“I believe that God always accompanies me and sustains me!”
I am the youngest of eight children, five brothers and three sisters. My family was part of a small village, Bhaimunda, Kurdeg parish in Simdega Diocese, Jharkhand. We were a devout Catholic family. My father, Ignes Ekka and mother Magdalena Kujur were small-scale farmers. I was born on September 23, 1964 and my parents named me, Bibiana. My siblings are (eldest to the youngest) Raphael, Mariam, Stephen, Rufina, Alphonse, and the twins, Shilanand and Gregory. I, Bibiana, am known as Aruna Ekka, SCN now. Economically we were a struggling family. When I was about three years old, my father had tuberculosis of the lungs and passed away unexpectedly. Consequently, all the responsibilities of raising and educating the children fell on my mother. With her determination and hard work she educated all of us. She was much appreciated in the village for her ability to bring up her children well. Our mother is an inspiration for all of us. She was gentle and caring. Of the eight children, only three of us, Rufina, Shilanand and I are alive now.
I completed my middle school education from St. Anne’s Middle School Kurdeg. My second brother, Stephen, who was taking care of the family, was reluctant in sending me to a boarding school for High School education because of the financial problem. Yet I did not want to attend the Government Co-ed High School in Kurdeg. Seeing my determination and interest, he sent me to St. Anne’s hostel, Taiser, Simdega where I stayed for four years and completed my Matriculation in 1981. With great difficulty, my brother paid the hostel fees in kind: rice and dal (pulses). It was very difficult for my brother to provide me with necessary materials such as books, copies and uniforms since he had his own children; a son and daughter studying in the same school.
While I was in the hostel, I had the opportunity to observe the lifestyle of the Sisters of St. Anne’s. I was attracted to their prayer life. Secretly I was nurturing a desire in my heart to become a religious sister. After the completion of class ten examinations, we were given a very meaningful send- off from the School. We had to pick up one small card which had various captions written on it. The one I picked gave me a big surprise and the writing on it was, “I will become a Sister.” This was a kind of confirmation of my vocation to religious life. And I recognized God’s call within my heart. I eagerly waited for my result. Meanwhile, two of my classmates and I were looking for a congregation that we could join. Good news or bad news, who knows! Two of my friends who would be my companions failed, but I passed. I felt bad that they would not be able to join any congregation with me but I did not lose heart.
It was a struggle to choose a congregation to join because I knew only St. Anne’s Sisters where I studied and I did not want to join them. I kept on inquiring about other congregations where I could join. One day I read the Hindi magazine, “Nishkalanka” which had an advertisement for the SCN Congregation. I got attracted to the name, Nazareth. And I decided to join this congregation. I expressed my desire to my mother first; then to my elder brother. My brother approved of my decision to become a religious but he insisted that I join the ‘Missionaries of Charity’, (M.C.) Sisters in Kolkata. He insisted that I join them because if I joined the SCNs he had to provide me with a few sets of clothing which he was unable to give at that time. I was reluctant to join the M.C. Sisters. Therefore, I decided to meet the requirements myself. I worked for two years at the St. Ann of Providence Convent in Uttar Pradesh.
When I had earned enough money, I bought everything that I needed and decided to join the SCNs. I had received a letter from Sister Marcelline Indwar, SCN and the address of Mokama so I came to Gaya to go to Mokama. In Gaya, I went up to the gate of Nazareth Academy. Since it was the month of May, I thought that the Sisters must be resting and I should not disturb them. There, a young boy noticed me and he followed me up to the railway station. He helped me to buy the ticket to Mokama. While I was waiting for the train, I saw some Sisters walking back and forth. The Gaya Sisters were informed that a candidate would be coming via Gaya. I felt that those Sisters were looking for me, so I introduced myself. They told me their names, Sisters Roselyn Karakattu, Amrita Manjoly and a few more Sisters whose names I do not remember now. I was very happy to meet them and to go with them to Nazareth Academy. The very next day I travelled to Mokama with Sister Sandhya Baxla, SCN, and we reached there by afternoon. I met Sister Marcelline for the first time. I experienced her as very gentle and kind. For nearly a month, I stayed with the novices in Mokama. I experienced the loving care of all the novices and the Sisters. I thought, living with the Sisters was like heaven and all Sisters might be going to heaven after their death. I was grateful to God for sending many people to help me on my way to reach Mokama safely in May 1984.
I travelled to Ranchi with Sister Sunita Vayalipara to join the Candidacy Program. I continued to experience God’s loving care from Sister Sunita and the other Sisters in Ranchi. I liked her loving and caring personality, she was very soft spoken and gentle, too. Sister Ann George Mukalel was our English teacher. She was firm and straightforward in her dealings and a very good teacher. As a candidate, I completed my two-year Intermediate in Arts at Nirmala College, Ranchi. In the final year of my studies, on January 3, 1986 my mother expired and I got the word of her departure only after a week. Sister Sunita Vayalipara accompanied me to my home. She stayed with me overnight and I stayed with my family for a week. I was very sad and upset and it disturbed my studies. In January 1987, Sister Ann Moyalan became our candidate director. She was firm but encouraging. Though I had many struggles as a candidate, God sustained me through it all.
After the studies, Sister Ann Moyalan took us, Mary Kadaparambil, Vimala Rani, Elizabeth Jaya Rani, Sevati Sanga, Fatima Mary and me to Mokama to join the Pre-Novitiate Program. Sister Marcelline and the novices were happy to welcome us. As novices we had to learn many things about our Congregation. We worked, learned and laughed together. We learnt much about life and our vocation. We discerned about our call within us. Sister Josita Eniakattu was our Novice Director. We were the last batch of her novices. She loved and cared for us equally. Sevati Sanga left the Congregation a week before the first vows and the five of us remaining made our First Vows on January 19, 1991 in Mokama. It was a memorable day in our lives. Except for Mary’s mother and brother, none of our parents or family members were present for our vows. Therefore Mary’s mother said to us, “I am mother to all of you.” It was a consolation for us. We were very grateful to our Candidate and Novice Directors for their guidance, support and for walking with us in our joys and sorrows.
My first mission was to teach at Gyan Deep Vidyalaya, Birsanagar in Jamshedpur. Sister Seema Monippallikalayil was the headmistress of the school. We lived at Golmuri, in one of the quarters of TISCO (Tata Iron & Steel Company) known as the ‘Bhooth Bangla’ (haunted house) because someone had committed suicide in that house earlier. It was a half-hour bicycle ride to the school. Though it was tiring, both Sister Seema and I enjoyed the ride. One day I was down with fever and a vendor came to sell foreign saris. Neither of us had ever worn a foreign saree before, so Seema happily selected two and came to show them to me. We bought a saree each. Only after the vendor left, we saw the tag on the saris, “Made in India” and we had a hearty laugh over our foolishness.
My second mission was teaching the Santhal children in the non-formal school at Shahpur, Madhepura in Saharsa District, Bihar. It is a remote village with no regular parish Mass. The priest had to come from Saharsa, the nearby small town. Saharsa is only forty-two kilometres away from us, but it would take almost two hours by road for the priest. Sisters Joyce Kalapurayil, Mary John Nadackal and Regina Ekka were the community members. We lived among the non-Christian Santhal Tribals. As a young religious, somehow I felt my spiritual needs were not met and I felt spiritually dry and empty. I became confused about the religious life. I left the congregation in 1995 with pain in my heart when Sisters Bridget Kappalumakal was Provincial and Ann George Mukalel was vice Provincial. After leaving the Congregation, I regretted my incapacity to make right decision at that time.
I took up a teaching job at St. Jude’s School (a private school) in Patna for four years. While teaching there, again I was attracted to religious life. I frequently visited the SCNs in the Provincial house, Patna. When Sister Bridget Kappalumakal came to know that I was planning to join the Ursulines, she invited me to re-join the SCNs. But I was not convinced about where I wanted to join. I had a lot of doubts and fears to re-join the SCNs especially the thought of whether I would be accepted by them. Meanwhile, I met the Provincial of the Ursuline Sisters of Gumla and she made all the arrangements for me to join them. Before leaving Patna, I went to say good-bye to the Sisters at the SCN Provincial House. Sister Teresa Kotturan was the Provincial and Sister Josita Eniakattu was Assistant Provincial. While sharing about my move to join the Ursulines with Sister Josita, she asked me why I didn’t think of going back to the SCNs, a second invitation. I took some time to think over it and I said ‘yes’ to that invitation. Once again, I felt called and affirmed by God. I experienced Sister Josita as very kind, thoughtful, always helpful and concerned about the needy. I had a three-months waiting period to finish the process to re-join the community. Sister Nalini Meachariyil, now in Botswana, wrote a small note to welcome me back to Mokama. The note was small,l but it mattered a lot to me at that time. I felt once again welcomed in the SCN family. In 1999, after re-joining the Congregation, I went through the novitiate for about one year. Sister Olive Pinto was our novice director.
And I made my First Vows again on May 12, 2001 with Aruna Kerketta, Paulina Kerketta, Mary Michael Dang, Sushma Bodra, Celine Saldanha and Anima Aind.
I was sent to Maria Niketan School in Sokho for my mission as a teacher and the hostel in-charge. The headmistress was Sister Anila Monippallikalayil. The other members of the community were Sisters Lilly Luka and Lisa Perekkatt. We had a loving community who supported and cooperated in each other’s ministries. Once a week as a community we prayed with the hostellers and I felt supported by the Sisters. In Sokho, I really enjoyed life, especially the many community picnics we had by the river side. Catching fish in the river was fun and a joy for me. After a year, I went to Patna to do B. Ed (Bachelor of Education) in St. Xavier’s B. Ed College, Patna. I stayed with Shalom Community.
After my B. Ed in 2003, I was missioned in Bakhtiarpur to teach in the parish school as well as to look after the hostel girls. Sister Premila Parackatt was the headmistress of the school and the community members were Sisters Vinita Kumplankel, Manisha Azhakathu and Kiran Kaniyamkandathil.
From Bakhtiarpur I was transferred to St. Xavier’s School, Mokama, as a teacher and to look after the hostel girls for two years. Sister Amala Valayathil was the headmistress of the school and Sister Mary Bridget Lakra was one of the teachers. Sister Mary Bridget helped me with the hostel work. After the school hours, we enjoyed going with the hostel girls to help out with the planting and harvesting of paddy whenever extra helping hands were necessary. In Mokama we had many Sisters in the local community and I enjoyed being with the Sisters and doing my ministry. Many times I could not strictly adhere to the time table of the community for prayer and meals because of my engagements in the girls’ hostel.
In 2006 I went with Sisters Lilly Beck and Miti Mariam Tamsoy for the tertainship program to Hyderabad and we made our Final Vows on May 5, 2007.
Soon after my final vows I was appointed as the administrator of Gumla house for a year. We have a Community College, Deepanjali, with many programs such as residential hospital assistant training and many other skills development training for young men and women. We also have a hostel on the campus for the college students. I taught one English class to the trainees. Whenever the hostel in-charge, Sister Leena Toppo was out, I took care of the hostel girls. I also maintained the garden, the house and cultivated the fields. I had the privilege to live in the community with Sisters Sunita Vayalipara, Mary Juliana Tuti (deceased 2018) and Leena Toppo.
From 2008 I was at St. Joseph School, Barauni as principal for six years. I enjoyed ministering in this place as principal and sharing in the life in the community. The parish gave me full freedom to do my best in the school, directing and guiding the teachers and staff and seeing to the best of the students. I was involved in many activities such as meeting the parents of the students, collecting the school fees and visiting families of the students. And when any student got sick with headache or fever, I became the school nurse. I used to give them glucose and they got well. As a principal, I always thought of myself as a teacher and a doctor or nurse. Once one of the teachers asked me why many students were getting sick but they get well soon and what I was giving them. I knew many of them pretended to be sick to get the glucose. As a principal I enjoyed working closely with the parents, teachers and teaching the students. I found the teachers very responsible, cooperative and loving.
During my six years in this community, I had the privilege of working and living with Sisters Francisca Kindo, Swarnalata L. (Bangalore Province) Mansuri Kujur and Celestine Reshma Pais and I was able to guide them and groom them to be good teachers. I had the opportunity to share my faith experiences, joys and struggles in the community with Sisters Lucia Thuluvanickel (deceased 2017), Rajni Hemrom and Sarala Anithottathil. In Barauni mission I felt fortunate to bloom professionally and to share my gifts as a person with all.
In August 2014, I was called to be one of the pioneers in East Nepal-Lauki mission along with Sister Cornelia Ekka. We stayed with the Sisters in Dharan to learn Nepali and get used to the customs and culture of the place and occasionally we visited the Uraon Tribes in Lauki. On October 13, 2014 we moved into an old brick cum log and tin-roof house which belonged to Kamath, the previous owner of the land at Phulchowk in Lauki. We visited the nearby villages making contacts, learning the language and the customs of the people. We also helped the school-going children with their studies. In the initial days we faced a lot of resistance from the people, though we too were Uraons. The people would not accept or co-operate with our work. Through our persistent interactions and our generosity in sharing with them whatever we ha, we made a breakthrough in their approach towards us. People were afraid of us that we might make them Christians. Gradually people began to accept us and they became friendly. The women of the village became freer than the men. We freely moved about the places and contacted many more people. They shared their lives, even their food with us. Sometime we did not even have to cook our food. Sister Cornelia and I both had a good time.
In May 2015 I was once again transferred, this time to Navjyoti School, in Surkhet, West Nepal as a teacher. My community members were Sisters Rosita Kavilpurayidathil, Jyoti Thattaparampil, Elizabeth Lobo and Richa Tripti Sah. Sister Elizabeth Lobo was the principal of the school. Surkhet is a very beautiful place, surrounded by hills and mountains. The people are friendly, fun loving, and nature lovers. They have flower gardens in front of their houses. Children are very active and quick in whatever they do and most of them are intelligent. They learn quickly and do their class work very fast and in no time, they become restless. I enjoyed teaching those students. I also became more active being there till 2018.
At present I am in Lupungutu, Chaibasa. Sisters Paulina Kerketta, Kitamai Catherine Sinku, and Saleth Mary are the companions in the community. I teach at St. Xavier’s High School and look after the girls’ hostel run and managed by the Jesuit priests of Jamshedpur province. It is my first opportunity to work with the Jesuits. The school is one of the prestigious schools of the area with a large number of students and teachers. It has a large playground and many modern facilities and a lot of creative activities. In the beginning, it was kind of intimidating for me. As the days passed by, I have begun to enjoy thoroughly the teaching and hostel work. The Jesuit fathers and teachers are friendly and very co-operative. Working with the young girls is an opportunity and a challenge. There is life and laughter in the hostel and in no time we complete a lot of any given work. As I enjoy watching the girls play basketball I also feel like playing with them. The girls have many opportunities to build up their self-confidence to progress in life. Working with them I also have to deal with many challenges. I find the students keen on watching the television and doing some other activities than putting their mind and heart in their studies. They are very demanding and stubborn with parents and the elders. The people of the area belong to the Ho Tribe. Many of them do not complete their education. Motivating them to study is one of my biggest challenges that I often face.
As I look back at my life and vocation story, I believe God has called me through various events and people and has always accompanied me and sustained me. Through difficulties and struggles, Jesus has drawn me closer to His Sacred Heart and filled me with many blessings. Being in the SCN family, I have experienced God’s love and mercy. I am very happy that I am an SCN and I belong to the rich heritage of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. I experience Jesus as my faithful friend and companion. I have grown in deeper faith and knowledge of God through various seminars and retreats for which I am deeply grateful to God and my SCN family.
I am happy that I could attend the workshop cum retreat for the ‘over 55’ at Chandapura in Bangalore in May 2019. I became aware of my personality growth from birth to death, a continuous process and a movement to go forward in life. There is also a common sequential growth pattern at every stage which calls for a new transition. I became aware that I have grown a lot in my thinking and behaviour. I feel that I am an integrated person, accepting and forgiving myself and others. I find a sense of contentment deep within and I experience inner security. It feels like coming back home to ones’ own self. The Bible passage that invites me to hold on to God is that, “Be still and know that I am your God.” (Ps.46:10). I have grown in inner freedom to trust in God always. During the retreat, the Bible passage which captured me was, “I will let you find me…” (Jer.29: 13-14). I experience and find Jesus in my students, people around me and in nature. When I recall my childhood, I was a very insecure and a fearful child. I looked for security in money and worldly things. And when I lost my parents I felt empty within. But Jesus made me realize that I can only find inner security in God.
My next mission is to Belize in Central America. When Sister Philomena Kottoor, Provincial informed me that I was selected to go to Belize for my next mission it was a big surprise for me. I expressed a deep sense of gratitude towards God for this great blessing. I am indebted to the Central leadership and Province leadership teams for having given me an opportunity to discern for Belize mission. I am looking forward to going there when the time permits as we are in the midst of the pandemic. It is a privilege, a special call and a challenge to be selected to serve the people in an unknown country. Mother Catherine Spalding and many SCNs have walked in the same pioneering spirit before us and I believe they will accompany me in my journey to Belize. I wait in complete trust, hope and faith to unfold God’s plan for me, for us and for our world.
I am proud of being an SCN. I feel accepted by all SCNs. The SCN family gave me the opportunity to build up my self-confidence and to know and experience God’s faithfulness and love. My hope and dream for the SCN Congregation is that we grow in awareness of God and of God’s plans in our daily lives. I would like for us to welcome many more young girls into our Congregation with no bias in our hearts. God is a wonderful God who walks with us holding our hands.
Sister Aruna Ekka (Sr.)
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