Mother of inspiration, sister of service

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Sr. Lucy Mathanda

The wrinkled face of an old woman clad in white sari with blue borders in the Bengali style and a cross pinned on the shoulder is an attractive icon for many youth, though the work she was doing is so tough for them to emulate. She is none other than the Blessed Mother Teresa who not only changed the plight of many cholera stricken human beings in the Kolkata streets, but also inspired numerous Catholic women across the world to continue her mission.

Miss June was one of such women who joined the Sisters of Missionaries of Charity in 1957 with a flock of dedicated sisters approximately 70 in number at that time. The congregation, founded in 1948 and officially approved in 1950, was growing out of infantile difficulties when June (Sr. Lucy Mathanda’s maiden name) joined them.

When she finished her high school in Loretto Convent School in Calcutta, expressed her desire to join a convent and her mother was not in favor of her. Sr. Lucy was the 3rd child among 7 children in her family. She lost her father at the age of 4 and she has seen her mother struggling to bring up the children all by herself.

With the fervent desire to serve the poor she inquired about Mother Teresa and decided to meet her one-day. Many discouraged her to join in MC convent, telling their life is very hard. Finally one day she could meet Mother Teresa in person who told her, “life is too hard in the convent. Go back to your home and make a good decision.” June was finding difficult to tell her mother about her meeting with Mother Teresa and her decision to join them. She approached her aunt (mother’s sister) who advised her mother favorably for June. Her mother refused her request and started crying bitterly told her, ‘never, you will join in MC.’

June went for a short-term course on typing and shorthand in order to get her ready for a job. In the meantime Mother Teresa sent a letter to her to join on 2nd July 1957. It was indeed a call form within to break the hurdles and leave home. Her mother was very sad to send her to the convent but she took courage to leave everyone to serve the Lord.

June was so happy to get the white sari and the shoulder cross, the uniform of the Sisters of Charity. “This cross on the shoulder,” proudly says sister Lucy, “represents the bunch of keys, the ladies carried on their shoulders after their marriage in Bangali custom. I felt I am wedded to Christ and his most needy people when I carry this crucifix on my shoulder instead of the house keys.”

June’s life changed as she took up the new name Sr. Lucy in the convent. Life was not that easy in the convent struggling between tears and food in the convent. But gradually she could enjoy everything and her vocation to serve the poor people of God in the streets.

The pre-novices and novices used to go for the work/mission with one professed sister. They had usual 4 years of training with work and a few classes. Mother Teresa really put them into the real spirit of serving the poor in their real life struggles and to take care of the ones who are deprived in the streets, Old Age Homes, Leprosy Colony and Shishubhavan. Mother used to challenge them telling, “if you are not happy in the convent, you can go back.”

Life was really hard, as they had to learn to live with very few things. Their work involved nursing and cleaning the dirty ones, some that had wounds with full of pus and worms. Sr. Lucy frankly agrees that there are times she felt like vomiting. But Mother’s words encouraged her. An easy way of overcoming the difficulties of life was the repeated recital of a prayer they had learned while serving the sick advised by the Mother: “looking at each finger, think that God tells you- ‘you did it for me’, and the fingers in the other hand repeat in the heart – I will, I want, with God’s grace, be holy; then join hands and say Amen.” Each word of the prayer represented the 10 fingers really motivated them and found meaning in their life and mission with the Lord. “That was a real spiritual boost in their work,” she says with a gentle smile on her wrinkled face being a 75-year-old nun today.

Sr. Lucy professed in 1960 along with other 8 novices. With much excitement she recalls the day they received their blue-bordered uniform sari, a proud symbol of service and love. Many people had come from home and they were crying specially her mother because she was not allowed to go home after becoming the sister. She did not even think of all those worldly belongings and was determined never to return home. But there was one consolation that the home people were allowed to come and meet her once a month.

Forgetting all that’s left behind she believed that Lord has given her the joy of becoming a nun and the 21-year-old Lucy told herself: “Today onwards the Lord is everything for me.”

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Sr Lucy with children in Shishubhavan.

A flash back through the years in the convent, she says, “In my religious life one thing was really tough. I found it very difficult to forgive if hurt by someone.” She attended a retreat in Divine Retreat team and she got the grace of forgiving. She saw in a vision many of them coming to her and heard the voice of the Lord telling her to forgive them all. It was a miracle and a wonderful experience of peace within, the joy of forgiving and from that day on she was able to forgo things though it was a struggle to sustain herself in that virtue.

She did some medical training to take care of the lepers and thus she was mainly engaged in that work. Life and mission were bit difficult very many times but Mother was our model and strength. I was privileged to live with Mother Teresa, our saint and imbibe from her the spirit of service to the poor.

She is passionate to share with us some of the favorite sayings of Mother, which echoes still in her heart: “I will give saints and martyrs to the mother Church” and “For I was hungry, you gave me to eat….. ” (Mt. 25: 35-40).

Sr. Lucy agrees that Mother Teresa had very powerful eyes. Mother could read through her eyes the mind of the other and could convey the message of Jesus’s unconditional love. She said that it is so beautiful to see so many people come forward to help them in various ways. People, especially the children, recognize them as Mother Teresa with their uniform and their dress code is accepted in any country. So they don’t make any changes in their way of dressing even in cold or hot countries. She agrees there is lot of witnessing value for their uniform itself all over the world.

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Sr. Lucy Mathanda attending abandoned infants at the Shishubhavan.

Today at the age of 75, Sr. Lucy is retired from active missionary work but resides in a Convent where the sisters run a programme for abandoned children. Two mothers have influenced her tremendously. The first is her own biological mother who according to her “was a great woman of sacrifice, courage and faith.” The second one is Mother Teresa who reminded her “to suffer for Jesus.”

Sr. Lucy wants the young people to “hear God’s call and accept his will. Wherever Lord calls you it is His choice. Don’t compare yourself with any other nuns. Be unique in your life and mission following the footprints of Jesus.”

Sr Ranjana Thomas

Sr Ranjana UMI, who has secured MA degree in Social Communications from Pontifical Gregorian University, is an expert in media and communication. She teaches communication as well as conducts workshops on media literacy in schools for students as well as teachers.

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