The great mission mandate from Christ to go and make disciples of all nations. ”And Jesus said to them, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded to you.” For this Jesus enlists supporters, collaborators and workers with Him. Down the centuries Jesus called special people to go further and preach the good news. In the 16th century God the Father called Ignatius and later Mary Ward and told them, “I want you to serve us”. Inspired by Jesus and the Saints, Mary Ward wanted to embrace with great love whatever makes her like Christ in her way of life – that we learn from Jesus how He deals with people.
Mary Ward, that incomparable woman, whom England, in her darkest and most sanguinary hour, gave to the Church. (Pope Pius XII, 1951)
Mary Ward was chosen and nurtured by God to introduce into the life of the Church a new element of active apostolate for religious women, at a time when the church had not permitted women religious to have active apostolate and without the traditional monastic structures.
Mary Ward was born on 23rd January 1585 in to a Yorkshire family , which constantly faced the perils of persecution in England under Queen Elizabeth I. Mary Ward as a teenager had heard stories of martyrdom and was well aware of what going on in her country. She went through a trying period of uncertainty, prayer, fasting, penance and mental agony, in searching for what God wanted of her. God showed her clearly that she was not to be in church approved cloister.
On 2nd May 1609, an extraordinary experience convinced her that God had a particular plan for her for the good of His Church and England.
The Glory vision of 1609 became the guiding principle of MARY Ward’s spiritual life i.e the greater Glory of God .While she was engaged in active service for the good of her people in England, a few young zealous ladies joined her. Mary realized that the future of the Church in England depended upon the education of children. They started a combined day and boarding school for girls and also did other works of charity.Seeing thegood work done by Mary Ward’s Institute, the civil and church authorities of many countries in Europe invited them to open schools.
Thus Mary Ward’s vision and mission were carried on to many countries in Europe the sisters in Germany who took the daring steps of bringing the “Light of Education” multitudes in the state of Bihar in 1853.
It was the saintly Bishop, the first Vicar Apostolic of Patna, Dr.Joseph Lewis Anastasious Hartmann O.C., who prepared the ground and laid foundation of ST. Joseph Convent, Chapel and High School, Bankipore, Patna on 23rd September 1849.
From the beginning itself, Bishop Hartmann decided to improve the education of the children of the place through devoted, conscientious, religious teachers, but in his vast vicariate a large part of North India, Sikkim and Nepal, there were nether women nor men religious teachers to undertake the challenge. The need to educate girls was urgent, because as future mothers in families they would play a crucial role in the betterment of society and the nation at large. ”The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world”. Therefore Dr. Hartmann left no stone unturned till he found a Congregation of sisters who would help him in this ministry. After years of earnest appeal to different congregations of sisters in Europe , the General superior of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary founded by Mother Mary Ward in the 17th century promised to send a few sisters to Patna.
Through the Institute was still recovering from the adverse effects of secularization which had diminished the number of sisters, Mother General M. Catherine sent three sisters to India, in 1852. The volunteers for this arduous task were M.AloysiaPisani, M.SeraphinaZieglerandM.JosephaRoedelwho set out their voyage to India.
The three sisters travelled via Paris, where they met another traveler to India – Bishop Thomas Oliffe of Dacca. Reaching Calcutta on 19th December 1852, the Loretto nuns gave them a hearty reception. They were sent to Loretto Convent in Chittagong by the Bishop. The sisters remained and worked there till 12th October 1853. But soon “like clay in the hands of the potter to mould as it pleases him” (Sir 33:13) there were misunderstandings and distrust; they were not to speak in their mother tongue and were advised to discontinue connection with their home country. They surrendered themselves to the Lord.
By the , Dr. Hartmann succeeded in tracing out their whereabouts to clarify matters with Dr.Oliffe, who sent the sisters to Patna. M.Aloysia and M.Seraphia set out for the difficult journey by boat to Calcutta, while M.Josepha, who was a French, chose to remain where she was. A carriage brought them from Calcutta to Patna , where they reached on 5th November 1853, tried but happy to have reached their destination. They opened the school in 1853 with nine pupils.
In the meantime, in answer, to fresh appeals from Dr.Hartmann , four sisters accompanied by Cajetan O.C. left their homeland for India,in October 1853. On 8th December 1853, another Ocean liner dropped anchor at the harbor in Bombay, Among the passengers who disembarked were four sisters: Maria Groeppner, M.Catherine, M.AloysiaMacher and M.Antonia. Dr.Hartmann was there with open arms to welcome them,and Fr. Cajetan O.C. It was decided to send them by a bullock cart to Patna, through the journey proved to have been long and tedious.Like Magi who followed the strange star that had appeared in the sky, which led them to the manager of Jesus in Bathlehem, the little group plunged into the unknown, trusting themselves entirely to the Lord that He would lead them aright.
The Grand Trunk Road ran through the villages and fields of half civilized natives, through thick jungles, open plains and to the banks of rivers as yet unspanned by bridges; still seated in their bullock carts, to which the beasts, being annoyed, were tied. Amid all the discomforts anddangers of an unknown country these daughters of the “Fatherland” exhibited the enduring and heroic spirit of their Foundress Mary Ward and her early companions. It would be almost impossible for their sisters in Germany and other Western countries to realize the hardships and inconveniences these pioneers endured. At drawn, the bullocks were yoked to the cart, so that the cool of the morning could be utilized for the journey. About midday, a halt was made to some village – for rest houses or Dark bungalows where they rested under the shade of a mango grove, and where the native Christians and servants prepared their first meal, which they took sitting on the ground.
What a wonderful sight they must have presented to the half-dressed men, women and children who crowded round them, and who had never seen anyone like them before! At night fall when fear of wild beasts made in dangerous to proceed, a halt was again made on the outskirts of some village, so that the travelers might take some rest. Huge fires were lighted round the little camp to scare away wild beasts, but the sisters could have slept but little, they knew themselves to be near the home of the tiger, the howls of jackals and other animals filled them with dead, and besides all this, their only place of repose was in the very carts in which they had been journeying all the day.
This mode of journey lasted not just for days, but for weeks as they are reported to have reached St. Joseph Convent on 10th February 1854. What homesickness must they not have endured as they jolted along the lonely road.Often for miles without seeing a human being except the members of their own escort! No news of home, friends or country could reach them in their long journey to Bankipore.
The hardships endured by the pioneers of Bankipore were very great. But , God who challenged their faith in Him inspired them also with courage. The sisters neither could speak English nor the language of the country they had adopted. Indeed, the house was there, but it was still very poorly furnished, lacking many necessities. The luxury of fans was not even thought of . Unexpected friends came forward and Catholics and Protestants alike joined in doing their utmost for the Religious who had come to live with them. Lay teachers were employed to teach various subjects, while the sisters taught music, needle work, painting, singing, dancing and so on till they were able to speak fluent English.
Be diligent to make thyself fit for all sorts of occupations and offices, for the honour of God and the salvation of thy neighbor, but desire and seek after none. We have but one occupation, namely, to fulfill the will of God in every work.”
As St. Joseph’s Convent School was the only convent school at that time between Calcutta and Agra, and as traveling was perilous and tedious, it soon became necessary to open a boarding school. An Orphanage too was opened as soon as the sisters settleddown,i.e by 1854- 55.
In 1855 M.AloysiaPisanuansM.Seraphina returned to Germany and M.AloysiaMacher succumbed to consumption and pneumonia, at the age of 39 in December 1855, she lies buried in the old cathedral Patna.
The community having thus decreased, and the number of pupils increased, fresh appeals were made to Nymphenburg. On 19th August 1856, six new members landed at Calcutta. Mother Josephine Lorenz was sent out as Novice Mistress, and it was she who established the Novitiate i
India, having brought with her three Postulants from Germany. These three Postulants the first ones to receive the habits of the Institute in India in 1857.
In the year 1857 the little group of pioneers was tried like Iron in furnace. In spite of their not being British, they were not safe when the native army revolted openly against the British Government in different parts of India.The native troops of Barrackpur called on those of Danapur to join the general insurrection which they readily did. Mother Angela, the Superior of St.Joseph’s Convent acted promptly and wisely. The boarders were sent to their homes, but the orphans looked to the sisters for protection and consolation. On 31st July the orders came for the sisters to leave the convent the very next day. Mr. Tylor , the Commissioner of Patna, and Dr. Zuber, hurried them into the quarters prepared in the town for women and children. There stay there was short, it was thought better to convey them to Danapore, where the interior of the Catholic Church after removing the Blessed Sacrament into Sacristy, had been portioned and placed at the service of the sisters and orphans and any stray refugees,. Here the sisters lived two full months in fear and trembling bearing privations better imagine d than described . To add to their bearing two of the sisters, Mother Josephine Lorenz and Sister Matilda Koch, who had come to India just the previous year died of brain fever, on 29th and 25th August respectively. Sister Matilda who was a novice, made her Profession of Vows on her death bed. They died in the little windowless room behind the altar in the Danapur Church. On the same day of their death, the bodies were taken down the river in a boat by the chaplain and a few trustworthy servants, at the death of night and in the greatest possible secrecy, for fear of desecration by the natives and buried them in Patna City.
In the seventh week of their stay in Danapur, the Government issued an order that all women and children should be taken to Calcutta to ensure their greater safety. The order was obeyed and Bishop Oliffe received the homeless sisters and orphans at Calcutta with featherly kindness. He gave them the use of a house and of the chapel at Serampur, where they remained for six weeks. They opened a day school, and supported themselves by the sale of needle work and by the teaching of music.
When the horrors of the war and plight of the sisters reached Nymphenburg , the Superior General was greatly troubled and seriously thought of withdrawing the sisters from Patna.But Mother Angela decided to return to Patnaand the whole group left Serampur on 3rd March 1858. The schools re opened and the number of orphans had increased as many child lost their parents during the mutiny.
The poverty of the masses , the generalmisery and intense suffering during the famines of 1857, 1866, 1877 and 1897 caused the death of many. Between 1860 and 1908 nearly 20 years were famine years, which affected almost all parts of India.Millions died of starvation. This affected our sisters who continued to take up additional tasks to cop up with the services demanded by the rising number of orphans . Fr. Fulgentius writes, the sisters were, “Underfed and overworked”
Severe pain illness , sufferings and tension had so impaired the health of Bishop Hartmann that doctors insisted on his return to Europe for a much neede rest to regain health and strength. On 24th January 1860 Dr.Hartmann saw informed that the Pope had appointed him once again as the Vicar Apostolic of Patna.This was very welcome news for all specially the IBMV sisters in Patna. The sisters had yet to lear how to live in India.Quite a nuber of them died at an earlyage. 8 sisters died of pneumonia or tuberculosis, Four died of cholera and 1 died of hear stroke in in the hot month of June, July and August.
Bankipore was first foundation was considered as the Motherhouse of the Institute in India , and was selected as the house of the Novitiate. Some native young ladies, feeling a call to the religious life , asked for and obtained admission into the Institute. The reception of AngloIndian, English and Irish novices took place on February 2nd 1863. Sr. Mary Junapier was borninDelhi , and was apupil of Sr. Joseph’s Patna. She was the first Indian sister, received on 2nd February 1863 and made vows in 1865.
By 1865 traveling had become easier as the different parts of India were connected by rail. When the 8th party consisting of seven sisters landed at Calcutta , on 24th October 1865. They could travel from Calcutta to Bankipore by train.
Sis sisters with Mother Angela Hoffimann as their superior left for Allahabad on 11th January 1866. The school in Papamanu opened on 15th January 1866 with its first two pupils. On 21st November 1887 the site of the school was shifted to 32, Thornhill road.
On 24th April 1866, after receiving the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, Bishop Hartmann the brain soldier of God passed away peacefully at St.Michael’sKurji in Patna. Mary Ward : “A heroic spirit is a great advantage to virtue , therefore happy is he who has received this gift from God.” Came true in the life of this great missionary. Our sistersfelt the loss of Bishop Hartmann very much, but they knew in faith that had a special intercessor with the Lord.
In 1875 Mother Angela Hoffiman went from India to Munich to discuss matters concerning the three houses in India. Rev. Mother General Maria Paur realized that the time had come to appoint an administrator for India. On her return to India Mother Angela became the first Administrator of India. In the 1929 General Chapter , the Institute was officially divided into provinces and Rev. Mother Florian Weir was the first provincial of India.
In 1878 the convent in Naini Tal was opened mainly for the benefit of sisters who needed restfrom the tropical heat, specially when they were worked out and sick. In 1880 a terrible landslide occurred in Naini Tal in which many families were swept away, hundreds lost their lives and many sought refuge at the convent.
In 1897 St. Anthony’s Convent ,Jeolikote was opened with the request of Capuchin fathers to look after the orphans after the devastating famine. When the two sisters arrived to take charge of the girls, they took up their abode in a hut. On one occasion Jeolikote was visited by a terrific storm accompanied by violent rain, leaving them in utter darkness. They had no time to spare in their busy day, so a lamp was lit that work might be done.But to their dismay, the roof began to leak, and they were getting so wet that there was nothing else possible, but to sit close together under the protection of an open umbrella. Ministry for them was not mere work. It was living every moment for Christ. Serving God in whatever way God wished them to serve Him in hectic work or in patient suffering; in hunger or privation.
In 1930 in collaboration with the JesuitFr.Kilian S.J; Mother Merdada, Canisia, Prisca and Geralda pioneered the work of educating and uplifting the women in SantalPargans. Due to political disturbances in 1942 they had to give up their labour of love to which we went back in 1992 to begin the mission in Katibari. Even today Santals speak of Sister Geralda with love and gratitude.
Besides poverty, privation and intense heat the sisters in Bankipore had to grapple with natural calamities like the great earth quake on January 15th , 1934. The devastation that happened in two and a half minutes was beyond description. There stood the sisters praying and in a state of extreme fear, they saw clouds of dust coming from the Orphanage and half of the building and the roof were collapsed. The little ones were talking an after noon rest at that time and one of the big girls, Helen Grey was in charge . She sent them down the staircase that still stood but could not escape herself so she stood near the huge crucifix clutching it in agony. They were grateful that their lives had been spared
1940-1944 were difficult years for the German Sisters. They could not correspond with their people, barring one letter a year, of 25 words via the Vatican. It is impossible for us to fathom the anguish if the sisters reading in the news papers of the heavy bombing of places where their families lived. In all this, commitment to the Lord to whom they had surrendered their lives and love for the people of India whom they came to serve gave them peace, joy and strength.
As the need of the country was much sisters from Germany came to india in several groupsand opened school and hostels in different parts of the country. On September 8th , 1946 the last set of German sisters, Elizabeth, Clare and Modesta took their final vows. During the Second World War and under Hitler’s regime, priests and religious suffered much in Germany, and their number had dwindled considerably. Slowly the daughters of the Indian soil joined the congregation to carry on the vision of Mary Ward. Vocations from North India itself were very few. It was therefore necessary for the existence of the Institute in India , to look for vocations from south of India. With the advice of His Excellency BishopAugustine Wildermuth S.J. of Patna, Mother Provincial Aquinas, a great visionary , and Mother Frederick , guided by Rev.Fr. Gregory Thekkel of Patna Mission , travelled to Kerala where Christianity had taken root from Apostolic times. Finally, their Mission Tour bore fruit when nine brave and enthusiastic youngsters from good Catholic families listened to the call of the Lord, and leaving their family and friends, joined the sisters on their return journey. After a long journey of five days by train on 23rd June, 1950 they reached St.Joseph’s Convent Patna, where they were warmly welcomed by the sisters. A fresh page in the history of the Institute had begun.
In 1953, the mission station Shahpur was opened, St. Joseph’s Patna centenary gift to the diocese. The three pioneers were Srs .Prisca, Geralda and Alypia. In 1953, the first out door dispensary was opened in Shahpur. The IBMV slowly spread its wings to include Nepal. St.Mary’s Kathmandu was opened on 15th February 1955 in response to urgent appeals made by the government to the Jesuit fathers for a school for girls. A special chartered plane took our pioneers from Patna to Kathmandu.
In the 70’s and 80’s there was a move towards the rural areas in Bihar and U P, to bring about collaborative work in parishes. Mother Frederick played a major role in initiating this.
The vast Indian Province was re structured as Allahabad and Patna Provinces in 1991. Later , Nepal was re structured as Region in 2006, Delhi became a Province in 2007 and Bangalore became a Region in 2010.