Sister Usha Saldanha: A Profile

Posted by Kelly McDaniels

February 20, 2024

My heart is filled with so many happy memories as I begin to write a brief story of my life. My life overflows with gratitude to God, who created me, my family who nurtured me and my SCN congregation who equipped me to be what I am today.

I am the first born in my family of ten children. I was born on 29th October 1965, to Mr. Simon Maurice Saldanha and Mrs. Christine Monteiro in Borimar under Bantwal Taluk, in the District of Mangalore in the State of Karnataka. Being

born in an agricultural family and living in a large joint family of forty-two members along with aunts, uncles and cousins was so much fun. All the elders of the family worked in the fields; and children went to church every day without exception, and so I was brought up in a faith-filled atmosphere. One of the aunts who was a disciplinarian oversaw the children. She had a set timetable for us from morning till night, and no one could escape anywhere without her knowledge.

We had everything in abundance. My father was responsible for farming and so he went out early in the morning; and we had glimpses of him only during the family prayers in the evenings. He was very hardworking, a disciplinarian, punctual and honest to the core. He had passion for the care of mother earth, and everyone said that he had a “Green Thumb.” Women in the family were busy with both household chores and work in the fields along with the men. My mother, being the youngest, and uneducated, had to do all the work from morning till evening with other female workers. Aunts were responsible for cooking and caring for the children in the family.

During the summer holidays my social life was centered on the family and church activities for children and youth. Daily Mass was compulsory for all the children. Prayer in the morning, before meals, after meals and family prayers in the evening were compulsory for all. Hence, I learnt all the prayers in the family itself and won many laurels which drew me closer to God. My father had great trust in God. All the time he would say, “God will provide.” In 1974, due to some family disputes, we got separated from the joint family. From abundance we were pushed into poverty. My mother was then expecting her sixth child, and my father was praying for a boy. God blessed us with my first brother. My father was so happy that he distributed coconut and jaggery (a product out of sugarcane) in the neighbourhood.

Sisters Usha Saldanha and Jackulin Jesu

My initial schooling till class VII was in a government aided school run by the parish. I was very good at sports and participated in them. Returning from the school, I had to do all the household works as my parents were in the fields working till late evening. They taught us to take responsibility at an early age. Household work was divided among all the children. Father fixed the time table and we had to follow it. During the holidays all of us used to go along with our parents to work in the fields and had to help with planting, harvesting, tending the cows and preparing manure. Life was very hard. Sometimes we had to go to pluck the pods of the pulses before dawn. Of course, we were rewarded with new clothes before school began. My father managed to educate all of us despite many hurdles. He was a village leader, very strict, an active member of the parish council, good at sports, and sometimes the entire family would win so many prizes at the parish level competitions.

I was studying in the convent school by then with the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo who were very kind to me. Life was difficult at this time as my father was beaten up by an unknown person while attending a dispute in the village. He was hospitalized and went into coma for twenty-one days. At the same time, my mother was full term expecting her eighth child, and I was down with typhoid. It was a traumatic experience as there was no one to take care of my siblings nor of the farmland. I had to discontinue my classes for so many days and was unable to do well in my studies. This was a real blow to me as I wanted to join a convent. One of my aunts and my school teacher encouraged me to continue my studies, and I did well in the following year. During the class X examination, I was unable to study at home due to work and unfavorable family atmosphere. The Sisters allowed me to stay at their convent to prepare for my exams and to complete them without any problems.

My Vocation
I met so many religious Sisters who visited my parish and I had my own aunt and cousin in the SCN Congregation. Sister Olive Pinto visited us every year for vocation promotion. When I expressed my desire to my aunt, she was happy and she kept writing to me every month. I had not informed my father of my desire to enter religious life. He asked me to go for daily wages and earn money, but I refused to do so. One fine day, I mustered up the courage and asked his permission to join the convent but was refused. My aunt too, talked to him on my behalf. I cared for my mother who had delivered the last child. I did all the work at home so that I could please my father. On 18th May, I once again approached him to sign my forms to go to Bihar along with my cousins. With a heavy heart he signed them, and I was very happy.

The day arrived for me to leave home. My father handed over Rs. 1000/- to my aunt and asked her to buy whatever I needed. It was difficult for me to bid goodbye to my parents and siblings. In fact, my third sister asked me to wash all the utensils before leaving home because the next day onwards, she had to do all my work. I saw tears in the eyes of my father for the first time. This is what he told me, “You are leaving and now one by one, all will follow you”. I do not know what made him say that, but that was true in my life. Five of my sisters followed me to the SCN and other congregations.

I travelled with Sister Marietta Saldanha to Bangalore and stayed with my aunt in Sudeep training institute in Bangalore. While helping out in the institute, I met Sister Bridget Kappalumakal. She was very kind and caring and helped me in getting ready to come to Bihar. I left Bangalore on the 19th of June and reached Patna on the 20th of June along with Sister Hilda Lobo, Jessy (Rupa) Gonsalves, Gladys, and Jessie. We arrived in Mokama accompanied by Sister Roselyn Karakattu who had come to Calcutta to fetch us. We travelled by Toofan express and reached Mokama in the evening and were welcomed by so many SCNs. It was altogether a different world for us. Since I had two of my cousins in my group, I was not home sick. Of course, initial days were difficult, learning languages, new culture, and food cooked with mustard oil. Slowly and gradually, I adjusted to everything and adapted to the new life and situations.

Sister Olive Pinto was our candidate mistress and she would not allow us to speak a word in our mother tongue. She insisted that we speak in English. Many times we were punished for speaking in Konkani. Sometimes she even told me to pack my things and go home. This made us to learn languages fluently. We enjoyed being with our companions who were from different states and languages. At the completion of the candidacy, I was asked to go to Vasai for my plus two studies. I took up science and completed it and then joined the pre-novitiate program. In the pre-novitiate I had a very bad cough and tonsillitis. Doctor Shetty advised me to undergo surgery and a tonsillectomy was done. I recovered well and improved my voice which helped me to sing better. That was a blessing in disguise.

A Test in My Vocation
During the canonical year, I received news from home that my father was critical and was hospitalized. I was given permission to visit home by the then-provincial Sister Shalini D’Souza saying that I must return to the novitiate within fourteen days, and, if not, I would have to repeat the canonical year. I really had to decide at this point whether to go home and care for my dying father or stay back and continue. It was a real test of my vocation. I prayed hard to Mother Mary and decided to go home to see my father, and that I would return within fourteen days or else I would repeat the canonical year with the next batch. After seeing the condition of my father, I told my mother that I would stay and take care of him. But this is what she said to me, “You have put your foot forward, and do not turn back, book your ticket and go back, God will take care of us.” It was sufficient for me. I felt that it was God’s intervention. That day was 7th September 1987, and the next day was the birthday of Mother Mary. We brought father home and ate the meal together. That same evening, I left for Mokama alone and returned on the fourteenth day since my departure. My novitiate days were very challenging and grace filled ones. As novices, we were trained in all aspects of life and learnt to take a lot of responsibilities. We were well prepared for the mission. I received a strong spiritual foundation to live a vowed way of life as an SCN. I owe much to my directors, Sisters Marcelline Indwar and Josita Eniakattu.

Sisters Usha Saldanha, Gracy Mlakuzhiyil, Jackulin Jesu, and Basanti Lakra

First Vows
I pronounced my first vows on the 8th of May 1988, in Mokama along with eleven others with Indian liturgy at the parish church. My first mission was at Mokama parish, as a pastoral Sister. During my time at the parish, I gained a lot of confidence and was able to manage the pastoral work very well. The then parish priest, Father Augustine Mundoly, supported me and taught me many things.

Tragic Death of My Sister
On 7th October, a tragedy once again struck my family. I lost my younger sister who was studying in Class X. She had fallen in the well while drawing water and died on the spot. I received the news after a few days. I was to go home in the same month on the 24th for the celebration of my first vows, but God had his own plans. It was difficult for me to accept it and took a long time to come out of this shock. By then, my second sister had already joined Holy Cross Congregation and my fourth sister had joined Sisters of Charity which I was ignorant of.

Study Bachelor of Science in Nursing:
After my mission in Mokama I was asked to go to Kafligair in Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) to be a pioneer along with Sister Mary Chakalakal. I stayed there for six months teaching the little children in the school. Later I was asked to prepare for medical studies. I had to repeat pre-university classes in Jyoti Nivas College, Bangalore for better results, but my heart was not willing for medical studies. I wanted to be a social worker, but this option was denied to me. Since I did not get through medical studies, I was asked to take up Basic Bachelor of Science Nursing in St. Johns College of Nursing in Bangalore. I stayed at Madiwala community and completed my studies successfully in 1997 and joined for the yearlong internship programme.

Final Vows Followed by Another Tragedy
I made my final commitment in the month of November 1996, at my home parish along with Sister Jessie Margaret Saldanha into the hands of provincial delegate Sister Mary Joseph Pamplaniel . By then, my seventh sister, Teresa, who was a second year SCN novice was sent home due to depression. She committed suicide on the 30th of October 1999. This death left a deep wound in my heart. It took me several months to get over this tragic death of my sister as I was blamed for her death by my family members. Time has healed me.

Appointed to Nazareth Hospital
I completed my service of two years at St. John’s and was missioned to Mokama, Nazareth Hospital. I was unhappy to come back to Mokama as the memories of my sister haunted me. I surrendered everything to God, said yes to God’s will and plunged into the ministry. I used all my skills and knowledge to contribute to this mission whole heartedly and this gave me a lot of satisfaction. I worked as the supervisor in two wards and Outpatient Department (OPD) and taught at the school of nursing as well. I remained there from 1st April 2000 to 31st May 2008. This was the best time of my life where I was very close to suffering humanity, and it helped to change my own attitude and become a loving and caring person.

Sister Usha Saldanha

Setting up HIV/AIDS Department
During this period, Community Care Centre was opened, and I was the first one to volunteer to work there among the people suffering with HIV/AIDS. This experience transformed me from within. All my fear and stigma vanished, and I put my 100% into this ministry of the neglected and the abandoned. During this time, I got an opportunity to work with the World Food Programme project of the World Health Organization (WHO), where I learnt a lot of technical skills and was able to take leadership in various aspects.

Masters in Nursing/ Loss of my Father
In 2008 I was asked to go for my Masters in Nursing. I took up Medical Surgical Nursing and specialized in Cardio Thoracic branch and completed it in May 2010. During the second year of my studies, on 3rd August, I lost my father after a short illness. I experienced deep sorrow and loss, but God did not let me down.

Administrator at Nazareth Hospital
I was appointed to Nazareth Hospital as the administrator, along with team members Sister Latika Kottuppallil and Sister Shanti Mary James. It was not my choice but I was forced into it. It was a very challenging job, to work in a setting where everything seemed out of control, the labour union’s demands were on the rise and the hospital was almost on a ventilator. During the assembly of that year a decision was made to gradually close the hospital. I tried my best to manage with the existing employees. No one was giving the right solution to the existing problems. On 2nd July 2012, we closed the hospital and retrenched the employees. For almost two years, retrenched employees sat in front of the gate. It was a traumatic experience. I was blamed by the authorities as well as my colleagues. I lived in guilt for a long time. I requested a small community living and away from institution and went away to Mahuadanr. I enjoyed being there in a small community and grabbed every opportunity to contribute my best, then proceeded for the silver jubilee preparation. This was the time of renewal and rejuvenation for me.

Sister Usha Saldanha with a patient

Ministry at Holy Family Hospital, Khurji, Patna (KHFH)
In the year 2014 January, I was appointed to the College of Nursing at Kurji Holy Family Hospital as a staff nurse. Later, after three months, I was upgraded as a tutor. Being with young and energetic students, I was happy and used innovative ideas in teaching, guiding and mentoring them in all aspects of life. At the completion of two years of teaching, I was asked to take over as the acting principal of the College of Nursing on 1st March 2016. It was tough in the beginning to work with a few faculty members, with the university and making decisions regarding syllabus, planning, and upgrading everything. Eventually I learned to cope with difficulties and was able to build up good relationships with the public and the parents. I was teaching fulltime in the college and taking care of the administration too. I was able to handle many crises situations; participated in workshops, seminars and conferences which widened my learning. Being part of the inspection team and a member of the committees at the university gave me opportunities to learn and execute my learning in the field of Nursing. I gained a lot of leadership skills, was able to be a better mentor of teachers and students. This experience did boost my self-confidence and expand my outlook towards religious commitment and partnering mission of KHFH. It also enabled me to guide and instill values in the youth and to serve the needy with compassion and devotion. I feel proud to see my students growing and taking up responsibilities in various fields of nursing. They are widespread in India and around the world. I feel fulfilled by the role I play in moulding and guiding the young nurses. I spent sleepless nights and days in preparing classes, corrections, drafting letters, inspections of all sorts. It is indeed worth the trouble. The existing policies and political situation do not allow one to do what one wants, and, often, I have to swim against the current.

Currently, I am the vice president of Bihar Trained Nurses Association of India. I also work very closely with the university in planning. This opportunity has connected me to various institutions, and I am learning a lot. I am chosen as the “Leader For Change” from Bihar State by the Indian Nursing Council. This is a good chance for me to connect myself with the top-level nursing leaders of India and abroad in bridging the gap between nursing education and nursing service throughout India.

I enjoy every bit of my work in mission, ministry, and community. As I look back at the thirty-five years of vowed life and forty years in Bihar and fifty-eight years of my life, I feel privileged and can confidently say that I have lived my life with joy, enthusiasm, commitment, and love for mission.

Sister Usha Saldanha

Demise of My Mother
On the 3rd of March 2023, my mother had a stroke, was paralyzed and lost her speech. Being a nurse, it was a rare opportunity for me to be at her bedside to do everything for her and in turn to be blessed by her. I returned to Patna on the 17th at night to get ready to go to the States for the General Assembly and on the evening of the 18th, she breathed her last. I was devastated by this news. I rushed back home to participate in her final journey. We three religious daughters locked the empty house and said goodbye.

I do feel orphaned without parents, but I know God’s care for us is much more than we can ever think of. I thank the almighty God for journeying with me in the past years, trust and believe that He will continue to sustain me till the end of my life. I am grateful to my biological family and SCN family for the opportunities given to me to grow and equip myself in all aspects of my life. As each day unfolds, I continue to give myself to God and His people. “What thanks can I render thee for all that thou have done for me????”

Sister Usha, SCN

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  1. Connie

    Thank you for sharing your memoir
    It was inspiring that you persevered with God’s help.

  2. Ann Palatty

    Your simplicity and honesty in narrating your story is quite inspiring. You have faced many struggles but you faced them with and courage. Thank you for opening yourself to us without any holding back.

  3. Janice Downs

    Usha, you have had much sorrow and tragedy in your young life. My heart ached with you as I read in your account all that you endured. Thank you for your courage, your faith and deep love for God, Mother Mary and your family. Thank you for the many times you said “yes” in faith to what was asked of you. You are held in the palm of God’s hands. Sister Janice Downs

  4. Christine Beckett

    Usha, thank you so much for sharing your journey of life. I was so moved how you were and are connected to family, community and mission. Blessings as you continue to walk with our God in mission to and with all God’s creation!

  5. Christine Beckett

    Dear Usha, thank you so much for sharing your life’s journey with family, community and the many with whom you walked in mission and service all these years. Many blessings as you continue your journey in mission and community.

  6. Shirley Patterson, SCNA

    Such a lovely account. Thank you for sharing all this. A few names are known to me and I recall the letters from Mokama and Patna that were table reading when I was in the novitiate. Sr. Roderick, our organic chemistry teacher, asked me to tutor Sr. Bridget K and I did so. Bless you and your work, Sister! Peace!


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