Bridget Philip was born on January 26, 1937 in Mutholy Panchayat, Meenachil Parish in Kottayam District, Kerala, to Philip Joseph Kappalumakal and Annamma Chacko VechiyanickalI as the seventh of eleven children. We were nine girls and two boys. In order of birth they are Mariakutty, Thresiamma, Joseph, Annamma, Alamma, Rosakutty, Bridget (called Ithamma at home), Catherine (Lilly), James, Clara and Philomina (Sophiamma). Seven of my siblings along with my parents have reached their heavenly abode. Two of my sisters have gifted their daughters to the SCNs- Sister Mercy Thundathil and Sister Pushpa Paruvananickal. Memories of my early childhood takes me to the seventy acres of farm land that my father loved to cultivate with cash crops. I grew up in a very devout, traditional Catholic family where morning and evening prayers and Sunday Mass were a must. We were encouraged to attend the daily Mass whenever it was possible. I grew up in the midst of my many siblings and we enjoyed our lives together. We learned to love, to share and to care for one another and also to have a lot of fun and laughter in the process.
My primary education from Class I to V was in a small, village-managed school, close to my home. Then, I went with my older sisters to study at St. Joseph’s Convent High School, Mutholy, about three kilometers away from my home. Though it was a long walk to the school, I enjoyed it going along with so many other children. I completed the Classes VI to XI from this school managed by the Carmelite Sisters (C.M.C.). I was very good in studies and scored high marks. The teachers were very happy with me and I was proud of myself although I was not good in singing or in sports.
While I was studying in grade V, my class teacher, Mr. Appachen, left us to become a missionary priest in the North. That made an impact on me because he was my favorite teacher. I was inspired by him to become a missionary myself when I grew up even though I did not know then what it meant to be a missionary. Afterwards, I forgot all about it until I was in the middle school. One of my classmates used to bring to the school a Jesuit magazine called “The Patna Mission” which her priest uncle used to send her. I started to read that magazine faithfully. Slowly, the desire took root in me to be a missionary in the Patna Mission to preach the good news to all the people and to save souls for Jesus. I did not know anyone there personally but the desire kept growing in me. I did not tell anyone about it except my friends.
When I passed the high school examination in 1954, my father wanted me and a cousin of mine to go to college. But my heart was only for the missions. When I told my family about my desire of going to the Patna Mission, my father declined to give me permission, citing the distance. I kept my hope alive, however, and kept on praying and I believed that God would somehow take me to Patna. My mind was preoccupied with the Patna Mission. It was at that time a priest named Joseph Maliparampil came to Bharananganum Church to recruit interested girls for the various congregations in the north. Without telling anyone at home I went along with my younger sister and met the priest and told him about my desire of going to Patna Mission. He agreed to take me and said he would write to me. I waited for the letter from the priest for more than six months but it did not come and I had no way of contacting him. I was a little disappointed but still I believed that God was calling me only to Patna and nowhere else.
Meanwhile my family – especially my father – insisted that I join one of the local congregations if I still wanted to be a Sister otherwise, get married. My father was left with the responsibility of responding to the many marriage proposals that came my way. Hence, half heartedly, I agreed to go to Clarist Congregation. But God’s plan was not so. The much awaited letter from the priest arrived and with a lot of convincing my father allowed me to go to Mokama. My deep-seated dream came true on July 4, 1955 when I undertook my first ever rail journey along with complete strangers who eventually became friends in mission.
We reached Calcutta on July 9, 1955 and several Sisters had come to claim their candidates. Five of us, Marykutty Emmanuel (Sister Elizabeth Emmanuel) Vattakunnel, Annamma E.A. (Sister Anne Elizabeth) Elampalathottiyil, Kochuthresiamma Thomas (Sister Teresa) Vellothara, Mariakutty Sebastian (Sister Rose Sebastian) and Bridget Philip (Sister Bridget) Kappalumakal resumed our journey and reached Mokama. We were welcomed by Sister Lawrencetta Veeneman, the local Superior of the community. She told us that they had no permission then to begin the novitiate as they were in Mokama only about eight years. Sister was sure that they would get the permission soon and in the meantime they would send us to study nursing or other courses at the hospital itself. We were given the freedom to stay back or go to some other congregation. Five of us discussed the matter and, trusting in Divine Providence, we decided to stay and join the Mokama Sisters, even though we knew nothing about them.
The unfamiliar surroundings, food and facilities demanded much of my will to adjust. One fine day Sister Lawrencetta informed us that I would go to study nursing along with another companion of mine. I joined the class of 1955 in the Nursing School where Sister Florence Joseph (Mary Frances Sauer) was the Director of Nurses. Our longing to be missionaries grew deeper and frustration crept in as a result of waiting. Finally, in September 1956 the Sisters got the green signal to start the novitiate and we were delighted with the good news that our dream of becoming Sisters was finally going to be realized. Sister Lawrencetta was appointed as the Novice Mistress. She asked the five of us if we would like to enter the postulancy or complete the studies. All of us wanted to enter the postulancy immediately.
On February 2, 1957, the feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple, Purification of our Blessed Mother and the birthday of Sister Lawrencetta, the novitiate (part of the hospital building on the second floor) was officially blessed and opened by Most Reverend Augustine Wildermuth, S.J., Bishop of Patna Diocese. The five of us became postulants. On December 8, 1957, we received our religious habit and Sister Lawrencetta whispered into each one’s ear our new name. I was called Sister Anne Philip. Thus we began our novitiate of two years with Sister Lawrencetta as the Novice Director. During that time the example of Sister Lawrencetta’s personal life taught me more than the classes. Sister never spoke an uncharitable word about anyone. Under the gentle guidance of Sister Lawrencetta Veenaman, we grew in love of God and community. On December 8, 1959, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Grace, Mokama along with four of my companions, I made my first commitment to religious life. It was the happiest day of my life as my dream of becoming a Sister was finally fulfilled. There were, for the first time, Indian women as vowed Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Thus began the pioneering journey. For our first mission we were assigned to the hospital community of six American Sisters. The sacrifice, missionary zeal, gentleness, love for the poor, simplicity, poverty and the spiritual richness of our pioneer sisters inspired me and helped me to grow. In 1960 Sister Thomas Aloysius (Teresa Velloothara) and I wrote the general nursing final examination. I then completed my Grade XII examination from Patna Women’s College in 1961. That same year Sister Anne Elizabeth and I were asked to go to the USA to the Juniorate and to pursue further studies. We were petrified and told Sister we did not want to go but there was no use. The decision was made that we go. Go, we did. When we arrived in Louisville airport there were so many Sisters waiting to receive us, “the first fruits” from India. When we reached Nazareth, all I could see was a sea of white caps. All at Nazareth were out on the front O’Connell Hall steps and along both sides of the path to welcome us. We were kissed, hugged and welcomed by every one of them and taken to the church for prayer and then, to the Juniorate where we met our Juniorate Directress, Sister Mary Rosine Callahan and our companions, juniors- about eighty of them. All of them tried to make us feel at home. It was a joy to be with so many young Sisters and we made friends with many- and some of those friendships are lasting even today. We joined the college studies along with the other juniors. I was able to adjust to the American culture without much problem except the food and not having rice even one time until we returned to India. We returned to India in 1964 by a freighter ship carrying twenty-one crates of luggage – equipment for the hospital. It took us three months to land in Bombay and we were excited to see Sister Lawrencetta waiting for us at the dock.
On my return, I began my missionary journey as the Assistant Director of the School of Nursing at Mokama with the additional responsibility of being the warden for the nurses in the hostel. I made my final vows on December 8, 1964 in the chapel at Nazareth Convent Mokama. Afterwards, I continued my ministry of teaching the nurses and being the Assistant Director until 1969. I was asked to take up the responsibility as the Director of the School of Nursing and this I continued until 1981, about eighteen years of ministry with the nurses. I returned to the USA for two years in 1974 to obtain my Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. After leaving the School of Nursing in 1981, I was appointed as the Director of the Temporary Professed Sisters. Accompanying the young Sisters and entering into their lives and ministry was a very sacred experience.
In 1984, I was called back to the hospital to be the Assistant Administrator with Sister Celine Arackathottam as the Administrator. Then, in 1986 I was appointed as the Administrator of the Hospital. The second coming to the hospital was challenging as we had to set up the new infrastructure and deal with the resurgent employees’ union. This was the toughest time in all my ministries. But I was not alone in it, my God was constantly with me leading and guiding me, and all my Sisters supported me wholeheartedly. I was not a trained hospital administrator but God helped me through all the problems and difficulties. Each day of my time in the hospital led me to a deeper trust in Divine Providence. One of the things that we were able to initiate at this time was to place all the SCN Sisters working in the hospital on a salary scale and draw a salary more or less comparable with each one’s qualification and experience. During this ministry I came face to face with sickness, pain and suffering and utter poverty. I used to go around the hospital wards visiting the sick people and their relatives and I was able to console and comfort many people and to help many poor people who were not able to pay their hospital expenses.
I left the hospital in 1989 and worked a year in Bakhtiarpur. Then, I was asked to go to Trichy, Tamil Nadu, with Sister Mary Stella Ambrose as the Administrator, to start a new mission there in 1991. That was the hardest mission I have had. To build up a farmland into a living place was not easy. We lived in a small house on the farm with no electricity, no running water and no neighbors. With bare minimum facilities, life seemed challenging. Sleeping on the new cement floor with a mat and getting up in the morning with body aches, picking up cow dung for the floor, not understanding the language of the people, and no support systems-all made my life in Trichy a very difficult one. My only salvation came from the typing and spoken English classes that I had started for the youth of the area. The experience in Trichy helped me to come down to earth and to keep both my feet on the ground. Once I learned the language I was happy. I could visit the families and converse with them. People were very happy with me even with my broken Tamil.
While in Trichy, I was elected as the Provincial of the Eastern Province in 1994 and I left for Patna. I was in the ministry of leadership from 1994 to 1999. It was a sacred experience for me to be with our Sisters and their collaborators in their missions and share in their joys and sorrows. It was a privilege getting to know the Sisters deeply, entering into their sacred spaces, and walking on holy grounds with them. There were difficult times but my trust in God and trust in others helped me to go through it all without too much problem. In the year 2000, I was sent to Madiwala, Bangalore for a year to take care of the student Sisters and candidates living there. While in Bangalore, I was asked to discern about the ministry of being a coordinator, in one of our retirement houses, Russell Hall, at Nazareth, Ky., in the USA. I was reluctant but finally I said “yes” to it. So, in 2001, I left for Nazareth and I was there until 2006. It was a very, very rewarding and enriching experience for me to be with our older Sisters, loving them, caring for them, listening to them, playing with them, going out with them for shopping etc.. I really experienced their love, care and trust in me and learned a lot from their wisdom and experience. During my stay there I was able to connect with all of my Sisters in the Western Province and I considered it a treasure. While ministering at Russell Hall, I volunteered to work with OCA part time (now OMA) (Office of Congregational Advancement and Office of Mission Advancement). I loved going to the former SCN schools in different States to reconnect with them for the sake of the missions. I returned to India in 2006 after having had a full five years of varied experiences and exposure at Nazareth. I came to know and love every sister in the Western Province and felt one with all of them.
My responsibility in 2006 was to start an office comparable to OCA for fund raising, in India. Unknowingly, the OCA experience was preparing me to take up this new ministry initiative in the form of the Eastern Province Development Office (EPDO) in Delhi. I took it up reluctantly but found my heart and soul to find success in “Friend Raising and Fund Raising.” After setting up the EPDO and getting it on its feet I left after five years in 2012.
In the year 2012, I went to Anakkampoil in Kerala and moved to be a pioneer in our mission to Kallanode, Kerala in 2014. In June 2017, at the age of 80, I requested a little leisurely life and asked for Madiwala, Bangalore. There I could continue doing some pastoral ministry like visiting the homes of the sick and the elderly and praying with them and taking Holy Communion to the home bound. I had left home sixty-two years ago to do pastoral ministry in Patna Diocese to go around the villages preaching the good news to all the people. And now, at the evening of my life I have the opportunity to fulfill my earlier dream and I am very happy and grateful about it. As I was enjoying ministering to the people here in Madiwala and the leisurely life, another request came from the Provincial and this time it was if I would go back to Kallanode in June 2018, to help out there, just one year after I left that place. So far in the fifty-nine years of my community life, I have not said “no” to any appointment whether I was prepared for the job or not. Once I committed myself totally to God, to the community and to God’s people, I believed in God’s will coming to me through the community and always I knew God would take care of it and use me as God’s instrument. I always gave myself totally- soul, mind, heart and body without counting the cost, to all the ministries that have been entrusted to me by the community. So, this time also I said “Yes” to the Provincial’s request, trusting in Divine Providence. I know the people of Kallanode will be very happy to receive me back and I know I will enjoy being with them and sharing God’s love, peace, joy and fullness of life and bringing them a little closer to our loving God and to each other.
After living in the community for the past fifty-nine years, I have only love and gratitude in my heart to God for calling me and sustaining me as an SCN all these years. I am proud to be an SCN and I love my community and am grateful for all the opportunities the community has given me over the years to carry out God’s plan in my life. I can honestly say that I have no regrets in my life but only love and gratitude. As I look back at my past life, I am amazed at the way my loving God called me to this particular Congregation sixty-two years ago. God placed me in the palm of God’s hand and carried me through all these years to where I am today. I am sure God will continue to carry me into the future by filling me with deep peace, love, joy, enthusiasm and passion for God’s people. I have no fear of the future as I have surrendered myself completely into God’s hands and I know God will take care of me until the end. The yearnings in my heart at this time are to come ever closer to Jesus each day and to really live as a true disciple of Jesus witnessing to Him and that every fiber of my being and every activity of my life resound with praise for my God. Also, I yearn to continue to see the SCN community as one living out faithfully what we have promised at our commitment in true love and interdependence.
I hope to continue to grow into the remaining years of my life with grace. I desire to be a loving, caring, life-giving, joyful, unifying and forgiving person and give support and encouragement to the younger members of our community to carry the life and charism of our Congregation into the future. Inspired by JFK (John Fitzgerald Kennedy), I say “Do not ask what the Congregation can do for us but ask what we can do for the Congregation.”
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