I, Phelomena Hembrom, was born on Oct. 26, 1955. My father, Habil Hembrom and mother, Fabiola Kisku were from Mariam Pahari village and parish, at St. Mary’s Church in Bhagalpur Diocese. They had gone from Chakai parish along with late Jesuit father, Rev. Dan Rice, S. J. and settled down in Mariam Pahari. We were six children, three girls and three boys. I am the youngest in the family. One of my sisters died before I was born. We were a united and happy family. My parents cared for us very much. My eldest brother and sister did not have the opportunity to attend school. One of my brothers studied up to Class Seven and the other up to Class Nine. When we were young, we had many animals. We used to take the cattle, goats, pigs and cows to the hills for grazing. Our parents used to give us the freedom to play with other children. At the same time, they were very strict with us.
For Christmas and Easter, we used to get new clothes. My whole family enjoyed celebrations. The celebration of life was part and parcel of our family life as well as that of the Santhals (a well-known Tribal group in North India). As I grew up, I learned to mingle with other children and adults. I also learned how to share things with our neighbors, how to live together and at times of difficulties, how to face life courageously. Sometimes we did not have anything to eat or wear yet we were satisfied with what the little we had. I learned how to pray along with my parents. Our favorite past time was to sit around the fireplace during the winter. We enjoyed jokes together and even teasing one another.
Two of my brothers used to drink and I always prayed to God that the good Lord would transform them. At times, because of their drinking, there used to be quarrels at home. The next day, everything would be very normal. Even with this situation, growing up in the love of my parents, brothers, and sisters, I enjoyed my time at home.
Our parish priest, Father Dan Rice sent many of us, children from the village, to Maheshmunda school and hostel for studies. I was thrilled to go out of my home for study. I was loved by the many children in the hostel as well as the Sisters in the school. We worked together and enjoyed our life. The Sisters took good care of us.
Call to Religious Life: When I was a small child, some Sisters from Mokama used to come to Mariam Pahari to conduct health clinics. I saw them and I was touched by their loving approach to the poor and the needy. That was the first time I was drawn to the religious life. As I grew up, I began to feel something happening inside of me to care for the sick and the poor. I continued my studies in different schools staying at various hostels. To mention a few, I was with the Holy Cross Sisters, Apostolic Carmelites, Sacred Heart Sisters, and the Holy Family Sisters.
When I completed my matriculation examination, I went to see Father Dan Rice and expressed my desire to join any Congregation. He sent me to the Holy Cross Sisters with a letter. I gave them the letter and returned home. Again along with my mother, I met Father Dan. He told me to go to Mokama and stay for a month to see their work. I returned home after a month.
Religious Life: In July 1972, I joined the candidacy program in Mokama. We were ten candidates. My candidate director was Josita Eniakattu, SCN. I had failed in English in Class X, so I wondered whether I would be allowed to become a Sister. Margaret Rodericks, SCN, the education director, encouraged me to write the exam again. As a candidate, I rewrote the English paper in Hazaribagh in1973. I cannot forget Sister Margaret for she cared for me and I believe she saw something precious in me. Even now, I thank God for her. After passing in English, as a candidate, I did my Intermediate in Arts from Ranchi University from June 1973 to May 1975.
In 1975, I joined the pre-novitiate. Our directors were SCNs Patricia Mary Kelley and Teresita Theruvankunnel. In 1976, six of us joined the novitiate program in Mokama and Shalini D’Souza, SCN, was our novice director. In the same year, as first-year novices, we went to Kerwateri Ashram, in Sokho. Sisters Patricia Mary and Teresita were our directors in the Ashram. We were fifteen in the group and belonged to two batches of novices. We lived in unity, love, and harmony. In a tangible way, I experienced God in nature and in the lives of the simple people. We lived closely with the village people and I understood the difficulties that the people experienced in their lives. We had to do household works such as polishing the mud floor with cow-dung and burnt coal, shopping, gardening, cleaning, and cooking. Though it was difficult for most of us, we made it easy by supporting one another and worked together in groups. It helped me to gain self-confidence. I experienced deep trust in God. Sisters Patricia Mary and Teresita guided us spiritually to grow and mature and to experience God’s love. Above all, I experienced that I am precious in God’s eyes and God loves me, very much.
As I continued my religious life, my heart was filled with joy and happiness and I felt that I won the race which I had desired years ago. I grew in my prayer life and experienced peace within me. I made my First Vows on September 27, 1978. I felt God loved me, cared for me and walked with me, all along my formation period.
After my First Vows, I went to Sale, Mahuadanr as a teacher from1978 to 1980.
I was fortunate to have Father Barry, S. J as my parish priest in Sale. As a Jesuit scholastic, he had taught me catechism in the school in Maheshmunda. I went to him for spiritual direction and he led me to have deep faith in God.
For my second mission, I went to Jamtara in 1980. I taught in the school and also did pastoral work until 1983. Jamtara parish had very many Catholics. During my first year in Jamtara, no one came to the Church for the Holy Thursday services. We wanted to have the foot-washing ceremony. And like in the Scriptures, we walked to the nearby villages, to invite the willing Hindus to come for the ceremony. We were happy that we had twelve men for the foot-washing. Those days, it was unheard and unacceptable to wash the feet of women on Holy Thursday.
From 1983 to 1985, I was sent for the Teacher Certificate Higher (TCH) training at Sacred Heart Institute, Jayanagar, in Bangalore, run by the Apostolic Carmel Sisters. I was the in-charge of the pre-school, in Gaya from 1985 to 1986. I also completed my B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) from North Bengal University in the year 1989-1990 as a private student while I was teaching in Sangsay school.
I made my Final Vows on May 4, 1986, after a four-month preparation. In 1986, I went to Sangsay as one of the four pioneers, to begin our first mission. Sangsay, in Darjeeling Diocese, was a totally different area with a new language, Nepali, and culture. All of us had to learn to speak Nepali to relate with the people. I taught in the Nepali medium school till 1990. We used English books and taught in Nepali and called it a bi-lingual school. During this period, there was a lot of political unrest in the region because of a desire for a separate statehood for Nepali speaking people in the hills. The West Bengal state government or the Central government in Delhi would not yield to the demands of various small political parties of the region. After years of unrest which took many young lives, people had to be satisfied with the status of an autonomous region.
One evening, we also had a bomb blast of low intensity inside our house. Though no one was hurt, we were terribly frightened. We had no one except God for our protection. We persevered in the mission and eventually made a vast difference in the lives of people in the field of pastoral work, health and education.
After having stayed for four years in Sangsay and being able to converse well in Nepali, I went to Narayan Chawk, Dharan to teach Navjyoti School, in Nepal from 1990 to 1991.
From 1992 to 1998, I was in Chatra school as a part-time teacher, responsible for the hostel and also I was the pastoral Sister.
Once again, I was called to serve the people of Sangsay as a teacher and Principal from 1998 to 2010. After about sixteen years in the hills of Sangsay, again I moved to Munnal Path, Dharan in Nepal as the in-charge of the newly established pre-school from 2011 to 2012. Since we could not continue the pre-school in Munal Path, I taught at Navjyoti School, Dharan from 2013 to January 2015.
While I was getting ready with my documents to go to Botswana, I joined Nazareth Academy, Mokama, from February to May 2015. I joined the Lobatse community in Botswana, Feb. 28, 2016, as an assistant teacher.
Over the last thirty-seven years as a teacher and reaching out to people in pastoral service wherever possible, my community gave me various opportunities to improve my administrative and grass-root level teaching skills.
- I had the non-formal education exposure program at Sidharth village in Orissa from June 17 to 23, 1994.
- I also attended the Xavier Educational Administrators’ Leadership program at Mango, Jamshedpur in Jharkhand from October 8 -18, 2006.
- I was fortunate to participate in the ‘Barefoot Teacher Training, at Loreto Day School, Sealdah, in Kolkata from January 15 – 25, 2008.
I have faced many difficulties in my life as I worked in different communities but I never felt left out. I experienced God’s continuous love and support and thus every moment I was filled with God’s presence. Because of my prayer, Sisters’ love, care, support and understanding, I persevered in my vocation.
As I look back over my life, I am amazed at the way God has led me. God has done marvelous things for me. I have nothing more to say except to praise, thank and love God. Still, I won’t be at peace, until I mention a few of my encounters with God.
One of the happy memories I can think of is an incident that occurred in my life while I was missioned in Sale. Once, SCNs Ann Palatty and Deepa Thekecheruvil and I, along with the school staff and some students went on a tour to Rohtasgarh Fort, near Sasaram in Bihar. The river Son is not too far away from this Fort. During the tour of the Fort, I was stung by a scorpion. The staff and students were very concerned about me and collected some medicinal plants and flowers from the surroundings. They ground those into a paste to apply on my wound. Others made a drink out of some plants and made me drink it. Their treatment and care eased my pain. Slowly they brought me down the hill and all of us returned home safely.
Another interesting story is that while I was learning to ride a bicycle, I went with Deepa Thekecheruvil, SCN to the market in Mahuadanr. As we were passing through a narrow road, a tractor approached us from the opposite direction. Sister Deepa fell down on the other side of the road and the tractor came closer to me and my bicycle dashed against it. Nothing happened to both of us. People gathered around us and took care of us well and gently. Besides they repaired our bicycles for us to go on.
I have been inspired by the SCNs Anne Elizabeth Elampalathottiyil and Elizabeth Emmanuel Vattakunnel. I always found them to be very loving people. I thank God for them. I was also inspired by SCNs Ann Roberta Powers and Eugenia Muething. Their simple living, deep thinking and their readiness to do anything touched me deeply. I have experienced their love, understanding, and hospitality. Whenever I went to Gaya and stayed overnight, they would get up early in the morning to see me off with hot breakfast and food for the way. I always experienced their helping hand. I thank God for them.
Faith Experience: Deep faith in Jesus in my day-to-day life draws me closer to Him. I go to Him to share the happenings of the day and in the morning ask for the grace and peace for the day.
Deaths in my family have brought me closer to God. In one year, I lost my two brothers: my eldest brother, John, on June 11, 1987, my second brother, Lawrence, on Dec. 19, 1987, and a year and a half later, on August 28, 1989, I lost my mother. When my father died on October 18, 1962, I was very small but when I think of my parents, I ask God to give me their kind of faith that I may love the people just as they did. Recently my cousin sister,
Mukta, a Holy Cross Sister expired. This also was a faith experience for me.
Once when I was going for a home visit, the train was very late. I made the decision to proceed to Jamui. When I reached the place, there was no autorickshaw to go to Sokho. I found an auto with a driver and his assistant who agreed to take me to Sokho. I was in great fear to be alone with them. I trusted in the Almighty and proceeded to Sokho. They asked me many questions on the way and I answered their questions with much courage trusting in the Lord. I gave them positive strokes saying that they were like my own brothers. I reached home safely.
Looking back over the years, I feel very proud that I belong to the SCN Congregation.
- I have experienced love from all
- There is much unity, understanding, sharing and listening to one another, freedom to make mistakes, and celebrate life
- Love for the poor and the needy and being one with the people wherever we are
- Sharing in the community that makes us one
- Life has taught me that if anything is to be changed in life, first I have to change myself
In looking forward to the future my hopes and dreams for the Congregation are:
- That we may hear the call of God deeply within and go ahead in life
I think that the biggest challenge at the present time is to understand the signs of the times and to respond to them in deep faith.
Written by Sister Philomina Hembrom with the guidelines given by the MMC.
Completed on June 12, 2017