I came from a traditional, Catholic family in a village called Mookkanur in Kerala, South India. I grew up in a joint family with my grandparents, uncles, aunts and many cousins. I am the eldest of ten children. Three of my younger brothers were born after I joined the Congregation so I was a stranger to them for some years. Being the eldest, I was responsible to look after my younger siblings. It was a lot of fun to live in a large family. We learned to share and care for one another.
We had daily family prayer/rosary at home and a lot of pious practices – novenas to different Saints. As a child I did not appreciate it at all. All of us had to kneel down till the end of the prayer and it was very difficult for us children. Now I can say all those prayers and practices influenced me greatly to become a religious. Once I happened to read a magazine called “Kunjumissionary” (little missionary) which also influenced me a lot. The seed was sown then to become a missionary.
After I passed my tenth grade, something motivated me to write a friendly letter to Sister Ann Palatty (novice then in Mokama) who is my closest neighbor. It was my first letter. Immediately I received a reply from Sister Ann. She was my inspiration to join the SCNs. To my great surprise, a letter from Sister Lawrencetta Veenemen followed a few days later, encouraging and inviting me to meet the two SCNs, Sisters Ancilla Kozhipatt and Anne Elizabeth Elampalathottyil who were on their way to Bangalore for their studies. Though I had a great desire to be a missionary, I wasn’t sure where God was leading me.
Since Sister Anne’s uncle, Peter, was going to meet these Sisters in Ernakulam, quite far from my home, I joined him, just out of curiosity, but with no intention of joining them. Away from all the others, I had a long chat with them and was so impressed by them. They were very human, friendly, and kind unlike the Carmelite Sisters who taught me in the School. It was a teacher – student relationship. Their smile, gentleness, friendly conversation and good mannerisms attracted me, inspired me a lot. Before I even expressed my desire to join the SCNs, Sister Ancilla told me that she would book my train ticket to Patna. Like the Prophet Isaiah I said, “Here I am, send me”.
When I returned home after meeting the Sisters, I told my parents about my decision to go to the Patna mission. My family, especially my grandparents objected to it for the simple reason that I would not be able to adjust to the extreme climate, food and so on. They told me to join the convent in Kerala, close to my home. As two of my friends, Sisters Ann Palatty and Teresa Kotturan were already in Mokama, Patna, I was encouraged by some others to join them. There was fire in me and nothing would deter me from my decision. Finally, permission was granted and I started my journey toward Patna on 12 July 1965.
My missionary journey
It was my first train journey. My companions were the late Sister Pauline Paraplackal, Teresa Xavier Ponnazhath who was a qualified teacher and our leader during the journey and Thresiamma who left us after a few months. It was a long journey and we had to change three trains to reach Mokama. We were all quiet and homesick all the way, so we hardly spoke nor ate much. Sister Karuna Thottumarickal, who was a candidate, and Miss Mary Paul, a nurse from Mokama, came to meet us in Calcutta. After four days of travel, we reached Mokama and were given a grand welcome at Mokama station and at Nazareth Convent. There were so many Sisters at the main gate to welcome us. I was eagerly waiting to meet Sister Lawrencetta Veenemen, SCN, who had written to me a loving, warm letter and of course my friends – Sisters Ann and Teresa Kotturan. Sister Lawrencetta’s smiling face and kind look are still so vivid in my mind.
Our candidacy program started in Nazareth Convent under the guidance of Sister Mary Celeste (Gail Collins). She was very kind and patient with us. She had to tame and train us with a lot of patience and understanding. We had to learn English and Hindi as we knew only our mother tongue – Malayalam. Therefore, communication was a bit tough for us in the beginning. I remember once I was told by S. Mary Celeste to get a box from the “godown”. I went downstairs and looked for it everywhere and returned empty handed. I was frightened to approach her but she took me very gently to the third floor godown (store room) and showed me the box. I can not forget this incident of my going down not to the “Godown” even after fifty-three years. Of course, I learned a new vocabulary to differentiate between go down and Godown. Thus, we kept on learning many, many new things. On Sundays we could write letters home in Malayalam and looked forward to it to send all the news home.
Sister Patricia Mary Kelley (Pat), a great teacher and musician, was our novice mistress. She guided us and provided us with every opportunity for our growth. She never missed any opportunity to broaden our knowledge. No visiting priests or well-known people were spared from giving us talks/classes. Mokama Catholics were very different some fifty years ago. On Sundays while the parents attended Mass, the novices looked after their crying babies. The children were so dirty, half-naked, and some were only in their birthday suit with leaking nose, ears and mouth. I admire and congratulate our early Sisters for their courage and dedication. If it wasn’t for them, Mokama would not have been what it is today. Financially, academically, and in appearance, and of course in faith, too, our people in Mokama have come a long way. Education has helped them to become what they are today.
The happiest day for me was the day I made my first vows in 1969. The words from Prophet Isiah 43:4, “You are precious in my eyes, because you are honored and I love you”. Many opportunities were provided for my spiritual, psychological, emotional and academic growth. I am so grateful to God and to my Sisters for all that I have received to be what I am today. I received much and was now ready for my mission and service. My first mission was in Mokama to teach in St. Xavier’s school. It was a real challenge for me to work with those children. In the beginning I experienced a lot of frustration as I was not confident in teaching. When I would tell the students to sit down, they would stand up. Gradually I was able to handle the class well. I was missioned in Chatra, Bakthiarpur, Biharsharif, St. Augustine’s school, Vasai, Mokama, Bangalore, Gaya, Trichy, and I worked in a Delhi slum. At present I am in Gurgaon, teaching the migrant workers’ children.
Life wasn’t a bed of roses. The initial enthusiasm and zeal slowly deteriorated. Midlife crisis, misunderstandings, problems in relationships, struggle in prayer life and community and mission life had become part of life. There were times even my faith was shaken. Yet in all these I was faithful to my PRAYER. As St. Paul says in Romans 12:13, “Do not give up if trials come and keep on praying.” It works. The Lord is my strength. The Lord who called me to this way of life has been faithful to me. When I look back, I have no regrets because all these experiences have tremendously contributed to my spiritual growth. All that the Lord has done is good.
My first Charismatic retreat
In 1975 Father Jim Borst from Kashmir gave a Charismatic retreat in Mokama. During that retreat I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. I firmly believe that anything that we ask for in faith will be granted to us. Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you”. Ever since my prayer has been one of praise and thanksgiving in good and bad times.
I was asked to work in the Central Store in Nazareth Hospital, Mokama. By profession I am a teacher. So I was a bit reluctant to respond to this call, not knowing the requirements of this job. I promised to give a trial for six months. Learning new names and purchasing thousands of items for maintenance, medical, surgical, stationery and house keeping was not easy for me. At times I failed in getting quality items. But the Sisters especially Sister Sangeeta Ayithamattam, the then administrator, and the staff were very patient and supportive. They understood my difficulty. I must have done a good job because I stayed on there for five years.
Apart from that job, I enjoyed visiting patients, taking on calls, teaching freshers English and my community life. Taking risks always rewards us. I learned a lot from this experience and am grateful for it. It was my best mission and community life. I enjoyed my work as well as my community life. We had a good time together, laughing at our short comings.
For my farewell, the community decided to award me a certificate and a shield (part of a broken Mixie covered in a beautiful wrapper) for being the “BEST ON CALL” Sister. Though it was a joke, I cherish those moments. These are the lighter moments of our community life.
My visit to the USA in 1996 was a very enriching experience for me and I have a tremendous appreciation for the Sisters there. While walking on the holy ground at St. Thomas and Nazareth where MOTHER CATHERINE and pioneers had walked and worked, I felt enlightened and had a strong desire to be a true daughter of Catherine. Reading Sister Mary Ellen Doyle’s book and participating in a retreat on “Pioneer Spirit” helped me to know more about the life style, charism and spirituality of Mother Catherine and our pioneers. Our Sisters are such wonderful, loving, caring and committed people. I always cherish my visit with our Sisters there.
My lived in experience in the village in Dhanapur, Patna exposure program, slum ministry etc. have broadened my vision and mission of serving the poor and marginalized. We are called and led by the Spirit to work together for the kingdom of God, regardless of our multi-lingual and multi-cultural background.
Over the years, I learned, “Don’t try to change others but change yourself, if you want to be happy”. Love the Lord and love His people for our life is very short. I conclude with these words. Matthew 19:29, “Everyone who has left home… for my sake will be repaid a hundredfold”. May this promise be fulfilled in and through us. God bless us all….
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