I, Mary Scaria Menonparampil, am proud to have been born in the land of Saint Alphonsa in Bharananganam, Kerala. I was born on February 3, 1942 as the first child of Cheriath Scaria Menonparampil and Mariakutty Kalayathinal in my mother’s home. I was baptized at St. Mary’s Church, Bharananganam and was named Mary. When I was a baby in arms, my mother visited Sister Alphonsa. My parents had thirteen children, one of whom, the second child died at the age of one and a half years old. My siblings are Kunj (Cheriath), Elsamma, Thankamma (Ann Scaria, SCN), Georgekutty, Josekutty, Babichan, Thomaskutty, Lilliamma, Issac, Mathachhan and Tessy. Being the eldest of twelve children, (seven boys and five girls), I had many responsibilities in caring for the younger ones such as bathing them, washing their clothes, feeding them, taking them to school, etc. My father used to tell me if the oldest one is good then all the others will be good. I tried to live up to that expectation of my father. It taught me to love my brothers and sisters dearly. They, in turn, love me much, even to this day.
My parents were devout, God-fearing Catholics. They taught us to love Jesus and to trust God at all times. Daily, we prayed the rosary along with many other prayers, Bible reading, etc. The children went for daily Mass as the Church was very close to our home. I studied at St. Mary’s High School, Palai, run by the Clarist Sisters. My name in the school was Mary M.S. (in Kerala, it is a custom that people use the first letter of their surname and father’s name with the child’s name, hence, Mary Menonparampil Scaria). Catechism was given great importance in school as well as in the parish on Sundays. I received many prizes for being first or second in the Catechism examination for which the Bishop honored me. I was very active in the Sodality and the Mission League in our parish. We were taught that all people are children of God and as good Christians we are expected to care for the less privileged. My father was an active member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society which helped the poor in our parish. My mother was a member of the Scapular Society and she wore a scapular. All these pious activities sowed the seed of religious vocation in my young heart.
As a student, the Clarist Sisters encouraged me to have a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. I visited the church often during the break time. Many different groups of Sisters used to come to our school for vocation promotion. When I completed my high school, I wanted to join a religious community but my father told me that I was too young to join any convent as I had no life experience out of our home. Therefore he sent me for one-year of pre-university studies at Auxilium College, Kattapaddy, in Tamil Nadu run by the Salestian Sisters.
After my studies, once again I asked my father, if I could become a Sister. My parents encouraged me to seek advice from our family friend, Reverend Joseph Perekatt, at Bharanganam Church. He showed me many brochures of various Congregations. He suggested that I go to Germany to study Nursing and join a Congregation there. However, I wanted to be a missionary in Bihar and I declined his offer. I chose the SCNs because I thought they must be a very active group of Sisters because I saw in their brochure photos of some of these Sisters riding bicycles, seated on elephants, etc.
My father who knew English helped me to write a letter to Lawrencetta Veeneman, SCN, expressing my desire to join their group. Sister Lawrencetta was prompt in answering my letter and gave me all the information as to how to reach Mokama. I traveled with the nursing students in June 1959.
Meeting Sister Lawrencetta in Mokama was a very pleasant experience. What I liked the most was that as soon as I reached Mokama, Sister Lawrencetta took not only the measurements for my postulant cape and veil but also the religious habit and veil that I would wear as a novice. This was an experience of confirmation in my young heart that God was calling me to this way of life.
After a day or two in Mokama, I left for Nazareth Academy, Gaya, for my candidacy. There I stayed at Bertrand Hall which was named after Mother Bertrand, Mother General of the Congregation. Candidates, Elizabeth Nadackal and Margaret Rodericks were already in Gaya and Marietta Saldanha joined us later. Within that six-month-period, other candidates, Francine Moozhil, Mary Chackalackal, Shalini D’Souza, Sophia Kalapurayil and Teresita Theruvankunnel joined us. Patricia Mary Kelley, SCN, was our candidate director. In December 1959 four of us, Elizabeth Nadackal, Margaret Rodericks, Marietta Saldanha and I were selected to enter the postulancy. Sister Lawrencetta, the director of postulants and novices, came to take the four of us to Mokama. As a postulant, Sister Lawrencetta had asked me to stitch my skull cap to fit my head properly. While using the sewing machine, the needle pierced through my index finger and I ran to Sister Lawrencetta for help. She had a sense of humor and as she was bandaging my finger she told me quietly, “I did not ask you to stitch your finger!” Both of us had a good laugh.
After ten months of postulancy and two years of novitiate the four of us made our First Vows on December 21, 1962. As a Temporary Professed Sister, I taught at St. Xavier’s School, Mokama. Since I had taken care of my younger siblings at home, I had a knack with the little ones. Most of the time, two of us were sent to the same classroom and I kept the discipline and the other one taught the students. I was very happy that I could be with those children.
From 1964 to 1969, I did my studies in Science at Nazareth College, KY. In the juniorate we were under the loving care of Sister Mary Rosine Callahan. Daily we had one class on the SCN Constitutions. She was a deeply spiritual person and I still remember her often repeated words, “Launch out into the deep”. I appreciated the many good professors we had, like Sisters Ellen Jane Dullea, Roderick Juhasz, Alice Eileen Casper and many others. For a few months, studies were difficult for me. Sister Roderick took special tuition for me in Chemistry after which I began to love Chemistry. Timely help from teachers and friends, hard work and trust in God helped me to complete my studies successfully. I returned to India in 1969 along with Sarita Manavalan, SCN, who had also been a student at Nazareth College.
Staying at Nazareth Academy, Gaya, I did Master of Science in Biology from Magadh University as it was a requirement to teach in the high school. James Leo Goldsborough, SCN, and the other Sisters at the Academy were a great support to me.
As I finished my studies, Nazareth School of Nursing in Mokama needed a science teacher and I accepted the responsibility. Though I enjoyed teaching the nurses, I did miss teaching students in a regular school.
March 26, 1972 was a very sad day for my family as my father died suddenly as a victim of violence. He left my mother and her twelve children to face life all alone. It was a very difficult time in my life. Surrendering myself to God in prayer, I experienced that Jesus was my only comfort and consolation and I believed that my family, though orphaned, would be blessed by God. All the children have grown up and are well-settled in life. I am filled with gratitude for the strength and courage God gives to each one of us when we are in need.
In 1972, SCNs were requested to teach at St. Thomas Baptiste High School, a Marathi medium, in Vasai Diocese at Papadi in Maharashtra. Teresa Rose Nabholz, SCN, the provincial at that time, accompanied Teresita Theruvankunnel, SCN and me to Bassein. Sister Teresita taught in the primary section and I was in the high school. As pioneers, we faced many problems, searching for a place to stay, adjusting to a new place, culture, etc. We had to wear our religious habit once again as the Catholics in that area were quite orthodox and expected all Sisters to be in their habits. We stayed at the house of Mr. Poshan D’Mello free of cost for about two years. Though we enjoyed the company of the D’Mello family we faced some trouble from a tenant in the same building. He was drunk most of the time and once he walked into our house threatening us. We had to file a police complaint and finally had him placed in a rehabilitation centre for mentally ill patients. Later we moved to Irene Pereira’s house.
Thomas Baptiste High School was moved to Berhampur on Vasai Road and was renamed St. Augustine’s Boys High School in 1975. It was administered by the Christian Brothers and we continued to be on the staff. During this time we bought our present site to build a convent.
One of my pleasant memories in Bassein is that I was able to help Pricilla Falcao, a polio victim to get treated in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. She had two operations on her legs and later she was able to walk with calipers and a walking stick. Pricilla, working in a bank as a receptionist, is now married and has a child.
In 1978, I had a short renewal at the National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre, (NBCLC) in Bangalore.
I was appointed principal of Nazareth Vidya Niketan Middle School, Chatra, in 1979. There were around 450 students from class I to VII. Being in Chatra was a beautiful experience for me as I came to know the children and their families by name. The teachers and the other staff were extremely cooperative and it was a joy working with them.
Chatra School was recognized by the government in 1980 and some of us began to get a government salary from the education department for the first time. Our students began to take part in inter-school competitions and the common tests in Science subjects for the first time. They also excelled in sports and other extra-curricular activities. They took part in various events organized at the district level in Hazaribagh which was truly an exposure for our village students. Today, some of our students are well placed in society working as doctors, engineers, teachers and at various government departments in responsible positions in Bihar and Jharkhand.
In 1984 I was sent to St. Michael’s High School, Sale, Mahuadanr as a science teacher. I also taught at Joseph’s High School, Mahuadanr, run by the Jesuit Fathers, as a Plus II teacher. Once a week, I cycled sixteen kilometers to teach for two days by staying overnight there. I had three major falls from the bicycle on the narrow and steep winding roads. It was a joke among the Jesuit Fathers and they used to ask me which ‘stations of the cross I had that day’. Seeing me worn out and tired, Rev. Tom Keogh, SJ gave me a motorized two-wheeler (Moped) to commute back and forth. The first batch of Plus II students did very well in the Bihar Board examinations. All involved were extremely happy.
We had a beautiful community life and we enjoyed working together. The people were also supportive. We visited the people in the villages on bicycles. We also had good relationship with the other religious groups around.
From the beauty and serenity of the environment and the peace loving people in Sale, I was transferred to St. Michael’s Boys High School, Patna, run by the Patna Jesuits, as a Plus II teacher in 1989. I taught here for three years while staying at our Provincial House, Patna. I enjoyed the company of some of the teachers though teaching the city children was a challenge for me. In Patna, I was able to save the life of a child by donating my blood which is a rare B-Negative group.
Once on my way from school, I saw a young man carrying many tins in front of Kurji Holy Family Hospital in Patna. I recognized him as Habil Xalxo, a former student of St. Michael’s School, Sale in Mahuadanr. He told me that he had come to join the army but was rejected. He had no money to go back home. So he got himself a job to work in a shop. I asked him if he would be willing to study in the technical school in Patna run by the Gabriel Brothers. Though he agreed he was afraid of the expenses and I insisted that he find out about it. He returned to say that there was a vacancy for the course. The Province gave me the money for his admission and a friend of mine donated rupees five thousand for his other educational expenses. He passed in First Division and is now working in Delhi. He is good to his mother and he has a family of his own.
In 1992, Sister Sarita Manavalan, the provincial at that time, asked Deepti Ponnamparambil, SCN and me to see to the possibility of taking over St. Isabel School in Dockyard, Bombay (now Mumbai) run by a Catholic Trust. We taught in the school for a year staying in ‘All Saints’ Ladies Hostel’. As we realized that they only wanted to sell their school to us or that we run the school for them without ownership we decided to leave the place. In the meantime, Father Epiphany Castell (brother of Cassilda, SCN), the parish priest of Rosary Church in Dockyard invited us to teach in Rosary School, run by the parish. The parish also offered us a place to stay. In 1993, both of us were transferred and new SCNs came to teach at Rosary School.
I was assigned to teach Biology at Nazareth Academy, Gaya, since the school had begun the Plus II program. Besides teaching my subject to classes X, XI and XII, I was a class teacher for class XII and taught them value education. I recall my ten years at the Academy as my golden years as a teacher. Those students were receptive, disciplined and respectful and it was easy to deal with them. In fact, they helped me to be a good teacher.
I took a five-month break from the school to attend a Theology course at NBCLC, Bangalore. In 2003, with renewed strength and a better understanding of my own spirituality, I moved to Chatra to teach science subjects and value education in the high school. I was there for thirteen years. Towards the latter part of my time in Chatra, I taught part time in the school and also taught English to the residential rural children who lived at Chetna Bharti, run by Joel Urumpil, SCN. One of my hobbies is cooking and I enjoy preparing various special dishes for the Sisters. Everyone appreciated my ability and interest in cooking.
On February 9, 2006, my mother expired at the age of eighty-three. She took ill for three days and passed away quickly. I was lucky to reach home for the funeral.
I was surprised one day when one of my former students from St. Joseph’s High School came as magistrate for Matriculation Board examination in Chatra. Another one was posted as Block Development Officer in Chatra. Both were helpful to our school and Sisters.
The Chatra local community celebrated my golden jubilee in 2012. Two Bishops, Charles Soren, SJ (Bishop Emeritus) and Most Reverend Anand Jojo of Hazaribagh diocese, many religious and priests were present. The parishioners were also invited for the Mass and they were served snacks.
As our group did not have a renewal program for the jubilee, I joined the next group in 2013 in Bangalore. In the same year, I also had a family celebration with all the children and grandchildren present.
When I was in the process of getting my adhaar (unique identification) card from Chatra, the officials could not get my finger print properly and they were about to give up on me. One of my old students was helpful as he recognized me as his former teacher and made me do a few tricks that allowed the machine to get my finger print.
I was losing my vision slowly and from 2015 I had trouble seeing with my right eye. I requested a transfer to get possible medical help for my eye. I also wanted to settle down in a new place while I could still see. I discerned with Philomena Kottoor, SCN, vice provincial, to move to Mokama. Once I made this decision to move, I felt peaceful. My local community helped me to make the transition smoothly. They often visit me with some goodies. I still keep up my connections with some of the teachers, other staff and parishioners in Chatra.
What makes me proud to be an SCN is that we are a forgiving and loving community. We celebrate life and choose life at all times. We do care for one another and are generous and hard working. We search for the needs of the times and adjust to the changing needs especially to care for the underprivileged. Mother Catherine is our model for mission.
Some of my concerns are that we have fewer vocations to carry on our mission but I trust that God will provide whatever is needed at the right time. Our individualistic and technology-driven tendencies need to be looked at to make positive changes within us.
Life has taught me to live and let live and all will be well at the end. We do not have control over the events and we need to live the present moment meaningfully. Spirituality of relationship brings me peace and joy.
In looking forward to our future my hope is that we grow more and more into a united and multicultural community. As a group we need to stand for the rights of the people especially on behalf of women and children.
My life as a religious Sister is a life of loving others which began from my home. As a religious and teacher, I had the golden opportunity to mentor hundreds of children to help them to blossom into responsible, productive and caring citizens of our country. I love God in everyone and in everything. I feel I live the gospel now. I continue to study the Bible which is my joy and happiness.
Mary Scaria Menonparampil, SCN
Completed August 14, 2017
Consent given orally to publish the story on August 14, 2017