He was the first Catholic to publish a Malayalam Bible in Kerala.

For a year, I struggled to make up my mind before joining the SCNs. My Appan advised me to read the book, ‘The Man who fought with God’ the story of St. Joachim. After reading that book, I found myself at peace with joining the SCN Congregation. I had never seen my Appan cry before, but when he gave me permission to join the convent he broke down. After I got the needed permission, I had no one to travel with except the Jesuit candidates. So one of my father’s friends told him that Mother Federick, an IBMV (now CJ) Sister was travelling with their candidates and I could travel with them to Bihar. When I reached Ernakulam railway station I came to know that Annamma Philip, a candidate for Mokama was also travelling with them. We travelled via Allahabad and stayed overnight at Bankipore in Patna. The next day, on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 30, 1961, Patricia Mary Kelley, SCN, came to take us to Mokama.

Since I had my degree and knew some English, I did not attend many of the language classes with the new candidates. Sister Patricia Mary, our candidate director, gave me piano lessons in which I could not succeed. We, candidates were engaged in cleaning the compound of the newly-built convent. Since Sister Lawrencetta, the novice director, was away in the US, Sister Patricia took care of us and the novices. During the work hours in the evenings we enjoyed interacting with the novices. Since I had the Science background, Crescentia Wise, SCN, asked me to teach Physics to the nurses which I enjoyed.

Anne Philip, Mary Juliana Tuti, Cecily Pulparampil (who discontinued later) and I entered the pre-novitiate on February 2, 1962. Sister Lawrencetta was our director. My parents, Baby my sister and her two-year-old daughter, Asha came on the occasion of my entrance to the novitiate on December 21, 1962. I was very happy to have them and they too were surprised with the kind of simple life our American Sisters lived.

Father John Smith, SJ taught Bible classes for us. We also had language classes in English and Hindi. Hindi was taught by a Sacred Heart Sister, Martina. Civics and Geography were taught by Gail Collins, SCN. Teresa Rose Nabholz, SCN, taught Child Psychology and Logic were taught by Father Jim Cox, SJ. Mary Jude Howard, SCN, taught Latin classes, special English classes and music along with the nurses in the hospital. Sister Patricia Mary taught classes in liturgy. Once a week, Sister Eugenia from Gaya came to teach us music. We attended the classes in Ethics with the nurses in the hospital once a week. We joined the nurses for Anatomy classes by Doctor D’Cruz. Doctor Joachim Johannes Royce taught Physics and other Science subjects.

As novices, we taught catechism to the women on Sundays. During the Mass we took care of their children so that the mothers could attend the Mass without disturbance. Every Saturday, we visited the assigned nearby villages to talk to the people.

Sister Lawrencetta was a wonderful director who helped us to grow in a mature and healthy way, upholding each one as precious and unique. In her instruction classes, she told us that the sign of a good vocation is having good health, being joyful, prayerful and ready to do any work for community in mission. What I continue to cherish are her words of wisdom, “That nothing happens without the knowledge of God and whatever happens is for our good.” Even now I use the same inspiration to console my family, relatives, Sisters in community and friends who struggle in life.

As I was completing my novitiate, Sister Lawrencetta asked me whether I wanted to study for medicine. I said ‘yes’ to her, since I always had a desire for the healing ministry.

The day of my First Vows, on December 21, 1964, I got a so-called ‘thin letter’ (appointment letter) to teach at Nazareth Academy, Gaya and my companion was Mary Juliana. I taught the kindergarten children for three months and it was a total failure but I managed the older children in class IV well. I also presided over the children during the lunch hours. Ann Bernadette Ormond, SCN, was our superior and I enjoyed community life.

My second mission was to Nazareth Hospital. I worked in the billing office till I got admission for pre-medical studies at St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore in August 1965. My companion was Sister Anne Elizabeth Elampalathottiyil. Though I found medical studies difficult initially, I worked hard and did well. I was a good support for Anne. We were well appreciated in the hostel. Some of my classmates approached me for advice in their life situations. As a class we were very close. I had a study companion, Kaveri Punanacha. We spent a lot of time in studies and drinking black coffee to keep awake. I continue that friendship even now.

During my studies, I went through a period of vocation crisis. Through my incessant prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to help me persevere in religious life, I became strong in my vocation.

I returned to Mokama on February 2, 1971 to work as an intern at Nazareth Hospital. After working for a year, I went to Darjeeling for a month to make a retreat in preparation for my Final Vows in 1972. I made my Final Vows along with Celine Arackathottam at Lawrencetta Hall, Mokama which was temporarily used for Sunday Masses for the Nazareth hospital employees and students.

Mary Jude Howard, SCN, the hospital administrator asked me to work in the community health department. It was a difficult assignment for me. Later, I found out that it was a blessing in disguise. I had the golden opportunity to design the whole public health department and I enjoyed attending to the poor patients at the centre and the out-reach clinics.

Sister Ancilla in community health attending to a patient in 1974

Teresa Rose Nabholz, SCN, the regional superior, asked me to attend a four-month liturgical and biblical course at NBCLC (National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre), Bangalore. This course equipped me to help the nursing students and staff to strengthen their own faith and spirituality. I was fortunate to come close to many of them.

I taught anatomy to the nursing students and my first batch of students was extremely talented and responded well. This helped me to love teaching. I also taught Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

In the course of my six years at the hospital under the guidance of doctors D’Cruz, B.K. Setty, Nathleen D’Souza and Mev Kenny, I became an expert in medicine, surgery and Gynaecology. Thus the experience in the hospital made me an all-round doctor.

I also took keen interest in getting to know our young Sisters, novices and candidates by name.

In 1979, I went to Louisville, Kentucky for further studies. I got a graduate degree in psychology from Spalding University and I did Family Medicine with the University of Louisville. Those were wonderful years of study and experience. I made long lasting friendships with many of my classmates especially with Mary Hardesty who is an SCNA.

I returned to Nazareth hospital in 1983 and continued to work in the OB/Gynae department. In 1984, the new hospital building was almost ready to function. Each department was busy packing and shifting to the new hospital for its inauguration on May 20, 1984.

A part of the old hospital outpatient department and a few adjacent rooms were renovated as kitchen, community room and dining area for the Sisters working in the hospital (hospital Sisters) but they continued to sleep in the convent building.

Sister Anne Philip and I attended a ten-day course at Anjali Ashram, Mysore in Karnataka as part of our Silver Jubilee preparation. I also made an eight-day retreat at Mount St. Joseph’s in Bangalore. On December 28, 1989, we celebrated the golden jubilee of Mary Francis Sauer, SCN, and our silver jubilee (Mary Juliana Tuti and Anne Philip).

On that very day, my father passed away and I got the news only on December 31. The telegram had gone to St. Joseph Convent, Bankipore in Patna instead of Mokama. Later it was directed to our Provincial House in Patna and Reena Theruvankunnel, SCN, brought it to Mokama. Though I was home on December 12, for my jubilee celebration it was still very painful for me to accept the news of my father’s death at the age of ninety-two. I visited home again for the 41st day memorial Mass. The greatest gift that my father has given me is to ‘trust in the Divine Providence at all times’. His faith in God was strong like a rock.

In March 1993, my cherished desire to work among the rural people was fulfilled in going to Almora in Uttar Pradesh. I taught women to work as village health workers. I was the first one to introduce school health program in private and government schools. Our main focus was to give sex-education to the adolescents in the schools and we also conducted English classes for the youth. I also worked as the health coordinator of the Diocese of Bareilly. I encouraged the religious women in health care to focus on community health to improve the health of the people as a whole. I was also part of the campaign of the ‘Catholic Health Association of India’, ‘Health for All By 2000’ to promote heath at all levels.

Sister Ancilla with the staff in Almora

I practiced ‘rational drug therapy’ and organised seminars on it for the religious and health staff of RUPCHA (Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab Catholic Health Association). I served as the vice president of RUPCHA and later, president.

The six years I spent in Almora were the most fulfilling years of my religious life and as a doctor. For the first time, I lived in a community of two Sisters. We had good relationship with our neighbours. We loved the mother of the tenant where we lived.

I resumed my duty at Nazareth Hospital in 1998 and became Chief Medical Officer in 1999 when Doctor D’Cruz retired. From then on I have been in the medical department.

In 2002, the hospital Sisters got a residence which accommodated two communities, Ashirvad North and Ashirvad South. This was the first time, the hospital Sisters lived and worked on the same campus. Both groups have grounds for cultivation and flower gardens.

In 2010, I had a year of sabbatical for professional update and personal renewal. I visited some of the hospitals in the United States and had a three-month renewal in Baraka, New Hampshire. I had a three-month experience in the surgical department at Holy Cross Hospital, Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh. I also used part of the time to learn to use a computer in Gumla, Jharkhand.

Over the years the number of patients had dwindled considerably at Nazareth Hospital. As a result, in consultation with the whole province, the Province Assembly 2012 made the decision to re-orient the hospital and focus our attention on HIV/AIDS, palliative and geriatrics care. We had to close down the maternity and surgical departments. The personnel working in those departments were retrenched with prior notice and adequate compensation. Unexpectedly, the retrenched hospital employees gheraoed (protested) at the OPD (Outpatient department) gate on July 1, 2012. The hospital was closed for a day. With police protection, patients continued to visit the OPD from July 2. The protesting employees were asked to shift their place of protest outside the main gate.

For the 45th year of my Vows, our class made an eight-day retreat at Christ Centre, Calicut in Kerala. We also enjoyed visiting each other’s homes. Mary Juliana cherished her first visit to Kerala, attending many functions and learning the culture.

In preparation for our golden jubilee, Anne Philip and I went for a two-week seminar on ‘abundance of life’ and a retreat at St. Xavier’s, Delhi given by my maternal uncle, Rev. Tom Kunnunankal, SJ. He told us that our best years are ahead of us which energizes me still to work hard in my mission. We also took the opportunity to visit important historical places in Delhi and Agra and the missions we had served earlier. My local community, Ashirvad North celebrated my jubilee with all the campus Sisters, three visiting American Sisters and novices on October 28, 2014. Bishop Sebastian Kallupura from Buxar was the main celebrant. The province level celebration was on December 28, 2014. We were fortunate that the Mokama parishioners celebrated our jubilee during a Sunday Mass. People felicitated us and gave a token of appreciation.

Faith experiences: While I was studying in the US, I had an issue with forgiveness. During one of the Advents, with faith I prayed for forgiveness, believing that God alone could give me that strength. Sure enough, I received it on Christmas Day. Since then, I am free from all past baggage and I forgive others easily. I also was freed from my own bondage of looking at persons through a tinged glass.

During one of my personal walks among the beautiful pine trees in Almora, I experienced God’s affirmative assurance that I am the beloved daughter of God. It helped me to get rid of my own inferiority complexes and low self-esteem. Ever since, I began to believe in my own God-given goodness.

At the age of ninety-two, my dear mother passed away on July 2, 2000 when I had gone to a pilgrimage to Bandel in Kolkata with my community. How I came to know about my mother’s death and my going home was a deep faith experience. When my brother called Mokama to inform me, Xavier Valiakunnel, SCN, (deceased) answered the phone. Since she knew the phone number of the priests in Bandel, she immediately called the priest to inform me. As soon as we reached Bandel, the priest asked us if there was a doctor among us and said that he had bad news for her. He shared with me the shocking news of my mother’s death. My cousins came to take me to the airport. Since it was a Sunday they could not withdraw money from the bank and I had no money either. Graciously that priest offered the money for my ticket and I flew home in the same evening and I was fortunate to be there for my mother’s funeral.

After the death of my parents and my two brothers, God gave me the faith and grace to feel that they are much closer to me than when they were alive. Because of this I am able to console many persons who lose their loved ones suddenly or unexpectedly.

What makes me proud to be an SCN is that I am part of a Congregation in which Sisters appreciate and uphold the uniqueness of each person as precious. We are a community where individuals exercise freedom with responsibility. We are a happy and joyful group of religious who take risks in mission.

Sister Ancilla and Sister Archana Valiaparambil

Whenever I meet young Sisters and novices, I always tell them what Sister Lawrencetta told us about having good health, being joyful, prayerful and ready to do any work for community in mission is a sign of a religious vocation. I also add that they make Jesus the centre of their lives.

My first vocation is to be a religious and my second priority is being a medical doctor. I have touched many lives at their most vulnerable state by operating on many serious patients to save their lives. It is a joy for me to help innumerable mothers to give birth to their babies. There are times I have felt helpless before God and people when I could not save a patient. And yet, as a doctor, in faith I have served our hospital for forty-seven years and I still enjoy working there because I believe I am the healing hands of Jesus.

Ancilla Kozhipat, SCN

Consent given to publish the story on Dec 18, 2017

[i] In 1954, Sister Digna might have said in fun that a convent would be started only for Lucy Teresa. In fact, it became true in 1956 when Sister Lawrencetta called me to join their newly opened pre-novitiate in Mokama.

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