Forming Leaders: ‘Love Serves’

Read about two congregations in India where young women dedicate their lives to service in this excerpt from “Seeking Christ, Serving Christ,” which was first published in the September 2022 edition of ONE magazine.

The Daughters of Mary is a missionary community of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church founded in 1938.

The sisters run orphanages, senior residences, palliative care centers and homes for children with special intellectual and physical needs. While centered in Kerala, the sisters work in several Indian states, including Maharashtra in western India, Tamil Nadu, in the country’s southeastern tip, and Punjab.

Fifteen sisters serve at the generalate, which also serves as the novitiate for 12 women in formation.

Sister Lydia Pichalakkattu is the superior general of the congregation responsible for more than 1,000 sisters in 192 convents. She earned her doctorate in theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas-Angelicum in Rome. But what is most striking about Sister Lydia is her calm and steady composure — evidence of her faith, which she relies upon to help her manage the heavy responsibilities that come with her position of leadership.

“I’m so very happy in my religious life. It’s a life of peace, silence and prayer,” she says. “When we love Jesus so intimately, our heart is filled with his love and we’re enlightened by his light.”

She has two sisters and four brothers. Her youngest brother is a Jesuit priest; her eldest brother is a diocesan priest.

“My family was pious and prayerful,” she recalls.

“As a sister, we’re taught to meditate, contemplate and experience the presence of God,” she says. “Of course, we go through all the emotions other people do, but we know how to converse with Jesus. I cry with him, complain to him, ask him for protection. He never lets me down.” 

Sister Lydia believes being a religious woman assists greatly in helping her and her fellow sisters reach people and communities, especially those who are marginalized and vulnerable in India’s highly stratified society.

“People trust us. They open up to us and talk to us about their difficulties,” she says. “We visit families, pray for them and share their sorrows and joys. We’re then able to help them, either by counseling or providing financial support, if they need it.

“The trust and access we have as nuns to people and families, even priests do not have that,” she says. “We are so fortunate.” …

In Thrissur, about 175 miles north of Thiruvananthapuram, lies the generalate of the Congregation of St. Martha.

Founded in 1948, the Syro-Malabar Catholic community of women works in other Indian states, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Odisha in eastern India, on the Bay of Bengal. The congregation’s motto is “Love Serves.”

Sister Remya Pulickal has been a member of the Sisters of St. Martha for 27 years; she has been a member of the formation team for the past three years. She remembers her own years of formation, and recalls writing letters to her sponsors, CNEWA benefactors who supported her in novitiate.

“We didn’t know English well, but we’d write letters thanking our foreign sponsors for their donations,” she says.

“My mother’s prayerful life always gave us a lot of strength as a family,” she adds. Her older sister, Lissia, is a nun as well. 

“When I had to decide about devoting my life to Jesus, my mother told me religious life wasn’t easy, but that I had to make my own decision.”

Before entering, Sister Remya had only one thought: “I want to be a sister. I want to pray for others. I want to serve others.”

Interested in sponsoring the formation of a religious sister or priest? Click here.

Anubha George is a former BBC editor. She is a columnist and writer for various publications. She is based in Kerala, India.

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