The Salesian Charism in Indian Soil
Arrival of the FMA Pioneers, Tamil Nadu – 1922
The Golden Jubilee of our FMA Institute (1872 – 1922) was marked with the great historical event of laying the foundation in India. Mother Catherine Daghero then Superior General, carefully chose six valiant missionaries to furrow the Indian soil, to sow the potent seed of the Salesian Charism and to reap the harvest of Salvation of souls. The Bishop of Madras-Mylapore at that time, Mgr. Theotonius de Castro, who knew Don Bosco personally and who was impressed by the zealous Salesian Missionaries’ life, their friendly approach and creative activities carried out in Tamil Nadu from 1906, wished to invite the FMAs to cater to the needs of girls, just as the Salesians were doing for boys. The winning of a lottery worth Rs.24,000 by Fr. Mederlet SDB to buy a Villa for the residence of sisters at Tanjore and the ship fare offered by Madam Duflout, a generous Lady from Paris, in remembrance of her husband who died in India was a gift of the Divine Providence.
The six pioneers Sr. Teresa Balestra, Sr. Maria Angeleri, Sr. Caterina Marnetto, Sr.Luigina Appiano, Sr. Consiglia Tarricone and Sr.Teresa Merlo set sail from Turin, reached the gateway of India on 18 November 1922 and later set foot at Thanjavur-Tamil Nadu on 22 November.
With the available resources the sisters were able to achieve mighty wonders for God and the Institute. Within a year of their arrival in 1923, they were able to open a work room, dispensary, orphanage, oratory, typing center and visited many villages around Thanjavur. In the same year a second missionary expedition to Guwahati – India brought six more courageous sisters to venture into the deep forest of North-East India to serve the Indigenous tribes.
India was only a visitatoria directly under the General Council from 1922 to 1929. But in 1929 the first Indian Province – St. Thomas the Apostle with its head quarters at Madras (Chennai) comprising Broadway, Vellore, Arni, Polur, Guwahati and Jowai along with the houses in Japan, Siam (Thailand) and China was formed. Mother Tullia De Bernadinis was appointed as the first Provincial of India.
The annals of FMA India from 1937 – 1943, unfolds its pages of mighty growth and ends with the pain of second world war, evacuation to concentration camps, sacrifices and house arrest of sisters. In the year 1937 another important historical event that took place was the establishment of separate “Visitatoria” for China and Japan.
The year 1945 commenced with the blessings of peace and the war clouds began to disappear slowly from the nation. There were signs of new life and hope for the future. It was also the 75th anniversary of the birth of our Institute and the silver jubilee of the FMA mission in Indian soil. This year is marked with yet another joyful event – the bifurcation of Indian Province: Assam was delegated to Mother Maria Avio and Siam (Thailand) to Sr.Luigia Appiano. The silver years of the Indian Province was honoured with the presence of Mother Carolina Navasconi, the visiting councilor and her secretary Sr.Maria Teodorica from FMA Generalate, Rome. During the days of her visit there was joy and celebration all over the Province. The sisters raised their hearts and voices to thank the Lord, our Blessed Mother, Help of Christians and our saintly founders for their marvelous accompaniment of the sisters to attain Salesian sanctity.
In 1931 a Teacher Training Institute was started at Vellore with 26 students with the sole aim of forming good catechists to continue the mission of humanization and evangelization. The mission was extended to Shillong, Mowlai, Tezpur, Assam, Bombay, Siam and Bang Pong. Broadway and North Arcot houses had the honour of receiving a certificate of marvelous progress in Education from the authorities.
The good fame brought in another great blessing in the person of the District Collector who urged the Salesian sisters to start a college for University education in Katpadi-Vellore, Tamil Nadu. On 1 July 1954 Auxilium College, for the University education of the poor young girls was opened to mark the 25 years of FMA missionary work in North Arcot district, Tamil Nadu. This daring venture, the first of its kind in the history of the Institute was founded by a great visionary, Mother Provincial Sr. Cesira Gallina. Auxilium College became the first women’s college in the district and Sr. Helen Fernandes was its first Principal. On the first day 64 young girls joined the first year Intermediate class (Pre University Course). Mother Cesira placed all her confidence in Mary, our mother and entrusted the college under her protection.
Auxilium College initially began with just six government aided courses but today in addition to that 8 undergraduate courses and 10 postgraduate courses (self-financing) are offered with an autonomous status granted in 2007 by University Grants Commission funded by the Government of India. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) of Higher Education accredited the College with a grade of 3.41 out of 4 points which is a great honour to the Institution. Yet another professional higher education institution – Auxilium College of Education, in Regunathapuram – Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu was started in 2005.
Auxilium Arts and Science College was started in the same campus to meet the demands of higher education in 2007. A second College of Education was established to enable the university students to continue their professional qualification at Vellore, Tamil Nadu in 2012.
The challenge of educating the young in a multicultural and multireligious context in the Province is responded through Primary and Elementary Schools, High Schools, Higher Secondary Schools, Teacher Education Institutions and University Education. Today thousands of young people throng our Institutions for quality Education and the Preventive system of Education is most appealing to the poorest young people who have climbed the ladders of success not only due to merit but mostly due to the values they have imbibed in the Salesian atmosphere.
A large number of young girls from remote villages lacking facilities for education are accommodated in our boardings and hostels to uplift them in the society. We are indeed blessed by the ever growing number of youth in our institutions.
Non-formal works in the Province were mainly Tailoring and Typing Centers, Oratories and Dispensaries in the remote villages until a few years ago. At present children, youth and women at risk especially those outside the mainstream of education are given attention through network with Government and non-Government Organizations.
The Province two decades ago started to concentrate on Women Promotion to reach out to the family by empowering them through Self-help Groups. The women are now economically independent and they are also in the forefront to ward off certain social evils and in the development of their villages. In response to the signs of the times the Province implemented a new initiative for the most vulnerable and marginalized sections of society, especially children, youth and women since 1990. North Chennai is thickly populated with people below poverty line and poor rural migrants. Their children are mostly left uncared, unprotected and as a result are abused and exploited. We pay special care and attention to the street children working as rag pickers, petty hawkers, beggars, young orphans. The destitute girls who are in conflict with law and the run-away girls are referred to ‘Marialaya’ for safety and protection through ‘Childline’ services. ‘Marialaya’ is a shelter home to protect, rehabilitate, restore human dignity and empower children, young and women at risk through formal education, non – formal and supplementary education, awareness on human rights and social issues, Children Parliaments, Vocational Training Centers (VTC), and Children Movement of Climate for Justice (CMCJ). Most of them who have passed through ‘Marialaya’ have become responsible and respectable citizens due to a healthy atmosphere provided for their growth and development. This centre has also earned the support of Government and non-Government sectors. The women are imparted awareness on HIV/AIDS, basic and legal rights and also various types of job skill training to empower them. There are four more such centers carrying out the same mission in Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode and Madurai.
In the year 2008 with missionary spirit and audacity the Chennai Province launched the pioneering mission in the war-stricken neighbouring country Sri Lanka, during the tenure of Mother General Antonio Colombo. The communities at Negombo, Nochchiyagama and Jaffna are involved in parish ministry, rehabilitation of Tsunami affected families, conduct of pre-schools and promotion of Vocations.
The Government of Sri Lanka entrusted to us 173 young girls and child victims of war in 2010. About 80 of them are now happily settled in life through the selfless service of the sisters and the others are in the process of being rehabilitated in Vavniya, Sri Lanka.
The ‘Mother Province of Chennai’ as fondly called by FMA India, gave birth to other three Indian Provinces: The Immaculate Heart of Mary, Shillong (INS) 1953, St. Mary Mazzarello, Mumbai (INB) 1982 and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Bangalore (INK) 1993.
Bifurcation of the Six Indian Provinces
Today the INM – Chennai Province stands tall in the educative mission carried on by 315 sisters and 10 novices among the poor and marginalized in 40 Communities – 37 in Tamil Nadu, India and 3 Communities and one presence in Sri Lanka. The strength of the Province is the sisters and the thousands of young people.
A quick glance at the 90 years glorious history of INM – Chennai Province fills us with awe and praise for the marvelous works of God in our mission land and sing with our Blessed Mother, the Queen of India “My soul glorifies the Lord”.