My parents, Philip Paruvananical John and Annamma Paruvananical, had ten children, three girls and seven boys. Born on September 22, 1947, I, Pushpa Paruvananical, am the eldest in my family. My name on the SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) is Aleyamma P.P. (Paruvananical Philip) and I was called, Lissy at home. In the order of birth, we are Lissy, Mary, Chinnamma, Appachan (John), Baby (Philip), Josekutty, Anto (Antony), Sunny (Thomas), Tony (George) and Joel. My parents lived in Kozhavanal parish, Kottayam in Changanacherry diocese of Kerala. I was born in my mother’s home in Meenachil. A few months after my birth, my parents moved to Vettimukhal, in Kottayam district. My paternal grandmother lived with us and I was very close to her. Financially we were rather well-off with plenty of farm land. My parents were devout Catholics. We had lengthy evening prayer, reciting all the three mysteries of the rosary and other litanies, according to the liturgical calendar. Since I was the eldest, I had to help my mother in caring for the younger ones and in the kitchen. It was fun to do all that and I learnt to take responsibility from my early years. We used to have plenty of farm workers who had to be fed also.
When I was four years old I was admitted to a Kalari (old model of kindergarten). Once when I was on my way to the Kalari, an elephant came running towards me and I was able to climb on a boundary wall to escape. When I narrated the incident to all at home they were surprised how I managed to do it. It was a miracle that God saved me at that time.
I studied up to class five at St. Mary’s School, Vettimukhal, run by the Latin Rite Church close to our home. When I was in class two I had a narrow escape from a snake. My father had taught me how to protect myself from a snake. He said that if one cannot kill a snake, not to hurt it or run away from it; stay still and the snake would move away. With my eyes closed I stood still and prayed. After sometime I heard a sound from under the dry leaves and something moving. When I opened my eyes the snake had disappeared into the bush nearby and I walked to the school unharmed.
From class six I studied at St. Thomas Girl’s High School, Punnathara run by the Sisters of the Visitation Congregation of Kottayam diocese situated at the banks of Meenachil River. After walking three kilometres one way, we had to cross the Meenachil River by boat. While walking back and forth to the school, I prayed the rosary with a few of my friends. In order to attend the daily morning Mass, I got up very early to light the fire to make coffee and cook the rice. My mother did the rest of the work till I came back. I prepared the tiffin boxes (lunch boxes) for two of my younger siblings. I remember an incident when I was a class ten student. Our boat capsized while we were returning from the school. There were sixty children from class one to ten in the boat. The regular boatman was absent that day. The new one, not an experienced person, pushed the boat too strongly to start it that he lost control of it. All of us were under water. We lost our books and umbrellas except the hanging tiffin boxes in our hands. The onlookers jumped in and pulled us out of the water. One of my brothers drank a lot of water and he was very much affected.
Though I had failed in class ten, (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) the first time, I passed it in my second attempt with good marks in 1965. From my school years, I was part of the Legion of Mary and Mission League groups. As part of our activities I visited the sick. I had an encounter with a mouth cancer patient who was suffering very much. From my youth I had a desire to serve the sick. The happiest day came when I heard that I was selected for nursing studies.
My mother’s younger sister, Bridget Kappalumakal, SCN, had sent a leaflet to us asking for donations for taking care of the leprosy patients in Patna mission. It made a deep impression on my mind to serve the leprosy patients when I grow up. With a desire to go to Italy, a few of us wrote a secret letter to a priest who made arrangements for girls to go there. When I got a positive response my father told me, “Not out of India, nor out of Kerala”. Though many congregations came to our parish for vocation promotion, I was not attracted to join them. But when I saw an advertisement in the newspaper about the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth from Patna Mission coming for vocation promotion I decided to meet them. Sister Teresa Rose Nabholz and Leelamma Jose, a third year nursing student, stayed with the Sisters in Bharanganam. I went with my parents and maternal grandparents to meet them. From them I came to know for the first time that my aunt, Bridget, SCN and maternal cousin, Mercy Thundathil, SCN were in the same Congregation. Sister Teresa Rose told me to keep my joining them a secret to let Sister Bridget have a surprise. Within a week I got ready with the needed things and left home on June 5, 1966. My sixth brother, Tony, was in my mother’s arms and the fifth one, Sunny, a two year-old pulled, on my sari as I got into the train. I traveled with six other girls and reached Mokama on the 10th. It was the first time that I rode on a train. Leelamma and some of the senior nurses who traveled with us frightened us saying that we would be made to sleep under a tree in Mokama.
As we reached Nazareth Convent in Mokama early in the morning I felt good and happy that finally I had reached the right place. The candidates and postulants in white saris welcomed us. For our first breakfast we were given grapes from the garden. A week later seven more new candidates joined us. The fourteen of us were sent to Ram Ratan College in Mokama for the one-year pre-university studies in Science or Arts. Most of us found it difficult since the medium of instruction was in Hindi. Since we did not know the place or the local language, Inus, a watchman accompanied us to the college and he brought us back to the convent. We were the first group of candidates to be sent for studies as soon as we joined the community instead of waiting for a year of language study.
Since the examination was postponed, Lucy Puthukatt, Mariakutty N. M. Nuntimackal Mathew, Philomena last N. J. and I joined the nursing studies at Nazareth Hospital, Mokama. We stayed with the other candidates while going to the nursing school. As preliminary training students (P.T.S.), all of us wrote our exams and I passed. Before the first year exam I developed jaundice and had to rest for three months and missed a few classes but I was allowed to write the first year exam. During my third year I had chickenpox which affected my eyes and I had to be admitted in the hospital.
During the mid-wifery course, I was seriously sick with acute tuberculosis and I was admitted in the hospital again. Though I had missed many classes I stood first in the exam which was a great miracle. My candidate directors were SCNs Mary Celeste (Gail) Collins, Teresita Theruvankunnel, Ann George Mukalel and Josephine Naduvilekunnel.
I did my postulancy for a year along with Lalitha Abraham, Mariakutty A. M., Anupa Moozha, Elsy Vettickal, Lucy Puthukkatt and Rajni Hemrom. On December 27, 1972, I joined the novitiate and since I was the only trained nurse in the group, I took care of my companions when they were sick. Gracy Thombrakudy and Stella Chulliyil, transfer members from another congregation, also joined us in the novitiate. Sister Patricia Mary Kelly was our postulant and novice director. I went through many difficulties and challenges during my novitiate days but by God’s grace I was able to carry on. I made my first vows on September 27, 1974. During the vow Mass, I heard an inner voice saying to me, “I have become poor in order to make you rich.” This message continues to give me courage and hope to this day.
My first mission was to Nazareth Hospital, Mokama for a year of internship followed by another year in the Public Health Department. While I was working at the hospital, I had the privilege to care for Lawrencetta Veeneman, SCN one of our great pioneer SCNs in India. If anyone offered her help she never refused it for she wanted to make the helper happy. The nurses brought to my notice a Hindu old man who could not sleep even with sedation. His highly educated children were not good to him or hardly visited him. I tried to comfort him by talking and I felt that I could pray for him. As I closed my eyes to pray he also closed his eyes and repeated the prayer after me. When I finished the prayer, the attendants of other patients noticed that the sick man had relaxed and was sleeping peacefully. They wanted to know what I did. They admitted that our God is a God of peace.
Patients shared with me freely their disposition and I was able to help them through prayer and counselling for their total healing. One day Kausalya, a dying woman with burn injuries, held my hand and told me not to leave her alone. I stayed with her and gave her a few drops of water and before she took her last breath she told me that, “When I walk into the bhagicha (paradise) I will remember you.” To this day I remember Kausalya and her touching words.
In 1976, I went to replace Mary Juliana Tuti, SCN, in Lupungutu, Chaibasa dispensary. I stayed there for two years before going to Biharsharif in January 1978. SCNs Grace Androth and Shaila Vattamattathil were the pioneers there. I did the outreach program in the nearby villages by going with the catechist. At other times Shaila and I stayed with families for a week at a time. We visited all the families in each village and felt at home with them. A young paralyzed man lived near our house. Somehow I believed that he could be well again. I prepared special oil for him and asked his loving wife to massage him with it daily. The devoted wife cared for him well. I gave him vitamin tablets too. Within a few days he began to move his legs and shortly he visited me in our house with the help of a stick. It was one of my most fulfilling mission experiences.
After a four-month tertianship program in Ranchi in 1980 I made my final vows on December 1, in Mokama and returned to Biharsharif. When the terrible Hindu-Muslim riot took place in May 1981, Shaila and I were in the village. No one could venture out as a rigorous curfew was imposed. On the third day, Father Augustine Mundoly came to take us back in his vehicle.
In July 1981, I went to Lady Reading Health School, Delhi for a one-year diploma course in Public Health Nursing. I was appointed to Chatra mission for medical work in 1982. Once a month I spent a week in Mandair villages, a remote forest area in Daltonganj diocese. I stayed in the catechists’ house. Since there was an efficient group of people doing outreach program and the government hospital was close by we felt that we might be duplicating the medical work there and decided not to continue our health work among the people there.
I had the privilege of living close to the people in the villages again in Mandair. Olive Pinto, SCN and I were the pioneers and our house, Nazareth Dera, was opened officially on July 11, 1983. We lived in one of the store rooms where the supplies of Catholic Relief Services were kept. After a few months we moved to Kowathary, a Christian village. A family cleaned up their cowshed for our living, a one room house with no indoor plumbing or running water. Like the people, we also went to the jungle for collecting firewood for cooking and for toilet purposes.
During the winter it was very cold since the village was near a river. We visited the villages and attended to the sick. The parish priest, Father A. T. Thomas, took the serious patients on his motorbike to Mandar Holy Family Hospital near Ranchi. We also helped out in the parish. Many of the children were not attending the parish village school. We encouraged the parents to send their children to the school. Initially, many of them shut their doors in our face. We befriended the children and gradually the people accepted us and the children began to attend school regularly.
We opened a dispensary in the same room where we lived and also attended to the sick in the villages. After Sister Olive left Mandair in June 1984, I lived with SCNs Anice Vattukulam and Lilly Thomas in the parish. We were forced to shift from Kowathary village to the parish since we could not cross the swollen river during the monsoon. Father Thomas gave us a room in the newly-built two-room house in the parish campus. The family of the catechist lived in the other room.
Later Joyce Kalapurayil joined the community for social ministry. Since I could not be available to the many needs of the people in faraway villages, I trained Lakshmi, a male health worker to administer medicines for ordinary diseases. He visited the patients on his bicycle. Many times I sat behind the bicycle of the persons who come to call me to the village. I have had many falls on the unpaved roads. I also learnt to communicate in Uraon, the language of the people.
In winter, it was very cold though we slept on hay to keep us warm. In April 1984, I became very sick and was hospitalized in Mokama. I returned to Mandair in June. I worked closely in collaboration with the government health officials especially for vaccination.
In the year 1985, my family moved to Malabar in Kerala. I visited them in the summer of the same year. While there I took a one-month Ayurveda treatment at Suhodaya at Kanjirappally and rested for another month in my sister, Mary’s home at Cherpunkal. In July 1985, I moved to Gomoh to take care of the medical needs of the 400 hostel students from kindergarten to class ten and the twenty disabled leprosy patients who stayed in the parish campus. I helped with the weekly leprosy clinics where a doctor from Dhanbad attended to the patients.
It was a joy for me to take care of the youth who were affected by leprosy. Many of them were depressed and I accompanied them through counselling, medication and prayer. I had the greatest satisfaction in serving them and all those who came to me for treatment were helped. My initial desire to come to Patna mission was fulfilled in Gomoh. It was a privilege for me to visit the residential leprosy patients who were deformed in many ways from the Hansen’s disease. I loved them all and they too loved me. I had the opportunity to keep on giving and serving the leprosy patients without expecting any reward of gratitude.
In December 1990, I was fortunate to return to Biharsharif for a second time. The little children whom I took care of had grown up in the hostel. From the villages many children were also in our school. My presence, love and compassionate service had touched the hearts of many though I had no material things to share with them. I really enjoyed the healing mission of Christ in Biharsharif.
In 1993, I was asked to go back to Gomoh to continue the mission of caring for the leprosy patients and to be the in-charge of the girls’ hostel. The disabled leprosy patients had been shifted to Dhanbad. Those patients’ children who were affected by the disease were still in the hostel. I was able to accompany many of them, especially the troubled girls. Though attending Mass was not compulsory for them many of them attended the Sunday Mass and led the liturgical hymns. Every evening I conducted prayer for them along with reading from the Bible. I also gave them reading materials from various magazines. Through their years of growing up in the hostel, they became kind-hearted and compassionate towards one another. It was a joy for me to stay on in Gomoh for twenty years to serve some of the neediest people of our country.
As my father was very sick with stomach cancer in 1999, I spent a month with him caring for him but had to return to Gomoh in the first week of March to complete the accounts. Though I hoped to return in May, my father passed away on March 25. He was very devoted to Mother Mary and I was happy that he was called to his eternal reward on her feast day. I could not reach there for his funeral but was present for the forty-first day rituals.
I went to Kakkavayal, Kerala in 1999 for a four-month renewal program before my silver jubilee. Our group had also some courses in different parts of Kerala and visited one another’s homes before returning to our respective missions. The province celebrated our jubilee in Mokama in December 1999.
My mother, a diabetic patient, had a fall and broke her hip in 2010. After a short visit with her I returned to Gomoh and the next day she passed away peacefully on Feb. 11. I did not go back home for the funeral but I was satisfied that I could take care of my parents for a short time when they were sick.
In 2013 I had the opportunity to attend a two-month Bible course at the Divine Centre, Muringoor in Kerala. I also enjoyed the two-month solitude and silence in an Ashram at Bannerghatta in Bangalore and went home for a month.
My next mission was a call to care for Ann Roberta Powers, SCN, who was recuperating in Mokama from a fall in Gaya. I also looked after the elderly in Mokama from December 2013 to January 2015. It was a privilege for me to look after Sister Ann Roberta, who was the youngest of our American pioneers who came to India in 1947. She was always known for her asking pardon from anyone whom she might have hurt in anyway. Her deep humility, gratitude and her desire for India provinces to get more vocations touched me.
When I received word that I lost my sister, Mary, on December 15, 2013, I was in Patna. She was in good health and all of a sudden she had a heart attack and passed away quickly. She was the first one from among the ten siblings to pass away.
I had a three-month mission experience as a school nurse at Nazareth Academy, Gaya from February 2015. I took care of the students’ minor injuries and if needed, informed their parents to give them the necessary medical care. In the community I reached out to anyone who needed any assistance.
Since May 2015, I am in Gumla. I am in-charge of the girl’s hostel. There are 110 girls who study in various places. They manage their own cooking and cleaning. I only have to guide and supervise them in the mess. I am available to the girls at any time. I accompany them whenever they go for a retreat. I pray with them in the evenings using the Bible. Our girls are very active in the parish and we Sisters support them in all their activities.
In looking over my life in community, I can proudly say that I have enjoyed living with our Sisters from many parts of India. There have been many ups and downs both in community and in mission but God’s grace has sustained me always.
The greatest personal challenge that I experience these days is that I am limited in my movement and I cannot fulfil my desire to be with the people in mission because of my poor health.
I feel proud to be an SCN because of the simplicity in our life style and our desire to serve the poor wherever they may be. We also have a sense of oneness in community and we own up one another. I always admired the joy, simplicity, care and the love of our Sisters Lawrencetta Veeneman, Teresita Theruvankunnel and Mary Francis Sauer.
My hope for our province is that as we get older we may age gracefully and have the disposition to be a blessing to leave behind a great legacy for the ones who are coming after us.
I am called to be a woman of prayer, live a simple and free life, detached from the worldly comforts. With love and care I have been a compassionate presence to the people who are lonely. It has been my joy to be a sign of hope for the hopeless and the outcasts.
The word of God that I received before joining the Congregation was, “Praise and thank God at all times”. It has been part of my life and it still gives me joy and peace.
Pushpa Paruvananical, SCN
December 3, 2018