Born on August 3, 1943, at St. George Hospital, Fort Bombay, Cassilda

Patrocinia Castell was the third child and the first daughter of Peter Rozario Castell and Aramita Amelia Menezes Castell.

Childhood: I grew up in a family of loving and responsible parents. The first five of us were born two years apart. There were two boys to follow me. So I grew up amidst much love and affection. My parents were devout Catholics. Daily morning Mass and evening prayers and the rosary were part of our daily routine. From early years, I remember being attached to my mother and brother, Agnel. The reason for the attachment to Agnel, as I see it now, is that he was my security while at school. Bruno went to school at St. Xavier’s while the rest of us attended Holy Name High School at Woodhouse Cathedral. During my early school days, if and when I missed my mother at school, I would go in search of Agnel. On my birthdays, he would always gift me with something or the other.

Another great influence in my life was my godfather, Asiz Rodericks, my Dad’s life-long friend and co-worker at the B.E.S.T. (Bombay Electric Supply and Tram-ways). Both were a jovial pair. Dad loved singing and Asiz telling jokes. We had frequent parties and my Mum was a hostess par excellence. Right to the year I came to Mokama on December 9, 1964, my birthdays were celebrated in grand style with family, relatives, and friends enjoying the evening in dance and much fun. August 3, 1965 was a day of much loneliness. I was a postulant. Nobody knew it was my birthday. I cried all through the day. Then Teresa Rose Nabholz, SCN, came to my cell (sleeping area in the dormitory area covered with curtains on three sides) with a telegram from ‘god’. The postal department had left out the word ‘father’ because the telegram was from my godfather!

We were nine children in the family – our names (all Portuguese except for the last) followed the alphabet: Agnel, Bruno, Donald, Epiphany, Fatima, Gracinda (Grace), Huberto (Hubert) and Iona.

Studies: I did well in school but somehow did not take to Hindi and Marathi. Passing Hindi became compulsory and so I was detained in class five. This was a big blow to my ego. I resolved to at least work towards pass marks and from then on I ranked among the first five in a class of thirty-five students. I was disappointed at my matriculation (equivalent of Class X) result when I missed the first division by a few marks in 1959.

Work Experience: Living in the heart of Bombay (now Mumbai) and watching young women go to and fro the many offices in our area, my heart was bent on being a secretary. After high school, I refused my father’s suggestion to go to college. I completed a secretarial course while at my first job at Tata Fison in the Fort area. This was a temporary position. Soon I completed my course and I got a good job at Caprihans India Ltd. (Limited) as a personal secretary to the director of the company. I worked here for five years until I left for Mokama.

I enjoyed my young adult life, earning well and had lots of friends. Because of my talent for singing, I was always called to be part of the picnic and party groups. My friends wanted me to be a crooner in a band but my Dad was against this. My parents received proposals for my marriage but somehow I was not ready and turned down several of them. Deep within my unconscious was God preparing me for something I knew nothing about.

When I completed high school, I received a letter from my neighbor, Lucy Braganza who is now a St. Charles Borromeo religious, Mother Victoria. She wrote to say that I had a religious vocation and I would do well joining them. Five girls from our parish were already in this Congregation. At this time I would never admit to myself that I was called to religious life. I was too worldly, never missed a movie, picnic, party, etc.

I was very active in my parish, member, and president of the girl’s Sodality and choir, Bandra. It was in 1963 at one such retreat that I felt God’s call very strongly. Soon after, a friend, Pamela (neighbor of Olive Pinto, SCN) asked me to accompany her to the airport to visit a Lawrencetta Veeneman, SCN, who was on her way to Goa for a CRI (Conference of Religious India) meeting. I did go and convinced Sister Lawrencetta that it was Pamela who wished to join and, that I was not interested. For a whole year, I kept receiving letters from Sister Lawrencetta and Isabella Baptist giving me news of the mission and inviting me to join them. Pamela married.

In December 1964 the Eucharist Congress was held in Bombay. I was in the special choir and we were placed very close to our Holy Father, Pope Paul VI. The last day of the Congress was December 5 and I left home December 7 among lots of tears and many farewell parties. I told my friends that I had to answer the call within but I would be back for the Christmas dance! God caught me within the SCN family. Until I received the habit, I kept resisting and frequently asked Sister Teresa Rose to return home. It was Sister Teresa Rose who knew of my homesickness and talked me into letting God work in me. To her, I am truly grateful.

Looking back at my novitiate days, I see that I was frequently not with the group for classes except for constitution class. While my companions attended English classes or did student teaching, I was kept busy with secretarial work.

Cassilda Castell with SCNs in India

Religious Life: I was a candidate only for a month and a half. We were about seventeen in the group. In February 1965, I became a postulant along with six others. On December 21, 1967 six of us made our First Vows. With some of my companions, I attended IA (Intermediate Arts) classes at St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi between 1968-1970. In June 1970, I went with Sunita Vayalipara, SCN, to Nazareth College, KY for my studies. I was sent for music but seeing that I would not be able to use Western music in Bihar, in consultation with Dorothy McDougall, SCN, the education director, I requested to take up education with curriculum and instruction as my subjects. I completed the undergraduate studies at Spalding College, Nazareth and moved to Peabody University, in Nashville, TN for my graduate studies while staying at the SCN Villa. These five years of studies were very enriching. I felt privileged to meet great educators and made many friends. One of the highlights of this period was a long retreat I made with Sisters Susan Gatz, Rosemary Durbin, at Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1973. This was in preparation for my final vows made at Nazareth on July 19, 1973. My priest brother Agnel was in Toronto, Canada at the time. So he and some family friends drove to Nazareth and Father Agnel celebrated the Eucharistic liturgy. I drove back to Toronto with the family and stayed for three weeks.

On my return to India in 1975, I was missioned at Nazareth Academy, Gaya. Initially, I experienced much loneliness but found solace in my work. I enjoyed teaching and working with high school students. We had no secretary in the school and along with Eugenia Muething, SCN, we would type our question papers for the entire school and then run off copies on the cyclostyling machine. Those were years of hard work but I felt rewarded.

My next five years from 1979 to 1984 in Vasai, Maharashtra were years of gaining new experiences. I taught at St. Augustine High School and enjoyed working with the high school boys. As a coordinator of the local community, I also supervised the construction work at the new convent building while we lived in a rented place at Tamtalao, Vasai. Setting up and moving into the new Nazareth Convent was a time of much hard work and yet there was a feeling of achievement.

The next four years saw me back in Gaya but this time, as principal at Crane Memorial School. Being a parish Hindi medium school, I initially resisted the appointment. I felt blessed to have good Sister companions and staff to work with. I truly enjoyed my years at Crane school amidst a family atmosphere. Friendships and contacts cultivated during my years in Gaya have continued all through the past over forty years.

The next three years of administration and teaching SCN candidates in Ranchi were enjoyable. Life in the community was rich with much sharing and concern for each other.

In 1991, I participated in a renewal program for the silver jubilarians in Kodaikanal in Tami Nadu. It was truly a rich experience with Sister Teresa Rose as our director.

Cassilda Castell with her golden jubilee group

The six-months of work in the province finance office in Patna in 1991 were foretastes for my next assignment as director of finance at Nazareth Hospital, Mokama from 1992 to 1997. The initial years were one of struggle and learning. I found myself turning more towards God seeking advice and consolation. I was asked to help out for a year but the at the end of five years I came out confident with knowledge for accounting, book-keeping, facing auditors, etc., all learned on the job.

OCA (Office Congregational Advancement): OCA was taking birth in 1997 from the old version of the ‘Mission Office’ at Nazareth, KY. I was asked to be part of OCA from its inception in 1997 and worked initially as director of projects. In 1998, I was given the responsibility as director of development. Again this was a learning period in my life. The job was challenging but with guidance from professionals, Charles Cushman and Jane Eaves and from Sister Susan Gatz, I experienced a lot of affirmation and satisfaction knowing that I was directly enabling our missions in India to function.

My five years at OCA offered me the opportunity to be in close touch with all our SCNs and some major donors. During these five years, my knowledge of individual SCNs and our missions and ministries increased greatly since I had to share stories with the development staff as well as donors on why we needed generous partners.

In November 1998, I organized a group of twenty Americans, mostly CEOs (chief executive officers) of our hospitals and their families along with several SCNs from the hospitals to travel to Mokama for the golden jubilee celebration of Nazareth Hospital. As part of the tour, the group visited the SCN house in Delhi and many other historic places including the Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. The group enjoyed the jubilee event in Mokama and we visited Calcutta and Bombay on our way back to the US. 

While in the US, I was elected to serve on the board of the Southern Region. After much prayer and support, I accepted this role. For the three years that I served in this position, I got to know and experience more closely the joys and struggles of individual SCNs and the Southern Region as a whole.

My greatest joy during this period of my life was that of belonging to the choir of Nazareth and the choral group at St. Catherine’s in Kentucky. Though nervous at first I enjoyed cantoring at Nazareth. The experience of singing with professionals in the St. Catherine’s choral group was thrilling. We had practices every Thursday evenings and Sisters Susan Gatz, Rita Davis and I seldom missed a practice. The group gave three yearly performances. Each concert was held in three locations and people paid to attend the concert. I feel proud to have been part of the choral group’s CDs (Compact Disc) that were made.

I returned to Patna in August of 2002 and I was asked to serve as secretary to the provincial as well as be the secretary of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Patna Society. The work load was heavy but my deep faith and my affirmation in my initial call to religious life kept me serving till August 2009.

Cassilda Castell with Mary Anne Burkardt, SCN during GA 2008 in Bangalore, India

I was given a two months break for renewal before I joined the EPDO (Eastern Province Development Office) in November 2009. Having served at OCA at Nazareth I was able to get into the job with ease. During this time, I visited all the SCN houses and schools in the province. This experience again enabled me to come in close contact with our Sisters and the province as a whole. I served at EPDO for six years until 2015. I initiated the NOSA, Delhi (Nazareth Old Student Association) group and we had two very successful events at the venue of St. Xavier’s High School, Delhi. Doctors Nimish and Silvia, alumnae, conducted three free dental camps at Seelampur slums in Delhi where SCNs minister. Several of the NOSA members became regular donors to EPDO.

In June 2015, I shifted to Nazareth Convent, Ranchi where I am presently. I was asked to help our candidates and young student Sisters with their studies. I also take spoken English classes for some local young girls when the need arises. Hospitality is our main ministry as we have a constant flow of visitors, be it our own SCNs or other religious priests and nuns who stop by. The SCN residence is very close to Ranchi railway station and bus stand. Our place becomes a very convenient stop over for travelers. I also enjoy being present to the children of the Premashary shelter home when they are outdoors at play.

On December 15, 2015, I had an unexpected and shocking experience. After lunch, I felt uneasy and was not sure what was happening to me. I was in my room and kept going from bed to the toilet. I kept my door open and called for help and nobody was around. In the toilet, I was gagging and to my good luck, Sister Philomena Kottoor, SCN, vice provincial, heard me and came to help. I was rushed to the hospital and I had an angiogram followed by an angioplasty for three – a hundred per cent, ninety per cent and a sixty per cent – blocks. I have two stents put in and I am being treated for the third block with medicines. Within forty-eight hours I was back home feeling weak but given a new lease of life. I feel very grateful to Sister Philomena and the Priya Kalapurayil, SCN, the administrator cum coordinator for their immediate action which saved my life.  

Cassilda Castell with SCNs Mary Joseph Pamplaniel and Rita Puthenkalam in Mokama

I have completed fifty years of religious life and I am celebrating my golden jubilee this year, (2017). My family gifted me a trip to Australia and New Zealand to visit my sisters Grace and Iona in Melbourne and Perth and my two nephews in Auckland. On February 18, 2017, my family celebrated my jubilee in Bombay at Rosary Church, Dockyard with a reception in the school hall. There were several SCNs present along with 134 guests.

Looking back over the years I feel grateful to our loving God for all that has happened. Through all the highs and lows of my religious life, Jesus has been my constant companion. There are times of loneliness and yearning when I tell myself that this is part of God’s plan. I feel grateful for my friends and cherish the time I can share with them at depth. I am deeply grateful to my family members who have been my constant support. I continue to thank God each day for the gift of my vocation for I am convinced that vocation is a call and a gift. “I chose you to be mine”. I continue to journey forth to fulfil God’s call in me.