Rev. Sr JEANNE THERESE L.S.P. -- SHE SAW CHRIST IN THE AGED POOR
Professor Manavai P.N.Diaz
When my brother Appoline and I accompanied our father to the Maternity Hospital Egmore to see our baby sister Christy, our maternal uncle Mr. Britto Miranda who was already there asked us to intone with him : "Lit-tle sister of the poor! Lit-tle sister of the poor!" ... Reminiscing about aunt Isabel (Rev.Sr. Jeanne Therese), Christy said, "She often advised me to become a Little Sister of the Poor."
In the coastal hamlet Manapad, a land blessed by the sojourn of St. Francis Xavier, lived Mr. Susai Esau Diaz, a just father and Louisa Monica, a dutiful mother who according to Dr.S.M.Diaz, "brought up their ten children in such an atmosphere of Christian charity that six of them took to religious life." When Esau Diaz expired in 1941,the Most Rev. Tiburtius Roche, the then Bishop of Tuticorin said, "The life of Mr. Esau Diaz was an ordinary life. The distinguishing characteristic of his life was that he was neither elated by wealth nor cowed down by poverty. In joy or in sorrow, in health or in sickness, in renown or in obscurity, he totally lost his will in the Will of God."
On the 7th March 1921, when Mr. Esau Diaz and Mrs. Monica had an eighth child, they christened their child, prophetically enough, 'Isabel'; for, Isabel in Hebrew means 'consecrated to God.' Isabel grew up to be a fine little girl. "Though she was small", reminisces Mr. Peter Diaz, her elder brother, 'she was helping mother in all her household work. We indulged in all the pranks of the children of that age group." In the Memorial Volume on my father, Rev. Sr. Jeanne writes: “While studying, I was in the boarding (St. Aloysius) at Tuticorin. During the holidays we were together. Brother Augustine used to play accordion smoothly. He was very clever at taking all his brothers and sisters unawares with his abrupt stops while playing his musical instruments for the musical chair. We were so united together at home, in our little Nazareth, 'under the wings of our parents'. Our evening family prayer at home was heavenly and was enriched with the melody of music of our family members."
This little sister had a gift for acting. Mr. Peter Diaz writes, " She was a witty type. She performed nice characters like Angel, Butterfly, Rabbit etc. in her convent plays. She was reputed for imitating womenfolk around her." He recalls how she used to imitate the walk of a grand old lady related to us , who used to roll like a boat. He also recalls how she mimicked the talk of her own comrades to provoke laughter.
There was yet another member in the family in whom this mimicking became infectious! My brother Appoline recounts how, a pet mynah, having been accustomed to the task of patiently listening to our aunt Ignatius' s wake-up calls for Isabel, one fine morning, when the bells of St. James church started chiming, surprised her by piping up: "Bella, elundiru; mani adikkudhu."
In the year 1939 when Miss. Hearty Miranda (Rev. Sr. Marie Berchmans), the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Zebedee Miranda confided to a few of her friends of her response to the Divine Call, Miss. Isabel Diaz told her that soon she would be following her. Sr. Jeanne writes, " Many girls had become the handmaid of God because of the early influence some dedicated nun had on them." So in 1941 she left Manapad to the Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor at Madras, as a candidate to be introduced to the routine of the sisters. It was followed by a two-year formation programme in the novitiate.
Rev. Sr. Rosline L.S.P. furnishes the statistical data with years and places where Sr. Jeanne had been spreading light and warmth to the aged poor: In 1941 as a postulant in Madras; in 1944 she made her first vow at Colombo. As a 'young professed' she served in Bangalore in 1944. In 1948 she went to France to serve the aged poor in half a dozen homes of the Little Sisters for the next thirteen years. Her training period culminated with 'final profession' in 1950 at La Tour St.Joseph. In 1961 she returned to India to serve most of the time in Bangalore.
Coonoor was one of the places where she served the aged poor. Rev. Sr. Marie Berchmans said that though Sr. Jeanne liked cold places her health didn't permit her and so she had to come to Bangalore. Mr. Peter Diaz recalls how on one occasion Sr. Jeanne was seriously ill and was in a state of coma for two days and then had a miraculous recovery.
Sr. Jeanne reflected the spirit of Venerable Mother Jeanne Jugan in serving the aged poor with generosity, open-heartedness and a sweet smile. Mr. Peter Diaz opines that she was gentle and soft by nature. Her niece Mrs. Thomas Diaz admires her for her generosity, hospitality and sweet smile. Sr. Marie Berchmans sums up: "She's such a saintly person."
With unfailing regularity Sr. Jeanne used to send Christmas and Easter Blessings. She writes in an artistically neat hand. A religious register could be discernible in her writings. In her article on 'Manapad: a fertile soil for Vocation' she writes: "A good Christian family is a church in miniature ,where the father is the preacher from the pulpit and the mother is the altar of sacrifice; for she with a spirit of sacrifice sends prayerful petitions to God asking Him to elect her children to work in His vineyard." There's a didactic tone also in her writings. While deploring the decline in vocation in Manapad in the recent past she holds the founding of a school in Manapad as the reason for parents' petting and pampering their children at home, while hostel life taught the children the spirit of sacrifice which fostered vocation. With righteous indignation she poses the query: "How many parents and teachers today in Manapad encourage their children to follow Christ?"
The Little Sisters of the Poor take the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and HOSPITALITY. It means that they promise to serve the Aged day and night, never refusing them a service. Unceasing hospitality is extended to casual visitors and the relations of the Sisters of the poor. The day starts with prayers followed by Holy Mass. Most of the time is spent by the sisters in placing themselves at the service of the poor, taking time only for prayer, formation and necessary rest.
There are four separate sections for the aged men and women -- those more active and those infirm. Four sisters attend to these sections. Five sisters look after Laundry, Linen room, Kitchen, Reception and Begging Mission. A sister by rotation accompanies the sister in charge of Begging Mission. Seeing Little Sisters of the Poor waiting at the parish church gate after the Sunday Mass is not an unfamiliar sight. Venerable Mother Jeanne Jugan refused any regular income and relied on charity. The best way to empathize with the poor, she realized was to substitute herself for the poor and suffer the humiliation of begging for their sake. She set an example to Mother Theresa who went a step ahead in specializing in lending succour to dying destitutes.
To give young girls a taste of selfless service, the Little Sisters had a team of Marian Aides who pared the nails of the Aged and helped them with their correspondence. My sister Christy once served as a Marian Aide. Now called Association Jeanne Jugan, this Association entertains women of all age groups who volunteer to help the aged in taking them out or to the hospital.
There is no dearth for entertainment to the Aged during festive seasons or Jubilee celebrations. The Aged people themselves exhibit their talents in staging skits or the Police Band volunteers to entertain them. Mrs. Assunta Diaz, a Bharatha Natyam dance exponent, recalls how on one occasion she improvised a dance recital to the accompaniment of an available cassette there, and how immensely pleased the inmates were!
The old people receive right royal treatment there. The Aged of different religions are allowed to pursue their faith. Long before occupational therapy came into vogue, Mother Superior Jeanne Jugan had induced the able-bodied old people either to help the sisters or to pursue their pet hobbies so that they would feel their usefulness to the society.
The respect the Little Sisters of the Poor show for man even in death is testified by the following condolence message Sr. Jeanne Therese sent on the demise of her brother Augustine: “A Mass was offered on 30th for the repose of our dear brother and a service was held with all our old people and sisters at the funeral time."
The Silver Jubilee of Sr. Jeanne's profession as well as the Golden Jubilee was celebrated on a grand scale. Sr. Marie Berchmans said that she saw Sr. Jeanne's name listed for Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year. But God chose Sr. Jeanne as the seventh flower of the ten in Esau Diaz family on 13th March 2004. Did not Martin, the cobbler, in Leo Tolstoy's story, " Where Love Is God Is", while waiting for Christ, help three needy people and was later made to realize that inasmuch as he had done it unto the least of His brethren he had done it unto Him? With what Joy would Our Lord have received Sr. Jeanne Therese, who for three score years had tenderly handled the hungry, thirsty, broken Christ, when He said, "I was a stranger and you took me in"
Losing fisherman father soon in life,
Jeanne did household chores, learnt nursing and prayed;
Joined 'THIRD ORDER' and loved the poor in strife;
She gave up her bed to Anne undismayed.
Jeanne with Marie, Virginie formed a cell;
Abbe Le Pailleur lent a helping hand.
On begging rounds Jeanne when her name did tell
Rich purses opened for day's needs as planned.
"Serve with smile," she said, "not with a long face;
With daily begging let us serve the old;"
She effaced self when beset with schemes base;
To face trials she gave a rule to mould:
In delight or dole, be the cause any;
IL FAUT TOUJOURS DIRE: DIEU SOIT BENI. *
*(It is always necessary to say: God be blessed)