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Indian Energizers

This dynamic congregation of women in India is tireless when it comes to helping those in need.

text and photographs by Sean Sprague

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In 1866, Blessed Kuriakose Elias Charara, a priest of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, and an Italian Discalced Carmelite, Father Leopold Boccaro, founded a congregation for women to support impoverished families, particularly women and children, who were then so prevalent in the southwest Indian state of Kerala.

Now, almost 135 years later, the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (or CMC sisters) has developed into a vast network providing health care, child care, pastoral care, education and other social services.

The Carmel Hospital in Ashoga Puram is a modern establishment specializing in infertility problems, gynecology and pediatrics. Care at Carmel, noted its Executive Director, Sister Chrisila, is superior to that offered by government hospitals. Yet, some 25 percent of those who are treated at Carmel Hospital pay nothing. Carmel applies a sliding scale depending on what the patient can afford – if the patient cannot afford treatment, he or she may receive it free of charge. Thus, the hospital is not quite self-sufficient and bank loans are necessary to keep the hospital afloat.

In all, the CMC Sisters administer 18 hospitals throughout India, totaling over 1,300 beds. There are an additional 33 general hospitals in which the sisters offer their services. The sisters also run 18 dispensaries and operate 11 mobile clinics. Some 300 sisters are fully trained nurses; at least 30 are doctors and more than 200 work as lab technicians, pharmacists and x-ray technicians.

The sisters’ dedication to education is astounding and tireless. In all, this Syro-Malabar Catholic community works in roughly 500 institutions of education throughout India, with a concentration in Kerala. The sisters provide extensive educational opportunities in lower primary grades, high schools, colleges and specialty schools, as well as in 230 nursery schools that also act as day care centers for the children of working parents.

The CMC Sisters realize the invaluable role of women and their need for recognition in Indian society. As a result, the CMC’s have organized various training programs and workshops that provide women with a chance to learn new skills.

At one such workshop several dozen women received three months’ training in the assembly of voltage stabilizers, after which they were offered full-time employment at competitive wages. Dressed in colorful saris and adorned with jewelry, these women are pros at soldering wires, coils and semiconductors in their light, airy village workshop.

The lives of the CMC Sisters are divided between their work with women and children and the spiritual life. They take their motto from the Gospel of St. John: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”

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Tags: Sisters Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Women in India Carmelite Sisters