My father, Abraham and mother, Aleykutty who hailed from traditional Catholic families in Kerala had six children: James, Mary, Aleyamma, Lizzy (Sudha, SCN) Sally (Bridget) & Manu. I was born on May 23, 1953. Our original family name Mekkunnel was changed to Puthoor when the family bought a new plot of land at the present site. I belong to an ordinary middle class family. My parents worked very hard on our farm in order to support the family and educate us. During the holidays we also helped our parents on our farm. My family atmosphere was loving, caring, supportive and peaceful. My parents were simple, kind hearted and generous. I learned the values of caring, sharing and generosity from my home, especially from our mother. Both parents were God-fearing persons and deeply rooted in faith. Family prayer has a very important place in my family. Our parents encouraged us to attend Holy Mass on weekends and holidays and to attend Sunday catechism regularly. I also learned the value of respecting the elders from my home.
My high school education was in a convent school run by the Sacred Heart Sisters. During this period, I did not have a deep desire to join any Congregation. I was an active member of the Mission League and in some ways I contributed regularly to the missions. I used to read the mission Magazine, “Preshita Keralam” regularly and the mission stories touched me. After passing my S.S.L.C. (secondary school leaving certificate) exam I began to think seriously about my future. I did not know any religious group well enough to join it though my aunt, Elizabeth Emmanuel Vattakunnel, was an SCN.
During the summer holidays I happened to see an advertisement inviting young girls to join the SCN Congregation with the caption ‘Sisters of Charity of Nazareth’. The caption somehow caught my attention and I decided to meet the Sisters who had come from Mokama to Palai Mission Home for recruitment. After meeting Sister Josephine Naduvilekunnel I realized that it was my aunt’s Congregation.
Along with twenty other candidates I reached Mokama on June 29, 1970. Since it was my first experience away from home I experienced a lot of homesickness. Sister Josephine was our director. Learning English and Hindi as well as getting adjusted to new rules and regulations, living with the people of different temperaments were some of my struggles. However, there were joyful times when I experienced love and care from my formators and companions. After the unexpected leaving of our director during our second year, several Sisters took charge of us and we found it extremely difficult to adjust to the change.
I completed my I. A. (Intermediate in Arts) from Ranchi University in 1974. In September of the same year, I entered the postulancy along with ten of my companions. We were the first group of postulants under the care of Sister Shalini D’Souza. She was a loving, caring, enthusiastic and cheerful person of deep faith, committed to God and the community.
Our first year novitiate was in Kerwateri Ashram, Sokho. Sister Patricia Mary Kelley was our director. Life in Sokho was tough. Along with the studies, we did all the household work by ourselves. While in Kerwateri, I enjoyed going to the stream from time to time to bathe and to have our outing from the routine life of the novitiate. We also visited the nearby villages in the evening hours. Once on a rainy day, the dam close to our Ashram broke and the water gushed toward our house. We were terribly frightened and thought we would drown. Miraculously, the water took a different course and we were saved.
While at the Ashram, I had a vocation crisis; suddenly, I could not find any meaning in my existence in that remote area and also in religious life. I struggled to find someone who would understand me and help me out. One day, I took courage to share my feelings with Father Dan Rice, SJ. He said to me, “Sister you are here because God loves you”. These words consoled me and I felt normal. God be praised!
One of my happiest memories is the day of my First Profession on September 27, 1977. I felt very close to God and was overwhelmed with great joy as I committed my life to God and the people whom I will be serving.
My first mission in Lupungutu, Chaibasa, from January 1978 to May 1979 was a very challenging one. During the day I taught in the middle school and in the evenings, I visited the night schools. It was a period of great adjustment and I went through another vocation crisis. In fact, I talked to the then provincial, Sister Margaret Rodericks that I did not find much joy in community life. I wanted to leave the Congregation. However, Sister Margaret let me make a retreat, under the guidance of Father Jim Cox, SJ, who guided me through a discernment process which helped me to remain in the community. The loving and understanding approach of Sister Margaret also played a great role in my life.
In June 1979, I was sent for nursing studies at Nazareth School of Nursing, Nazareth Hospital, Mokama. My companions, SCNs Alice Mulavelipuram and Kiran Kaniyamkandathil, and I stayed in the convent during our studies. It was a very good opportunity for me to come to know the Sisters in the Nazareth Convent community and to experience their love, support and encouragement.
As a student nurse I had the privilege of caring for some of our Sisters who were hospitalized. For a few months I looked after our pioneer, Sister Lawrencetta Veeneman. I was inspired by her cheerfulness and gratitude for even the smallest kindness shown to her. When the news of her death reached me on July 14, 1984, I was in Kunti for the tertianship program. I was sad that I could not attend her funeral in Mokama.
Fourteen of us made our final vows on December 1, 1984. It was one of the most important days of my life as I committed myself totally to God. I was sent to Jamtara mission to be in-charge of the health ministry. After Sister Sheela Palamoottil was transferred, I became the coordinator of the local community in 1985. There was only one building which housed the convent and dispensary. On Sundays our convent verandah was used for Mass. We went to several distant villages for mobile health clinics. I started many Balawadi (kindergarten) centers in the villages. The non-school going children were encouraged to study at these centers instead of grazing their animals the whole day.
From 1989 to 1991, I did my Post Basic Bachelor of Science in Nursing in Chandigarh, Punjab after which I was missioned at Community Health Centre (CHC), Bakhtiarpur. While working there I took responsibility to care for the patients, especially for the women in labor and gained confidence in conducting deliveries. On February 10, 1992, I received the sad news of my father’s death. He died of a heart attack and I could not reach home for the funeral. I was deeply saddened but my mother encouraged me to attend a retreat in Potta for a few days. During that retreat, God filled me with joy and took away my pain.
I moved to Mandair, a challenging mission, on January 8, 1994. Even though I was sent there to care for the sick, I got involved with various other ministries. Since life was unstructured I went through various types of hardships in the mission. There was no proper conveyance and we had to walk back and forth for six hours to Tandwa, the nearest market to buy vegetables and other supplies. It was a mission where I experienced lots of struggle and also the powerful presence of God in my life.
I would like to narrate the miraculous cure of a very sick woman, Punji, in one of the villages. She was bed-ridden and taking treatment. The family had almost given up hope of her recovery. Her village was two kilometers away from our mission. I visited her regularly for a week and did all that I could and by the end of the week I made her get out of her bed with some support. A few days later, there was a charismatic retreat in the parish and I invited her to join. She reached the church with the help of someone but she collapsed. She laid down on a mat at the back of the church. On the third day when we prayed for the sick, Punji was brought to the front of the church and we prayed over her. As we were praying, Punji suddenly got up from her mat, clapping her hands and moved around without any support. Jesus, our Divine Healer, healed her. She is still alive today. My faith was further deepened and she claims that if she is alive today it is because of me.
Inspired by Father Tony Herbert, SJ of Hazaribagh who used to visit Mandair parish occasionally for his social work, I started a few Self Help Groups (SHG) in Mandair villages. Through these SHGs, we, as a community felt close to the people. I also had non-formal classes in the villages. Sister Philomina Bading was my great support in community and mission. I committed my life and energy fully to the people and the community in Mandair. Day or night, I responded to the sick calls from the villages. I also served as the coordinator of the community during this time. In serving on the margins I have known the struggles and have shared the burdens of the people especially in working towards getting the land registered in the name of poor persons.
From 2001 to 2007, my ministry was to the people of Khorimahua through health care and developmental work. I networked closely with the World Vision, an INGO. I reached out to at least twenty-five villages surrounding the parish, forming women’s SHGs through fourteen non-formal teaching centers where more than 600 children learned to read and write.
I joined Nazareth School of Nursing in Mokama as a tutor on April 16, 2007. After twenty-four years of socio-medical ministry in rural areas it was a challenging task to be back in the nursing school. I had to study the subjects to prepare for the classes. I was happy to have my own tutor, Mary Stella Ambrose, SCN, to work with. I clarified many of my doubts with her. In 2008, Lata Thurackal, SCN director of the nursing school was transferred. I became the assistant director of the Nursing School and Sister Shaila Vattamattathil became the director. We had a shortage of teaching staff and we had to teach the whole day without a break. Another difficulty was that the census at the hospital began to decrease. Many a time our students could not complete the nursing procedures especially in surgical cases. Compared to earlier times, we felt downhearted to see our hospital in such decline. The employees continued to strike and even went to the extent of turning away patients who had come to the hospital.
In June 2012 the hospital was temporarily closed even though the classes for the nurses continued. It was a death and dying experience for all concerned because of the uncertainty all around. On October 1, 2012, the sixty nursing students were transferred to Kurji Holy Family Hospital, Patna. Sister Shaila and I accompanied them. It took us time to feel at home in a city hospital though our students did well in their studies. In fact, one of the Mokama students came first in the Board exams.
I was the class teacher of the first year Post Basic students in the College of Nursing. As a united group it was a joy for me to work closely with the Medical Mission Sisters with whom the SCNs are in partnership. All of us felt a bit constrained with the crammed space at Shalom, our residence, which was much smaller than Mokama.
In June 2017, I joined the Barauni community for family ministry. Ever since Lucia Thuluvanickel, SCN became sick and had to be away for treatment, SCNs Sarala Anithottathil and Prisca Bilung were left alone. They were happy to have me as their third member. I enjoyed visiting families and being with the people, listening to their joys and struggles of life. People gladly welcomed me to their homes. Once a week, we gathered in one of the Catholic families for a prayer meeting and shared the word of God. Whenever there was a village Mass I also went for it. It was a good opportunity to meet our parishioners and encourage them to take part in parish activities. On many occasions I also visited the families of our school children. When the school had a shortage of teachers I substituted for them. I also enjoyed gardening especially growing vegetables.
Once again I joined Nazareth Hospital, Mokama in June 2018 as ward supervisor. I am part of the ‘Ashirvad South’ community. We care for our inpatients who are suffering not only physical ailments but also emotionally and spiritually. Often we get serious patients, almost at the point of death. Being at the bedside of a dying patient and their dear and near ones enables me to be of great support to them in their pain. At times I also have felt helplessness whenever we could not save a life. On such occasions, I thank God for my own good health whereby I can reach out to the suffering people. Time and again I have experienced God’s unconditional love in my life and ministry.
I am proud to be an SCN for being part of a Congregation which has a rich heritage. I appreciate our freedom with responsibility and the way the community has trusted me with various responsibilities. I have been given ample opportunities for personal and spiritual growth by the congregation. We are a joyful group engaged in the mission of the universal church serving those in need.
My concerns are that we have a shortage of personnel because of our aging members and that we have a tendency to be individualistic, casual, comfort-seeking and consumeristic.
My hopes and dreams for the Congregation are that our Congregation continue to grow like a big tree spreading its branches in various parts of our country and the world and that our young members grow in every way and keep the flame burning for generations to come
I am filled with gratitude to God for my call to religious life especially in the medical field. It is a wonderful and challenging way of life with its own ups and downs, joys and sorrows. Religious formation has enabled me to serve those in need regardless of their caste, creed or sex and be a good person.
Sudha Puthoor, SCN
Completed on April 12, 2019
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