Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil: A Profile

Posted by Kelly McDaniels

May 9, 2023

Memories of Moments of Life

Born on November 30, 1950, at Marygiri Hospital (IHM) in Bharanaganam, I was brought up in a traditional Catholic family in Kerala, South India. Deeply rooted in faith, my parents, Mathai Ezhaparampil and Mariam handed down that faith to their seven children – Mathew, Marykutty (Sister Jermias, FC), Annamma, Abraham, Achamma, Rosamma (Sister Sarika, SND) and Elsamma (Sister Elsa, SCN). My childhood spent with my sisters and brothers brings back joyful memories for me today. During the holidays, swimming and boat rides were our playful hobby! We had our own country boat (cannon) and everyone knew how to row the boat. We are a middle-class family engaged in farming for our living. I was educated in a prestigious religious school, Scared Heart Girls High School in Bharanaganam. Being the youngest of two brothers and four sisters, I had the privilege of learning a lot of good things from my elder ones. I was very much supported and loved by all in the family. Even before I could remember, my eldest sister, Marykutty, the second one in the family, joined the religious congregation of Franciscan Clarist, and took the name, Sister Jermias, FC. Later, when I was in standard VII, my sister just older than I, sixth one in the family joined the Congregation of Notre Dame in Patna, North India. At times, it did occur to me that they paved my path to religious life.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil with her two sisters who also entered religious life, Sister Sarika, SND, and Sister Jeremias, FC

In school, I was average in studies. I got good marks in Mathematics and Science, most probably because I liked those teachers and their approach very much. But I got a second division in the tenth class. I was good in running races, skits and dramas. I stood as a leader in pious activities like Bala Sangh, Sodality, etc. In my childhood, the Sisters (Nuns) encouraged my parents and elder sisters to send me for dancing. I went for a week to learn dance but the art of singing and dancing were not for me and I quit them. I had plenty of friends and I was very talkative. We had co-education till class IV. When I talked in the class, the teachers kept me between the boys. But it did not help anyone because I made friends with the boys, too. It was only when I stepped into standard VII that I became a quieter and took life more seriously.

My eldest brother married when I was ten months old, and all of us were fond of my sister-in-law (still alive and doing well). My mother was then relieved to be with my father helping in the field to supervise the workers and giving them food, etc. No daughters were allowed to help in the farm except to do kitchen gardening if we wished. We planted various flowers around the house and watered them but I did very little because my sisters and sister-in-law were enough to complete the house-hold works. When my first niece (Gracy) was born, I had enough to do taking care of and playing with her. It is hard to believe, but at the age of five she learned to swim!

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil during Province Assembly in Mokama

Call to Religious/Missionary Life as SCN
I had neither seen nor heard about the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCNs) before making my decision to join a religious congregation. In fact, unlike my sisters, I was not keen on the religious way of life. My interest and intention were to become a nurse and serve the sick. My father, too, thought that I would make a good nurse and I would give my parents tender loving care in their old age. But God had other plans for me. While reading the Deepika, a Malayalam daily newspaper, in early June 1968, my eyes fell on an advertisement, “Sisters of Charity of Nazareth invite you”. Somehow it kept ringing in my ears all through the days so that I almost felt like I was in a trance. I kept reading the ad for a couple of days. Finally, I decided to meet the Sisters as indicated in the paper, at ‘Marygiri Hospital’ of the Medical Mission Sisters in our Parish. Sisters Teresita Theruvankunnel and Josephine Naduvilekunnel, whom I met, charmed me. Without even informing my parents, I had the necessary medical check-up then and there. When I broke the news to my parents – by then I had only my parents at home – of my desire to join these unknown Sisters, they were almost in a shock. It was hard for them to accept it. Sister Sarika, SND, too, could not believe her ears. Other SNDs said that Elsa must have made a mistake; it might be the SNDs that she was referring to. But I knew that it was not a mistake. So, I ended up in Mokama on June 21, 1968, at 10:00 PM, with twenty-one friends accompanied by Sisters Anne Elizabeth Elampalathottyil and Ann George Mukalel.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil

Religious life: Challenges & Difficulties
English and Hindi language study, different culture and food, extreme weather conditions, etc. were very hard for me in the initial days of my candidacy. I happened to show signs of unwellness in my body. I missed my parents a lot and wanted to run to them. But an inner voice called me ‘a fool’. I sought courage from God in prayer and talked with friends about my feelings and desperation. After a year of language studies, the Sisters invited me to express my desire to go for professional studies. I gladly volunteered for nursing. It cheered me, for I knew a dream was coming true. Four years of education at the Nazareth School of Nursing in Mokama was not as easy as I had expected. Yet I had a dream to fulfill, thus I took up the hardships of evening and night duties, classes without counting the time of work, etc. which brought my weight down from fifty kilograms to thirty-eight. There were other personal problems to discourage me from continuing my education and the hope of becoming a nurse and a nun. But, God did not leave me. I became a full pledged nurse in 1974.

I joined the postulancy in 1974 in Mokama. Sister Shalini D’Souza was our director. For first year novitiate, I went to Kerwateri Ashram in Sokho in September 1975. My companions were Prema Muthukattil, Jyoti Thattaparampil, Kiran Kaniyamkandathil, Marceline Indwar, Shobita Panthaladickal, Anjali Olickal, Deepa Theckecheruvil and Sudha Puthoor. Life in the Ashram was hard work with lots of fun and joyful activities. Our novice director in the Ashram, Sister Patricia Mary Kelley created a beautiful atmosphere there for all of us. All the manual work and other activities of the Ashram life she spiritualized for us. She even provided a cup of hot black coffee for us before the morning prayer.

In June 1976, we had a one-month exposure program to the villages with the members from different men’s and women’s congregations. We conducted non-formal classes for children and youth, as well as short health programs and created social awareness among the adults. It was a pleasant experience to be with the same age group of Brothers and Sisters of different congregations. We ate together in different families and slept in the government school buildings.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil ministering to the people in Dumberdih

Our experiences that summer living at the Ashram included the summer camps in the villages of Kharagpur; saving a little girl, Rupa, who fell into a well; risky hiking in the hills of Sokho; catching fish from the flowing river and plucking gooseberries from the hill top trees, then throwing them down for it was too heavy to carry. Even when Sister Pat Kelly was curious to know, my friends and I had hidden the secret from her of swimming in the lake without a swimming suit.

With tears in our eyes and joyful memories in our hearts, we left the Ashram for Mokama in early September 1976. In order to avoid a sudden flash flood we literally walked around small hills through the muddy roads to get to the nearest railway station, Jamui, to travel to Mokama. Creative activities of Sister Shalini such as visiting the important temples in Benares, having exposure programs with the novices of other congregations, various seminars, and evaluation of all these activities which touched us were very enriching. Seminars of psychology and counseling helped me to look into myself.

Three months before my first vows, I got the news that my dear father was seriously sick. This happened to be at the same time as the golden jubilee of my parents. Sister Shalini in her kindness allowed me to visit him and be a part of the jubilee celebration. If my father was well and I decided to return on time to continue my novitiate, I was asked to travel to Chaibasa for one month community experience.

I made my first vows on September 27, 1977. Never, from then on, did I turn back in doubt. God carried me at difficult times and embraced me in good times but never left me alone at any time.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil with her novitiate companions

My first mission was at Nazareth Hospital, Mokama, for three years. During this period, my father died on December 31st 1979, at the age of 78. My mother joined him on November 30th 1985, at the age of 77.

My second mission was the Community Health Centre, Bihar Sharif, for a year. During this time, I made the final vows on December 2, 1982. I worked for four years in health and social work in Catholic Charities, Jamshedpur. I returned to Nazareth Hospital from 1986 to 1989 as a tutor in the Nursing School and the supervisor of Obstetrics.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil and Sister Lucy Puthukkatt in Mokama

I would like to narrate two of my personal crises: I find it hard to forget and forgive one of our Indian pioneers who had been very partial to me from candidacy till I left the hospital in 1989 as a Finally Professed Sister. When my father was seriously ill in 1979, that Sister refused to give me permission to go home from the community. With the support of the other Sisters, I went home only to find my father dead. I had not witnessed her being generous to the poor. Even with the appeal of the administrator of the time, she refused to give Rs.5/- (INR or Indian Rupee) as concession to a patient. I may be ignorant of how to be kind to a poor without being generous with a small amount of concession. She had diagnosed my profuse menstrual bleeding as a sign of “no vocation”. Thus, from 1968 to 2007, I continued to learn and take radical steps to forgive this person. And I let God help me in this struggle.

In one of the small communities, I experienced a lot of rejection. Even though I considered myself to be an open and moderately generous person, I was accused of the opposite. Two Sisters stood together to criticize me without even letting me know what crime I had done to them. Persons I considered friends turned against me for reasons unknown to me even today.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil pondering over the beauty of nature, Gomah, September 1982

There are lots of interesting incidents and happy memories of my younger days such as inter-religious get together. A picnic to Muzaffarpur with Sister Margaret Rodericks, and eating more than enough litchi fruits, from the Holy Cross Convent campus, etc. are unforgettable incidents.

In 1989 I was transferred to Sokho mission. I was the coordinator and in-charge of the health ministry. Once a month, I used to conduct village health clinics in different villages with the help of a government doctor from Jamui town. We had a dispensary at the Centre and had out-reach programs with the help of health animators. Most of the sick calls were for difficult home births. Some of the cases were referred to the health centre for follow-up.

The following section of Sister Elsa’s story may be disturbing for some readers. Reader discretion advised. If you would like to read this section of Sister’s story, please click the following link. If you prefer not to read this section, please continue past the link to the next paragraph.
Content warning: Graphic Content, Still Birth
Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil Story – GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING

Once in Sokho, a Yadav came to the Ashram with his malnourished child for treatment. After examining the child and giving some multivitamin tonics, I enquired whether he has a cow which provides milk. Of course, being a Yadav, having no milk at home is unheard of. I requested him to give a glass of milk to the child with some jaggery every morning for a month. He happily agreed to give the child milk with jaggery every day and walked away. After half an hour, he came back to me to clear his doubt. He asked, “Doctor Sahib, should the milk with jaggery be given to the cow or to the calf?”

There were many challenging incidents that I successfully handled with the Providence of God. My mission, ministry and life in Sokho from November 1989 to July 1995 could be the happiest days in my SCN way of life. I was then young and enthusiastic to take risks and save the lives of many poor people especially pregnant women of the area. I walked miles and miles to attend sick calls and starved for hours in the process of conducting difficult deliveries.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil in Gumla

Staying in the village huts for several days to administer vaccinations and medicines was simple and very normal. The Yadav people believed in me more than any one for my care and curative methods. They used to bring their children with scabies and I examined their infected wounds with an old sphygmomanometer, prescribed a lifebuoy soap to bathe, neem oil to apply and they improved within a short time. A patient with 50 per cent burn, poison cases, scorpion bites, etc. were treated and successfully cured. It is to be mentioned here that my Sisters in the local community and Father Joseph Mullur, the parish priest of Sokho Parish were concerned for and supportive of each other. All the above events are faith experiences in my SCN life which brought me closer to God and community.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil with Sister Suchita Kujur in Mokama

In 1995, I was transferred to Jamtara. There I was involved with jail ministry, attending to the sick hostel girls and leprosy patients. After two years, I was transferred to Gumla where I was involved in health care and social activities. Once the diocese had a functioning hospital, it was felt that our health centre was not needed. For a number of years, I continued with the vaccination program and village health out-reach program. Then the health centre was converted to a Community College. The life and ministry in Gumla taught me a lot of new things that gave me self-awareness and confidence. I received what I had least expected. There were a number of benefactors who reached out to me with financial assistance. I was proud to see the mission developed in many ways when I left the place in April 2007.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil taking her sister, Sister Sarika, SND, for a village tour in Gumla

From 2007 to 2012 in Khorimahua, I was involved in taking care of the sick hostel children, health classes for the students in the school, village health clinics, nurturing an herbal garden, and herbal medicine preparation at the Health Centre. We also gave health awareness classes for the women.

While I was in Khorimahua, I had the privilege of going to Botswana Hospice for three months. I was there for the opening of the Hospice.

My eldest brother, Mathew, died at age 82 in 2008, leaving his wife and five children who were well settled in life. Marykutty, who was the Franciscan Clarist Sister, died at the age of 59 in 2001. Annamma died in 2010 at the age of 77, leaving her husband and four children who were well settled in life. Abraham [Avarachan] died in 1997 at age 59, leaving his wife and three children who were then doing their studies, and now settled in life. Achamma [Catherine] died in 2016 when she was 74, leaving her husband and four children. By then they were settled in life. Rosamma joined the Sisters of Notre Dame in Bihar. She received the name Sarika who was just elder to me. When preparing for her Golden Jubilee with her three other companions, she had a fall, fracturing her right shoulder and left wrist. It took some time for her to recover from the accident with surgical treatment. In October 2016, while in retreat, an uncomfortable feeling caused her to be admitted to St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore where she was diagnosed with cardiac arrest. On November 5th she left for her Eternal Home at the age of 72. It was a tragedy for all, especially to me, because we were very close to each other. Her missionary spirit, mainly, was an inspiration for me to be a missionary in Bihar, where I am working as a graduate nurse and midwife now. Thus from 1979 to 2016, my parents, sisters and brothers left for their Eternal Home leaving me alone in this world.

In 2012, I was the administrator cum Coordinator of Nazareth Convent, Mokama. It was a challenging ministry to care for the sick and retired Sisters, the farm and the animals. I was privileged to take care of the last rites of four of our Sisters.

Mokama 2012 (Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil, front right)

In 2017, I was transferred to Bakhtiarpur as the administrator cum Coordinator of Community Health Centre. In October 2021, I went to Gumla again for a year. Right now, I am based in Rajgir, taking rest and treatment.

Looking back over the years, I am proud to be an SCN because I have experienced freedom to exercise healing ministry to the sick in the prime years of my life – for a long period. I received much support from my co- workers and collaborators. People, especially Sisters in authority, trusted me and encouraged my simple way of reaching out to the people.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil in Rajgir praying for sick children

I would like to see that we, the Sisters, become aware of the community needs first, and then the individual ones, value transparency, grow in our hospitality and affection. Some Sisters are too busy in the missions. It is better for us to make time for persons, especially the very young and old Sisters in community and community needs.

Life has taught me to learn by doing; be responsible for my life; listen to God saying, “Be still and know that I am God.” No one is an island; in an atmosphere of freedom one can only grow; I will receive what I give; learn the art of complete forgiveness; if I do not expect, I will not be disappointed.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil during the Province Assembly in Mokama, 2017

My hopes and dreams for the Congregation are that we grow God-centered from within; have self-sufficiency in the local communities, quality education to all possible Sisters, and build ‘We’ communities rather than ‘I’ communities.

Since we are a multinational Congregation with multicultural groups of women with different languages, remaining as Mother Catherine did in her time is a big challenge. Financial insufficiency is a concern.

My message for the young members in the community is to give what you would like to receive; do not imitate, but follow your own conscience; make God the center of your life, the rest will fall in place; work hard, use your energies to build up communities; cultivate reading habits and learn new things; learn to joke and enjoy lighter moments; show genuine concern for your seniors, friends and younger ones.

Sister Elsa Ezhaparampil planting a tree in Mokama

As a religious, I have time to devote myself fully to my ministry and prayer life and the freedom to do what is asked of me as a religious Sister. I really want to be a saint, and religious life is one of the best means to achieve that.

Elsa Ezhaparampil, SCN
February 24, 2023
Compiled by Malini Manjoly, SCN


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  1. Shantamma Job

    Dear Sister Elsa, as I was reading your life story, it was really a flash back in the memory line. May you continue to be blessed in life. I cherish the memories of my last visit of Mokama. May God bless you.💕

  2. Rita Davis, SCN

    Beautiful photos and information.
    Thanks for sharing,

  3. Eugenie Coakley scna

    Thank you for sharing your story, Sr. Elsa – challenges and high lights- the arc of your life is filled with the goodness of you and the goodness of God.

  4. Rosemarie Kirwan

    Elsa, what a delight it was to read the story of your life. Recently I was looking at some of the pictures that I have which were taken while you were here for Global Exchange. it is so good to have had an opportunity to really meet and to know to some extent those who were a part of that program.

  5. Brenda Gonzales

    Elsa what a beautiful story and that beautiful smile you always wear and the laughter you bring to so many with all your jokes, I remember so fondly on my visits to India. Thank you my friend for all your service and love for the SCN community.


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