The rise of the “Luigine” sisters in India

The Holy Spirit continues to work when and where it wills.

Mother Geltrude Manca, in the course of her service as Superior General (from 1945 till  1963) had the opportunity of personally visiting Pope Pious XII. The Pope encouraged her to begin a Luigine apostolate in the Lands of Mission  and so the “Luigine Sisters” set their roots, first in Bangladesh (1956) and then in India (1971).

Between 1962-63, upon the request of Mother Geltrude, our Congregation in Italy saw the arrival of 27 young girls, sent by two intermediaries, Fathers George Malieckel and Cyriac Puthenpura from Kerala. The girls faced a long and tiring journey and after 15 days aboard a ship, reached the port of Genoa where they were received by our Italian sisters who accompanied them to Alba.

Mother Geltrude, welcomed them with joy and entrusted their formation to sisters Enrichetta Peisano and Mariaxaveria Bertola. To them went the joy and duty of leading the girls along the initial pathway of  formation. It was a rather challenging pathway, marked by different cultures, languages and mentalities. What's more, it was also the period of Vatican II with new teachings and outlooks even on the part of the Church. It was the period of transition from the “old” to the “new.”

The first profession of those girls took place in four different moments: 1965 first group, 1966 (in two separate moments, second and third group) 1968 fourth group.

Shortly later, all the young sisters had the opportunity to attend training schools according to their predispositions; this period was highly indicative in the pathway of religious life. Despite the difficulties, out of 27 young sisters, 10 were determined to continue in their religious life.

The desire to return to India and undertake Mission work in their own lands was strong in some of them, perhaps a little less so in the mind of the superiors. We cannot deny that this engendered moments of tension between superiors and “young hopes.” In 1970, the first group of sisters returned to India for a vacation period together with two Italian sisters (sr. Franca Leonardini and sr. Speranza Giraudo). They had been given the responsibility by the Generalate Council of singling out a suitable place to launch the first Luigine community in India. They visited Mumbai, Kerala and Ootty and resolved on creating the first community in Mumbai.

The Holy Spirit guided Mother Imelda Benotto and her advice to encourage the young sisters to begin the mission in India. Sister Emanuela definitively returned to India in 1971 and after a period spent with the Daughters of St. Paul in Bandra (Mumbai), on the 21st of September of the same year, she pronounced her perpetual vows.

Shortly later, the Auxiliary Bishop of Mumbai, Longinus Perreira (Rector of the Mount Mary) Basilica, assigned the sisters a place to develop the first Luigine community. Right in front of the Basilica, there was a small house, empty and abandoned, devoid of any furnishings. It resembled the “Bicocca,” the Barn of our first sisters back in faraway 1815.

Appointed as first Superior of this community was Sister Maria Luisa Scovazzi, who had already been a missionary in Bangladesh since 1956. Together with her were sr. Emanuela, sr. Lucetta, sr. Giulia, sr. Enrica (sr. Anni Elamthuruthil) and sr. Cesarina (sr. Maria Teresa). The service that was requested of the sisters was the management of a hostel to receive the impoverished women  coming from various parts of India in search of gainful employment.

The economic help arriving from the Mother House in Alba, was insufficient to maintain the community and cover the needs of the hostel and so sr. Lucetta took on a minimum wage job as nurse at the “Holy Spirit” hospital.

The early days of this community were terrorized by the onset of the war between India and Pakistan in December of 1971.
Nel 1972 un primo gruppo di ragazze lavoratrici viene accolto nel ostello e così ha inizio in India il carisma trasmessoci da don Rubino.

In 1972, sr. Angela Lano arrived from Italy and joined the sisters of the community. That same year, sr. Liliana Cogno, (General Secretary), on a visit to the sisters of Bangladesh, passed first to India for a short stay with the community.

In 1972, a first group of working girls was received at the hostel and thus began in India the charism that had been passed on to us by don Rubino.

In 1972, sr. Flaviana and sr. Ida returned from Italy and joined the “Bandra Community.” On the 13th of May, 1973, sr. Flaviana and sr. Lucetta make their perpetual profession at the Basilica of Mount Mary. That same year, sr. Flaviana received an invitation to work as social assistant in the poor neighbourhoods of Golibar.On the 19th of November 1973, Mother Imelda Benotto together with Counsellor sr. Isidora Gallo came from Italy for their first visit to the Mumbai community. They were quite startled by the enthusiasm of the sisters in the course of their various personal and communitarian encounters and  endeavoured to delineate plans for the growth of the Luigine family in India. Planning ahead, Madre Imelda encouraged the sisters to single out one among their ranks who could be in charge of formation. The name of sr. Flaviana was unanimously chosen and she received the charge from the Mother while at the same time urged on to adequately prepare herself  for the formation of those girls who in the future would hear the call of our Congregation.

In 1974, sr. Damiana and sr. Anni returned from Italy and joined the sisters of the community.

On March 12, 1974 even sr. Angela, at the Government's insistence, was forced to leave India. Sr. Flaviana was nominated Local Superior and sr. Emanuela placed in charge of the hostel.

On December 11th of 1974, with great joy - and still always in Mumbai, the second Luigine community was inaugurated, but this time in the Santa Cruz neighbourhood. The first three sisters were sr. Flaviana, sr. Lucetta and sr. Ida.

The sisters being numerous, particularly at the Bandra community, and the workload not excessive, they began to look for other opportunities to expand the mission. Father Antonio Salafia, an Italian missionary priest, from PIME, (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) who worked at the diocese of Vijayawada, contacted and informed the sisters of the needs and possibilities of initiating a missionary presence in his diocese, in the State of Andhra Pradesh. Father Antonio stressed his interest and desire to present the sisters to the Bishop of Vijayawada. Ready to face this new possibility, sr. Emanuela and sr. Damiana departed for Hyderabad on July the 4th, 1974.

Bishop Thumma received them with joy and offered them the possibility of staying at the St. Anthony Convent to learn the language (Telegu) and the local culture - it being a different State.

Before giving the last word, the Superiors in Italy ordered sister Maria Luisa Scovazzi, missionary in Bangladesh, to go to India and take stock of the place and situation of the sisters. She arrived on August 23rd and after several days spent in Mumbai, accompanied by sr. Flaviana, she travelled to Vijayawada where she met the Bishop and the sisters.

The Bishop redoubled his helpfulness, offering us two acres of land on which to begin the new mission. Sister Luisa was very pleased and favourable towards initiating a new community in Vijayawada, and in response to her report, even the General Council granted its permission. Sister Luisa returned to Bangladesh towards the end of October.

On January 1st, 1975, sr. Elisabetta and sr. Rosita returned from  Italy. On January 2nd, sr. Damiana and sr. Enrica departed for Vijayawada, preparing themselves to start the new community. The financial situation being critical, Bishop Joseph Thumma also provided financial help to the sisters towards the construction of a small structure on the land already donated by him at Gunadala, thereby allowing the community to get started. The Bishop ordered Father Joseph Pataram to supervise the construction work and to look after the needs of the sisters. Father  Joseph Pataram was the  diocesan bursar and also the director of the Brothers of St. Joseph at Gunadala.

On the 3rd of January 1975, the third Luigine community got started. Bishop Thumma came to bless the house. Great gratitude and appreciation were expressed for the sisters of the Convent of St. Anthony, in particular sr. Filomena and sr. Concetta, who had received and helped our sisters with great perception. On hand for the blessing, Sr. Emanuela and sr. Flaviana then departed with a heavy heart at the thought of leaving the two sisters on their own, so far away in an unfamiliar place.

It is important to emphasise that at the onset, the diocese was very helpful also in sustaining the livelihood of the sisters.

In October of 1975 even the last Indian sister, sr. Elisa (of the group of 10) returned to India. After a brief vacation, she remained for a while with the community of Mumbai and in July of 1976 she was assigned to the community of Vijayawada. Mother Imelda had managed to send back to India all 10 sisters before being asked to step down from her role. Trust in God, His protection and care have always guided the pathway of each.

The roots of the Luigine family have already given the first blossoms in the good earth of India. We look forward with great hope, accepting the challenges with courage and enthusiasm.

Let's take a look at the Luigine family in India: India is a country with a plurality of cultures, religions, languages and ethnic compositions. We are present in 7 States, spread across 14 dioceses and 20 communities. We are 112 sisters, out of which 9 offer their service in Italy. The human resources of our Indian Region are the 95 sisters with perpetual vows and 17 sister with temporary vows. The "young hopes" are the 8 novices, 5 postulants and 27 aspirants. The sisters who have gone to the eternal abode are: sr. Ida in 1996; srl Annie in 1999; their mortal remains rest in Gunadala Cemetery. Among the youngers sr. Sheela, in 2011, rest in peace in Ranchi. Sr. Armanda 2014, in Alleppy.

We see the charism of our Venerable Founder don Giovanni Battista Rubino thriving in our 20 communities and their activities: 2 nursery schools, 5 grade schools, 5 orphanages, 5 hostels for working women, 2 sewing centres, 1 hospital, 2 dispensaries, 2 formation centres for women. We collaborate with the dioceses and other Congregations. All the communities are involved in work and pastoral care services. Two sisters work full time in the parish offices.

And like this we try to live  “for the greater glory of God and usefulness to our neighbours.”.