Born on November 9, 1942, Mary Thomas, (from now on called Sister Lucia) at Kaiyur parish in Palai diocese, Kottayam district in Kerala is the sixth child of Annamma Pulickalkunnel and Thomas Thuluvanickel. Catholic family faith was handed down to me especially through my mother who guided the family. My father had a grocery shop from his youth. My mother managed the home and property. We were ten children, five girls and five boys. In order of birth: Chandy, Aleykutty, Joseph I (died at the age of two), Joseph II and Annakutty (all four expired); Mary Thomas (Sister Lucia), Thomachan, Mathew, Kuttyiyamma (Celine) and Thankamma. Though we were a loving family I suffered from an inferiority complex because I was slightly darker than my other siblings.
People from poorer families mostly Christians worked on our land. I was friendly and got along well with their children who in turn loved me and gave me the needed recognition. I helped them with money when they needed to buy pens, pencils, etc. Thus early in life I learned to be compassionate to the needy and the poor.
As children, we learned to share, play and pray together. We had all our needs met and all were educated. We had daily evening family prayer and were encouraged to attend Mass on holidays. The Sisters in our parish prepared us for First Holy Communion and Confirmation. They and my classmates influenced me to be attracted to the spiritual life and to my vocation. My classmate, Josephine Naduvilekunnel (who later left the community) had joined the SCNs in Mokama in 1960.
In school, I was not good in studies. In fact, I did not bother about studies and failed twice. I failed again in the Secondary School Leaving Certificate examination in 1960 and after clearing it I joined the community in June 1961.
A new culture, language and different types of food were foreign to me when I came to Mokama. Four of us were sent to study in the School of Nursing at Nazareth Hospital, Mokama. Being faithful to a life of prayer as a candidate and managing the studies as a student nurse was difficult for us. In our absence, our classmates had to do extra work and they were unhappy about it.
As we were finishing our studies two more candidates joined us as candidates. Thus our batch had five nurses and one qualified and experienced teacher. Because of my inferiority complex, I had personal difficulties as a candidate. This crisis in my vocation later turned out to be a deep faith experience and assurance of my vocation. I entered postulancy on December 27, 1965. My life was smooth in the novitiate. The day of my vestition was one of the most joyful days of my life. I made my First Vows on July 19, 1968. After a six-month juniorate program in Ranchi I did my internship for two years at Nazareth Hospital.
Our American Sisters in general were kind and considerate especially, SCNs Teresa Rose Nabholz and Mary Frances Sauer. Sister Teresa Rose influenced me a lot as she was director in the candidacy and novitiate and she was also our regional superior.
My first mission was to Bakhtiarpur as one of the pioneers with Sisters Mary Frances and Joel Urumpil from 1971. However, I joined the group only after six months as I had gone for a counselling course at Christian Medical College in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. When I returned I was appointed as the head of the outpatient department till 1975. Sister Mary Frances was the superior and administrator of the Bakhtiarpur mission. She was a fully dedicated nurse who loved her work and I have learnt much from her. While in Bakhtiarpur I made my Final Vows along with my companions on July 2, 1972 in Mokama.
In Bakhtiarpur I felt good about some of my social involvements. I managed the ‘Family and Child Welfare project’ financed by the central government. As chairperson, everything depended on me. I used all the resources (money and staff) for the welfare of the Balwadi (pre-school run for the economically weaker sections of the society) children and women’s centers. Sister Mary Frances supported me fully and I enjoyed this outreach opportunity and service to the society.
The greatest thing that happened to me in Bakhtiarpur was that I came in touch with the Catholic Charismatic renewal through a Jesuit scholastic, Bob Gass from USA in 1973. We three pioneers started a weekly prayer group. It was a seed that sprouted, grew and brought forth much fruit in my life. From 1976 my ministry changed into giving retreats which I consider as a spiritually healing ministry.
From 1972 to 1973 I did my post-graduate diploma in Public Health Nursing in Delhi. On successfully completing my studies I continued to work at Bakhtiarpur. In Delhi, I was first in my class, all-around good, and my companions looked up to me. I was kind, compassionate and gave time for others even to counsel my companions when they needed. I was zealous in going to the families and villages. After completing my studies, I did not work as a Public Health nurse. I was sent to Sokho for the health ministry but God intervened to move me into retreat work.
In Sokho I was very much influenced by Rev. Dan Rice, SJ who gradually gave up his developmental work and went into spiritual ministry incorporating prayer and contemplation in the style of sadhus (monks) in India. I was made in-charge of the material/financial administration of the Sokho mission. We started giving Charismatic retreats in Hindi in 1976 thus bringing a new dimension to our life and mission. Work in the dispensary slowed down, the formal school was closed and the Catholic Relief Services were stopped. The spiritual ministry expanded beyond Sokho.
The people of Sokho were used to receiving material help and they found it very difficult to adjust to the new trend and they blamed me for the changes. The people called Father Dan and me for a meeting. A letter was sent to the Bishop of Patna protesting against the changes. There was a theft in the village and the poor people were unjustly blamed for it and three people were arrested and jailed. I tried to get them freed for we knew that they were not the culprits. My involvement with the local authorities, police inspector and lawyer was a new and challenging experience for me. In all these, God was on our side, working wonders and turning everything for our spiritual good and for the welfare of the people.
We tackled the postmaster of Garhi village near Sokho who used to mismanage the money of the poor men working in Calcutta (now Kolkata) who sent cash to their families by money order. We did not know anything about it until the money belonging to Father Dan and us was held up. Sister Amala and I waited for nine hours to get all the dues of the people and ours. Later the district authority took action against the postmaster. He was dismissed and a new postmaster was appointed.
I faced all the challenges in my life by depending on God and community. My faithfulness to prayer and the Word of God gave me strength. I also received help from my spiritual directors with whom I could open up my heart and get guidance. The sacraments strengthened me. Giving retreats and counseling people kept me close to God.
In June 1981, I moved into full time retreat ministry for a year staying in Jamtara community. Then for three and a half years I was a staff at Navjyoti Niketan, Patna. At this time I had the privilege of attending a three-month Sadhana (spiritual practice) program in Lonavala, Maharashtra in preparation for counseling during the retreats.
In 1986, I was appointed to Nazareth Hospital, Mokama to set up the Spiritual Care Department. Together with Father Dan Rice and Rosemarie Lakra, SCN we were able to convert the open veranda of Nazareth Hospital into a chapel. For thirteen years, I served in this department which was a joyful experience for me.
I went to Barauni in 2000 for full-time retreat work. I was the community coordinator. While in Barauni I was elected as the CRI (Catholic Religious of India) president of the Muzaffarur unit in 2007. Later I was elected to represent the pastoral ministry in the province for five years. I remained in Barauni until February 2017.
When Sister Lucia became sick and needed extra care she was sent to Patna for treatment and eventually was shifted to our retirement facility in Mokama in August 2017.
Through my life as an SCN, I have grown to be what I am now. I have come to accept myself. I am grateful to the community for the many opportunities I have had in growing closer to God and others. A retreat on Mother Catherine Spalding by Sister Mary Ellen Doyle, SCN, helped me feel proud of being an SCN.
My desire always has been to follow Jesus and embrace His values of unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness, taking criticism positively, loving the enemies and reconciliation with one another and doing God’s will at all times. I would like to see that we need to move away from the consumeristic culture of our day to be a counter-witness as women of detachment and prayer. I believe that trusting in the Providence of God we can become true daughters of Catherine in caring for the poor and the needy.
As I am growing in age and wisdom in community, I feel as St. Paul said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” I accept this physical reality and look to the future with hope. I want to be patient, prayerful, and loving to become a true daughter of Catherine and be an example to the younger generation.
Lucia Thuluvanickel, SCN
Lucia’s story was completed with the assistance of one of the MMC members.
Permission obtained to publish her story at the website.