Tribute to my eldest sister, ‘Marychechi’ at her Golden Jubilee

Tribute to my eldest sister, ‘Marychechi’ at her Golden Jubilee
Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ

The Sisters of her SABS Congregation call her ‘Ciciliamma’. The people among whom she has worked call her Mother Cicily. But she is Marychechi for me and for my 4 brothers and 3 sisters.
At home my eldest sister Mary (her name) Chechi (elder sister) was as a second mother to her younger siblings. She helped mummy in the kitchen and also supervised our studies. Once she gave me in her handwriting a model question paper to study and prepare for my examination. To my surprise the question paper turned out to be the exact examination paper set by my uncle as a teacher for the final examination in the 7th standard in which I was then studying. She was given uncle’s school note book with the questions to take home but she did not tell me it was the real question paper.
She was very good in her studies. After the school final examination she studied Hindi and she was the only student who passed in Hindi Vidhwan examination in the first attempt at Muvattupuzha centre. She got immediately a teaching job in a convent school and then she came home only on week-ends and other holidays.
When she bought first time a beautiful sari my father found that it was too showy and see-through! She defended her purchase saying that sari is worn over a petticoat. When she wanted to join a convent, I know, there was a ‘tug of war’ to get her between CMC Sisters of her convent school where she was teaching and the SABS Sisters of my aunty Sr. Isabella. I remember my parents playing host to two-three CMC Sisters under a mango tree in front of my house. The Sisters’ rule then prohibited them from entering a family home; but they wanted Marychechi to join in their congregation. But in the tug of war I guess my aunty’s congregation won as my sister resigned from her teaching job and joined in the SABS Congregation.
Before my leaving home for good to enter the Jesuit novitiate at Mount Abu, Rajasthan I went to meet Marychechi who was then herself in the SABS novitiate at Marika. But I could not see her as a novice was supposed to be completely separated and detached from her family; but I was allowed to speak to her behind a curtain in their visitors’ room.
My subsequent meeting with her was after 11years in December 1974 just before I went to London for my journalism studies. The Sisters then gave me a meal of rice and curry. I thought that they served me too much rice and I asked them to take back half of it before I started eating. Then, I felt ‘cheated’ as it was a plain plate and not a sunken plate like the ones at home which could contain much rice.
Our personal meetings were far apart. But we kept in touch with regular correspondences. I always appreciated and cherished her letters which contained a lot of advice and guidance for me as a young religious. Later I realized that after her teaching profession she was in charge of forming young candidates and Sisters in her congregation and I guess that she was sharing with me in her letters what she was teaching them.
At the grand golden jubilee celebrations of Marychechi and of Sr. Vianney at St. Mary Cathedral and in the SABS Provincial House at Jalandhar, Punjab I was fortunate to hear many young sisters of her congregation proudly acknowledging that Ciciliamma was our postulate or juniorate mistress. She certainly commanded their deep love and great respect as a real loving and caring mother.
Travelling with her and visiting some of her convents and church institutions in Punjab and Jammu-Kashmir I discovered that not only her own SABS sisters but also some priests and the people in the mission stations loved and held her in great respect and esteem. The Rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish Fr. Michael Anikuzhikatil told me that when he had a heart operation while he was the parish priest at Pillaur, Mother Cicily looked after him with motherly care and love even though he was much younger than her. A SABS sister told me that Marychechi built their convent and the high school at Pillaur. I could see great love and affection which Marychechi shared when she met the staff personnel of her SABS schools or other institutions.
While I was in Delhi as the Founder Director of SAR News in the early 1980s I visited Marychechi in Narvana where she and her SABS sisters were starting a mission staying in a rented house. After two years I visited the same mission when she had already built up both a convent and a big school. From being suspicious persons by the local villagers even as agents of Pakistan, the Catholic missionaries there have found acceptance and appreciation especially for their educational and medical services as well as social awakening. These missionary Sisters brought them freedom from ignorance and prejudices.
The golden jubilee celebrations of Marychechi and of Sr. Vianney and the silver jubilee celebration of two others Sisters and as well as the first religious commitment of two young girls Sr. Regis Gill of Punjab and Sr. Lima Rose hailing from Kerala gave me the opportunity to see the flourishing missions of the SABS Sisters in Punjab, Haryana and Jammu-Kashmir.
The credit goes not only to Mother Cicily or Ciciliamma, the first Mission Superior but also to all the pioneer SABS Sisters and their successors who have all contributed to the development of the Church and the people, especially the Dalits and the poor in Punjab, Haryana and Jammu-Kashmir; and of course, the presence and multifaceted services of many other religious congregations of men and women as well as the diocesan priests and of Jalandhar and Jammu-Kashmir dioceses. They gave me the impression that the Catholic Church is vibrant, energetic and effectively active in north India.
I am happy to note that Marychechi is still very active at 74 as a convent superior, educationist and builder.