OUR PIONEERS

BEACON  LIGHTS OF THE HANDMAIDS OF MARY- THEY SHOWED US THE WAY

 

SR. MARIA AMBROCIA (LUCIA TOPPO 1910 – 1947)

 

Lucia was born in a good Catholic family in june 1910 at Jhagarpur in Kesramal parish.  Her parents Kato Poulose and Mathi Veronica took her to be baptized on 2nd January 1911.  She was confirmed on 19th February 1926 at Kesramal Parish. After her primary education and elementary Teachers’ Training she assisted the Sisters (Daughters of the Cross) in the catechumenates at the centre (parish) and in the village levels.  The founder Fr. Harrison was greatly impressed by her zeal and dedication as a pracharin (catechist). When she made known to him her desire to join the new Congregation he was very pleased, though she was thirty years old then.  He considered her as a great asset for the new Congregation as she was able to reach out to many and bring them to the Church provided she persevered in her vocation. She joined the postulency at Ranchi on 18th January 1944 and had the vestition, initiating her to the novitiate on 8th December 1944 and Bishop Oscar Sevrin S.J. received her vows on 8th December, 1946.  Immediately after that she came back to Gangpur with her companions and stayed at Hamirpur, under the care of the Daughters of the Cross. Hardships of life due to financial stringency in the initial days and the insecure feeling she experienced after the transfer of the founder began to affect her health. She had a great regard for Fr. Harrison as she felt that she owed his vocation to him.

She was sent to the Holy Family Hospital in Mandar for treatment.  When she improved in health, she was sent to Mahuadanr for a change.  After some time she returned to Hamirpur. In a short time she had another breakdown; this time she was treated at Ranchi.  She died on 18th July 1947 in Ranchi and was buried in the Catholic cemetery there.  She, too, had no one of the members of her Congregation at her side at the time of death and burial.  She was the first Handmaid of Mary to die.

 

SR. MARIA NORBERTINA  (JOSEPHINE KULLU 1923 – 1948)

Goriamal, a village in the vicinity of Kesramal parish was her birth place.  She was born in 1923 to Budhua Mansid Kullu and Thothri Rahil.  At Baptism on 16th April, 1923, she received the name Josephine.  She had her primary education and elementary teachers’ training at Kesramal.  Later she joined the school as teacher.  The Sisters and their life of dedication made a deep impression on her.  She felt drawn to such a life.  The desire grew stronger and firmer under the direction of the Founder Fr. Harrison and ultimately led to her joining the new Congregation.  With her other companions she went to Ranchi on 10th January 1944 to begin her formation under the Daughters of St. Anne. Postulancy and novitiate followed.  There she made her first vows on 8th December 1946.  After her return to Hamirpur with others she helped the Daughters of the Cross in their various apostolic activities.  Towards the end of 1947 she was taken ill due to an injury on her ankle with a spade while at work.  The hurt grew into a big wound and she had to be treated at the Holy Family Hospital at Mandar, Ranchi.  When the wound began to heal she was brought back to Hamirpur.  A few days later she became serious again and died on15th February 1948 in Hamirpur.  Her mortal remains were buried there in the private cemetery close to the (old) Church.

 

SR. MARIA XAVERIA  (PHULMANI DUNGDUNG 1919 – 1950)

Hailing from the far-flung Babaimohan village of Jhunmur parish (now in Salangabahal parish), she was christened Phulmani on 19th May 1919.  Her parents, Gore Johan Dungdung and Tuni Mariam were ordinary Christians who earned their livelihood by cultivating their land.

One of the eleven children of her parents, she was of gentle nature and friendly with every one.  After her primary education and elementary training at Kesramal, she was employed there as a teacher.  She was very active in the parish ‘sangaath’ (sodality) and during the holidays helped the Sisters – the Daughters of the Cross in the catechumenates. The life of the Sisters impressed her very much and inspired her to devote her life in the same way.  But she was not sure if it was within her reach.  In 1942 when Fr. Edmond Harrison came to Kesramal as curate he took great interest in human beings.  Under his guidance and direction she decided to dedicate her life as a religious for the service of the people of Gangpur.  Thus on 3rd May 1943, she with two others had the privilege of being accepted as the candidates of the Daughters of the Cross at Kesramal, in an impressive ceremony during the Mass.  This candidateship was short lived.  It was discontinued later on the directive of the Major Superior of the Daughters of the Cross in Europe.  The sadness accompanying this unpleasant turn was negated when Fr. Harrison proposed to them the possibility of starting a religious Congregation to work in and for Gangpur.  Trusting in God, she offered herself as one of its pioneers, without ever imagining what difficulties lay ahead (hardships, poverty, lack of sufficient accommodation etc.)

On 10th January 1944, she with three other companions went to Ranchi to be formed under the Daughters of St. Anne as members of the new Congregation for Gangpur.  She was admitted to the Postulancy after a week. She entered the next stage of formation as a novice on 8th December 1944 and after two years of novitiate pronounced her vows on 8th December 1946 as a Handmaid of Mary.  Bishop Oscar Sevrin SJ accepted her vows during the Mass.  Then she with her companions returned to Hamirpur and remained under the care and direction of the Daughters of the Cross.  In the next two years she taught in the mission schools first at Gaibira and then at Hamirpur.  In 1949 she was called back to Gaibira to assist Mother Julieta FC who was appointed Superior cum Novice Mistress of the Handmaids of Mary.  She did her work under the direction of Mother Julieta well.  But within a short time she became a victim of tuberculosis.  Lack of availability of proper medical care within easy each and harshness of life expedited her death.  She died on 1st September, 1950 at Gaibira, assisted by Fr. S.N. Wald SVD, Mother Julieta and others.  No professed member of the Handmaids of Mary was present at her death and burial.  She was buried in the Catholic Church cemetery at Gaibira.

 

SR. MARIA IGNATIA (MARGRET XESS 1922 – 1966)

Margret was the fifth of the 8 children born to devout parents John Berchmans Xess and Felicita on 23rd February, 1922 in the village Olhain in the parish of Hamirpur (now in the parish of Birmitrapur). John Berchmans was also the Catechist of the village.  Margret was baptized on 10th March, 1922; she was confirmed on 6th February, 1930.  After primary schooling at Hamirpur her parents sent her to Kesramal for middle school studies and Elementary Teachers’ Training.  Then she became a teacher there.  She was hardworking and had a friendly nature.  Like many other girls in the school she too was attracted by the dedicated life of the Daughters of the Cross there.  The founder Fr. Harrison too as spiritual director of the Sisters and girls in the school had greatly influenced her in choosing her vocation.  She was one of the three who became a candidate of the Daughters of the Cross on 3rd May, 1943.  This candidateship was later discontinued and she was sad and unhappy about it and wanted to decide her own future course of action.  In a letter to Bishop Sevrin, Fr. Harrison had written that Sr. Michael Maria F.C.  the Superior at Kesramal had a plan to send her and Barbara Aind (Sr. Maria Theresa) to Kurseong for study and then groom them to join them.  Bur Fr. Harrison prevailed upon her to join the new Congregation and work for the people of Gangpur.  Since she did not join the other four on way to Ranchi on 10th January, there was doubt about her vocation to the new Congregation.  This doubt was allayed when she reached Ranchi a month later and joined the postulency on 17th February, 1944. She entered novitiate with the othrs on 8th December, 1944 and pronounced her first vows on 8th December 1946 at Ranchi.  When she returned to Gangpur after hr profession she was assigned to teach at Hamirpur for two years (1947-1948) and in 1949 at Gaibira.  In 1950 when the mission under the sisters started a high school for girls at Kesramal she along with three other Handmaids of Mary joined the high school for study; one of them being Sr. M. Theresa her only surviving companion.  The high school was shifted to Gaibira first and then to Sundargarh where it continues to exist now as St. Mary’s Girls’ High School.

On 6th January 1953 she and her only batch mate had the privilege of making their final vows.  As students at Sundargarh, the Handmaids resided in one of the old unoccupied house belonging to the parish.  In 1954 she wrote and passed the High School Certificate Examination conducted by the Board of Secondary Education, Orissa.

As a student she had also to shoulder the responsibility as Superior of the community of students there.  She continued to shoulder responsibilities since then as teacher, General Councillor and Novice Mistress. In 1962 she was appointed Novice Mistress and this she continued till her death.  Her novices even now acclaim her for adhering to discipline with tenderness.  During her tenure as novice mistress she visited some of the novitiates of some established Congregations to gain experience in forming the young entrusted to her care.  Her health began to suffer by the middle of 1966 and it was diagnose that she had contacted tuberculosis.  When her condition became serious she was referred to IGH (Ispat General Hospital), Rourkela. But the illness claimed life on 26th December, 1966 in the same hospital.  She is buried at Kesramal where she first listened to God’s call to serve Him as a religious.

 

SR. MARIA THERESA (BARBARA AIND- 21.08.1921 – 21.12.2007)

Barbara, the seventh among the eight children of Souna Francis and Josephine Bage was born in Kusumdegi Girjatoli on 21st August, 1921.  She was baptized on 11th November, 1921 by Rev. Fr. H. Floor SJ in the Catholic Church, Kusumdegi.  Her father, widely known as Sona, was a zealous catechist and had much involvement in the parish activities.  He encouraged his children also to do the same.  She had her early schooling in Kusumdegi.  Then she was sent to Gaibira for her lower primary education.  In 1936 she came to Kesramal for upper primary and Elementary Training (E.T.) After the E.T. she was employed as a teacher.  During this teaching period she was influenced by Fr. Harrison the Founder to become a religious and dedicated herself for the service of God and people.  She was accepted as a candidate of the Daughters of the Cross on 3rd May, 1943 with two others.  This candidateship, however, was discontinued on the advice of the Major Superior of that Congregation.  Disturbed though she was at the turn of the events, she did not give up hope.  She had great faith in the spiritual guidance of Fr. Harrison and therefore was not shaken.  In the meantime, Fr. Harrison had conceived the idea of the indigenous Congregation and with the support of Bishop Sevrin went ahead with his idea.  Barbara and her companions would form the nucleus of the ‘desi’ Congregation.  She left for Ranchi with three others n 10th January 1944 as arranged by Fr. Harrison in consultation with the Bishop.  She was admitted to the postulancy of the Daughters of St. Ann on 18th of that month and to the Novitiate on 8th December the same year.  After two years of novitiate on 8th December 1946 she mad her profession with her companions.  In Gangpur she was at Hamirpur helping the sisters – the Daughters of the Cross as a teacher, first at Gaibira and then at Hamirpur.  The death of their companions had saddened and discouraged both Srs. M. Theresa and M. Ignatia.

In 1950 when a high school for girls began at Kesramal she along with three others joined Cl. Vlll. The companions were: Srs. M. Ignatia, M. Poulina and M. Christina.  She had to discontinue her study when she was in Cl.lX due to illness. On 6th January 1953 she and Sr. M. Ignatia, the only surviving pioneers, made their final profession at Gaibira.

Though illness had dampened her spirit and stopped her study and teaching career, availability of good medical care restored her health and she was to shoulder many responsibilities in the Congregation in later years.  She has served as local superior, Assistant Mother General, Councillor, School Secretary and the like. Even in her eighties she enjoyed taking care of plants and animals wherever she was.  In all the areas she worked she has shown minute attention to detail, love of discipline and asceticism.

God has been bountiful in His blessings on her.  She was the only pioneer who could celebrate the Silver and golden Jubilee of her religious profession; she also witnessed the Congregation celebrating it s golden Jubilee in 1994.  She, though frail and ailing, lived a quiet and happy life at Jhorabahar watching the Congregation’s growth and serving God’s people especially the marginalized and the women and children.

From the obituary:

In 1942 Rev. Fr. Edmund Harrison SJ came as the Parish Priest of Kesramal.  He was a man of faith and vision.  God made use of his charism for he founding of our congregation, the Handmaids of Mary.  As he was inspired he started recruiting candidates from the locality.  He motivated the young girls during confession.  Sr. Michael Maria FC introduced her to Fr. Harrison who convinced her of her vocation.  He invited her to cooperate with him to join the new Congregation he was dreaming of.  She felt incompetent to join the new Congregation and expressed her desire to join any existing Congregation.  Fr. Harrison asked her, “How competent was St. Peter?” He said, “Trust in God and His grace is sufficient for you.” So Sr. Theresa was caught by Fr. Harrison just like St. Peter to take the Good News of Jesus to the remote villages with four other girls.  She whole heartedly surrendered herself to the Divine Plan and was available to do His Will.

Initiation of her religious life began in Kesramal.  Thus the foundation of Handmaids of Mary was laid with Sr. M. Theresa and other four girls in Kesramal in the existing girls’ primary school hall.  They were vested in white saris and white sandals and crown for the occasion.  They looked angelic!

After their probation she went to Ranchi to the Daughters of St. Anne for two years fof novitiate.  Their vestition was on 8.12.1944.  After two years of novitiate they made their first profesion on 8.12.1946 in the presence of Rt. Rev. Oscar Sevrin S.J. and Rev. Fr. Edmund Harrison S.J.  After their profession they were brought to Hamirpur.  They did not have a convent of their own. They worked under the Daughters of the Cross.  Sr. Theresa was sent to teach in Gaibira and later in Hamirpur.  She made her final profesion on 5.1.1953 at Gaibira.  She was transferred to Kesramal with three other sisters in the same year to take over the mission from the Daughters of the Cross as they left the place for good.  She was again transferred to Gaibira 1955.  There she developed tuberculosis and was brought to the mission hospital at Kalunga for treatment.  In 1960 she was transferred to Sundargah as local Superior.  As her illness relapsed she was brought back to Kalunga in 1961.  In 1964 she was transferred to Jhunmur as local Superior.  As her illness persisted she was brought to Kalunga the same year.  In 1967 she was transferred to Kesramal as secretary to Girls’ M.E. School.  She celebrated her silver jubilee in 1969 at Kesramal and her Golden Jubilee in 1996 at Jhorabahal.  After 19 years of her stay at Kesramal she was transferred to Jhorabahal in 1986 where she remained until she was taken ill seriously and brought to Nuagaon Mission Hospital on 27th November.  There she had a fall and right side was paralysed.

Her condition was deteriorating day by day.  She could not take any food orally and was fed through tubes.  Doctors, sisters and nurses gave her extreme care during her illness.  Towards the end she was often semiconscious.  During this time most of our sisters and her family members had the privilege to be with her.  On 21 Dec. 2007 at 2.45 am. she passed away to her heavenly abode. Her funeral rites started at 2.30 p.m. with a meaningful Eucharistic celebration led by Rt. Rev. Alphonse Bilung SVD and concelebrated by Co-adjutor Rt. Rev. John Barwa SVD, Fr. Joseph Topno SVD and a good number of priests.  Choir was melodious with Sr. Bernadette Kerketta T and our junior sisters.  Finally she was laid to rest in her original place surrounded by her beloved sisters young and old, amidst many tears. 

During her life time she had carried our several missions like teaching, secretary to schools, General Councillor and local superior.  Though she suffered ill health all through her life, she was an industrious religious.  She produced church linen very artistically.  We never found her idle.  She was very punctual in all her religious obligations especially in her prayer life.  Her table manners were remarkable.  However hungry she might be, she never gulped food.  She lost no chance to meet people and give them the Good News of Jesus.  She motivated many young girls for religious life.  Most of the time she was found in the chapel, praying or reading.  She had a great sense of silence and recollection.  She lived a much disciplined life all through her life.  Even in her illness, she never complained or demanded for anything special but rather suffered silently.  When three of her companions had premature death, the new born Congregation was shaking.  At this critical juncture, she encouraged her sisters to have faith God and they prayed together that if it was not God’s will that this congregation should survive He should let them die one by one rather than go back to the world.  She was courageous and consistent in her decisions.  Confidentiality was one of her great virtues.  She could contain a great deal in her heart and ponder over it like our Mother Mary and surrender in silence.  She had the wisdom of heart to know that all truths are not to be spoken loudly.

Having spent 63 fruitful years in Gangpur mission as a Handmaid of Mary, Sr. Theresa can finally say with St. Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that day.” 2 Tim. 4:7-8.

Today with hearts filled with gratitude to God for this great charismatic missionary, as we bid her farewell from this earthly abode, we give her back to His merciful hands knowing well that the vacuum she leaves behind shall never be filled.

 

SR. THERESA , THE PIONEER OF THE HANDMAIDS OF MARY

(21-08-1921 - 21-12-2007)

Rev. Sr. Maria  Teresa  H.M  was born to Mr. Sauna  Francis Aind and  Mrs.  Josephine  Bage of Kusumdegi Girjatoli on 21.8.1921.  She was baptised Barbara by Rev. Fr. H. Floor  S.J. in the Catholic Church at Kusumdegi on 9.11.1921.  They were   6 girls in the family  and she was the 5th one. She had her Lower Primary  education   at Kusumdegi and for Upper Primary she was sent to Gaibira from 1932 -1935 to the school  run by the Daughters of the Cross. In 1936 she did her Elementary Training at Kesramal and joined there as a teacher.

In 1942 Rev. Fr. Edmund Harrison S.J came as the Parish Priest of Kesramal. He was a man of faith and vision. God made use of his Charism for the founding of our Congregation, the Handmaids of Mary. As he was inspired he started recruiting candidates from the locality. He motivated the young girls during confession.  Sr. Michel Maria F.C. introduced her to Fr. Harrison who convinced her of her vocation. He invited her to cooperate with him  to join the new Congregation that he was dreaming of. She felt incompetent to join the new Congregation and expressed her desire to join any existing Congregation.     Fr. Harrison asked her,  ' How competent was St. Peter?' He said, "Trust in God and His grace is sufficient for you."  So Sr. Theresa was caught by Fr. Harrison just like St. Peter to take the Good News of Jesus to the remote villages with four other girls. She wholeheartedly surrendered herself to this Divine Plan and was available to do His Will.

Initiation of her religious life began in Kesramal. Thus the foundation of Handmaids of Mary was laid with Sr. Teresa and other four girls on……..      in Kesramal  in the existing  girls' Primary School  hall. They were vested in white sarees and white sandals and crown for the occasion. They looked  angelic!

After their probation she went to Ranchi to the Daughters of St. Anne for two years of novitiate.  Their vestition was on 8.12.1944. After two years of novitiate they made their First Profession on 8.12.1946 in the presence of Rt. Rev. Oscar Severin  S.J.   and Rev. Fr. Edmund Harrison  S.J.  After their profession they were brought to Hamirpur . They did not have a convent of their own. They worked under the Daughters of the Cross.  Sr. Teresa  was sent to teach in Gaibira  and  later in Hamirpur. She made her final profession on 6.1.1953 at  Gaibira. She was transferred to Kesramal with three other Sisters in the same year to take over the mission from the Daughters of the Cross  as they left the place for good. She  was again transferred to Gaibira in 1955. There she developed  tuberculosis and was brought to the mission hospital at Kalunga for treatment. In 1960 she was transferred to Sundargarh as local Superior.  As her illness relapsed she was brought back to Kalunga in 1961.In 1964 she was    transferred to Jhunmur as local Superior. As her illness persisted  she was brought to Kalunga the same year . In 1967  she was transferred to Kesramal as Secretary to  Girls'   M.E  school. She celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1969  at Kesramal   and her Golden  Jubilee  in 1996  at Jhorabahal. After 19 years of  her stay at Kesramal  she was transferred to Jhorabahal  in 1986 where she remained  until she was taken ill seriously  and brought to Nuagaon  Mission  Hospital on 27th   November. There she had a fall  and her right side was paralysed.

Her condition was deteriorating day by day. She could not take any food orally and was fed through tubes. Doctors, Sisters and nurses gave  her extreme care  during her illness. Towards the end she was often semiconscious. During this time most of our Sisters and her family members  had the privilege to be with her. On 21 Dec. 2007  at 2.45 a.m  she passed away to her heavenly abode. Her funeral rites started at 2.30 p.m with a meaningful Eucharistic celebration led by Rt. Rev. Alphonse  Bilung   SVD and concelebrated by  Coadjutor   Rt. Rev. John Barwa  SVD, Fr. Joseph Topno SVD and a good number of priests. Choir was melodious with Sr.Bernadette Kerketta  'T' and our junior Sisters. Finally she was laid to rest in her original place surrounded by her  beloved Sisters young and old,  amidst many tears. May she  rest in peace   and continue to bless us from above.

 During her life time she had carried out several missions like teaching, secretary to schools, General Councillor and local Superior. Though she suffered ill health all through her life, she was an industrious religious.  She produced church linen very artistically. W e never  found her idle. She was very punctual in all her religious obligations especially in her prayer life. Her table manners were remarkable. However hungry she might be, she never gulped food. She lost no chance to meet people and give them the Good News of Jesus.  She motivated many young girls for religious life. Most of the time she was found in the chapel praying or reading. She had a great sense of silence and recollection. She lived a much disciplined life all through her life. Even in her illness, she never complained or demanded for anything special but rather suffered silently. When three of her companions had pre-mature death, the new born Congregation was shaking. At this critical juncture, she encouraged her Sisters to have faith in God and they prayed together that if it was not God's will that this Congregation should survive He should let them die one by one rather than go back to the world. She was courageous and consistent in her decisions. Confidentiality was one of her great virtues. She could contain a great deal in her heart and ponder over it like our Mother Mary and surrender in silence. She had the wisdom of heart to know that all truths are not to be spoken loudly.

Having spent 63 fruitful years in Gangpur mission as a Handmaid of Mary, Sr. Teresa can finally say with St. Paul, "I have faught the good fight, I  have finished the race, I have  kept the faith. Hence forth, there is laid up for me  the crown of righteousness  which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that day." 2Tim. 4: 7-8

Today with hearts filled with gratitude to God for this great charismatic missionary, as we bid her farewell from this earthly abode, we give her back to His merciful hands knowing well that the vacuum she leaves behind shall never be filled.





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