The Pinto family welcomed me into the world on September 17, 1943, the fifth of nine children. I was born in Mangalore, Karnataka and baptized as Olive Mary Pinto at St. Sebastian’s Church in Bendore. Our family moved to Mumbai after two years since my father was employed in the railways there, and wanted the family to be close. We shifted from Umerkhadi parish to Fort area in St. John the Evangelist parish. My parents, Joseph Marian and Christine Pinto were God-fearing, practicing Catholics. I am grateful to them for instilling the faith in our lives right from early childhood. Christian values were cultivated at home and in our dealings with neighbors and others. We were very much influenced by the church atmosphere and its activities. Daily family prayer and the example of my parents going for daily Mass encouraged me to join them, rain or shine.
Being in a large family I learnt to get along, and to share generously with my siblings, Myrtle, Eric, Jeanette, Stanley, Adrian, Elaine, Vilma and Denzil. We were a musical family and enjoyed singing together at home, church and in the schools. Our large family got used to living in a limited space and I learnt to adjust easily whatever the situations or people.
I began my schooling at Umerkhadi and was fortunate to continue my education later at St. Agnes School run by the Jesus and Mary Sisters where the seeds of my vocation were nurtured. Since my father was the only earning member of the family we learnt to adapt ourselves with whatever we were given. Thus I learnt how to cope with less wherever I have been. My parents taught us to trust in God and be grateful for what we have, and never to be wasteful. To this day I practice what they taught me from childhood.
Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city, a melting pot of people from various parts of India, of different religions, languages, customs and cultures, etc. It is also a highly populated city, very crowded, people always in a rush. Living in such an atmosphere I developed a keen interest in people, their culture and customs.
Our family was blessed with vocations, the fruit of my parents’ prayer. My eldest brother, Eric joined the seminary after working for a while. He opted to work for the Lord in a difficult mission area in Allahabad diocese in Uttar Pradesh where there was a scarcity of priests and religious. Since people were predominantly Hindu, it was a fertile ground for evangelizing for the kingdom of God. My brother’s exemplary life prompted me to become a missionary among the poor and downtrodden people of Bihar.
We lived near a government hospital where the poor and dying patients were disposed of on the footpaths in pitiful conditions. Further along the road to the school, I had to pass by leprosy patients begging on the streets. These sights tugged at my young heart and strongly influenced me to serve the poor, the abandoned and the suffering. Sharing part of my packed lunch with them was all that I could do for them at that time.
After high school in 1960, I went on to Sophia College for a year. But my heart was restless to answer God’s call. Though there were many Congregations in and around Mumbai, I was drawn to looking for a Congregation that would suit my heart’s desire. In God’s mysterious ways I came in touch with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Mokama. A priest from Mangalore, who had recommended Marietta Saldanha and Evelyn D’Souza to join the same Congregation, was instrumental in my joining the SCNs. He was visiting his sister in Bombay and came to hear about my desire to become a missionary in North India. He knew Patricia Mary Kelley, SCN, and informed her about me. I also had the opportunity to meet Lawrencetta Veeneman, SCN, who had come for a meeting to Bombay and was staying at Sophia College. Sister Patricia Mary communicated with me over a year and so my desire to become a nun grew stronger. In April 1962, she came with Sister Xavier Valiakunnackal to meet SCNs Teresa Rose Nabholz and Mary Celeste (Gail) Collins who were arriving by ship to join other SCNs in India. They visited my home which made it easier for me to get the consent and support of my family. From them I came to know that SCNs worked with many poor and abandoned people in their hospital, schools, etc.
On June 30, 1962 I reached Mokama accompanied by my parents and youngest brother. Right away I felt I had reached the place where I belonged. My early years in religious life were very exciting, new people, new environment, language and new way of life. I was over-joyed to see Evelyn D’Souza, a candidate from Mangalore. There were five other candidates who were doing their nursing studies at Nazareth Hospital, Mokama and Sister Teresa Rose was our director.
In my early formation, I was deeply inspired by SCNs Lawrencetta and Teresa Rose. I was able to capture the spirit of our SCN charism lived out by them. It was Patricia Mary who set my heart ablaze with zeal for mission and love for the church. My various creative talents, especially music and art, bloomed during my early formative years. I never realized before that I was blessed with many God-given gifts and talents. It was a time when I grew in my love for Jesus and a desire to live and serve like Him.
On February 2, 1963, Evelyn and I began our postulancy program and our director was Sister Lawrencetta. We entered the novitiate on December 21, 1963 and I took the name, Theresa Pinto. For a year, we had Sister Lawrencetta as our director and later Teresa Rose when Sister Lawrencetta became the regional superior. In the novitiate, my family up-bringing helped me to adjust quickly to the place though there many challenges. Visiting and mingling with the people and seeing their plight and extreme poverty was hard for me. In times of severe sickness people had difficulty in obtaining the needed medical help. They also struggled in times of natural disaster, especially, heavy rains, floods, severe winters which awakened in me a great compassion for the poor. I tried to find ways to touch their lives in whatever ways I could even though in a very limited way. I listened to their stories and spoke to them about how they could grow in their trust in God. I’m grateful to God who has blessed me with gifts and talents that I can use for the good of the people. I made my First Vows on December 21, 1965.
During my juniorate days I was assigned to teach English to the new candidates. After the juniorate program in Mokama, I was sent to the same college in Bombay where I had attended my first year for a Bachelor of Arts (BA). I took Sociology with Cultural Anthropology and Education as my subsidiary subjects. During the summer vacations, the community sent me for Hindustani music to Mussoorie and Pachmarhi where I completed my BA in music. This has been a very useful tool for me in the work of evangelization and teaching music to the Sisters in the community.
While I was studying in Bombay my father passed away on August 4, 1968. He was sick for a short period with cancer of the stomach. He was an inspiration for all of us children for he was a self-made man. My father raised his three brothers and a sister as their parents had died earlier. He began his work with the railways at the age of fourteen. With hard work and determination he reached high ranks in the railways. He was respected for his generosity and concern for those who struggled in life. He even found jobs for the jobless migrants and reached out to the poor who lived on the footpaths as a Legionary of Mary.
I returned to Mokama to teach English in the formation program in 1970. Sister Evelyn and I made our Final Vows on July 19, 1970 and I changed my religious name to my baptismal name, Olive. My first exciting mission out of Mokama was to Lupungutu, Chaibasa as a pioneer in September 1971 with Mary Juliana Tuti, SCN. With my background in Cultural Anthropology, I felt well equipped for the rural mission. It was the first mission to be opened with only Indian Sisters in sari and for direct rural ministry. We had no blueprint to begin anything. The Jesuit priests gave us the freedom to move around in the villages to find out what the real needs of the people were. In January 1972, Most Rev. Joe Rodericks, SJ, sent Sister Juliana for pastoral training in Tongo and me to Vimalalayam in Kerala to pick up skills in rural handicraft with the hope that these could be useful for our ministry. Sister Mary Juliana focused on health, and women’s development was my area of ministry. With Agnes Tudu, SCN, joining us a few months later for education of the village children, we had a holistic approach to ministry. The main challenge was to converse in their language, Ho. By mingling with them I learnt to let go, to live more simply and to respect people who are different from me. I experienced God in the simplicity of their lives. Here I learnt that it is not what I gave them but what I received from them which gradually transformed me and molded me for future challenging ministries. It was an on-going preparation for me as a missionary.
I was back in Mokama as a teacher in the formation in June 1975. In January 1976, Sister Patricia and I were commissioned to Nepal for three months on a look-see experiment in view of our future commitment to ministry in Nepal.
I was appointed Candidate Director in Mokama in June 1977 for six years. My superiors may have found in me the aptitude for it. The work included vocation promotion. I had no formal training for this ministry but fell back on the example of those formators who formed me in the values of religious life and the charism and spirit of our Congregation. After two years in formation, I had the opportunity to attend the in–service training for formators at Sadhana Institute of Spirituality in Lonavala, Maharashtra conducted by the late Rev. Anthony D’Mello, SJ. It was geared towards spirituality along with personal growth and some counseling. It helped me to discover God in a new way and to better guide the young in growing in their vocation and responding well to God and mission.
From Mokama I went to Mandair for socio-pastoral and education ministry in 1983. It was an extremely challenging mission for me. For the first time, I felt a sense of isolation from the rest of the community. We lived in a mud house with very meager facilities. There was no road for transportation and we often had to walk for two and a half to three hours to get to the bus to go anywhere. Having to share a common kitchen and meals with the parish priest was not easy. Later we shifted to live with a family who transformed their cow-shed to a living quarter for us. Though it was difficult, it helped me to understand more deeply how the poor manage to live with the minimum.
After a year, I was assigned Tertian Director for six months. It was a humbling as well as learning experience for me to guide the fourteen young professional Sisters of varied temperaments, interests and education.
In January 1985, I was commissioned to the Mission Office at Nazareth, KY as a liaison of the then province board.
I returned to India and was assigned to pastoral ministry in Sokho in 1986. It was essential for me to learn Santhali, the language of the people. I worked hard at it and gradually was able to communicate and pray with the people. The ministry involved visiting villages, walking miles often alone in order to understand their struggles in life. Crossing the flooded rivers was scary at times. Those experiences reminded me of Isaiah 43:2, “If you pass through raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown.” Tightly, I held on to Jesus and the hand of my helpers. It was in Sokho that God led me to experience pastoral ministry as my special call.
On May 22, 1989, my mother passed away unexpectedly. It was a real jolt for me since I was looking forward to being close to her while doing my B. Ed (Bachelors in Education) in Bombay.
After three and half-years of ministry in Sokho, I was discerning to be in ministry in the Andaman Islands. Since I had no professional degrees, I opted to do my B. Ed, the quickest way to equip me to go there. By the time I completed my studies, the province had changed its direction and therefore I was assigned to Jamtara School in June 1990. This was my first experience of teaching in a formal school and a test of my ability to be in a classroom situation. First, I had to learn to ride a bicycle to get to the school which sometimes was scary since I was not very young. I was also responsible for the hostel of about 100 girls and pastoral ministry in the parish. With God’s grace, I managed to blend all of these and enjoy it.
In June 1992 I was called back to Mokama to minister in the parish. Though it involved much time and effort, I did not find it tiresome to work with the pastoral team. It opened up many possibilities for involvement in the lives of the Christians and help out in other ministries. I taught in the school, formation and in the nursing school whenever my service was needed.
On July 31, 1996 I went with Marina Thazhathuveettil to reopen the mission in Ararghat, now Shapur. Here again it was a time of uncertainty, isolation, struggle and an intense hunger for sacraments as well as to understand God’s plan for the mission. I felt happy that I was instrumental in initiating some of the sarnas (non-Christian Tribal) to Christianity and Baptism. I believed that in time God would unfold the Divine plans for the people and us.
I was asked to replace Nisha Chemmanam, SCN, in Biharsharif on January 1, 1997 in the hope that with her experience she would be able to give shape to the education of the children in Shapur. In September of the same year, I was reassigned to Chaibasa as a social worker. In June 1998, the SCNs took over the administration and management of St. Xavier’s Middle School and I was appointed the first principal for a year since I had the B. Ed degree.
In 1999 I was invited by my Congregation to take up formation ministry again. This time it was with the pre-novices in Ranchi for a few months and onto novitiate in Mokama for two years. I was able to serve effectively in this capacity relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and my experience in community and ministry, especially at the grass-root level. By then, I was better equipped to help the young members to grow into a good relationship with the Lord, the church and to cultivate the spirit of the Congregation which is based on the Rule of St. Vincent de Paul.
I have felt that the ministry of formation is an awesome, sacred task, journeying with the young in growing in their relationship with Jesus, imbibing a love for the church, and being in touch with the ground realities of life in the social context. In my striving to live out my commitment, I feel humbled in knowing I am not a perfect role model but hope I have had a healthy influence on the young to live out their SCN call joyfully, enthusiastically and faithfully.
In June 2001, I was assigned director of the Vimala Vikas Kendra, a social work center for the pavement dwellers in Dockyard, Mumbai. I worked with the migrants many of whom worked on the docks cleaning prawns. The women used to work most of the day and little children helped them in the morning before they went to school. I felt sad that children also had to do their part to make a living. I was amazed at how people lived in such crammed up situations with limited space and resources. We empowered the women by educating them to fight for their rights. Our staff conducted non-formal education and coached the children at the Rosary School premises. Personally, it was an eye opener for me to see the urban poor of Bombay whom I was not exposed to even though I was raised there.
Being healthy until then, I was shaken up to get word that I had to be hospitalized for a back surgery in 2006. I was barely recovering when I was diagnosed with Hepatitis B. I was forced, not only to slow down, but also to experience my own limitations with regard to future ministries. I was sent to Bangalore to recuperate where I also taught the candidates.
In May 2007 my priest brother Eric had a severe stroke that gradually disabled him to a semi-conscious state. He was being treated in Bombay in the early months until he had to be shifted to Nazareth Hospital, Allahabad, in his own diocese. It was painful for the family to see his condition slowly deteriorating, especially being unable to communicate in any way. I was proud of my sisters who took time from their families, taking turns to care for him in the hospital twenty-four-seven. He passed away on March 5, 2008 at the age of 72, having lived a life well-spent for the poor, the missions and for God’s people. It was he who was a real inspiration for me to work in the missions. He was a pillar of support for me as well as the whole family.
In 2000 we opened our first foundation in Botswana. In the spirit of St. Vincent we wanted to reach out to the HIV/AIDS persons and others in need spiritually, physically, educationally and socially. Our Congregation presently runs a hospice for the HIV and terminally ill patients, the only hospice in Botswana. From my high school days, I had a great fascination for African missions. I had hoped that someday I would be able to serve the people there. Once again my long desired dream to work in Africa kept reviving within me. While I was in Bombay, I discerned for Botswana mission and to prepare myself for it I even did the Montessori training at the age of sixty. I kept asking the leadership if they would still consider me for that mission. My dream became a reality, somewhat late, but maybe in God’s good time, to be missioned in Botswana in May 2009 at the age of 63. I travelled to Lobatse in Botswana to assist in the day-care-center at St. Mary’s Pre-School. Being with the tiny-tots in itself was a first time experience for me. Here I found my creative abilities awakened in new ways. I realized that I could do wonders with children through various activities. I also found satisfaction in parish activities, preparing children and adults for sacraments, distributing communion and visiting the sick and dying.
In view of having women from Botswana join us as SCNs for future ministry, the Congregation invited me to prepare myself since I have had some background in this field. We saw that it is important to form new members in their own cultural settings. For that reason, it is important that the formator also should have a sense of the African culture, the local church, and sensitivity to the poor and marginalized in the African society. Though I was in my late sixties, I did feel young and healthy enough to apply for this training since I had already spent two years plus in Africa. I was sure if accepted, I would do my best as I have always done, trusting in God’s Providence and the prayer of our Blessed Mother Mary.
The initial formation for young women of Botswana did not come to fruition but it helped me to understand better the people of Botswana and the need for sensitivity to local culture. I had to let go of my own mind-set and to put myself in the skin of the other. It was also a realization of the negative impact of imposing one’s own religious upbringing in another culture and country.
I also had the share of grief at the loss of my sister, Myrtle, in 2013 and the unexpected death of my brother, Stanley, in New Zealand in 2014. I missed them very much when I visited home on my return to India in 2015.
As I look back at my time in Botswana, I must say I enjoyed the simplicity of the people (Batswanas), their carefree nature, love of music and dance which I thoroughly felt at home with. I was struck with their dependence on God. No matter what happens they would say, “Do not worry, God is there, God is great!” Since I did not drive, I had the joy and freedom of traveling by public transport and mixing with the common folk. I also enjoyed shopping which I love wherever I am but more so in India.
I had the great privilege of celebrating my golden jubilee in Lobatse. The Batswanas love celebrations. Even death is celebrated. I sensed the love the people had for me in the way they had planned the celebration with every detail. It was not so much the material contributions that they made but the love that they put into it that touched me the most. They also made a Botswana out-fit (dress) and got their special shoes for me. The added joy was the presence of SCNs Susan Gatz, president and Sangeeta Ayithamattam, vice president. The main celebrant for the Eucharist was the Most Rev. Bishop Valentine Seane.
I felt that I had given my best during my years in Botswana and that God was calling me to move on. I returned with mixed feelings, love for the Batswanas, their culture, a different spiritual heritage and a keen desire to share my gifts in new ways back in India. I am not the same person who went to Botswana. I feel blessed and enriched by having been touched by them. My horizon in ministry has been enlarged.
I returned to India in October 2015 and attended a few courses before the province celebrated my golden jubilee on January 1, 2016. Bangalore province also celebrated my jubilee since I was part of the community in Chandapura before going to Botswana.
Back in Mokama I was happy that I was given the freedom to discern and find a meaningful ministry. On the one hand, I responded to the need of the province to teach English at Nazareth Academy in Mokama as well as the candidates and novices. My heart also led me to respond to the parish needs as Jane Karakunnel, SCN, was moving on. I have enjoyed my re-entry into the life of the parish people whom I have known from long years. My joy is that I know many of them and it is like picking up from where I left off years ago. I feel a sense of joy and accomplishment as I help with the spiritual and pastoral animation of the parish using my time and energy in whatever way I can.
Recently I was given the responsibility as Coordinator of the Pastoral Ministry for the province. I am still trying to find ways to make our ministry more alive and active.
Throughout my religious life I have served in various ministries. I took particular interest in anthropology studies, which has helped me all along to understand people of diverse cultures. My Congregation provided me with opportunities to serve people of various backgrounds. Besides enjoying my ministry experiences I have learnt much from the people. Working with several tribal and cultural groups, I have enjoyed their hospitality even though they did not have much. God has blessed me with good health even now, to keep me going.
At heart, I am a pastoral person. I have enjoyed my work in parishes in drawing people closer to Jesus in our worship and life in a church that is alive. God has used me to bring about reconciliation in the family and with members within the church. I was able to guide people especially in education, healing and health and to realize their human rights. I have enjoyed my combined ministry as a social worker, teacher and an essential part of the pastoral team.
I am ever grateful to God for my call to be a Sister of Charity of Nazareth. The love that impelled St. Vincent, our patron saint, Bishop David, our founder and Mother Catherine Spalding, first superior, continues to deeply move me in responding to people in mission. I am what I am because leadership trusted me with tasks even when I was not qualified for them. All along in ministry I have been touched and molded by the people whom I have served. I continue to learn from Scripture passages that mean much to me as I live out my call as an SCN missionary. The following inspirational quotes from the scripture, “I do not claim that I have already succeeded or become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ has already won me to Himself,” (Phil. 3:12). “Do you love me? Take care of my sheep” (Jn. 21: 15-19) continue to give me new life and energy.
I dream of a community where we genuinely live out the charism passed on to us by Bishop David, Mother Catherine and our pioneers and which we in turn hand down to our next generation.
Religious life has enabled me to bring people close to God by giving my best at all times in the service of God, the church and the people with whom I am at every moment. Religious life for me is an invitation and an opportunity to share God’s love especially with the poor, marginalized and the spiritually deprived. My desire always was and still is to respond to God’s will joyfully and whole-heartedly.
Olive Pinto, SCN
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