Holy Family sapling planted in the Indian soil
In August 1974 the late Archbishop Arokiasamy of revered memory, then Bishop of Kottar diocese made a visit to the Jafffna Diocese. Incidently, his residence in Kottar was always open to our Tindivanam students who spoke highly of his hospitality and openness. He was welcomed warmly by Sr. Eulalie \, the provincial and on hearing about the interest the Holy Family had to bring the Good News to the poor in the sub-continent, he invited the provincial to visit India and be his guest. This invitation was indeed a special grace, as it was the actual beginning of a series of visits and searching that led finally to our Foundation. Confident with the assurance of the Bishop’s guidance and support Srs. Eulalie, Anaclet and Pushpam left for India in June 1975. That visit was most encouraging in that it widened our hearts to the great apostolic needs, especially of the poor, and the prospect f a foundation was accepted at both Provincial and General levels, but the question of obtaining Visas to work in India remained.
After much questions, discerning, searching and prayer they arrived at an unanimous decision that it was the dream of our dear Founder to embark on this Indian mission. Though they were aware of the difficulties and challenges and limitations but still they launched out on the first Foundation in Tamil Nadu where the Oblates were working since 1968. The encouraging letter from Fr. S. Philip OMI gave them confidence of their brotherly support, guidance and enlightenment in their new venture.
In December 1977 Srs. Marie Joseph and Pushpam Gnanapragasam spent some time in Kancheepuram with Fr. Stanislaus OMI searching for a appropriate place for the Holy Family insertion. The focus for this search was based on our 1975 General Chapter – ‘Preferential option for the Poor’. A visit to the Archbishop of Madras with Fr. Stanisalus OMI gave
Srs. Marie Joseph and Pushpam Gnanapragasam the share about the life of the Holy Family Sisters in Sri Lanka and about the apostolates the Holy Family are involved in Sri Lanka for 115 years.
They also shared about their intention in coming to India and the thrust of the 1975 General Chapter. His Grace Archbishop Arulappa through a map of His diocese madras Mylapore showed a vast area that was underdeveloped in the Chinglepet District. In this area there was hardly any presence of religious women or men. He also showed a substation Pavunjur attached to the parish of Thatchoor which was a traditionally a Catholic settlement and them the liberty to choose where we wished to serve in His Archdiocese. Then they met the Parish Priest of Thachoor Fr. G. Iruthayaraj, who welcomed them warmly, then in the company of Fr. Stanislaus OMI we visited Pavunjur and this exposure made them realize the reality of the people living there, they were very backward, deprived of everything that is education, land and work and their physical and spiritual well being too was low. After some open discussion with Fr. Stanislaus they met the Archbishop and expressed heir readiness to work in the Pavunjur. After their return to Sri Lanka they received an official letter of invitation to his Archdiocese spelling out their mission in the Centre called ‘PAVUNJUR’. Their three chief activities as indicated in the Archbishop’s letter were:
1. Evangelization by visiting the people and building up relationship and speaking about Christ.
2. Social and Health service though a dispensary.
3. Elementary School in the village to be upgraded by the Sisters by getting more pupils and supervising various activities without taking up the Management of the School as the Parish Priest will be the Manager of the School.
The Provincial Council spent some time in prayer and discernment as their main concern was to form a real Holy Family community that will witness to the Holy Family Spirit, the Spirit of God Alone and the Charism of communion. After much prayer and discernment Sr. John Mary Fernando of Indian origin was approached if she would accept be one of the founding members.
At the age of 28 she willingly accepted the offer and made a really heroic sacrifice to leave her dear mother and siblings and to launch out into the unknown. She was joined by Sr. Rita Casmir who was completing her Nursing course in Bangalore, Sr. Peter Aseervatham a student at the Catechetical Institute, Tindivanam and St. Dymphna Mies a student at Mater Dei, Goa doing her religious studies.
The first Holy Family Foundation was installed on 31st August, through the untiring efforts of Sr. Rita Casmir s humble and modest house with two rooms was ready to receive pioneering community made up of SRs. Rita Cassmire, John Mary Fernando, Peter Aseervatham and Dymphna Mies. At this installation ceremony Sr. Hilda Subramaniam, Provincial Councillor represented the Jaffna provincial Council and Sr. Ida Joseph the Provincial Secretary too was present. At this function the Priests and Sisters
The Sisters commenced their mission by visiting the people villages in Pavunjur and discovered that they were the only religious community in this area. Through these visits they were able to see the social condition in which these people were living; stark poverty, inhuman caste system, class oppression, illiteracy and ignorance discrimination of women and also the need to evangelize and re-evangelize the society. The sight of many malnourished children famished adults raised many questions in their heart and minds. The Church in this village served as a multipurpose building for worship, school and community hall. This awakened in the Sisters the urge to serve this people like Jesus with compassion, they wanted to feed, clothe, help them recognize and accept their human dignity. They embarked on their mission to meet the needs of the people in cash and kind and loving service which demanded greater generosity and commitment from them. In 1979 Sr. Bernadine joined the pioneering community. The Sisters and the candidates under the guidance of Sr. Bernadine directed all their energies to render charitable service and voluntary teaching, care of infants in the day crèche and night school for drop-outs. Mother and child care programmes in collaboration with the Madras Social Service Society provided food to pregnant and lactating mothers and babies.
From 1978 December Fr. James SJ we were encouraged to deeply and truthfully at our mentality, out attitudes and our goals. Here are some quotes that really helped us in getting rooted in the Indian soil. Fr. James SJ said, “If you have come to India to add one more religious congregation to the existing ones, it is useless, a waste. Your presence should give a new flavour, the Holy family flavor of your Charism to those you serve, the Church and to the society. Fr. Samarkone OMI challenged us the Sri Lankans in this way, “Love and appreciate the Indian culture, as well as truly insert ourselves in the Indian soil. “Are you going to remain a potted plant preserving your own Sri Lanknness with you? Plant this seedling in the Indian soil and you will grow with ease and experience life and freedom. The Sisters and the candidates were so enthralled by the Indian spirituality for its depth of interiority, spirit of renunciation, God’s indwelling presence in everything and everyone, hence the respect, the care for creation persons that all went through the ‘Ashram experience. They realized that openness to the positive elements in the Indian spirituality helped them as Christians and religious helped them to grow in single mindedness, in personal discipline and to keep our lives centered on GOD ALONE. All these experiences helped our pioneering Sisters to be more integrated and Indian in their lives. As Holy Family sisters it opened their hearts to a new World- Vision. That is God’s Vision for our world to make all into ONE FAMILY.
Their next priority was the Promotion of Vocations and Formation of the young persons and they felt that Pavunjur the ideal place to give a contextual formation, as their primary option was for the poor. The increase in the number of candidates called for an expansion of communities and ministries so the Sisters started hunting for places in Chennai and during the tenure of Sr. Carmelita Ambrose, Provincial of Jaffna and responsible for India, a property was made available by the Diocese of Madras at Palavanthangal and soon a house was put up. That same year Bishop Arokiasamy, Bishop of Kottar invited the Holy Family Sisters whom he had known for some time to serve his people at Kaliakkavilai, the border town between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. So in 1983 two new foundations were founded and the mission of the Holy Family of Bordeaux was expanding slowly and steadily in the Indian soil, making our Founder’s dream a reality and the words of our Founder dynmic “Go forward” there is nothing to check your path.”
The birth of the Indian Delegation
The General Council realizing the need for a more cohesion, integration, concentration on the formation of candidates, animation of communities and apostolate and being a part of the Jaffna Province, where the escalation of the ethnic problem was on the point of exploding had to decide on a definite plan for the growing Indian mission.
Sr. Mary Slaven, Superior General and Sr. Pushpam General Councillor in January 1986 went to India on ‘A visit of Animation’, after this visit the Indian mission became a Delegation, the first apostolic structure with its own Superior and Council. The mission had grown with 3 communities, 18 Sisters, 9 Indian and 9 Sri Lankan.
On 20th September 1986, the Indian mission was erected as a Delegation and Sr. Helen A’Kattar, an experienced Leader, formator and animator was installed as the Delegation Superior and her Council composed of Sr. Beernadine – Delegation Bursar, Sr. Canice Michaelpillai and Sr. John Mary Fernando are the Delegation Councillors. Sr. Pushpam Gnanapragasam, General Councillor in Rome, came to India to install the Delegation Council. As expressed in ‘Geeth’ October 1986, “The Indian foundation was a long time dream of Sr. Eulalie, St. Pushpam planted it, Sr. Carmelita watered it and God gave the increase.”
In 1987, Sr. Sebastian O’Brien from the Province of Britain and Ireland joined the Delegation. She integrated herself beautifully in the Delegation and rendered 4 years of unstinted service to the Delegation by teaching English to the candidates but her poor health was a great concern and she returned to her Province. In September 1991, Sr. Frances Darragh, from the Province of Britain and Ireland joined the Delegation and she was a member of the Delegation Council, superior of the community at Chennai, participated in the activities of the Parish and taught English to the candidates. In April 2001 she returned to her Province of origin. Of the Sisters who came from Sri Lanka and rendered loving committed service for the growth of the Indian mission, Sr. Bernadine and Sr. Helen Mary have gone to their eternal reward. Sr.Helen A’Kattar and Sr. John Mary Fernando who left their surrendered their belonging their belonging to the Jaffna to give life and growth to the Indian mission are still continuing their yeomen service in the Delegation of India. Sr. Rita Casmir a missionary in Congo. Sr. Dymphna Mies missionary in Cameroon –Chad, Sr. Maureen Collins missionary in Uganda. The following Sisters have returned to their Province of origin- Jaffna: Angelina Mariampillai, Victorine Subramaniam, Elisie Swakimpillai, Dominic Pathinather, Mercy Selvanayagam, Genevieve Pedrupillai, Francisca Cruz, Canice Michaelpillai, Daniela Saverimuttu, Laurentina Soasi, Berchmans Manuelpillai, Pushpam Gnanapragasam, Romauld Manuelpillai and Sr. Franics Joseph are continuing their mission in the Province of Jaffna. Srs. Cyril Mathias and Evarista Dominic after some years of service in the Province have gone to their eternal reward. Still there are 3 Sisters from the Jaffna Province rendering their unstinted service to the growth and life of the Delegation.
Today the Delegation of India can proudly proclaim that the Charism and spirituality of the Holy Family has taken root in the Indian soil and two of their Indian Sisters – Srs. Sesu Mary K. and Gresa S. have gone to the Philippines, responding to their missionary call. Two in Basic formation discerned their vocation and have joined the Holy Family Contemplatives life in Nagoda, Sri Lanka. There are two Secular members and a good number of Lay Associates and Priest Associates too, is growing in India and they are working in close collaboration with the Holy Family Sisters.
Today, we can with deep gratitude and joy sing with one voice and proclaim that the Lord has done marvels for us in the Indian soil when we see the five vocation in the Family of Pierre Bienvenu Noailles flourishing; the seed that was planted in 1978 has grown up into a big tree giving harbour to many birds and is bearing a variety of fruits that will feed and nourish all who need our love and service and join our Sisters to sing ‘Glory to God Alone through Mary and St. Joseph’.
The Indian Delegation is growing and at present they have launched out the other Diocese and are implanting the Charism and spirituality of the Holy Family in these places through their life witness and service to the poor.
Holy Family Sisters Mission and Presence in the Dioceses of India