Above, Sister Mary Juliana with her Mother, Magdali Nag
I, Cecilia Tuti, grew up among the Munda (one of the Tribal groups in North India) Tribal Group. By nature, the Mundas are a loving, hardworking and social-minded group and mix with others easily. They celebrate common festivals and are fond of dancing and singing. Being nature lovers they enjoy hunting, fishing, bee-keeping, etc. The Munda Tribals are not very quick moving, but once they are convinced of something they are at it with a vengeance. The Mundas respect their elders and remember the dead in a very special way. Their culture is very much alive even to this day. No matter where they live or inter-marry, they all observe and celebrate seasonal festivals.
Born on December 13, 1931, I am the second child of Patras Tuti and Magdali Nag at Tilma village, Khunti parish in Ranchi Diocese (now Archdiocese). I was baptized Cecilia. My parents had eight children and only four girls, Agnes, Philomina, Bernadette and I survived. My eldest brother, Paul, the first child of my parents lived for a year. My youngest brother, Francis Xavier, died as a six month old baby. Two of my sisters, Mary and Emilia also died young with cerebral malaria. My sister, Philomina, who studied Nursing in Mokama, and worked as a staff nurse at Telco company hospital in Jamshedpur, died at the age of 29 with kidney disease on June 29, 1980. My sister, Agnes Hans who was married passed away on July 23, 2016. We are only two sisters living now.
As I was growing up most of my school life was spent in hostels where the Sister in-charge guided us saying, “A girl of thirteen years of age should be able to choose her future life.” Whatever that meant, I still do not understand. I had made up my mind on joining a religious congregation though I did not know which one to choose. My father, too, desired that all four of his daughters would embrace religious life.
After completing my General Nursing at Holy Family Hospital, Mandar, I came to Nazareth Hospital, Mokama to finish my midwifery. When I was doing my midwifery in Mokama, my father passed away with cholera on August 26, 1958. I came to know about it only after two months. The fact was that my mother had told my sisters not to let me know for I might be writing my exams. One of the Ursuline Sisters from the school where I studied informed me about my father’s demise. That year, there was a cholera epidemic which took many lives from my village.
After midwifery, I returned to Mandar to teach the nursing students. Again I returned to Mokama for some experience at the leprosy clinic which was held under a mango tree at the far end of the hospital compound. Around 5,000 leprosy patients came for the weekly clinic. The sight of Lawrencetta Veeneman, SCN, standing by the picture of Jesus and attending to the leprosy patients made an impact on me. Later, I went to Holy Cross Mission in Kunkuri, Madhya Pradesh, to get some village experience for a year. Mokama, however, remained in the back of my mind. I liked SCNs Ann Cornelius Curran and Crescentia Wise very much. Sister Ann Cornelius used to tell me that I belong to the novitiate building and not the hospital. In December 1961, I wrote a letter to Sister Lawrencetta expressing my desire to join the Sisters in Mokama. Immediately, I was told to come to Mokama with whatever belongings I had with me. There was no objection from my mother. She was very happy about my choice.
I came to Mokama on December 30, 1961 to join the candidacy program. There were already three candidates, Anne Philip Gnavally, Ancilla Kozhipat, and Cecily Pulparampil, in Mokama. I remained as a candidate only for a month since I was already a trained nurse and I knew English and Hindi. On February 2, 1962, Anne Philip, Ancilla, Cecily and I became postulants. Ten months later, we became novices and received our habits. Later, as a temporary professed, Sister Cecily discontinued.
On December 21, 1964, I made my First Vows in Mokama. I got my ‘thin letter’ (appointment letter) to go to Nazareth Academy, Gaya, as a school nurse for my first mission. Sister Ancilla was also appointed to Gaya because Nazareth Academy had very few Sisters at the time. I also taught Catechism to the children in the parish.
It was a challenge for me to live in a community with persons from different cultures, beliefs, values, backgrounds, working patterns, etc. As time went on, with better understanding and education, I was able to adjust to any situation, easily. I was inspired by the life and service of our older Sisters such as Lawrencetta, Ann Cornelius, Crescentia and Ann Roberta Powers.
I returned to Mokama in 1966, to study I. A. (Intermediate in Arts) from Ram Ratan Singh College, Mokama. After passing I.A., I went to St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi, for a year to study B.A. (Bachelor of Arts). As the University annual exams were being postponed I discontinued my B.A. studies. Since I desired to return to my own nursing profession, I was sent for a diploma course in Public Health Nursing for a year at Bara Hindu Rao Hospital and College in Old Delhi in 1968. We were twenty three students in the group.
In 1970, I went to Chatra and I made my Final Vows on July 19. Carrying a big goat many of my family members came for the celebration.
In 1971, I, along with Olive Pinto, SCN, was asked to be one of the pioneers in mission at Lupungutu, Chaibasa at the invitation of the Jesuit priest, Rev. Dick McHugh. Just before the opening of the new convent, I got word that my youngest sister, Bernadette was seriously ill. I rushed home along with my sister Philomina who was studying nursing in Mokama. From home, I returned to Lupungutu in time for the inauguration of the new convent on September 8, 1971. SCNs Teresa Rose Nabholz, the then Provincial, Olive Pinto and Teresa Kotturan, SCN were there from September 2, 1971 to prepare the place for the opening. By late 1971, the third member, Agnes Tudu, SCN, joined the group. The Jesuit priests gave us a monthly allowance for our living.
Jesuit priests, Rev. Dick McHugh and Joe Lacey, told us that they would not tell us what to do. They also said, “You visit the people and find out what needs to be done”. Daily we visited every family in the nearby villages. In the first few months, one of the teachers from Lupungutu High School, Joseph Bhengra, accompanied us to the villages. Sister Olive learnt the local language, ‘Ho’ easily. My mother tongue, Mundari and Ho are sisterly languages and I picked up the language with great ease. The villagers were good to us and accepted us.
Sisters were needed to organize and consolidate the village work and develop it further. Some of the prospects for our work were: organizing cooperatives, medical care, deliveries at home, teaching of hygiene and sewing to the women, agriculture and night classes for children and adults.
We rode bicycles to distant villages to visit families. From our visits, we realized what the people needed most was health education and a dispensary to take care of their common illnesses. Children were extremely malnourished and many women died during delivery due to tetanus and a lack of hygienic practices. They also had a strong belief in the ancestral spirits. They thought that the spirits were the cause of all their calamities, diseases and deaths.
In the Ho culture, only the husband can be the midwife of his wife in childbirth. No one can go near the place of delivery. Everything had to be done by the husband. Some of the older women, used to assist the men by calling out what to do, especially during the first delivery.
I began the dispensary with a few medicines for common illnesses. We also attended to sick calls, most of which were difficult deliveries day or night. The Jesuits gave us their jeep to go to distant villages. And if a patient needed to be transferred to the government hospital, the jeep was also given.
Most of the people were illiterate and had no skills to earn a living. They were marginal farmers, depending on the monsoon for irrigation. They believed that crop failure and lack of rains were due to the ill designs of the ancestral spirits.
Since jute was available in abundance in Lupungutu, Sisters Olive and Agnes went to Ernakulum in Kerala to learn handicrafts and cottage industries for three months. They invited young women to begin this skills training program along with cutting and tailoring through the initiation of Mahila Kalyan Kendra (Women’s Welfare Centre). In the beginning, we could sell the products easily. Later it had to be discontinued since there was no marketing for it. After supper, we walked four to five hours on every working day visiting the night schools along with the teacher and the high school boys.
In 1976, Teresa Madassery, SCN and I joined Father James Quadros in the Jamshedpur Diocesan social work team to train village women health workers and animators in the villages in Lupungutu.
In 1980, Teresa Madassery and I moved to Golmuri town in Jamshedpur to continue the same work. We were part of the community, Bethany which was inaugurated on December 28, 1980. The pioneers were SCNs Sarala Anithottathil and Blanche Correia and the two of us. We imparted life education to boys and girls in the high schools. I also taught Catechism in the villages during our visits.
In 1984, I was privileged to be a pioneer again at Khorimahua, in Giridih district, our first mission in Bhagalpur Diocese. SCNs Gracy Thombrakudy, Francine Moozhil and a novice, Mariam Murmu (who later discontinued) and I began this mission on February 11, 1984. Shalini D’Souza, the provincial at that time, and seven other SCNs, had joined us the previous day for the celebration. About 700 people from Khorimahua and the surrounding villages welcomed us with the beating of drums by the men, washing of hands, garlanding and with adobo (deep bow) by the women. At first, we lived in a house made of unbaked bricks with small windows, built in the style of the local village houses. The rooms were dark and very small, not having the basic amenities. During the monsoon seasons, we faced the problem of leakage from the roof and the invasion of white ants which destroyed whatever little wood there was.
We visited the houses of both Christian and non-Christian families in the near and far villages. Knowing the Santhali language, Sister Gracy started the pastoral ministry right away. I set up a dispensary in the sacristy of the church. People used to call me ‘Maran Didi’ (elder sister). We also organized the first Catholic women’s group (Mahila Sangh) in the parish with sixty women.
In June 1984, Anima Pulukiyil, SCN, arrived to get the school organized. After discussing the plans for the school with Most Revered Urban McGarry, T.O.R. (Third Order Regular), we opened the formal school as well as a tailoring school on August 13, 1984. On the first day, Sister Anima welcomed twenty-seven children and Sister Gracy had fifteen Santhal girls for the tailoring.
The mission was officially blessed by Bishop McGarry on August 19, 1984. A large number of people, a few priests, and religious Sisters were present for the inauguration. I enjoyed doing whatever was required of me in the mission and stayed on till I was called to Patna in 1992.
I was asked to take up the administrative responsibilities along with kitchen responsibilities at the Provincial House, Patna from January 1992. I enjoyed being there and welcoming so many of our Sisters who came to Patna for various purposes.
After the tragic death of Preeti Chalil, SCN, on February 13, 1993, in Dharan, Nepal, the Province was in a dilemma whether to continue or close the mission in Dharan. I was one of those who wanted the mission to continue. The Provincial, Sarita Manavalan, SCN, asked for volunteers who wanted to go to Dharan. I happily said yes to this new challenge in ministry in Dharan in the summer of 1993. Sister Sarita asked me again if I was sure to take up this challenge in a foreign country. I worked there without any fear visiting homes and attending to the sick, etc. for two years.
My mother passed away on June 17, 1995, at the age of 87 when I was in Dharan. I got the news very late and I visited her grave when I came to India. My mother was a devout Catholic, very gentle, cheerful, accommodating and extremely generous. In her later years, she spent some time at the old age home of the Ursuline Sisters in Kunti, Jharkhand. She was taken care of by my sister, Berna, during her last days.
In 1995, I was assigned to the local community in Delhi. I was asked to be in Gurgaon temporarily from January 1999 where I taught the rescued children of the commercial sex workers whom we were preparing to place in regular schools. I stayed there until 2003.
My next assignment was to be one of the three pioneers at XITE (Xavier Institute of Tribal Education) in Jamshedpur which was inaugurated on September 8, 2003. This was my fourth pioneering mission. SCNs Marianne Puthoor, Gracy Thombrakudy and I were the community members. Along with Marianne, I taught English and Hindi to the Tribal youth. I prepared twelve young girls for nurses’ training at Tata Main Hospital in Jamshedpur.
After four years of ministry with the youth, I went to teach the Health Assistant students at Deepanjali Community College, Gumla from June 2007. I taught seven batches of girls numbering over one hundred for seven years. Most of those girls are working and leading a good life.
In 2014, I joined the Shalom community, the residence of the retired Sisters at Nazareth Convent, Mokama. I am happy to be in prayer ministry along with a few other SCNs.
One of my happiest memories is my visit to the USA in 1977. It was an experience of my many “firsts” – the first time getting into a plane, flying across the ocean, experiencing the Western culture, their way of life – visiting many places of importance, etc.
My prayer life and special devotion to Our Blessed Mother has brought me very close to God and community. I experienced Mother Mary’s protection when I was in a serious bus accident on my way from Dharan to Ranchi.
I am the first Tribal vocation to our Congregation and I am proud to be an SCN. The Congregation gave me many opportunities for further growth through community and ministry experiences in many places, academic studies, etc. These experiences enhanced my personal growth and increased my self-confidence. Over the years, I developed my ability to mingle well with different other groups of religious, laity, women, men, children, villagers as well as with well-to-do people.
One of my desires for the community is that we prepare strong spiritual leaders to guide us in times of crisis. It would also help us if we had SCN lawyers to deal with our important legal matters and be a big help to our poor people who cannot pay the high fees of the lawyers. We need to prepare more SCN doctors and other health personnel for our hospitals and clinics. We need to trust our local people to share our responsibilities with them.
We must be firm in our vocation to gather strength and courage to face the challenges of our times. We must uphold our cultural legacy to respect the elderly and to be hospitable to all who come to us.
I hope to see our existing missions strengthened with the needed personnel and self-support. We need to learn from the wisdom and charism of Mother Catherine and our pioneering Sisters.
I pray for more vocations and all those who are in initial formation and for our young Sisters in the missions. We need to learn the local languages wherever we are in order to win the people’s hearts and confidence. We also need to excel in English, our community language.
Mary Juliana Tuti, SCN
Corrected on September 5, 2017
Consent was given by Sister Mary Juliana Tuti to publish the story on the SCN website through phone July 7, 2017