Born on February 6, 1947 (the year of India’s Independence), in Ramapuram, Kottayam district, Kerala, I, Kuttiamma, am the third child of Mani (Panackal) Karakattu and Thresiamma Mani. I was baptized as Elizabeth at St. Augustine’s Church, Ramapuram. My father was a school teacher and my mother, a home maker. They were well-educated for their time and guided us well. Eight more children followed me, making us a family of eleven – five boys and six girls. In order of birth they are Jose, Augustine, Kuttiamma, Valsa (Vimala, SCN), Mathew, Cecily, Alice, Sally, Sunny and Tomy (twins) and Nimmi. My second brother Augustine died of cancer while I was a temporary professed Sister studying in Ranchi. I was not able to go home to bid him farewell with the rest of the family and it was a very painful event in my life.

Memories of my early childhood are very few but it was fun growing up in a large family, caring and sharing. Though we were not rich we had enough to manage life with the salary of my father. Some food items were raised from the land and we received occasional generous help from our maternal grandparents. As I am the first daughter and one of the older children, my parents expected me to act grown up even when I was very young, helping out with the daily chores of the house, cooking, cleaning and looking after the younger ones. I hardly had time to play or be a child. Hence, my fun time as a child was the summer holidays when I spent time at my maternal grandparents’ home with my uncles, aunt and cousins. They doted on me and gave me lots of goodies, new dresses and even cash in hand when I returned home after holidays.

Being born in a traditional Catholic family I strictly followed the religious rituals and customs: evening prayers, rosary, prayer for the deceased family members, prayers to various saints, and devotions to St. Joseph (month of March) and to Mary (month of May). Papa also made sure that we said our prayers loudly and clearly and sang many devotional songs. He made it a point that we sang only devotional songs in the evenings – so much so some of our neighbors used to tease us saying that we were having Benediction in our house every day! Besides Sunday Mass and catechism, on first Fridays and Saturdays my father woke us up to go to church, make Confession and receive Communion.

My father was an honest and just man. He tried his best to manage all expenses without borrowing money. If ever he had to borrow, he was very punctual in returning it. He told us never to feel obliged to anyone by keeping anything that belonged to others.

My mother was kind, compassionate and shared what we had generously with the poor. She respected them and they in turn helped her with household work. She was also very hospitable and I used to be amazed at her creativity and capacity to prepare so many good food items when we had guests. Many times I prayed that we may have guests often so that we could get those special goodies. I feel I have inherited some of her creativity.

Being the eldest daughter, my mother tried to groom me as an ideal girl. I often felt suffocated as a teenager because of her strictness. She would not allow me to go to Church functions in the evening or to town unless accompanied. If I ever came late from school she would want all the details for the delay. I rebelled and complained because she never questioned my older brothers on those issues. Gender equality was important to me from then onwards.

Daily I walked forty-five minutes to my school, St. Joseph’s, Mutholy, a high school staffed by Carmelite Sisters. Two of the Sisters, Bernava and Malakia, had great influence on my decision to choose religious life. They guided me in my spiritual life, gave me magazines to read that had stories of great missionaries of North India. The annual retreats were great experiences for me as I felt those were times of close encounter with God.

My paternal uncle, Reverend Ambrose Panackal, OCD, (First Order of Discalced Carmelites), my cousin, Sister Mathias, a Sister of Charity from Trichur, and my father’s Sister and cousins who joined religious life, were role models for me. I used to ask God to show me some sign if there is a call for me to religious life. I bargained with God that if I pass in my SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) that would be a sign for my call to religious life. Sure enough, I got through the exam in May 1964. The next day we, Alice (Grace, former SCN and my classmate), and I, went to meet SCNs Bridget Kappalumakal and Teresa Rose Nabholz in Marygiri Hospital in Bharananganam owned by Medical Mission Sisters and expressed our desire to join them. We had heard from Sophie, Bridget’s sister, who was one of our classmates that the SCNs were a fine group of Sisters.

When my parents came to know of my decision, they were heartbroken for I was the first one to move away from home. My father consulted our chaplain and my spiritual guide, Rev. Martin OFM Cap., about my decision. He advised my father not to be in the way of God’s call and persuaded him to let me go. Leaving my parents and siblings was very painful, especially my little twin brothers, to whom I had been a second mother. I came to know later that my mother grieved my absence for a long time. My younger brother Mathew, then twelve years old, wrote me a letter of complaint. He blamed me for the consequence of leaving home saying they had not eaten any good food for several weeks as mother was too sad to cook.

On June 4, 1964, eight of us accompanied by Sisters Teresa Rose and Bridget Kappalumakal boarded the train from Ernakulam to Mokama. The train journey, my first ever in a train, was very exciting. Of those eight candidates only Mercy Thundathil and I have remained.

Sister Roselyn’s candidate group with Sister Teresa Rose Nabholz

Being welcomed by the Sisters to Nazareth Convent, Mokama was such a joyful event. My first impression of the SCNs was that of a warm, welcoming and a joyful group! They laughed aloud a lot, a change from the Carmelites I was used to.

Learning to fit into the convent life style and trying to behave like a religious even before becoming one, was not easy. Getting up early in the morning, keeping silence and following the routine from morning till evening were some of my real challenges. But I knew that if the rest could follow the routine, I, too, would be able to do so. I was reported on many times for breaking silence. It was difficult to follow Marita Ann’s (Teresa Rose Nabholz) American English but I pretended that I understood her and said “Yes, Sister”, “No Sister”, “I am fine. Thank you, Sister”, etc. for the first two weeks before I could line up a few words that made sense. Not being able to speak Malayalam, my mother tongue, and getting penance for speaking it, were hardships to reckon with. However, it helped me to learn English and in a few months’ time I could speak somewhat well. I enjoyed being in Mokama and candidacy was lots of fun. It was a time for shaping up and Sister Teresa Rose tried her best to teach us to pray, play and practice necessary etiquette.

My first Christmas in Mokama was a most joyful occasion! The garden was full of white chrysanthemums and plenty of poinsettias. Learning and singing English carols directed by Patricia Mary Kelley, SCN, accompanied by Sister Lawrencetta Veeneman on the organ, all the cookies, cakes and sweets and the beautiful sari each one of us got as a gift for Christmas, are memorable.

On February 2, 1965, seven of us became postulants. Postulancy and novitiate days were more solemn. Sister Teresa Rose was our guide throughout, helping us to pray, to understand SCN life and history, SCN Constitutions, etc. We also had Church History, Scripture, working on SRA Cards (English language comprehension), picking up writing skills, learning dramas of Shakespeare and poetry. All of these, besides the various duties assigned to us, kept us busy. The first year of the novitiate was tough as I tried to continue to adjust to prayer life and studies. We could not talk to anyone other than those in the novitiate and I was often tempted to speak to the temporary professed Sisters when they passed us by. Visiting Sundays (once a month) with professed Sisters, candidates and nurses were most energizing days. We received the religious habit on December 21, 1965 which was very exciting as externally we looked like real Sisters in our new habits and veils!

I was good at drama, acting and had many opportunities to develop my talents in the novitiate. The second year novitiate was a bit more relaxed but our novice director knew who could do best in which area. I was assigned to teach English to class IV students of St. Xavier’s School, Mokama, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Sister Lawrencetta was the superior, a great woman who cared for us tenderly. I felt emotionally attached to Teresa Rose and I remember crying a lot when she left for Darjeeling for a few weeks of summer holidays.

Preparation for vows was done with much care, though I really did not under-stand the vows that well at that time. On December 21, 1967 I pronounced my first vows as an SCN. I was very happy but nostalgic for my family who could not be present for the occasion.

Family photo taken after Sister Roselyn made her first vows

Our six month Juniorate program under the guidance of Patricia Mary Kelley, SCN, was a most memorable one. Her creativity and innovative ways helped us to learn and grasp many things. She familiarized us all on what was happening in the local church soon after Vatican II. She sent us for workshops and seminars and discussed with us in detail the renewal taking place in the Church.

College days in Ranchi (1968-1970) were very competitive as each one of us tried to excel in pre-university studies. Since I was very good in History, I was encouraged to do my undergraduate studies in Arts at Patna Women’s College from 1970 to 1973. I stayed in the college hostel with Mercy Thundathil, who was also a student. Making friends and socializing was important at this stage in my life. Hence, besides studies, I made some good friends who enriched my life and have been a part of my life’s journey.

Preparations for my final vows took place in Ranchi in the summer of 1974 with a month long retreat under the direction of Father Dick Lambert, SJ. That was a precious time for understanding the challenges of religious life and conversing with God to figure out if I really and truly was in the right place. I spent some restless days figuring it out and was guided by the retreat director. The Final Vow day was another joyful event when I made my commitment to becoming a permanent member of the SCN community, in sickness or in good health, saying “yes” to all that would happen on my SCN journey.

My first mission after graduation and Final Vows was to teach at St. Augustine’s School, an all boys’ school run by the Christian Brothers in Vasai, Maharashtra. I enjoyed teaching them for three years. A number of my students keep up with me to this day. My Bachelor of Education (B. Ed.) degree was completed from Loreto College, Calcutta, in June 1977 followed by the assignment to St. Xavier’s School, Mokama as the headmistress. Working mostly with the Dalit children from poor families was most challenging but rewarding. The enrollment of the school went up to 620 during the six years I spent there. I tried to be innovative, to raise the standard of the school and to instill patriotism in the children. Some of my students have done well in life, many are government job holders. I feel proud to have contributed to their all around development.

Of the many books that I have read, the ‘Cloud of the Unknowing’ made a deep impression on me in my effort to understand and grow in spirituality. Another book I cherished was Hannah Hurnard’s ‘Hind’s Feet in High Places’. I used to compare myself with the character ‘Much Afraid’ who was guided by her Shepherd. As I look back at my faith experiences I tend to see them in the light of God using me as an instrument to bring life to others.

Teaching English in classes IX and X and being in-charge of the primary section at Nazareth Academy, Gaya, was a very fulfilling time in my life. I had the opportunity to instill values in my students, guide them in ways they still remember. Last year on teacher’s day one of my students wrote, “Whenever I meet any success or achievement, I think of you, Sister, and I say to myself, that you would be very proud of me if you come to know it because it was you who built up my confidence”.

The summer of 1985 at Godavari Ashram, Kathmandu, Nepal, was a turning point in my life. The short course on Liberation Theology given by Father Pius Thekemury, SJ and Dr.Vinayan led me to discern my call to mission once again. The result was when I got back to Nazareth Academy, Gaya, I motivated the senior students to understand the lives of the poor and the marginalized. We had many interactive sessions. After four years of dedicated service in Gaya, I felt a call to move into a more compassionate and justice-oriented ministry. Seeing this inclination in me, I was invited by Shalini D’Souza, SCN, the then Provincial, to do my Masters in Social Work (MSW) from Bombay University. I moved into the ministry of Social Work from 1987.

Leaving the familiar field of education where I had excelled was a hard decision, but my inner voice prompted me to plunge into the unknown with deep faith. Gradually it turned out to be an experience of God’s guiding presence in all the areas of my life. My first challenge as a first year student of MSW was taking up the case work of finding the home of fourteen year old Umali. She was a lost child, an inmate of St. Catherine’s Home for the children in Andheri, Mumbai, the place of my field work experience. Umali was picked up by the police at Mumbai CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) railway station. After many interviews, gathering information about her family background and support from the Mumbai Central railway superintendent, Umali and I set out from Mumbai in early January 1988. I had no idea where exactly we were going. God led us through many hurdles. So many angels came our way to help us till we found her home on the border of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. This success story confirmed me that God wanted me in the field of social work. The second year, I was placed at Kamatipura, the ‘red light’ district in Bombay. Though initially very apprehensive, I learned to love my clients, the commercial sex workers. Sometimes very challenging and a bit risky, the number of interventions carried out on their behalf gave me confidence. Never did I imagine that this experience was in a way preparing me for my future mission in Nepal. Besides achieving academic excellence (First rank from Mumbai University), these two years of studies exposed me to a different world of reality, of the struggles of people for survival.

In 1989, I moved to Kathmandu as a professional social worker. Initially I taught a diploma course at the Jesuit Social Work Institute and visited the Central Prison for Women where I assisted with the release and rehabilitation of many women with criminal backgrounds. In order to get a better understanding of their plight in the prison I underwent voluntary imprisonment for a day. Among all the work I did, one of my deep faith experiences was the release of the many innocent but mentally ill women, a few at a time, from the Central Women’s Prison in Kathmandu for treatment and rehabilitation. I took this risk as I was moved with compassion for those wasting away in the prison with no help whatsoever. It was indeed risking our lives and resources on our part in favor of the marginalized women. As they were being released we kept them with us at Navjyoti Center in Baluwatar as they had no place to go to. In the meantime I travelled extensively in Nepal to find some of their homes to reunite them with their families. Caring for them and living with them for a year was not easy for my Community nor me. We were all in it together and cared for them till we could find proper facilities for them outside of prison. This eventually led to the creation of the first mental health rehabilitation program in Nepal, later named as Ashadeep, a treatment and rehabilitation center, now managed by a Nepali NGO. It was the most challenging and rewarding experience in my social ministry. Many families were helped to have their beloved mother, sister or wife back home. It had been a pioneering work in Nepal, a most compassionate ministry, an SCN legacy to the people of Nepal. The work continues to this day and I know I have left a piece of my heart and spirit there.

Sister Roselyn in class at Ashadeep in Kathmandu

In July 1996 the Mumbai police raided the brothels to rescue the trafficked women of Nepali origin and they were placed in different shelter homes in Mumbai and Pune. In-spite of the many hurdles and objections, I was prompted by the Spirit to plunge into the unknown believing that God would show me the way. Initially the SCNs and the Nepal Nazareth Society leadership were hesitant to allow me to take up the work, as it meant going against the wishes of the government. Along with six other NGOs we fought for the rights of these young Nepali women. With the help of other national and international non-governmental organizations, we brought 128 women back to Nepal. Charimaya Tamang, one of the fourteen young women rehabilitated and trained for anti-trafficking by SCNs and who opted for lobbying for this cause, did us all proud. She was selected as the recipient of the 2011 award ‘Hero Acting against Modern Day Slavery’, from Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State of USA. She continues to work as program coordinator of Shakti Samuha, a group founded for fighting against trafficking. Enabling these women to be pro-active in solving their problems was a deep faith experience for me.

From Kathmandu, I moved to Almora, a hill station in Uttar Pradesh in 1997 to initiate a residential empowerment program for teenage girls. I stayed there for four years organizing women in the rural communities at the foot hills of the Himalayas.

In 2001, I took up a job as Gender and Development (GAD) coordinator of the fifteen dioceses of North India. I stayed in our community in Delhi and daily commuted by bus to my office in Noida, border of Delhi. This was my first full time job outside the SCN owned ministries. Though I was invited by the director of UKSVK ({Uttar Kshetriya Samajik Vikas Kendra, {Northern Social Forum}) to take up this job, I had to go through an interview to qualify for the job. My role and responsibility as GAD coordinator was to implement a project. I worked with the diocesan level coordinators, organized trainings for women from the various dioceses and gave quarterly reports to Misereor, Germany who funded the program. This meant a lot of traveling to the fifteen dioceses, meetings and discussions with the hierarchy of the church, bishops, and priests who were directors of the social work, learning to be diplomatic and using negotiation skills to get the work done. I tried to do these as gracefully as I could and I enjoyed the work.

Accepting the untimely death of my father in a fatal accident on November 3, 2001, though very painful was a deep faith experience for me. I was shattered as Papa was very healthy and his sudden death was hard to bear. I learned what it means to lose a parent and after that I doted on my mother who lived for another fifteen years. Letting her go at the age of ninety-six, in January 2016 was hard but I accepted the reality painfully.

After about one and a half years of work in the dioceses, the province called me to be an associate NGO representative at the UN in New York, for the Charity Federation in 2002. It was a new experience to work with many like-minded people for lobbying and advocacy at the highest level. Though the impact of our work was not seen immediately, we made a difference globally. I was also a part of the committee for women who worked closely with the Commission for the Status of Women. My main contribution was based on my work with the trafficked women of Nepal.

Sister Roselyn at the United Nations in New York

Moving from the UN, I stayed in Rajgir, Bihar, for about six months, preparing to initiate a social work center in Rajgir. This never materialized.

In responding to the signs of the times, the Congregation invited me to a collaborative ministry with Caritas India in the rehabilitation of the victims of Tsunami (December 26, 2004) in South India, from January 2005. Though I went as a volunteer for a month at the request of Caritas India, I served as the coordinator of psycho-social rehabilitation for a year. In the second year, I also worked to incorporate gender balance in the Tsunami relief work. Globally SCNs had raised a great deal of money to respond to the disaster and channelized it through Caritas India.

In February 2007, I returned to Patna to initiate the social work program cum office management for young women at Arunodaya, Patna. Initially, I found it was a challenging job to conceptualize the program, prepare the syllabus, contact resource persons, advertise and get the trainees, make ready the old Provincial House for housing the trainees, etc. and to begin the program all by myself. In the six years of this ministry, we empowered 113 young women with knowledge, skills and most of them are gainfully employed.

In 2013, I moved to Dharan, Nepal, to initiate a skills training program for young women in the newly set up place at Munal Path. The building which was meant for a primary school was modified and set up as the training centre. Over the last three years, sixty-eight young women were equipped with various job oriented skills. I also coordinate the women empowerment program among the migrant settlers around Dharan town. There are around sixty-two self help groups in saving and credit and other income generating programs. We have a revolving fund for providing solar lighting and for building toilets. We join hands with the government’s campaign to make Nepal an open defecation free country.

Sister Roselyn with a family in Nepal who received one of the toilets

The multiple ministries I was involved in, through the past years, have given me immense satisfaction and joy. Though I have shared some of my success stories, life has not been a bed of roses for me. I have had my share of ups and downs, being misunderstood, the experience of being a victim of jealousy and prejudice at times, untimely transfers when I felt I had more to contribute, meeting with failures, dreams not fulfilled and so on. I have regrets, too. There were things I wish I hadn’t done… and things I should have done. But on the whole, gratitude fills my heart when I think of the many ways God has used me to make a difference in the lives of the people. At present, I feel my ministry is a bit slow moving and monotonous and I am still scanning the horizon for something new and more exciting! I am aware that it is all part of life and I feel strongly that now is the time I need ‘to be’ rather than being busy ‘doing’.

Some of the many lessons learned/insights gained:

  • It is only God and my mother who loved me unconditionally… mom is gone, I must totally depend on God for my life, inspiration and sustenance
  • To be true to myself no matter what the world expects of me
  • To make mistakes in life and rise up and walk straight as God is kind and compassionate and I am human
  • To make the best out of every opportunity that comes on my way and to believe that the end result can be very rewarding
  • To believe in my self-worth as diminishment approaches and the appreciation I am used to may not come as I expect
  • To appreciate and value the blessings I have received rather than to think of the misfortunes
  • To let go of all that binds me negatively and to move on with life.
  • To keep working on renouncing my ego as it never leaves me fully free
  • The good I have done will be measured by the kindness and compassion I have shown
  • To believe in possibilities and that if one door is closed another will open
  • To appreciate life as a gift and to live it fully so that my life may be a gift to others
  • Health is wealth and hence I am responsible to look after my health, spiritual, physical and mental
  • And that a positive attitude and optimistic thinking will keep me young in spirit for a few more years.

Looking back over the years I feel proud to be an SCN, for all the growth that has taken place in me as a woman of prayer and discernment. The SCN community is where I flourished in mission and I had the various opportunities to grow spiritually, emotionally, intellectually to develop my potentials. I was supported by the community in most of my endeavors. I am filled with gratitude to my SCN family, my friends and all those who helped me in big or small ways to grow as an SCN over the past fifty years. I am extremely happy and grateful that I celebrated my golden jubilee this year (2017). I would have never found the freedom to pursue my dreams and live a life that is meaningful anywhere else other than in the SCN Family.

Roselyn Karakattu, SCN

Consent given orally to publish the story on August 5, 2017 in Patna

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