I, Mercy, was born on Nov 20, 1944 at my mother’s home in Meenachil parish, Palai, Kottayam district in Kerala. I am the third child of my parents, Mariakutty and Mathew Thundathil. We were eleven children, five boys and six girls. They are Cyriac (Vackachan), Philip (Kuttiachan), Mercy, Mathew (Babu), Joseph (Ousepechan) John (Jhonichan), Lucy, Gracy, Tessy, Regie and Celine.
We owned a great deal of land and financially we are well off. We had many people working in our fields and we also had domestic help. We had a family boat to cross the Meenachil Arru (river) and a Kadav (river bank) for ourselves to take baths and I learnt swimming.
My grandfather was very strict that we gather for evening prayer and rosary as soon as we heard the church bell for Angelus. After the prayer, we lined up to get a blessing from our grandparents and we in turn kissed their open hands. We went to Church on Saturdays and Sundays and on other feast days.
I grew up in Bharanganam in a large joint family of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. My eldest brother and I remained there when my father moved to Nariyanganam in 1952. Nariyanganam was an interior place and my other siblings walked two kilometers to the nearby school. I studied at Sacred Heart Girl’s High School, Bharanganam, the convent where St. Alphonsa lived. I was an average student and passed in every class. During the school vacation, we visited our home and enjoyed the company of my siblings and the variety of fruits from our garden.
I was good in games and participated in inter-school competitions and won many prizes. I was an active member of the Sodality, Mission League and many other pious practices in the church.
Since we are a large family, my father thought of purchasing more land as we were growing up. He and one of his brothers went to Malabar in North Kerala where land was available at a very low cost. When my eldest brother completed his high school he went to supervise our hundred acres of land in Malabar.
When I completed my high school in 1963, I spent a year in my home and enjoyed taking care of my younger sisters. Many of the missionaries from North India visited our school and shared with us the need for missionaries. I came in contact with the Medical Mission Sisters at Marygiri Hospital close to our school. I was attracted to join them since I liked their way of caring for the sick with a smile and I desired to be like one of them. Many missionaries used to come and share about their mission where I was studying. This inspired me to go to the missions and spread the good news about Jesus and to baptize the people. This desire grew in me as I kept praying to Mother Mary. Meanwhile, SCNs Teresa Rose Nabholz and Bridget Kappalumakal (my maternal aunt) came for recruitment. I was taken up by Sister Teresa Rose’s gentleness and smile and I decided to join them. My parents told me to think about my decision once again and they said if I chose to join them, I should remain as a Sister.
I left home on June 8, 1964. We were seven candidates to travel to Bihar. It was my maiden trip by a train and first time out of my home. I felt very sad to leave my younger sisters especially my baby sister who was two and a half years old.
There were twenty-five candidates in Mokama. Sister Teresa Rose was our director. Though I had a hard time learning to speak English and Hindi, the early days of my formation were smooth and pleasant. On Feb. 2, 1965, seven of us joined the pre-novitiate and six of us entered the novitiate on Dec. 21, 1965. All six of us, Agnes Tudu, Cassilda Castel, Grace Androth, Nirmala Mulackal and Roselyn Karakattu made our First Vows on Dec 21, 1967. All through our initial formation Sister Teresa Rose continued to be our director. I developed a love for the poor by visiting the nearby villages as second year novices.
During the six-month juniorate program, we also had coaching for Hindi matriculation exam and we all passed the exam. After four years, I went back to Kerala with Sister Nirmala Mulackal, SCN, for vocation promotion and a home visit. We visited twenty eight schools to talk to the young girls about our Congregation and many girls responded positively and joined us later. For a number of years, I continued to visit Kerala for recruitment.
In July 1968, Cassilda, Grace, Roselyn and I went to St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi for our two-year pre-university studies. Ranchi climate did not suit me and I suffered from chronic cold and cough. In 1970, I returned to Mokama to study ‘Home Economics’ along with History, Political Science, English and Hindi in Ram Ratan Singh College. Since this college had no proper teaching, after three months I moved to Patna Women’s College hostel to continue the studies.
I was assigned to Mokama parish for social and pastoral ministry in 1973. I was involved with faith formation of the people such as teaching catechism, visiting and staying with some families in far off villages to prepare them for the sacraments. The challenges in the villages were great – learning local dialects, muddy roads to walk barefoot, no toilet facilities, etc. Yet there was great joy and satisfaction to be with the poor and to share my life with them. It was very gratifying to see more and more people coming to the church, receiving sacraments, rectifying marriages, parents’ enrolling their children in the school, etc. The priests of the parish were appreciative of my work and supported me.
I had the privilege of starting the first Catholic women’s group in Mokama parish and slowly the idea spread to the entire Patna diocese. In 1974, I made my Final Vows in Mokama. I also attended a three-month course in faith-formation at Navjyoti Niketan, Patna in 1975.
In 1983, I was transferred to Bakhtiarpur for pastoral ministry. I went to NBCLC (National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre), Bangalore for four-month catechetical training and Scripture studies.
I became a member of the Diocesan catechetical team at Navjyoti Niketan, the regional pastoral centre in Patna in 1985. We visited various parishes and schools to train the teachers to teach catechism. I also was in-charge of the Diocesan Krusveer (Soldiers of Christ) for twelve years.
In 1988, I became the administrator of Jyoti Bhavan, the diocesan catechetical centre in Mokama. I taught the trainee catechists, conducted summer camps for young children and youth and also helped out with the vocation promotion camps in the diocese.
In preparation for the Silver Jubilee, our group had a one-month renewal at Kodiakanal, Tamil Nadu with Sister Teresa Rose and I celebrated my jubilee in my community, home and at Jyoti Bhavan in 1992.
Working with the newly baptized Catholics was a fulfillment of my desire to preach the good news to the poor for which I had left my home. Through Charismatic retreats and personal prayers, I experienced a change in my own prayer life, moving to a deeper union with Jesus. I, too, prayed for healing and gave retreats in the villages and parishes to help the people to experience Jesus deeply.
Over the years, I have helped many poor to come up in life with education and other needed help. I have even donated my own blood to treat a malnourished boy in Mokama and I expressed my desire to miss a meal to feed that boy.
After having spent twenty-one years in pastoral ministry, I was called for community service when I was appointed administrator of Nazareth Convent, Mokama in 1994. I worked closely with the various teams to celebrate the fifty years of SCN presence in India in 1997. I also supervised the Shalom building, our retirement home in Mokama.
From November 2000 to May 2001, I took a sabbatical. I attended a thirty-day charismatic retreat and a three-month Bible course at Potta Charismatic centre, in Kerala. I also had a long home visit.
In June 2001, I was appointed as administrator of Chetanalaya, Rajgir for a year. In June 2002, I moved to the SCN Provincial House, Patna as administrator. I supervised the construction of the new Provincial House and stayed on for six years. In the parish, I prepared the children for First Holy Communion, Confirmation and was part of the parish council and the Catholic women’s group. I enjoyed visiting the Catholic families and praying with them.
I went back to Mokama, as assistant to the convent administrator in 2008. Here I developed knee trouble and because of the difficulty in walking, I had the knee replacement surgery on both legs in Bangalore in June 2011. After six-months of recovery and rest I returned to Mokama in December 2011. In July 2012, I came back to Patna as assistant to the administrator. In June 2013, I became the administrator of provincial house which I enjoy.
I lost my father on December 9, 1999. He was 78 and suffering from bone cancer. I was privileged to be with him during his last days in the hospital. It was my first experience of the death of someone very close to me. It took months for me to overcome that loss.
Hearing that Father Mathew Uzhuthal was brutally stabbed in his own office in Mokama parish April 30, 2005 was a shock for me. I had worked with him closely for twenty-one years in pastoral ministry. It was difficult to bid goodbye to him when he passed away on May 31, 2005.
My mother lived for ninety-three years and was bed ridden for two years. I was fortunate to reach home the previous day of her death. In fact, I prepared her to meet God and told her that I came to say goodbye to you, you can leave in peace.
For the Golden Jubilee preparation, we took six-weeks to share our stories and to attend a two-week seminar on ‘Aging Gracefully’ in Mannarkatta, Bangalore. We also visited each other’s homes in Kerala to celebrate our jubilee. The local communities in which we were missioned celebrated our jubilee. Both Bangalore and Patna province celebrated our jubilee in a grand way. Our local communities also celebrated and wherever possible, all of us attended it. I will be having a big celebration at home in Kerala in January 2018.
I have guided many youth in choosing a better career in life. As a guide and teacher in the annual diocesan summer camps I have helped many youth to choose religious life. I continue to be actively involved with vocation promotion in Bihar. Every year, I make at least one visit to one mission station to encourage the young girls to join us.
I have always felt a sense of contentment in my life. My mission of evangelizing the new Christians was very rewarding for I was able to bring Jesus to them which made me come closer to God.
I am proud to be an SCN for I could live and carry out the mission of Jesus in helping poor simple people experience the unconditional love of our God. I enjoyed living life in community with responsible freedom, mutual love and simplicity.
In looking forward to the evening of my life, I would like to reach out to the people and the Sisters in community with compassion and love through whatever ministry is assigned to me. I am looking forward to spending more time in prayer and contemplation to understand the word of God more fully.
My life in community and mission was centred on Jesus. As a religious, I have been a light and hope to the downtrodden. I was fortunate to touch the lives of many people in their most vulnerable state through my presence, help and kind words. Whole hearted service in mission and community with love and care for the honor and glory of God is very important to me. I believe our reward is in heaven!
Mercy Thundathil, SCN
Written on Dec 20, 2017
Consent given to publish the story on Dec 20, 2017