Birth of the “Luigine” in Bangladesh

Brief historical notes regarding the foundation of “Luigine” missions in East Pakistan (since 1971, Bangladesh)

By way of general preface:

Our congregation, born in 1815, hadn't imagined such a vast program for itself, one that would have led it to announce Christ in the distant lands of the Orient, but the Rubinian inspiration hadn't set any dimensions for the fulfilment of the program, which, by institutional charism, had affirmed from the onset, that it was to be a family of sisters who would consecrate themselves completely to the Lord, through constant self-offering, striving to bring to the world the gift of peace, while focusing particular and maternal attention on the “poorer daughters,” that is, on the disadvantaged female world in every sense and in every corner of the world. This is what the “Luigines” have always tried to do, placing at the disposal of God's project all their being, all their possibilities. And in fact, in browsing back through our two hundred year story of life and mission, we always find ourselves facing the same basic blueprint, when for example it is decided to open a new mission community, no matter in what part of the world, and namely: a chapel, a woman's work centre, for the purpose of preparing them for family and societal life, and a classroom. So it was right from the days of the “Bicocca,” the barn, that is, from the first dirt poor house where our first two sisters initiated, with so much love and sacrifice, the life of the Luigines, in the manner conceived by the Founder, the Venerable don Giovanni Battista Rubino, who founded the congregation in 1815, and guided it, lavishing care in every sense, until his death in 1853.

In arranging the brief historical notes of any Bangladeshi mission, as those of other missions in Italy, India and Brazil, the preface quoted above needs to be kept in mind, otherwise it won't be possible to understand anything about the Luigine life, or about the story of the small congregation of the Oblates of San Luigi Gonzaga, as our Founder fondly called it.

Satkhira the first mission in the history of the Luigines:

When our first sisters departed for distant lands, for the purpose of announcing Christ, they were acquainted with the destination of their mission only through an atlas. The Mother General of that period, Gertrude Manca, had been contacted by Mons. Dante Battaglierin SX. first Bishop of Khulna, who was trying to find personnel willing to place themselves at the disposal of the new Diocese that he had been called to run, near the Bay of Bengala, very close to the famous jungle where the Bengal Tiger reigned.

The group of five sisters:

Sr. Giuliana Bogliolo, Sr. Maria Antonina Giordano, Sr. Maria Luisa Scovazzi, Sr. Ludovica  Migliardi and Sr. Renata Astegiano set off on June 19th, 1956 by ship to reach Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh), the 21st of June being the feast day of St. Luigi, patron of the Luigine sisters; they were immediately accompanied to the mission of Satkhira. The mission land was accepted in its poverty and call for sacrifice with great enthusiasm. After finding minimal accommodations, they began to welcome the first orphans and to live in their new fatherland as worthy Luigines..

Relationship with the new Bishop and the several Saverian fathers:

Bishop Battaglierin immediately understood the need for some of the sisters to master the languages necessary for the mission, for in short order, also in Khulna, a school and a community were to be opened. And so he sent sr. Luisa Scorazzi and Sr. Renata Astegiano to Karachi to study English, especially in view of the mission and the planned opening of an English Middle school in the city of Khulna.

This took place in January of 1959, upon the arrival of another two sisters, sr. Ignazia Oberto nurse and nursery school teacher and sr. Mariaxaveria Bertola, grade school teacher.

Presently there are three sisters in the community. They are occupied with the care of the orphan girls, catechesis, holy infancy, teaching religion at the school, visits to the families in the villages, pastoral work.

The Khulna Fatima School mission:

As already indicated above, the Bishop expressed his intention of opening an English Middle School in Khulna, both to set foot in the city as a Catholic mission, and to deal with the reality of a city which was still inhabited by many Pakistanis who spoke the English language, as well as to offer a service to those families that desired to educate their children in schools different from the local ones.

A large old house was purchased from a Hindu family and for many months, despite the presence of the first classes, the construction of the “School Building,” juridically a “Kindergarten School,” got underway, whereupon, after a few years of juridical settlement, it took on the name of “Fatima High School.”  To this day, the school continues to provide its precious service. In the meantime, to lend a hand at the school, 1961 saw the arrival of sr. Maria Saglietti, sr. Grazia Currò and sr. Filomena Sale.

After the liberation from western Pakistan, the land of Bengal, erstwhile East Pakistan, encouraged the schools to assume as their official language, Bengali, and so Fatima High School became a school run in the Bengali language for the teaching of scholastic subjects.
In  this period there were already local sisters who were well prepared to assume this important educational responsibility. The preparation of new Bangladeshi recruits was to be uninterrupted. Today 36 sisters of local provenance are engaged in various fields of apostolate, whereas two Italian sisters are still at work in Bangladesh.

Presently there are five sisters at the Fatima School community.  Their work consists in teaching, from nursery school to high school, and also at a school under the jurisdiction of the Cathedral of St. Joseph: pastoral care, apostolate work for the young, preparation for the sacraments.

The Bethania house:

In 1971 the construction of Bethania was initiated. With courage on the part of our sisters Maria Luisa and Renata, now in heaven, and with the help of benefactors (the first was Austrian Caritas), the house was completed and became a point of reference for the various communities that would meet from time to time on account of their shared path of formation, as well as for month-long retreats and for spiritual exercises. Later on, starting in the 1980's, with the establishment of the new coordination structure, Bethania acted as centre for the entire Luigine community in Bd, for which a sister was appointed to the role of coordinator. This form lasted until the 1990's when the Region was instituted.

Presently there are seven sisters in the community. Their activities  include organizing encounters among the sisters, monthly retreats, spiritual exercises, assistance to the sisters that come for various needs, reception of the students, pastoral work, visits to the families and hospital accompaniment.

The Raghunathpur mission:

It was initiated on January the 26th, 1978. Sr. Filomena Sale and Sr. Veronica  Gonsalvez who strongly felt the call to live among the poorest of the poor, those which as earlier, are still considered untouchable, those that History needn't bother about, the dregs of society. In Bd. these multitudes are a great people, part of that culture tied to the 5 dominant castes that lord over thousands upon thousands of other castes, a people whose name is unmentioned.  This is not the place to talk about such a culture, but surely one can only faintly imagine what it meant for the two sisters and the community of Bangladeshi Luigines, to choose to live with this type of culture while making it their mission to announce Christ. Little by little the people of Raghunathpur gained self-assurance, feeling themselves sought after and animated by someone: the sisters were all for them and with them and they began to grow, as persons, as children of God and brothers of all. A medical dispensary was opened that cured not only the Rishi shunned by all, but also Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. And with work for the cure of physical health, soon there were signs of a spiritual healing. Along with medical care, came the work centre to help impoverished women stand economically on their own two feet, with the NOKSHI- KHATA laboratory. From 1978 till present day sr. Filomena has remained there, solid as a rock, together with the young Bangladeshi sisters.

Presently there are three sisters in the community. Their work consists in the simple presence of our sisters in the villages, artisanal crafts to improve the situation of the impoverished girls and women, catechesis, preparation for the sacraments, visits to the families in the villages.

The woman's Work Centre:

Activities at the centre for the promotion of women began in 1975. Construction of the centre's building was for the most part sustained by Caritas of Austria. Situated right next to Bethania House, it has a large courtyard, where hundreds of women, of all ages, religions, and social conditions pass their days weaving straw carpets and embroidering the fabrics of “Nokshi Kanta.” Before “Nokshi Kanta,” the sisters had begun, with a Scottish volunteer teaching typography, and, with sr. Veronica, tailoring. After two years, sr. Veronica began jute work and sr. Renata oversaw the work at the looms. Later on, the weaving had to be interrupted, to begin the “Nokshi Kanta” embroidery, supervised by sr. Pierangela. .

In 1982, sr. Renata with the sisters and aspirants, moved to the upper floor. In 1991, sr. Veronica was in charge of the formation of the postulants and novitiates.

The community of the Woman's Centre, as it is now structured, after the work changes indicated above, was initiated on January the 8th, 2005 with the specific purpose of guiding the impoverished women and girls, and involving them in the area's typical embroidery, with the goal of improving their standard of living and gaining dignity, making them feel responsible for the education and upbringing of their children, and in fulfilling their duties as women who love their families and country.

Presently there are three sisters in the community. Their activities consist in promoting the dignity of impoverished women and girls, sponsorship programs for the poorer children, remedial lessons for the weaker students, advice to the families for the promotion of peace, pastoral work, visits to the families and hospitals.

Muzgunni Saint Adeodata community:

In 1988 the Muzgunni community was started, with sr. Pierangela, sr. Helen, and two aspirants. They rented a small house with the permission of the Bishop of the Diocese of Khulna. The sisters began pastoral work, registered the families and the students, set up Catechism classes, and prayer groups. In 1989, sr. Helen assumed responsibility for the school and sr. Pierangela began to undertake artisanal jute work, sharing her skills with the handicapped and impoverished women. This community was called the Community of Muzgunni, but in 2009, the sisters reckoned on giving it a name of the Luigine family, and so it was decided to call it the community of Saint Adeodata.

Presently there are three sisters in the community. Their activities consist in a presence in the villages, a primary school, pastoral work, catechesis, holy infancy, visits to the families, preparation for the sacraments.

The mission of the Luigines in Dhaka:

Even though the Luigine Sisters opened their first Bangladeshi mission in 1956, their presence in Dhaka, the capital, only began 33 years later, that is, in autumn of 1989. Sr. Filomena, who was Coordinator of the missions in Bangladesh, had asked sr. Mariaxaveria to go and live in Dhaka, in the company of a young sister, to look for a suitable place for a possible future presence of our sisters in that large Diocese, and above all, to give the girls undergoing formation, the possibility of taking part in the formative work which both the Diocese and the B.C.R. (USMI) had begun in praiseworthy manner.

Our first address was in the vicinity of the house and mission run by the Missionary Sisters PIME, with whom our Sisters immediately enjoyed an excellent relationship of reciprocal and fraternal help. It was a small and essentially Muslim neighbourhood.To live without hardship, Sr. Mariaxaveria, who had been called to teach at the Theology Course held at the School of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, accepted the task and at the same time asked to take part in some missions connected to formation (courses, encounters, exchanges of various resources, etc.), as her attention was prevalently drawn to the small Luigine community that was beginning to get a firm footing in Dhaka. Eviction orders were soon forthcoming on the part of the Muslim owners and, from one day to the next, we had to look for a new apartment. With help from the Sisters of the PIME, we found one in Monipuripara, still fairly close to their centre and also close to the formation Centre of the Canadian Sisters.

We established ourselves there for several years, while, with sr. Pierangela, the new bursar for Bangladesh, we busied ourselves looking for a place for our new Novitiate Centre. Meanwhile, Monipuripara was also the reference that Sisters Irene and Teresa found in their moments of repose from the studies they were undertaking at the Hospital of Mirzapur.

With the help of father Gian Paolo Gualzetti, PIME, we found a corner which to us seemed excellent for the construction of the Novitiate Centre, right in the centre of the Muslim zone, not far from the Parish and the School that the Fathers of the PIME had already organized in that corner of the world, Mirpur. We bought the site and immediately began work on the new formation building. The Good Lord alone knows the difficulties faced to attain the possibility of receiving the Novitiates coming from Khulna in 1996 with their Teacher, sr. Veronica. And so it all began.

Presently there are three sisters in the community, one responsible for the house, one responsible for the candidates and one responsible for the national youth pastoral service. Their activities consist in: formation work on the postulants and novitiates, catechesis, visits to the families, preparation for the sacraments.


Rubino House:

Initially it was a simple structure where weaving work that could no longer be done at the Women's Centre was undertaken. The weaving work was supervised by lay personnel. When the weaving work no longer offered good results, the sisters undertook artisanal craft work. In that period, the aspirants lived at the Women's Centre of Boyra. When the number of aspirants increased there was no longer sufficient space for everyone and so the sisters saw the need for a new house only for the aspirants on that land belonging to our Congregation. In 2002 construction was begun on the house. On the 17th of May, 2003, sr. Irene with the aspirants, went to live at the Don Rubino House, named in honour of our Founder.

Presently there are two sisters, one responsible for the house and one responsible for the candidates. They occupy themselves with the work of formation, visits to the families, academic studies.

The Pino’s Centre community:

In 1995, the Luigine sisters, at the request of the PIME fathers, initiated pastoral work at the Mirpur sub-Parish with the Parish Priest Gian Paolo, taking lodgings in a small apartment. They occupied the apartment because in that same period construction of the Novitiate building, close to the self-same Parish, was still underway. In 1996, when it became possible to begin the Novitiate work, the sisters continued their pastoral efforts, catechesis, visits to the families. Even the novitiates looked after several jobs at the Parish. The sisters also started to visit Savar IPZ Dhaka, where many Tribal Christians worked in the factories and were unable to participate in the Sunday Eucharist or the various prayer meetings. In 2000, a sister took over the management of the parish school, while remaining at the Novitiate Centre. The PIME Fathers built a house denominated Pino’s Centre, a multi-purpose centre with a hostel for working girls, and the parish school. To the Luigine sisters they proposed teaching positions at the grade school, pastoral work and overseeing the hostel for working girls. In 2005, the priest of the Mirpur Parish stipulated a contract with the Luigine sisters. Three sisters began their activity and went to live at the Pino’s Centre community.

Presently there are four sisters at the community. As already mentioned, their activities consist in the management of the hostel for working girls, teaching at the grade school, pastoral work, visits to the families, preparation for the sacraments.

The Mymensing Dhakua Community

The Mymensing Community got underway on July the 2nd, 2011. Three sister were called for the new community: sr. Irene, sr. Rita and sr. Mita. This house was desired and built by Mons. Ponen Kubi, Bishop of the Mymensing diocese, in the village inhabited by groups of Tribals. The sisters began this mission among the poor, living in poverty like they. This house is in the countryside where there is no electricity. They activated a dispensary, and began teaching at the school, along with undertaking pastoral work, and catechesis.
Now the manage a small hostel where 17 impoverished girls attend the Parish school. 
Presently there are three sisters in the community who look after the medical - educational - pastoral activities.