I J Saldanha-Shet
(THE STORY of BLESSED MARIAM BAOUARDY)
The meaningful hymn that is sung in honour of this saint-in-waiting plainly called Bl Mariam Baourady, a verse translated from Konkani reads:
"Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified - your name is beloved, Who once among us in Mangalore lived - Becoming for us a treasure"
Mangalore, Sept. 23, 2011: Several saintly connected with Mangalore are little known out side a narrow area of interest. Among few now in the race officially for sainthood in the church, who have left an indelible mark on Mangalore are, Fr.Joseph Vaz, apostle of Sri Lanka (1651-1711), Mother Teresa of Kolkota and Pope John Paul II.In recent times, on June 16, 2008, one from the local Mangalorean community has been declared ’Servant of God’ the first step towards being declared a saint by the Church. Msgr.Raymond F C Mascarenhas (1875-1960)a priest of the Diocese of Mangalore and founder of the Bethany Sisters (at Bendur) in Mangalore and the first parish priest of St.Sabastian’s Bendur 1914-21. Another to be declared ’Servant of God’ (Process opened at Bangalore on July16,1999), is Mother Mary Veronica (Sophie Leeves) 1823-1906, well known founder of two congregations: The Apostolic Carmel(AC) and the Congregation of the Carmelite Religious of Trivandrum (CCR) who are mainly dedicated to Education and Social Action. Mother Veronica of English origin,had a great interest in Canara, Kerala (Calicut was the first HQ she lived and frequented many parts of India too) and other areas of Asia. Now visibly the great progress irrespective of caste and creed, has consolidated over a century of good works. The ’Carmel’ order of religious dates back to the middle ages at Mount Carmel in the Holy Land, and so one of the very first religious orders for women.
A small number of local people would be aware of a unique and enigmatic Arab Nun from the Cloistered Carmel, who is now on the threshold to sainthood having attained the ’Blessed’ status of the church, the final of the four steps to full sainthood. She lived in Mangalore for two years 1870-72, a French citizen of Palestinian origin. She is "Sr. MARIAM BAOUARDY". In 1870 she came from France with a band of Pioneer ’Carmelites’ ( Mother Veronica earlier referred to was a pioneer among this group) and lived in the present Carmel Convent premises near the Rosario Cathedral the oldest church of the region, not far from the present central location of State Bank. It is indeed a thrilling story!
Christianity came to our Southern Coast of India soon after the death of Christ about 55 AD, much before it went to Europe. The Konkan and Kerala areas are rich in cultural and natural resources and devout people of all faiths, reputed for harmony. The historical mosaic of cultures, languages and beliefs perfectly blend with the human lives. The traditions point to a strong educational base and delicate life style. Christianity has contributed to Education and Culture here since early times. India since ancient times has been saturated with sages and saints. Kanara has a prime place in this scenario.
MYSTERY & HISTORY:
Going back to this mystic, Bl MARIAM BAOUARDY, of Palestinian origin was born on January 5,1846 in upper Galilee. It is said she was born after several years of marriage and after her parents made a pilgrimage to the birth place of Christ -BETHLEHEM. She was orphaned even before she was three and was adopted by relatives. She gladly embraced many sufferings in the orphan life and developed a special love for religion and holiness. The Carmelite nuns out of love, concern and admiration gave her work and shelter and an education. Her piousness compelled the prioress of the convent to admit her as a novice nun and she was sent to Pau in France as part of the initiation in May 1867. The following year the then Bishop of Mangalore - Marie Ephrem OCD, a Frenchmen ( he died in 1873, buried in Rosario Cathedral Mangalore), on his visit there expressed his desire to have a group of nuns come over and start work on the West Coast of India. Obtaining permission from Vatican, the head of the Carmelites drafted a pioneer group for the task. Strangely the fervent novice MARIAM BAOUARDY was the youngest chosen for this mission. Mother Veronica who later founded the Apostolic Carmel (AC) was one of this pioneer group. Destiny thus directed both of them to India.
On November 19,1870 the courageous group after a gruelling journey of near 100 days landed at Mangalore port, through Madras and Calicut (where the carmel order had it’s center). The rough voyage took the lives of four of the group which was not too unusual in those times. Commencing their mission of prayer penance and work to call down God’s blessing on this region they took up temporary shelter with the newly started "Carmelite" convent still flourishing not far from old port or ’Bundar’ in Mangalore city center. The room where the holy nun lived and prayed and the old chapel where on November 21, 1871 she took her first vows is treated as sacred and preserved even today. Mariam took the name of "Sr Mary of Jesus Crucified" and was often referred to as the ’Little Arab’ among her community.The first Local Mangalorean nun also is said to have joined the order in 1871. Comparing her life with that of St (Sr) Alphonsa of Kerala; many similarities can be drawn. In keeping with obedience, she was called upon to return to France and left Mangalore on September 23,1972. After a few years of exemplary holy life in Pau France; she was sent to her mother land where she laboured hard to establish a large convent in Bethlehem, the place of Christ’s birth. She died at the young age of 33 on August 26,1879. The important convent she founded in Bethlehem, reflects her greatness even today. Blessed Mariam’s miraculously preserved remains life like are now venerated by many at the convent in Bethlehem of which she was the architect. She was declared "Blessed" , a the final step before sainthood, on November 13,1983 at the Vatican. It is understood that in this case the strict process of sainthood may reach its logical conclusion and ’Canonozation’ materialize in the not too distant future! It may be noted that St (Sr) Alphonse from a small town of Kerala gained the honours of sainthood in just 60 years a comparatively short time frame.
Time changes traditions and perspectives. For a time now not only the devout of the Mangalore belt, but particularly the young student groups appear to have reason to seek the intercession of Bl Mariam Baouardy. Since, 1882 the Cloistered Carmel Convent and Sacred Heart Chapel at the Kankanady Circle has been a veritable land mark with Fr.Muller’s Medical Center opposite.It is said to be the oldest cloister in India. The majestic ’power house’ of prayer and meditation has become a solace to the region.
Though the number in these modern times are reduced with there being 15 nuns at present there is little fear of running out of new entrants as "GOD’s work will never cease" and is an attraction to many young who need to muster the courage in these times.The Superior is Rev.Sr.Mary Celine.
On May25,2011 Sr.Elizabeth of the Trinity (Marina Monteiro of Paldane) made her solemn Profession which was a red letter day. She joined the convent in March 2003 and her first profession was in July 2006. One of the senior nuns, Rev.Sr.Margret Mary (Lidwin) who had joined this convent in 1949, the second of three daughters of the well known A R D’Souza family of the area (now the third of them is at the Cloistered convent in Pune), passed away on July 17,2011. These nuns are always interred within the convent walls.
A shrine, with a few spartan belongings used by Bl.Mariam, was opened here on August 28,2002. People come here with devotion for a prayerful visit throughout the day. They ask for a small relic of Sr.Mariam, for the consolation of their sick relatives. Presently, Eucharist and Novena is conducted every Wednesday at 5.30 pm here, for the devotees, the numbers are seen to be growing and many youthful students from Fr.Muller’s participate.
It is a credit to Mangalore that holiness of this caliber whatever the roots or creed, inspires people for upliftment spiritually and humanly. Even in these modern times, the prayerful contemplative nuns are shut out from the world voluntarily to Glorify God and seek Supreme Blessings for mankind!
"Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified - your name is beloved, who once among us in Mangalore lived - Becoming for us a treasure"
-I J Saldanha -Shet.