Mother Anastasia – The First Superior General of the H.M.

Sr. M. Anastasia, the first Superior General of the Handmaids of Mary was born on June 10th 1920, in Kothamangalam in the Diocese of Kothamangalam in Kerala. She was the eldest of the ten children born to Mr. & Mrs. V. Joseph Elenjikal . She joined the Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross at the age of 15 with the sole desire to become a martyar for Christ. She spent 18 years in that Congregation and worked in the Gangpur Mission as a teacher and catechist when Fr. Edmund Harrison was the Parish Priest at Kesramal.

At that time the Handmaids of Mary was in its infancy just after the initial training at Ranchi. With the transfer of Fr. Harrison, they were organised. The Daughters of the Cross took over their training in 1948 under the care of Mother Julita F.C. in Gaibira. Sr. Anastasia assisted her in the training of the Handmaids of Mary. The Daughters of the Cross continued to train them till 1954.

In 1951 Sambalpur became an Independent diocese under the stewardship of Rt. Rev. Herman Westerman SVD. Immediately after his taking over, the sad plight of the new Congregation caught his attention. To ensure its growth he shifted the novitiate to Kalunga, where he himself was residing. At the request three Daughters of the Cross came to Kalunga to train the Handmaids of Mary and one of them was Sr. Anastasia.

She had been witnessing the trails and difficulties of the infant Congregation and was inspired to commit herself fully to the cause of the Handmaids of Mary. She was encouraged by Bishop Westerman and Fr. Zimmerman SVD. Fr. Edmund Harrison welcomed the idea whole heartedly. He wrote to her congratulating and appreciating her bold move. “It is certainly a beautiful thing to be able to make even a great sacrifice to our Lady in the year dedicated to her and do so for the greater glory of God and the greater honour of our good Mother through a better service to her children.”

“You may rely on my special prayers for you and on that day and the following days. Do by all means keep up the standard of oblation you have set before you and do remember also that once more you are one of the Handmaids and also their leader as well as their mother in the religious life. Do try to give them a beautiful example of virtues and sacrifices of your generosity and love in the service of Mary and remember that they will observe you more now than before as you will be closer to them. Help them to make of these Handmaids of Mary very good religious and zealous missionaries devoted to Our Lady’s cause. May your oblation be greater and more complete every day of your life, knowing as you do that you walk ahead of many young souls who want also to be generous but do not know how to realize this ideal in the right way.”

“Courage, trust and thorough oblation, keep up, keep in mind that the generousity in a senior as you are before the other Handmaids is contagious. Be a fire brand for them ! ..........................................”

Unmindful of the problems and trails that lay ahead this generous soul petitioned to Rome and obtained permission to join the H.M. In 1954 on 25th March, on the feast of the Annunciation she made her profession as a Handmaids of Mary. One cannot imagine the sacrifice she made at leaving her Congregation and her fellow sisters after a period of 18 years.

When she became a Handmaid she redoubled her efforts for the welfare of the Congregation. She worked in close collaboration with Bishop Westerman for the growth of the Congregation. On the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the Convent at Kalunga, Bishop Westerman recalled the appreciation and gratitude. “On October 27th you are going to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the Convent at Kalunga. The beginnings were very poor and difficult and the accommodation for the sisters and the candidates were very primitive till the convent building was erected. I still remember very well when the first candidates arrived, a fairly large number of them. Inspite of the hardship they were cheerful and took everything in their strides as a matter of fact. It was wonderful to work with them. Fortunately you were there to help me, otherwise it would have been impossible. So I am still grateful to you, that you joined the Handmaids of Mary and formed the first generation of sisters. My thoughts will be with you on the day of celebrations”.

In 1954 she was appointed Novice Mistress. Many were the difficulties that lay in her path and she had to carry the burden single handed, but she did it with cheerfulness and generosity. She was elected first Superior General in 1958 and re-elected in 1964. With the support and guidance of Bishop Westerman she lead the Congregation to move forward in all aspects of its life.

In response to the directives of Vat. II she worked towards the renewal and updating of the Constitutions and the Renewal Chapter was held in 1969. Even after laying down the office as Superior General she energetically and enthuciastically continued to work for the Congregation. In the recent years due to deteroriating health she cannot actively participate in the apostolates of the Congregation. But she continued to be the mother of the Congregation.

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