Her days are long as a doctor in Mokama, India, where the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth first began their ministries in that country with a clinic to care for those with leprosy. Dr. Ancilla Kozhipat, a Sister and a doctor, carries on the tradition of providing health care in one of the poorest states of India.
At 81 years of age, she has no plans to slow down or see fewer patients. She begins her days early and often sees dozens of patients. She provides care to those who might not otherwise have access to health care.
“Ancilla is a woman of great optimism. Even in the moments of despair, when patients are in critical condition, she holds on to her faith and hope, and treats them with the utmost care,” reflects Jacky Jesu, SCN, who lived with Sister Ancilla for 10 years and served alongside her at the former Nazareth Hospital in Mokama, India.
Sister Jacky emphasizes that in a lifetime of caring for others, Sister Ancilla centers all she does in prayer. “My first vocation is to be a religious and my second priority is being a medical doctor,” says Sister Ancilla. “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 47 years …”
Born into a devout Catholic family, daily Mass and evening prayer were foundations for Sister’s family. Four of her aunts and nine uncles joined religious congregations, as did some of her siblings.
From 1954 on, Sister Ancilla recalls wanting to be a missionary. Her uncle, a priest in Patna, India, sent newsletters with stories of ministries of religious across India. That is how Sister Ancilla first came to know about the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, “I liked to read articles about the SCN Sisters working with leprosy patients. I asked my uncle to let me know more about the SCNs. He gave me the address of Sister Lawrencetta (Veeneman) and I started communicating with her. When I asked my father permission to join the convent he told me to complete my college studies. He wanted his daughters to complete their basic college education before choosing their vocation in life.”
Sister Ancilla earned her Bachelor of Science from St. Teresa’s College. There she was a member of the “Legion of Mary” and regularly visited patients in the hospital.
After coming to the Congregation, she became close to Sister Lawrencetta. Sister Ancilla grew and thrived under the guidance of Sister Lawrencetta, recalling words of wisdom she offered to comfort those struggling. “That nothing happens without the knowledge of God and whatever happens is for our good.”
As Sister Ancilla was completing her novitiate, Sister Lawrencetta asked her if she wanted to study medicine. Sister Ancilla had long felt called to the healing ministry. She carried out her pre-medical studies at St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, beginning in 1965 with another Sister, Anne Elizabeth Elampalathottiyil, SCN. In 1971, she returned to Mokama to intern at Nazareth Hospital. She served in the community health department and later designed the whole public health department. Sister Ancilla also taught anatomy to the nursing students at Mokama, as well as obstetrics and gynecology.
She served for six years in the hospital before traveling to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1979. She earned a graduate degree in psychology from Spalding University and practiced family medicine with the University of Louisville. In 1983, she returned to Nazareth Hospital. Sister Ancilla realized another dream 10 years later, working among rural people. She was missioned in Almora in Uttar Pradesh. She taught women to work as village health workers and was also the first one to introduce school health programs in private and government schools. She focused on community health to improve the health of the people as a whole.
Sister Ancilla returned to Nazareth Hospital in 1998 and became Chief Medical Officer in 1999. She has cared for thousands of patients and mentored countless young women.
“She has been faithful to her call as a missionary. As a doctor she has served the poor and the sick with compassion and has given life to many,” says Sister Jacky. “Her commitment to the patients and love for the poor is exemplary.”
Sister Ancilla is also well-loved for her curious nature and outgoing personality. “If there is one SCN who knows all in the community, including the ones in the initial formation, even the candidates by name, it is Ancilla,” points out Sister Jacky. “A Sister with multiple interests, she is an ardent reader, up to date with all that is happening in the world, and tech-savvy. She enables everyone to be their best.”
Sister Ancilla is quick to credit who she is and what she has accomplished with having been called to be a Sister. “What makes me proud to be a Sister of Charity of Nazareth is that I am part of a Congregation in which Sisters appreciate and uphold the uniqueness of each person as precious ….” Noting once again, “my first vocation is to be a religious and my second priority is being a medical doctor … I believe I am the healing hands of Jesus.”