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Northeast India,18 years of foundation

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Sister Judith Hallock, left, and Sister Joann Halvelka, center, receive the vows of Sister Molli Gertrude Costa during her initial profession in 1987. Sister Joann moved from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Shillong, Meghalaya, in Northeast India a year later.
Sister Judith Hallock, left, and Sister Joann Halvelka, center, receive the vows of Sister Molli Gertrude Costa during her initial profession in 1987. Sister Joann moved from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Shillong, Meghalaya, in Northeast India a year later.

Sisters’ mission stories connect past to present

Editor’s note: In honor of the 175th anniversary of the founding of the women of Holy Cross, some of our sisters submitted personal reflections or stories about missions around the globe. The pieces offer unique glimpses into the Congregation’s history. This is the third article in the series.

Past: Remembering with gratitude the sisters who came and gave life

In the past, visions of disciples were rooted in the contexts of peoples. All sorts of disciples with all sorts of temperaments were called to live out this gift from the Father to Jesus and the Church. Visions were actualized.

Father Basil Anthony Moreau sent the Holy Cross priests, brothers and sisters from France to India in 1852. They reached East Bengal in 1853 and Father Moreau planned for them to collaborate in ministries. In 1947, at the time of partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan, the Holy Cross sisters’ ministries were in East Pakistan.

Present: The sisters who are ministering in India

In response to the request by the Holy Cross priests in India to establish the Holy Cross sisters in India, and in accordance with the sisters’ Area of Asia five-year ministry plan, it was decided to establish a local community in Shillong, India, in 1998. The community resided at Holy Cross Villa, in the vacation house they had purchased in 1933.

Sister M. Perpetua (Meyer), CSC, opened and directed a House of Studies in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) in 1993. Sisters from Bangladesh went there for perpetual profession preparation and formal education studies. They received experiences in community and ministry. For them it was a new culture, both in Holy Cross and in the Church. At that time, Sister Perpetua worked with the Montfort Sisters, aiding unwed pregnant girls and rag pickers of the city.

In 2006, the House of Studies moved to Meghalaya. There sisters pursued graduate and post-graduate studies and participated in vocation recruitment and other ministry with the Holy Cross priests and brothers in the newly established Northeast India District.

Shillong, Meghalaya’s capital, had long been a vacation place for visiting sisters. They would stay at the Holy Cross Villa vacation house, which Sister Marie Estelle (O’Brien), CSC, had purchased in 1933 for sisters ministering in the area. Sisters, in small groups, would enjoy the cool relief of a vacation for one month, walking the hills of Shillong.

We were so comfortable there. Never did we worry about unlocked doors or windows. We were among the Khasi people of Northeast India!

The house was vacant during the winter months and was rented out to different groups, including the Holy Cross priests, the Society of Christ Jesus, who administered the nearby Nazareth Hospital, and to the Sisters of Holy Cross and Marianites of Holy Cross.

Then in 1998, the Area Council decided to respond to the invitation of the Holy Cross priests and the direction of the Area five-year plan to establish a local community in Shillong. Sister Joann Havelka, CSC, a member of the Area Council under the leadership of Sister Joseph Mary (Hoess), CSC, decided to experiment to find out if sisters could live in Shillong during the cold months. Each room in the bungalow was outfitted with a fireplace, where charcoal loaded into lead buckets could be burned. But the sisters claimed that after October, the weather in the hills was much colder than that on the plains of Bengal.

Still, Sister Joann and two Bangladeshi Holy Cross sisters, Joya Rozario, CSC, and Salome Nanwar, CSC, had the courage to go. They left Dhaka by train for Sylhet District in Bangladesh to cross the border at Tamabil for Northeast India. They had no trouble with immigration, but once they were on the other side, they heard that the Dawki Bridge, which had to be crossed to take the trip up the hills, was under repair. With the strength that they had and the help of men from the local market, they crossed the river through no-man’s land carrying nine large bags and several shoulder bags each!

I remember the time that Joann and I, two hours up the hill from the Dawki Bridge, carrying trunks and bags of supplies for Shillong, came across a landslide, not uncommon in the hills. Nothing was to stop us. We asked several men, who were working to remove the stones and dirt off the road, to carry some of the larger trunks and bags while we carried the smaller ones. We spent the night in a government bungalow so that we would be “refreshed” in the morning to manage for the next possible landslide!

In December, the first pre-aspirant arrived accompanied by her pastor, Father Harry D’Silva, CSC. She was from Mizoram. The first native Holy Cross priest, Holy Cross brother and Holy Cross sister were from families in the state of Mizoram, formerly known as the Lushai Hills.

Sister Joann served as supervisor at a school for the blind, a ministry she shared with future aspirants, and the local Society for the Welfare of Disabled. She taught the aspirants Scripture and assisted the student sisters with their lessons. The sisters visited villages where the Holy Cross priests ministered and spoke at the local hostels, often for vocation promotion. Sister Joann gave talks to seminarians and formation groups, even outside of India, any time she was invited. There was no end to the energy she possessed to do the needful and to share her gifts.

In 2000 she served as candidate directress and taught English to the men in the initial formation program at the Holy Cross priests’ home in Brookdene, Shillong. Sister M. Carmen (Davy), CSC, arrived to guide and tutor the student sisters and later became the assistant candidate directress and guided the aspirants and postulants.

Sister Joann saw opportunities to expand ministry in the area. She served on the Board of Trustees and as treasurer of the Society for the Welfare of Disabled, advised the Interdenominational Christian Women’s Forum in Shillong and started a local self-help group.

Sister M. Bruno (Beiro), CSC, arrived from Bangladesh in 2003 to relieve Sister Carmen, who was retiring to Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana. As the community grew it adopted several ministries in the village and city. In the following years, a new mission was opened in the state of Tripura, where the sisters supervised a Boys Town project operated by the Holy Cross priests, offered pastoral ministry and taught in the parish school in Bodhjungnagar.

Four sisters left Shillong to begin a new mission in the village of Jatah in 2007. There, they taught in the village school, provided health education and offered pastoral care in the parish of Mawkynrew.

On February 19, 2012, Sister Joann left India for the last time. She had served well as guide and tutor for 15 years.

Future: Going forward with hope, embracing the future to give life

See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19)

We carry on this witness of sharing God’s love and Spirit, and are seeing increased numbers and ministries. In 2014 we started a sponsored ministry at Barakathal, Tripura, and plans were drawn up for a school and pastoral ministry program. Working with the local people, we continue to answer God’s call for our mission by:

    • building communities of justice and love—by assisting right relationships among children, youth and adults of different cultures and religions, and educating children to justice;
    • eradicating material poverty—through high quality education, both formal and informal, which will help move children out of a cycle of poverty and equip them to be contributing citizens; and
    • ending discrimination—through education about injustice and corruption, and by encouraging education for life.

— Sister M. Bruno (Beiro), CSC