I am the first child of Mr. Arockiam and Mrs. Nazareth Mary. I was born on the 7th of April 1962 at Michael Palaam , Nilakkottai Taluk, Dindigul District, Tamil Nadu.

My father was a farmer, and mother a housewife. My father studied up to 3rd standard and Mother never went to school. My parents, however, had a great desire that all their children be well educated. They made all the arrangements for my three sisters and three brothers to study. One of my brothers and I had to stay with my uncle for our studies. I, being the eldest daughter of my father’s side, was loved very much by my father and his family. Each one of my uncles had prophesied that I would become this or that, but no one except my father thought I would become a religious. Since both my parents were illiterate, I really had to work hard to learn my lessons. I wished that I had had someone to help me with my studies. However, I had no one to help me till sixth standard.

Ours is an agricultural family; so, all the family members had to work in the farm. We had to get up early in the morning and attend the daily Mass. We then came back home and went to another village garden to collect flowers. Every day, one of the family members would take the flowers to the shop to be sold. After gathering flowers every day we would run back to our house, have breakfast hurriedly, and go to school. I had my primary schooling in the village itself. We had to walk five kilometers in the morning and another five in the evening for the high school and higher secondary school which was in the nearby town.

When I was in middle school our English teacher asked us what our dreams were for our future. Who did we want to become? I and all but two of my classmates expressed their future dreams. One of my classmates said that he would become a priest and I would become a religious. The others said they would become teachers, doctors, nurses and policemen etc. My father had a younger sister whose name was Saleth. This aunt of mine died when she was a teenager, and my father was very fond of her. My father had narrated the story that whenever he was in some trouble, his sister Saleth would save him. After Saleth’s death my father missed her very much. He made up his mind that when he was married and had a child – whether boy or girl – he would name him/her Saleth and would dedicate him/her for religious life.

Sister Saleth with her parents, Nilakkattai and Michael

When I was studying in sixth standard, my father expressed his desire that one of his children become religious. That desire stayed in my mind and heart. I think that was the first seed sown in my heart, to inspire me to become a Sister. After completion of my higher secondary studies, I decided to join the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My father did not agree to let me go to a faraway place. His desire was that I join the local congregation and be in Tamil Nadu. He almost disowned me because I wanted to join the SCNs. While my relatives had no problems with the SCNs, they were not in favor of my joining them because of the distance between Tamil Nadu and Bihar. Finally, with great sorrow, my parents agreed to send me to Bihar along with Sisters Mary Stella and Marie Chinnappan.

Early Life as SCN
Once I reached Mokama, adjustments were difficult for me, especially the food and weather. I had to learn English and Hindi. In my school days, I had one subject in English but not Hindi. Therefore, I really had to struggle to learn both the languages. I used to feel homesick and think of my parents, brothers and sisters whom I missed a lot. In those days, we were allowed to write home only once a month. My family members wrote me a few letters. Since my parents were unable to write, they had to depend on my brothers, sisters and neighbors.

Learning two languages was very hard for me. I also found it difficult to adjust to the customs of my companions in formation. I found it hard to accept some strong personalities in my group. I used to keep quiet if something happened and cry over it later. A number of times I was tempted to return home. My directors encouraged me often which gave me an incentive to move ahead in my religious life. I remember Sister Olive Pinto who encouraged me during my formation as well as in my second mission in Sokho. I had a third opportunity to live with her in Lupungutu, Chiabasa. We worked together supporting each other.

Sister Saleth Mary on the day of her first profession of vows

First Mission
My first mission was Chatra, which I enjoyed very much. I was in charge of the girls’ hostel and a part-time teacher. I remember the day I went to teach English for the seventh grade. I trembled with fear because I did not know much Hindi to express myself. We had to teach the village children English in Hindi because they did not understand anything unless we explained every word in Hindi. I enjoyed being in the primary classes, especially in KG (Kindergarten) class. Being with the children, I developed my hidden talents. I spent most of my time with the hostel girls in most of their activities such as collecting wood, cooking food, and studying. Being with them and interacting with them helped me to learn Hindi better. Even though I did not know much Hindi, I was able to communicate with people. Slowly, I began to visit families, and this enhanced my learning of the language.

Second Mission
My second mission was in Sokho where I taught in the school for one and half years. Being there, I learned the simple life style of the people and students. I used to take care of the girls and boys in the hostel. There, I could be one with these simple people and enter into their life’s struggle. I enjoyed being with the community and the students. I learned to appreciate the customs and cultures of the people. I enjoyed dancing with the women. We often went without sufficient food such as vegetables and fruits, yet I was healthy.

Before going to Bangalore for my college studies, I spent six months in Jamtara, where I taught in the school. There, I learned numbers in Hindi here because I had to teach mathematics for grades one and two.

Student Life at Bangalore
I stayed in Good Shepherd Convent for three years and went to Jyoti Niwas College for my BA (Bachelor of Arts). I really enjoyed my student life, especially with my classmates. The superior of Good Shepherd Convent was very kind and loving. I gained many good friends, both female and male. This was my first experience of hostel life and I did enjoy it to the fullest.

Snehalayam, Trichy
After my college studies, I was sent to Trichy, Tamil Nadu in 1992. Sister Nisha Chemmanam and I began St.Vincent Matriculation School in 1993. We had the initial struggle of setting up the school. Since I was from this state I did not have any problems adjusting. The people were indeed very happy with me and I became sister, daughter and mother to people. I really enjoyed myself as one of the pioneers in this mission. I had a lot of energy to do many things. For a few months during this time, I was at Crawford helping Sister Mary Stella Ambrose and doing my B.Ed (Bachelor of Education) studies.

Sister Saleth Mary with a student in Trichy in 1994

Nazareth Niwas, Lupungutu, Chaibasa (favorite and difficult mission)
After completing B.Ed. in 1996, I was sent to Chaibasa to teach in St. Xavier’s Middle School. In the beginning I found it difficult to adjust to the situation there but that it did not last for long. It took a while for me to learn the office work and execute it. The people were very kind and helpful. My trust in God deepened and I learned to surrender everything into the hands of God.

I was very active in the school and with the youth. Being with the youth was a blessing for me as they took care of me wherever we went, and I was only a guide for them. The circumstances forced me to learn many things such as computer, Hindi typing, accounts, and school management. My community believed in my abilities before I could recognize them myself.

I spent the most precious years of my life in this mission (sixteen years). We were Sisters from different states and cultures but worked as one. We were very faithful and loyal to one another. We had four ministries but wherever help was needed we reached out. We cared for each other. Whoever came to our community were our friends, and we cared for them. As a community, we struggled together to bring up the mission but there was a lot of joy in it. What we had we shared with the people, and they, in turn, were generous with us.

I have happy memories of Lupungutu, Chaibasa and cherish them. I struggled through when entrusted with the post of headmistress. I had spent many sleepless nights because of local problems. Not having much language (Hindi), I really had to consult different people about official matters. I was determined that lack of fluency in Hindi would not affect my mission. In fact, I challenged myself to raise the standard of the school, and was successful in doing so. In recalling those moments, I am indeed very grateful to God that He really carried me on His shoulders. I gained self confidence and was able to manage the school very well. It was a difficult mission, but, by the grace of God, I learned the skills of administration there. Now, I strongly believe that being thrown into a situation can teach us many things.

Student Life in Louisville, Kentucky
I did my M. Ed (Master of Education) studies in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2012. It was a different experience altogether. Along with studies, I acquired the knowledge of our Congregation and its roots. I interacted with many of our Sisters and shared my life with them. I was inspired by their generosity and care for the Indian sisters. Again, I was inspired by the lay people’s love and concern for me and for the mission in India. They have taught me to be grateful in small things.

All my studies were focused on how to improve the standard of the students and develop St. Xavier’s Middle School, Lupungutu, and Chaibasa. God had different plans. As I completed my studies at Spalding, I was given the responsibility of taking care of St. Vincent Matriculation School, Trichy, and Tamil Nadu. I did not want to leave the government approved post which I had in Lupungutu, Chaibasa. I struggled to accept this offer but had no choice other than to accept it under obedience. I realized, however, that I had tried to go against God’s plan, and it did not work. In the end, I had to give up and accept God’s will for me. Once I accepted, God carried me through. I was frightened to be the principal of an English Medium School because I did not have experience teaching in an English Medium School and I knew my language was not the best. In the beginning, I faced a lot of struggles. It took me more than a year to come to know the staff and people even though I am from the state. My faith in God increased and I realized that God is the author of my life.

Though I was in Tamil Nadu when the school began in 1993, things had changed since then. Some people did remember me. It was a blessing for my parents – especially my father – because I was close to my home. He died on 8th October, 2014 and I was privileged to be with him before he died.

With the cooperation of the staff, we were able to improve the standard of the school. Many things I learned the hard way. I was fortunate to celebrate the silver years (25th anniversary) of the school. I was, in fact, extremely happy to be honored by God that, during my leadership, this great event took place. Since I was one of the pioneers of this place, I could see the growth of the mission. Many assisting hands came forward to help us with the silver jubilee celebration. I was happy that I had been able to reach out to many of them, by visiting and assisting them in their times of confusion and turmoil.

Over the years, “thin letters” did not bother me much because, as a person, I was not attached to any place or people. It takes some time for me to adjust to a new place and, once adjusted, I am at home with both people and place.

Most Significant Events in Personal Life as an SCN
I am indebted to my Congregation and am very grateful for the various opportunities given to grow in spiritual life, in self-confidence, in recognizing my own hidden talents. Above all, I am grateful to the SCNs for believing in me and entrusting me with great responsibilities. I am proud to say that I am a member of this great Congregation. I remember the words of Sister Maria Vincent, “You are young and energetic and you can take up the responsibility of leading forty teachers.” I had an opportunity to share my life with her when I was in the United States and I admire her optimistic approach to life.

God has worked wonders through me in big and small ways. I am grateful to have been chosen as an instrument to share His love and life with my students and others. The SCN Congregation has made me who I am far beyond my imagination.

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