The Congregation of the Sisters of the Little Flower of Bethany was founded in the year1921 on 16th July by Rev. Mgr R.F.C Mascarenhas, the then parish priest of Bendur, Mangalore. This indigenous Congregation founded by an Indian priest began to spread its branches to the remotest village parishes of the Diocese of Mangalore.
The Founder ventured to carry the branches of the Congregation outside Mangalore and thus to Meppadi in the Diocese of Cailcut in 1937 and West Hill in 1938. Later the house at Meppadi was closed. The apostolate at West Hill flourished in course of time and eventually other houses too were opened in the Diocese.
In the year 1939, two houses were opened in the Diocese of Pune (present Belgaum Diocese) at Dharwad and Guledgudd. In the 1940s more foundations were made in the villages of Belgaum district, North Kanara and Shimoga district. There was an expansion also in the village of Mysore State. By the year, 1958 there were 22 communities in the Congregation serving the people through different apostolates. Until then the Congregation was governed by elected Superiors General who functioned under the guidance of the Founder. The Founder was no longer able to direct them from that year and the Superiors General who came to be elected later had to carry on the administration without his help.
Let us have a look at the past and see how the Congregation was governed until it came to be Regions and Provinces. From 1921 to 1924 each sister was appointed to different offices for one year at a time. In 1925 on March 25th, the feast of the Annunciation, the first election of the Institute was held and Mother Martha was appointed Superior for a term of three years. From then on she was re–elected at every subsequent election over and over again for three years till 1940, when the first General Chapter was held during which she was elected as Superior General for a term of six years. When her term ended in the year 1946, she had been at the helm of the Institute for 23 years.
Mother Martha being a loving and a lovable person, prayerful, kind, compassionate, understanding, friendly and approachable, generous and humorous, spontaneous and richly talented, selfless and tender hearted, she endeared herself to one and all.
From 1947 April onwards it was Mother Petra who was chosen by the Lord to be the head of the Congregation. The virtue of humility shone in her. She was gifted with the power of endurance and patience under trials and difficulties and was a model all through her life in the observance of the rules, obedience and respect to the superiors, perfect to duty, etc. As a Superior General, she loved the sisters and was loved by them and her life was exemplary and edifying.
In the General Chapter of 1953, Mother Priscilla was elected the Superior General. She too was a mature and exemplary religious. She was a woman of prayer. Her deep faith even in the midst of many trials she had to undergo, especially as a Superior General, was very outstanding. She directed the Congregation at a very crucial stage in its history. Yet she marched forward with dauntless courage and an indomitable will, trusting in the Divine Providence.
In the year 1959, Mother Macrina was elected Superior General. She had to face the sad event of the departure of our beloved Founder to his eternal reward. She was a person gifted with many qualities of heart and mind. The virtues of humility and simplicity were remarkable in her. Gifted with a maternal and compassionate heart she was loved and sought after not only by the sisters of the Congregation but also by priests and people outside. Her term of 18 years was known as ‘the Golden era’ of the Congregation. It was then the Congregation was raised to the status of Pontifical Rite. In her first term the Congregation expanded to the North and North East of India. There was an increased number of admissions too to the Congregation.
A house was opened in Rome in 1970 making the Congregation International. By 1970 the number of houses rose to 53 with a great scope for future expansion. So far the Congregation was one unit governed directly by the Superior General with the help of her General Council. But as the number of houses multiplied, functioning as one unit became impossible and Mother Macrina with her council divided it into Regions in the year 1970.
Thus, the Mangalore Region came into existence in February 1970 with Sr Agnella as the first Regional Superior who was to carry on her responsibility until the General Chapter that would take place in 1971. After the General Chapter, Sr Honoratha was appointed the Regional Superior for a term of three years. The Mangalore Region comprising of 19 houses in the Diocese of Mangalore except the Mother House and Rosa Mystica, were entrusted to her care, which she administered from the Mother House. It was a new experience for her as there was hardly anything to fall back upon. The main function of the Regional Superior was specified as the spiritual animation of the sisters of the Region. She, therefore, did her best to animate the sisters under her care. “With her motherly heart she began the work of animating the sisters of the small unit and endeared herself to one and all,” says Sr Hilaria (Sunshine p.76).
Sr Noreen, the next Regional Superior, took over from Sr Honoratha in 1974 and governed the Region for a period of six years. Hers was a hard job as she had to carry on her mission together with her responsibility of the Headmistress of the primary school at Kirem for a time. But she, taking everything as God’s will in her life, rose to the occasion, faced the challenges as a brave woman, and strove to uplift the spiritual tone of the Region through recollections, seminars, charismatic retreats, etc. for sisters of different age groups and for house maids. She also worked to solve the problems of property and schools. During her second term the Regional House was fixed at Santa Cruz Convent, Kulshekar.
Sr Noreen was a woman of prayer. God was by her side and she worked strenuously for the Region with faith and confidence in God. She too was gifted with many talents and qualities of heart and mind, specially kindness, understanding, intellectual capacity, originality and perseverance in all that she did and God blessed her efforts and the number of houses grew to 23.
On 1 June 1980 I took over from Sr Noreen. The Region was expanded by adding nine more houses of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and was named as Southern Region. I took over the responsibility placing my trust in the Divine Providence. Regarding the progress of this time I quote Sr Hilaria: “The main features of her two terms were the efforts made in the spiritual formation of the growth of the sisters and for the growth in the devotion to the Eucharistic Lord. Recollections and seminars and get-togethers for sisters of the entire Region were conducted from time to time. To fulfil the Founder’s desire for perpetual adoration in the Congregation and to cultivate a greater devotion to the Eucharistic Lord an effort was made in a small way by having recourse to the practice of dividing the hours of the week (24 x 7), among the communities taking care not to make it a burden on small communities…The practice is now taken up by the Congregation as ‘Round the clock with Eucharistic Lord’…” (Sunshine p.76).
In 1986 during the General Chapter the Regions were raised to the status of Provinces and Mangalore became an independent Province and was given into the able hands of Sr Virginia, the first Provincial Superior. With her administrative capacity, careful planning, hard work, spirit of prayer and confidence in God, she brought the Province to a high degree of excellence in all areas during her two terms of office. The main thrust of her term was community building and spiritual renewal for which cause she spent herself. Her love for Mary, the Immaculate Mother of Jesus made her entrust the province to her patronage, under her title of the Immaculate Conception. When she laid down her office in 1993, she had already won the love and respect of all those hearts she had touched.
Sr Christella succeeded Sr Virginia as the second Provincial Superior and took charge on 1 June 1993. Gifted with a spirit of enthusiasm and lively nature she was able to instil it in her collaborators and paid much attention to the growth of the province by opening new schools and improving the quality of education in the existing ones. St Raymond’s P U College saw the light of day because of her untiring efforts. Her most remarkable service was to the school drop-outs by bringing a ray of hope into their hearts by establishing an Open School at Vamanjoor, in the year in 1996 to enable them to complete their matriculation. She has merited the blessings of many young souls.
Sr Inviolata succeeded Sr Christella and took charge of the Province as its third Provincial Superior on 31 May 2001. Simple and approachable by nature, patient and gentle in her ways she was able to do much with faith in God and the co-operation of collaborators. The Mangalore Province found new avenues of service in the states of Kerala and Gujarath. During her two terms, a Pre University College and a Degree College were opened. The Province and society have benefited much from her contribution.
The reigns of Province are at present in the hands of Sr Mariette, the fourth Provincial Superior. Gifted with high intelligence and a capacity and generosity of heart for hard work, she spends herself in the service of the sisters and the Church. Faith and trust in God and her gentleness and firmness helps her to overcome many a hurdle that comes in her way with courage. With the co-operation of her Team, she is leading the province to higher degrees in spiritual growth and all-round development. Organizing renewal programmes and refresher courses for sisters of different age groups, keeping alive the charism of our Founder, taking sisters to the roots of Bethany, upgrading sisters through higher studies, training the young sisters in diverse fields, tapping resources and preparing future leaders, providing infrastructure for effective mission, launching into Bethany Champions Project…have been some of her special features. She has endeared to herself to all by her cordiality and peasant manners and personal touch. May God bless her with success!
by: Sr M Theresine, BS