I, Marina Thazhathuveettil, SCN, am a native of Thidanad in Kerala. Born on October 6, 1949, I am the fifth child of Kurian and Bridget Thazhathuveettil. In the school, I was enrolled as Marykutty T. K., (in Kerala, people use the first letter of the family name and the father’s name with a child’s name, hence, Marykutty Thazhathuveettil Kurian). We were thirteen children, five girls (two girls died when they were young) and eight boys. My father was a farmer. We had many animals, goats, cows, buffalos, chickens, and rabbits. My brothers helped my father with different chores in the fields as well as caring for the animals. We girls helped our mother with household work.
My parents took very special care of our spiritual formation. We had family prayer in the morning and evening. Every Sunday, we, children, attended catechism classes. On Sunday afternoons, our mother used to read us a chapter from the life of a Saint. In the same way, after evening prayer, my father would make it a point to read a few verses from the Bible. and in simple words, he used to explain the meaning of those verses. All of us children owe much to our parents for our spiritual formation.
I studied in a government school in Thidanad from Class One to Six. After that our family moved to Peringulam and I did my Class Seven from St. Augustine School, Peringulam. I completed my high school from St. Mary’s School, Teekoy, run by the Clarist Sisters. I fondly remember many of those saintly and committed teachers who taught us.
From Class Two onwards, I had a desire to become a religious, a missionary. I was very much inspired by the Clarist Sisters in our Parish. My desire became stronger after hearing my parish priest read out a letter from my paternal aunt who is a Franciscan Sister. As children, all of us were members of the Sodality as well as of the Little Flower Mission League. These associations strengthened my missionary call.
Out of the forty-two students in my batch of Class X, thirty-two of us joined various religious Congregations, mostly in missionary Congregations. Four of us siblings, two boys and two girls, entered religious life. Out of the hundred and thirteen of our first cousins, twenty-three became religious (nine priests and fourteen religious Sisters).
In June 1967, I joined the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth as a candidate. I was blessed with wonderful teachers like SCNs Ann George Mukalel (my candidate director), Ann Marie Thayilchirayil, Rita Puthenkalam, and Shalini D’Souza. When we were pre-novices, Mother Lucille Russell, our Superior General visited us. I still remember her telling us the example of the evergreen trees in front of Nazareth Convent, Mokama. Though they were all planted at the same time, each one was growing at its own pace. And so my slow progress in formation was justified.
I entered the novitiate with five companions in December 1969. I appreciated Patricia Mary Kelly, SCN, my novice director. She gave us a broad understanding of religious life and theology. From the novitiate, I began to appreciate the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Merton. I still remember the Jesuit priest, Rev. Dan Rice, S.J. who once talked passionately about Teilhard for three and half hours.
In February 1972, I made my First Vows. After my Vows, I was assigned to Nazareth Academy, Gaya, for six months. Thereafter, I joined St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi, to complete my Intermediate studies in Arts. The thirteen Belgian Jesuits who staffed the College had a great impact on me. After their college hours, each of them would take their motorbikes/bicycles and go for their various outreach programs – school for the blind, orphanages, old age homes, work among the leprosy patients, etc. I was also edified by our then, superior of the convent in Ranchi, Ann Bernadette Ormond, SCN. She was a very compassionate woman. She made frequent visits to the leprosy colonies in the area with a bag full of goodies. A few times, I joined her.
Good luck or bad luck, God knows, our final exams were delayed for ten months. One of those days, a Jesuit priest, Rev. Hans Hendricks, S. J., a great Australian missionary, from Hazaribagh visited us and offered Mass for us. He talked about his work among the Santhal (one of the Tribal groups in India) tribes of Hazaribagh District. I was drawn to this work but did not dare to ask Sister Ann Bernadette to let me go there. The very next day, Sister Ann Bernadette herself asked me, if I would be interested in joining the team of Father Hans. I was more than delighted to do so. Teresa Rose Nabholz, SCN, our then, Provincial, gave me permission for this ministry. Surely, her trust was in Providence.
My companion in Hazaribagh was a Sister of Holy Cross, Mukta, (last name not given). Though young, being a Santhal herself, she commanded the respect of the people. I remember my first night in the village. Sister Mukta was taking catechism classes for the villagers late into the night. She was kind enough to find a quiet corner for me to rest. In the middle of the night, I woke up with drops of water falling on my face and hands. I thought it must be raining. Bad luck, I had no flashlight with me. In the morning, when I woke up, I realized that I was sleeping near the cowshed. In the night, the so-called holy cow, graciously had blessed me with her output, (urine). The people were very poor in those days and lived in small huts. Most of the Tribal villages were at the edge of the forests. In order to protect their animals – goats, cows and chickens – from the wild animals, they were kept inside their houses.
Not a single village had electricity. We ate whatever the people ate, corn porridge and leaves collected from certain trees boiled with a bit of salt, added to it. The only time we ate anything different was during our monthly gatherings. We had Mass only once a month. While I was catechizing a few Munda (one of the Tribal groups in India) families, I used to use the printed Santhali (the language of the Santhal Tribe) prayer book and Bible and read from it for the people. Munda people could follow Santhali but I did not know either of these languages.
I remember when the Most Rev. Bishop Saupan of Daltongaj Diocese came to visit us, he brought consecrated hosts in a pyx and I could receive Communion daily. So from then on, Jesus accompanied me sacramentally in my lowly cloth bag, wherever I went. I used to get up very early in the morning to walk to my favorite rocks in the forests to read, “Mass on the world” from the ‘Hymn of the Universe’ and received Communion. The birds sang the Communion and thanksgiving hymns for me with their chirping sounds. Whenever the Eucharist was celebrated, it was always in the humble huts of the people. They used to polish the altar with fresh cowdung, dry it and later spread a corporal on it, an altar fit for a Jesus, born poor and for the poor. Those were the most meaningful Eucharistic celebrations I ever had in my life. We lived as Eucharist among the people, getting involved in their daily toils, struggles, sickness and pains.
In 1975, I joined Nazareth School of Nursing in Mokama for the general nursing (a diploma course) studies. In those ancient days, it was the practice to cancel the off duty days of the students if they made any serious mistake in the care of the patients. I was overly generous with making mistakes and I lost many of my off duty days. I was not allowed to proceed with my classmates to the next stage of studies. Before the midwifery program, I was asked to discontinue my nursing studies and be in Chatra. While there, I used to visit the Chatra jail and I really enjoyed being with the prisoners. During this period, I began to doubt my vocation as I felt things were getting too progressive. At this point, what saved me was reading about
Teilhard’s obedience to the will of God. (He left the teaching at Cairo University and went to China on his superior’s orders.) After six months in Chatra, I went back to Mokama to complete my Midwifery.
Shortly after completing my nursing studies, I was assigned to Bakhtiarpur from 1981 to 1983. A year later, I joined the Damian Social Work Centre in Dhanbad, a rehabilitation facility for leprosy patients from1983 to1984. It was indeed an encounter with people of broken bodies and broken minds. Though it was only for a year, it was one of the most meaningful ministries for me.
Again, I was assigned to serve at the Community Health Centre, Bakhtiarpur from 1984 to 1985. Whenever possible, I used to visit the neighboring villages and the leprosy colony. With the financial help from the government, we were able to renovate many of the huts of the leprosy patients.
In 1985, I was asked to move to Sokho where eight people had died of cerebral malaria that year. By the use of preventive herbal medicines, we were able to control the frequent outbreak of malaria and many untimely deaths in that area.
I joined the Catholic Relief Services in Jamshedpur Diocese as the Health Coordinator in 1987. Our work extended to Bokaro and Dhanbad districts in Bihar and Purulia in West Bengal. One of our main activities was to train grass-root level health workers and equip them with essential medicines. Our main emphasis was on home remedies. We encouraged the people to have herbal as well as kitchen gardens. We provided supplementary nutrition to pregnant mothers, under-five-year olds and tuberculosis patients.
By the end of 1988, I began my post basic BSc (Bachelor of Science) Nursing studies at Father Muller’s College of Nursing in Mangalore. After the completion of my college studies in 1990, I was assigned as the assistant director of the Nazareth School of Nursing in Mokama for six years.
It was during this time that I felt a strong desire to move out of the institutional ministry. I was moved by the plight of HIV/AIDs patients in the African countries. I expressed my desire to Bridget Kappalumakal, SCN, the then Provincial, to work among them. One of my priest brothers, who was residing at the SVD (Society of the Divine Word) Generalate in Rome and had made several visits to many of the African countries, agreed to help us find a suitable place to minister. Vinita Kumplankel, SCN, and I composed a letter and sent it to my brother. He forwarded copies of that letter to thirteen SVD Provincials in various countries in the African continent. Four Bishops from those African Dioceses responded positively.
Our Congregation went into discernment to find suitable Sisters to work in Botswana. Knowing that I would not be deemed suitable, I refrained from volunteering for Botswana. I am deeply grateful to God for what our Sisters have accomplished and that they are doing well in Botswana. If not me, my high school cum novitiate classmate, Ann Muthukattil, SCN, a woman of deep commitment, is still there. I am proud of Ann and all my Sisters in Botswana.
In July 1996, Sister Bridget Kappalumakal asked me to accompany Olive Pinto, SCN, for six months to Shapur, a rural mission in Bihar. After six months, Sisters in the Province felt that we should pull out from there. I was one of the few who felt that we should not move out from Shapur because the poor still needed us there. So the matter was taken up in the province assembly and it was decided that the Sisters remain with the people there. Surprisingly, my six months posting extended up to twelve years. I loved it and have no regrets. We SCNs have established the Church there. We are educating many poor and deserving children. Our Sisters did tremendous work when the flood affected that area in 2008.
Towards the end of 2007, I moved to Provincial House in Patna to train myself in ‘Distant Drug Therapy’ at Kurji Holy Family Hospital, Patna. After completing the program, in May 2008, I moved to Dharan where I am at present. I am involved in a ministry that I find very meaningful. Six days a week, I go out for mobile health clinics with a driver, as helper. Our work is extended to five districts of East Nepal. Each day brings new people and new experiences into my life. It involves caring for the sick, providing food for many hungry families, finding care-homes for the orphaned children, for the elderly left alone and uncared for, providing job-oriented training programs for the youth, reaching the very sick to the hospitals, taking the drug addicts to the de-addiction centers, visiting those lodged in the jail and much more. We also give a helping hand to the orphanages and the home for the mentally challenged children, etc. We plan to organize a training program for the Dharan prisoners which will enable them to make a living.
Of late, we are making efforts to procure needed medications for the hemophilic patients of sixteen districts in East Nepal. There are around four hundred hemophilic patients in East Nepal. Due to lack of availability of adequate medicines many of them become crippled. I am told that there are only three people, over forty years old, who have survived. The Nepal Hemophilia Association is receiving medicines far below the required amount.
In conclusion, I am so very grateful to my God for calling me to the SCN Congregation which has allowed me to make mistakes, equipped me with the needed tools for my ministry and has trusted me and given me the freedom to do any good I can, for the people I serve.
Written by Sister Marina Thazhathuveettil with the guidelines given by the MMC Completed June 30, 2017
Consent to publish received from Sister Marina on July 4, 2017