Sister Elsy Vettickal: A Profile

Posted by Kelly McDaniels

July 11, 2024

This year, 2024, I celebrate the golden jubilee of my first profession as a Sister of Charity of Nazareth. At this juncture, I look back with gratitude and praise for God’s faithfulness towards me during my life. God has been gracious to me all these years, and I want to share my story as a thanksgiving offering to God.

I was born into a devout Catholic family on the 27th of December, 1950. My home is situated in a semi-rural area, Mookkannoor, belonging to St. Mary’s Forane Church, Mookkannoor in the Ernakulam Diocese of Kerala. Perhaps I may be the only one in our Province who has her birthday, first profession and final profession on the same date – the 27th of December. My parents are late Mr. Gregory Vettickal and late Mariam Vettickal. My father was known as Vettickal Ashan, meaning a guru or a teacher. He was a teacher, a leader in the church, in society and in politics, and I am proud to recall that, at his funeral, the national flag adorned his body. I learned to be a sincere Catholic person through the influence of my parents.

Sister Elsy Vettickal’s parents, Gregory and Mariam

My siblings are late Joseph, late George, late Garvathis, Johnny, Cicily, Xavier, Lily and Molly. Cicily is a religious in another congregation. When I finished my high school at St. Joseph’s Girls’ High School, Karukutty, I had a desire to become a missionary, but I was not interested in joining my sister’s congregation. Some of my friends were equally interested in becoming missionaries that year. So, through my contact with Sister Ann Palatty, we had the opportunity to join the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, and I began my missionary adventure along with my friends in 1968.

Our initial formation was in Mokama, in the Patna District of Bihar. We were prepared to put up with any inconveniences since from our childhood the missionary spirit was instilled into us through catechism classes and teachers in our school. The actual scenario in Bihar was far beyond our imagination as culturally and educationally, the people were quite different from what I ever anticipated to see. Still, my keen desire to become a missionary urged me to face any challenges which came my way.

Sister Elsy Vettickal with her sisters, Sister Cicily, Molly, and Lilly

As mentioned previously, I made my first profession on the 27th of December, 1974, and received my first mission at Lupungutu, Chaibasa, in the Singhbhum Distict of Jharkhand. The population of this locality belongs mostly to the Ho tribe which was far from being developed educationally, socially and economically. So, our efforts were to empower the people in all these areas, especially the women of our surroundings. We started a craft centre to teach the women some job-oriented skills so that they could stand on their own feet economically and socially. While doing this, we had to deal with several superstitious practices like witch hunting and other similar practices. We tried to bring about some changes through literacy programmes, especially night schools, and providing awareness building sessions. For the first time in my life, I experienced what it means to live with deprivation, as we hardly had any money for our own survival. It taught me to live with little, which seems. inevitably a true sign of a missionary. I was thrilled to experience the gradually growing empowerment of the women, and through the women, the families and the society as a whole. I was in Lupungutu till 1978.

My professional preparations took place next: getting my certificates as a nurse and in home science. I had to overcome some hurdles to fulfill my desire to become a nurse. I have an arm which looks unable to manage the tough lifting and handling of patients. So, Nazareth Hospital, Mokama, did not give me admission to study there. My keen desire to be a nurse, however, compelled me to search elsewhere. Holy Family Hospital, Mandar, in Jharkhand, was willing to give me a chance. I was thrilled that my long-cherished dream could come true. Not only did I excel in my studies, I was given the award as the “Best Bedside Nurse”. I recall those days with joy and gratitude, and remain immensely appreciative of the Medical Mission Sisters of Holy Family Hospital, Mandar.

Sister Elsy Vettickal

Thus, professionally equipped, I went to Damak, in East Nepal in 1987, where I took charge of the dispensary, and was known as a doctor, since I had to take care of many local diseases which seemed incurable. Somehow, I was able to give some healing to the people. I was the coordinator of the community, too. A challenge faced by any missionary is having to learn a new language wherever she is sent. So, it was Ho in Lupungutu and Nepali in Nepal. I managed to pick up the language sufficiently to communicate effectively with the people. I loved the simple life style and quiet nature of the people of Nepal, and was happy to be there for five years.

My next experience was entirely unlike my previous missions. I went to Nazareth Academy, Gaya, Bihar, as the administrator of the school, dealing with all material management of the school. It was a learning experience and a broadening one as we were living and working with people who were totally different from the tribal communities I was used to earlier. Our clients were of the sophisticated and affluent people of Gaya. Being in a big school I got plenty of opportunities to meet the students, teachers, parents and society as a whole, although I was not directly involved in classroom teaching.

Sister Elsy Vettickal with Sister Ann Palatty and Mary, a staff member of Nazareth Academy in Gaya

In 1995, I went back to my professional field of medical work at Nazareth Hospital, Mokama, as the person in charge of the Out-Patient Department (OPD). The hospital was big at that time, and the demands were numerous, but God gave me the grace to handle all that patiently and with understanding towards the vulnerable people who would come in hordes to the hospital for solace and healing.

The cycle of my missionary journey took another turn when, after Gaya, I was sent to Karkardooma, Delhi, again to be a coordinator of the community and to help in the slums there. That was a completely new field for me. Being in the capital of the country broadens one’s horizons beyond fathoming, but to see the pathetic life situations of the slum dwellers was stunning. With compassion and determination, we were able to raise the dignity of the mostly Muslim women through literacy programmes, skill development sessions, health and hygiene classes, awareness education on the worth and dignity of women and the need to claim their rightful place in society. Most of the women who had the opportunities to be part of our centre got good jobs, and thereby were able to lift not only their own status but that of their neighbourhood and society. My heart always hears the cry of the poor and whenever opportunities came my way, I helped them in whatever way possible.

Sister Elsy Vettickal with fellow silver jubilarians and the late Sister Teresa Rose Nabholz

Life continued to give me surprises. In 2005, I went to Tarumitra, an eco-spirituality centre in Patna as the administrator of the place. Here again, the environment was unique, but God continued to walk with me through my varied experiences. I learned more about ecology, and the need to care for Mother Earth. I have a love for flowers and nature, so I enjoyed being at Tarumitra. Father Robert Athickal, SJ, was a good guide in helping me with this ministry.

I was at Tarumitra only for a year when I was called to the South, SCN Niketan, Madiwala, Bangalore, in 2006, as the administrator and coordinator. Most of the members of the community were students in different colleges, and so the experiences they shared were varied and interesting. At that time, there was a hostel for working women at SCN Niketan, so it was a double responsibility to pay attention to the Sisters and to the hostel inmates. God gave me the grace to face the challenges courageously and gracefully.

Sister Elsy Vettickal participating in General Assembly 2008 with Sister Sangeeta Ayithamattam

My next mission was at Asha Deepam, Trichy, a special school for the mentally and physically challenged children. It is a compassionate ministry, and I used to spend much time with these children. Some of them were quite grown-up adults and vulnerable. I learnt a lot from the teachers and helpers and was happy to be of support in this ministry. My health background enabled me to attend to some of their physical needs, as often these children were prone to pick up infections of many types. I was happy with the nine years I spent there as my own understanding of life changed considerably, seeing how dependent vulnerable human beings can be.

In 2018, I was called to Karkardooma, Delhi, for the second time as administrator of the place. During this tenure, I was more caught up with the internal administration of the place than with collaborating in the slum ministry, but I did spend a lot of time taking care of the pastoral needs of the parish. Being in the capital city, there is always much to attend to, and I was happy I could be of service whenever and wherever I was called.

I had said goodbye to Kerala more than half a century ago, and had not gone back to my own home state to live and work there. So, at my request, I was assigned to be in Kallanode in the Kozhikode District. The work there entailed mostly the pastoral ministry of the parish. We used to visit families, comforting and consoling the sick and homebound, and taking care of the women in the parish, etc. Being present in the Small Christian Community meetings and prayer services was inspiring. Since I was familiar with the language and culture of the people of Kerala, immersing myself into such work was easy and smooth.

God had different plans for me, however. I was hardly there for six months, when medical needs took me to Chandapura, Bangalore. Now that I have completed my treatment, I am in Kakkavayal in the Wayanad District. The terrain is mountainous and beautiful, the weather pleasant. We do some pastoral work, but I spend most of my time tending to the plants and flowers and trees as care for the earth is a primary focus of Kakkavayal.

Sister Elsy Vettickal with her brother, Johnny, her sister-in-law, Annie, and her nephew, Jimmy

In between some of the above experiences, I had short term ministries at Bakhtiarpur near Patna where I helped in the OPD, in Rajgir, also in Bihar, doing social work, in Khorimahua in Giridih District replacing Mary Juliana Tuti who had gone to the United States for her sabbatical, and in Ranchi assisting in the administration of the house matters. Although short, these ventures were further eye openers and enabled me to be ready for anything, anywhere.

As I conclude my story, the following thoughts fill my mind. Religious life today, for that matter SCN life, is a total surrender or offering of ourselves into the hands of God and finding joy and fulfillment no matter what comes our way. We need to face these challenges with courage, seeking the guidance from the Holy Spirit and overcome them, and thereby enjoy the joy of the resurrected Jesus. We need to appreciate and be grateful to God and the Congregation for helping us to be closer to Jesus.

As for myself, I want to spend my days now more in personal prayer, knowing that Jesus is the centre of my life. I want to be a committed person, doing whatever mission I am entrusted with and finding joy and contentment in doing that.

I look to the future with trust in the Providence of God, and will face my life as it comes. Jesus says, “Fear not, I am here.” These words help me to live my life courageously. Jesus also said, “My grace is sufficient for you, and I believe in you.” I have received an abundance of grace, especially when I was sick and God will continue to bless me.

Sister Elsy Vettickal

 

Interested in reading more Marie Menard Committee stories? Click here: https://nazareth.org/tag/marie-menard/

2 Comments

  1. Stella

    Elsy, you are a woman of faith and courage. May the Lord continue to bless you with His grace and peace. You have written well.
    Congratulation.

    Reply
  2. Ann Palatty

    Congratulations, Elsy. I am proud to read your profile. May your life be an inspiration for others.

    Reply

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