I, Magdaline, was born on January 20, 1937 in Merlapadam village, Omanzoor Parish in Mangalore, to Domingo Saldanha and Agatha Roderigues. I am the youngest of thirteen children – eight girls and five boys. In order of birth they are John Baptist, Anjaline, Isabella, Marcelline, Lawrence, Alice, Regina, Simon, Susanna, Helena and Magdaline (Marietta). Two of the boys died in their childhood and John Baptist as an adult. My parents were un-lettered, yet very devout Catholics. Never a day passed without morning and evening prayer, recitation of the rosary and singing of seasonal liturgical hymns after rosary and reading the lives of saints. No one would ever miss a Sunday Mass. From the time I was old enough, about six or seven years old; I was strongly encouraged to go for daily Mass during the holidays. Going up and down the hills, the distance to the church was about three miles away and I was able to reach there without any companions. Because of the extensive property we owned, my brothers and sisters, along with my parents, had to be engaged in farm work day in and day out except on Sundays. My father died in June 1952 and mother on September 4, 1975. Among the ten children who are alive, I am the only one who had the privilege of completing SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate), teacher training and of having teaching experience before joining the convent.
The joyful memories of my childhood outweigh the negative experiences. Though my parents were strict with me I experienced lots of love, freedom and care from my close family and relatives. The happiest moments that stand out in my mind are: the whole family coming together in the evenings and on Sundays for meals, prayers and recreation. One of the things I enjoyed doing together was singing Church hymns according to the liturgical season. Because I was quite happy at home, I did not have a desire to go anywhere else for celebrations. On several occasions I was asked by my father to go to my married sister’s home. She had no children for about four years after the death of her first child. Out of fear of my father, I went there reluctantly as there were no other children to play with me. There, I learnt to do house work, which I never had to do at home. I was not physically punished by my parents except once when my father beat me with a stick for sharing the family “secrets” with one of my other married sisters!
Though for the most part I had a happy childhood, a few incidents mar my happy memories. The first one, when I was probably three or four years old, my mother was suddenly hospitalized and I did not see her for a long time, which seemed like two months. Being very much attached to my mother, I missed her love and physical presence even though my eldest sister, then at home, took the place of my mother for me.
After completing Class I, I was sent to St. Joseph’s Elementary School run by the Mangalore Bethany Sisters. While attending St. Joseph’s I stayed with a family friend of my parents in the town. They were a loving family though not as well off as we were. They could not provide the same kind of food that I ate at home. When I came home every six months, I complained about some invisible sickness, but my father would not allow me to stay away from school. In Class IV, I had an attack of pneumonia and after two months’ of hospitalization, I was brought back home. My education continued in the parish school after losing a year. It was during this year that I was sent to my sister’s home for four to six months. I disliked this very much. From these two painful events, I might have collected a great deal of anger and resentment.
For high school – eighth standard on wards – I was admitted to Capitanio School, run by the Sisters of Charity of Bartolomea Capitanio and Vincenza Gerosa, staying in their boarding. The hostel life did not suit me and within a month I lost a lot of weight. At the end of the month I was sent to a family as a paying guest and continued my education, I was very happy in this family and I did not mind being away from home. They loved and cared for me as one of their own.
In studies I performed rather well and excelled in sports, winning prizes, securing certificates, etc. In primary, as well as in high school, I won prizes in catechism class almost every year and this made me feel very proud of myself. Every year in high school I was elected as a leader of some group or other. In the teacher training school, I was elected ‘school pupil leader’. School was my joy and pride so most of my free time was spent in the school, rendering service of some sort.
In Class X, one of the sons in the family where I stayed fell in love with me and asked me if I would marry him. I responded, “If I ever marry, I will marry you.” Our relationship continued for several years but with a view of joining a Congregation, I called off my relationship with him.
When I was still in the teacher training school, SCNs Ann Bernadette Ormond and Patricia Mary Kelley came to the parish for vocation promotion. I was home for the weekend. On Monday morning when I went for Mass, the parish priest talked to me about the SCN Congregation and he thought that I would fit in better with them. Previously he had arranged for me to join the Bambino ‘Sisters of Charity’ in Calcutta. After a year of teaching in the school I left for Mokama on August 16, 1959. When I left home my mother said tearfully in Konkani, my mother tongue, “In which day and which sun that I was going to be?”
I enjoyed the candidacy with my companions Margaret Rodericks, Elizabeth Nadackal and Mary Scaria Menonparampil in Gaya and Sister Patricia Mary as our director.
I entered the postulancy on December 21, 1959 and the novitiate in 1960. Sister Lawrencetta Veeneman was our director in the postulancy as well as in the novitiate. I enjoyed my formation days. However, I was frustrated at times when I was misunderstood or corrected for what seemed like silly mistakes. At times I tried to “show off” to prove that I could make my own decisions. We made our First Vows on December 21, 1962.
Soon after my First Vows, I had the juniorate program for a year. I also taught at Xavier’s School part time. In August 1964, Sarita Manavalan, Margaret, Mary Scaria and I were selected to go to the United States for further studies. Only after arriving in the USA, did I discover that I was to study a Home Economics degree course. This I did not like because my mind was set on studying Theology or Psychology. Since no other alternative was offered to me, I was not at all satisfied. Adjusting to the Western culture and to a new place and people was not a problem for me. I was able to do well in my studies. However, I was extremely home sick for India. With some credits recognized from my teacher training in India, I completed four years of studies within two and a half years and I returned to India to be in ministry.
I was appointed Principal of St. Xavier’s School, Mokama, in 1967. Though a job that I was not so excited about it in the beginning, I learned to like it and I functioned well. I trained the teachers and brought up the standard of the school. Living at Nazareth Convent local community and sharing life with my Sisters was a unique, unforgettable and happy experience. Anne Marie Thayilchirayil, SCN, was the superior of the community. We enjoyed ourselves as a community, supporting one another and enjoying the fun and laughter during recreations. We also cared for one another. In December 21, 1967, I made my Final Vows in Mokama.
After a three-month course in ‘self-renewal and Church renewal’ at NBCLC (National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre), Bangalore, conducted by Father Amalorpavadass, I was appointed Diocesan Director of Catechetics. This was in the Patna diocese and the appointment was made for two years by Bishop Wildermuth in consultation with the SCN provincial, Teresa Rose Nabholz. As the director I had the privilege of touring the whole diocese of Patna twice, training teachers in Catechetics. I also worked at NBCLC part-time.
In December 1972, I joined the staff of NBCLC in Bangalore and worked at the national level for three years as a permanent staff member. I conducted courses and seminars throughout India in collaboration with others in the field or alone.
In 1975, I went for my post graduate studies in the US. This time I was free to choose the area of my study, so I pursued my studies in Religious Education and in Counselling and Psychology. By the end of June 1977, I secured a double Master’s degree from Fordham University, New York, and from Spalding University, Kentucky, respectively.
On my return to India in 1977, I was appointed Superior of Nazareth Convent, Ranchi, a study house for our candidates and later as Director of Education for the India Province. In both these roles I was content serving the community.
In March 1981, the Provincial received a request from the Archbishop of Bangalore asking for my service as Prefect of Studies in Sudeep Training Institute, a centre for on-going formation of Sisters in India and other Asian countries. I would have preferred to serve in our own formation house. Working in Sudeep, though a challenging experience, I had many opportunities to utilize my talents and education for three years.
In 1984, while teaching in the novitiate and as director of SCN tertians (Sisters preparing for Final Vows), I was also a counsellor in the Nazareth School of Nursing, Mokama. I continued to conduct courses and seminars in the formation houses of various religious Congregations till 1989.
During this time, I was also appointed director of AOP, (Apostolic Orientation Program), a renewal program for Sisters of all Congregations of India in Lucknow. I had the greatest satisfaction of getting to know many religious women some of whom still keep up with me through correspondence and phone calls.
I was also invited to give seminars for the Sisters of Poor Handmaids of Bangalore and St. Anne’s Sisters in Ranchi. I was privileged to counsel some of the St. Anne’s and Ursuline Sisters in Ranchi. Once I was invited to be the facilitator at one of their international meetings in Ranchi.
I also taught Psychology of Women at St. Albert Seminary in Ranchi. I was the first and the only female professor of the seminary at that time. I also took some classes for the Gabriel Brothers in Ranchi.
From the educational opportunities and working experiences I have had, I became much more aware of my personality than before. I know there is more room for growth in order to become what I would like to be.
In 1990, the then Archbishop of Delhi, Your Grace Angelo Fernandes invited us to open a counselling centre in the Cathedral parish. Sister Sarita Manavalan, the provincial at that time, asked me to take up this job. In February 1990 the counselling centre became a reality. A few months later the priest in-charge of the Catholic inquiry centre left the priesthood. I was asked to take care of that centre, as well. Along with the two jobs I was fully active in the Cathedral parish organizing and conducting BCC (Basic Christian Communities), preparing the children for First Holy Communion and Confirmation, etc. During the summer, I conducted Catechetical camps for the children along with the assistant parish priest and Missionaries of Charity (MC) Sisters. Besides these responsibilities, I conducted workshops and seminars for the MC Sisters of the Delhi region. All in all, I experienced this ministry as very fulfilling. At the end of about three and a half years I was appointed as one of the Council Members of our province in 1994. I left the job and returned to Mokama.
During this time, I was appointed Director of Vocation Promotion and the on-going formation. While holding these two jobs, I was sent to Banakal in Chickmaglur in Karnataka to start a new mission along with SCNs Hilda Lobo and Evelyn D’Souza. After two and a half years there, I was appointed superior of our study house in Madiwala, Bangalore. Having enough rooms in the building, we also started a hostel for the working women. Gradually, I developed rheumatoid arthritis, due to which, I was called back to the North and assigned to be a student counsellor at Nazareth Academy, Gaya in 2002. Needing more care, I was brought to Mokama after a few months.
In Mokama, I began to teach English to the first year students of Nazareth School of Nursing and also taught in our formation till December 2015 in spite of being confined to a wheelchair. I continued to teach Liturgy and English in the novitiate and in candidacy until March 2016. I was happy to see a steady progress in their lives.
As a retired SCN, life is still enjoyable. I treasure the visits of our Sisters who share with me what is happening in our missions. I pray for the needs of all our missions daily. I make phone calls to a number of Sisters in mission, acknowledging the good works they do in both the provinces.
Religious life has always been a joy for me. I offer tremendous gratitude to God for calling me to the SCN Congregation. I am very happy with the ministries in the Congregation and the Church. I enjoy life as a religious Sister and the responsible freedom given to each one in every aspect of our life. I do enjoy the care, love and friendship in community especially those given by the caregivers.
True commitment to the Congregation and the church is important for me as a religious and whatever task given to us we must do it whole-heartedly.
My community and friends have taught me to learn a lot about myself to have a positive attitude towards life, to love God and people especially the poor and to grow spiritually.
Marietta Saldanha, SCN
December 29, 2017
Consent given orally to publish the story on September 4, 2017