THE HUMBLE BEGINNINGS OF THE SISTERS OF ST JOSEPH OF TARBES IN RAJAVALLIPURAM, TIRUNELVELI DISTRICT
Tirunelveli is a land of freedom fighters, V. O. Chidambaram Siva, and Subramania Bharathai. This area is also known for its history of Christian Missionaries who contributed much towards education and spreading Gospel values. To mention one such zealous missionary is a Jesuit priest Robert De NOBILI who came and settled in the village and contributed to Tamil Literature which is of great value. The major population of Palayamkottai Zone of Tirunelveli Corporation are Christians, having in it ancient Churches and Educational Institutions.
This land is predominantly agricultural and the perennial river Thamirabarani, is the main source for irrigation and drinking water. Due to frequent failure of monsoons, agriculture is not a viable occupation and has led people to undertake the non-agricultural activities.
To this land came a call for the Sisters of St Joseph of Tarbes, and three Sisters Sr. Nirmala the nurse, Sr John the Baptist the teacher and Sr Shantha the social worker had the privilege of being chosen to come and live among the agricultural poor of this area.
In 1978 we started our mission in an interior village in Tirunelveli District to work with the poor. In the initial period we made a study of Tirunelveli and Pallayamkottai Taluks of Tirunelveli District, in order to understand the situation.
In the beginning we wanted to help the needy and the beneficiaries were the poor, irrespective of caste and creed. The aim was to give awareness through Education, Social Apostolate and Community Health Services.
The Sisters wanted to live among the Dalits. A small house offered by the people in Melai Illandakulam. It was in the year 1978 Mother Marguerite the Provincial, installed the Sisters at Melai Illandakulam.
The Sisters faced a crisis which affected their life in the community and the mission. The people begged the superiors to permit the Sisters to start a community in another place. The Provincial Government decided to establish a community at Rajavallipuram. The Parish Priest of Pettai, Fr Arul was delighted to have the Sisters to take care of the pastoral needs of Kattampulli village, very close to Rajavallipuram. Since there were no medical facilities, the people requested the Sisters to open a Health Centre. The presence of the Sisters in the health Centre started functioning on 5th July 1981.
Mr. Nalan, a social worker got acquainted with the Sisters. With his experience in the field of Social work he was of great help and he encouraged the Sisters to work in collaboration with him. It is remarkable that the Sisters opted to live in a simple rented house.
In 1993 the Sisters purchased a land and constructed a Convent and Health Centre. Life was fulfilling for the Sisters in Rajavallipuram and the pastoral work was carried out among the Catholics in a nearby village – Kattampuli. As days went by people had confidence in the medical service of the Sisters and their approach was holistic.
The Health Centre was the first of its kind in the whole of the Diocese. Srs. Anita Eranimos, Mercy Jacob and Shantha were the Pioneers in Rajavallipuram.
Due to the improper functioning of the established schools in the area the children were finding it very difficult to cope up with the education system. Before reaching 5th std there were many drop outs. To improve the education, women’s group and youth coaching classes were organized in the villages to help the school going children. Parents were impressed by this activity and hence they started encouraging their children to continue their schooling. We are proud to say that our first tuition children who got education from us are now teachers, lawyers, holding Government posts. Tuition is being continued by the Sisters till today.
In 1984 the Sisters started a Mobile Clinic in Palamadai, Kalkurichi, Duraiyoor, Kailasapuram and Vannampacheri and took the challenge of going to the houses to conduct home deliveries.
The people of the village expressed their desire to have an English Medium School run by the Sisters. Through constant pleading with God and through His providential help the long awaited dream became a reality. On 1st June 2011 the great day dawned to praise and thank the Lord.
From 2011–2012 we had the little children coming to Nava Jeevan Health Centre for their classes. Later we built a school about a km away. From January 2012 onwards we started going to the new school. We had 75 children from Pre. K.G. – III standard. By the grace of God now we have got 333 students from KG to 5th. We continue to pray that many more children may be educated in our school.
The present Community
Srs Delphine, Anita Eranimos, Kasturi, Arockia Nirmala, Magdeline, Annamma Raju and Kala
Sisters at prayer in communion with God and one another