The Bridgettines

The beginning……..
(From the early records of Sr.M.Bernadette Rose Noronha, Pioneer Founder Member-India)

Rev. Fr.Edward Beretta S.J, was a zealous and holy missionary serving at the Diocese of Calicut, Kerala. While he was handling St.Philomena’s institutions at Marikunnu( Mary’s hill) he felt the need of having a Church with Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Fr.Beretta knew that Sisters of St.Bridget, Rome who live contemplative life will be the apt choice for it. So in order to fulfill this unique mission he travelled to Mangalore and recruited 4 young and enthusiastic girls namely, Rita Norohna, Elizabeth Gonsalves, Mary Coelho and Martha Mascarenhas. Their ready YES was the beginning of a history to be lived up to this day…. With a heavy heart yet with determination and love for the Lord they bid farewell to their loved ones on 29 th August 1934 and arrived Madras (Chennai) and from there to Bombay (Mumbai).

The historic voyage with those vibrant young girls began on 6 th September 1934 from Bombay by the ship called ‘Victoria’ and landed at Genoa on 17 th September after 10 complete days of memorable and adventurous journey in water. During the journey they were privileged to have Holy Mass daily, Holy Communion, Confession and talks from Rev.Fr.Beretta.

Once in Italy, they toured from city to city meeting the friends of Rev.Fr.Beretta and also collecting funds for the new foundation in India. Wherever they went, they were met and welcomed with admiration and love. Their presence not only amused the natives but also impressed some young girls who followed them to the convent and thus forming the 12 member group who will later travel to India together.

This little group from India arrived in Rome on 3 rd October 1934 and entered Casa Di S.Brigida, Piazza Farnese, Mother House of the Order. Mother Elizabeth, who was then the Abbess General, welcomed them along with Mother Richard. The day was of happy and merriment at this House because the first group of Indians had arrived.

These aspiring souls had the privilege of having an audience with the then Pope Pius XI along with Rev.Fr.Beretta S J, St. Mother Elizabeth and Mother Richard. They also offered Indian curios of art to His Holiness, who in turn parted his blessing on Fr.Beretta, his missionary works and for the new foundation.

● 25.03.1935- These four Indian Candidates offered themselves to God and had their memorable Vestition, after completing Vestition exam and an 8 days retreat conducted by Holy Mother Elizabeth.
● 21.04.1935-Celebrated first Easter in the eternal city.
● 13.05.1935-Left for Via delle Isole, another community in Rome for the canonical year.
● 26.03.1936- First profession of 3 Indians along with Sr.Piera ( Martha left to India for good on 16.05.1935)

The experience towards this journey of First vows in Sr. Bernedict’s own words records,“ My Canonical year of Novitiate was drawing to an end. I felt more confirmed in my holy vocation. Rev. Fr.Villa called on the Indians and was pleased that the ‘trio’ was proceeding pretty well towards the goal. Our Mother Mistress and mother Benedicta prepared us for the great day. An 8 day retreat proceeded the 26 th March 1936. The previous day was solemn and stern. Penitential exercise, in the Chapter Rome. All professed nuns were present. The brides to be prostrated and Mother Benedicta gave a conference followed by bestowal of penance. Then lunch on knees, a formal reading of a prayer consisting of asking pardon and obtaining favour! Had confession before Mass, Mass and Communion we offered for a very special intention of Abbess General, Mother Elizabeth. The night rest was one of expectation of the Bridegroom!

Sr.Bridget Coelho, my companion came to me; ‘sister, shall we make the Way of the Cross?’, ‘Yes dear Sister’! The morning of 26 th seemed long; our hearts vamped for the Hour of Hours! Mother Elizabeth and Mother Richard arrived in the afternoon from Piazza Farnese. At 2.30 was the tea.

Mother Elizabeth met us and put-in more fervour in our timid hearts. Her words and her maternal blessing enriched us. At 3.30 pm sharp the imposing ceremony of the First Profession began. Rev. Fr.beretta S.J presided, preached etc… Assisting priests were my brother Fr.Albert Noronha O.P, his novice master, other Dominican fathers, Fr.Timoteo our chaplain and a Capuchin father. I felt at home with Fr.Albert. He had bought letter from my home in India”.

The historical and life changing voyage of many took place in 1937. Rev.Sr.Bernedict writes, ‘the heroic Bridgettine Mother Frances, headed the Pioneer Band for India on 10 th April 1937 on ‘ Conte-verde’ (ship). On 9 th April, our last day in Mother House. in the room of St.Richard Reynolds we received the missionary Crucifix at a grand ceremony. That night we had a long talk from Mother Elizabeth. At midnight we sand ‘ Rosa Rorans…, wished all and left. A death like sorrow prevailed! Cries were heard, but Mother Elizabeth began the Angels’ Rosary for us. We entered the train for Brindise and at brindise at 5 pm, we boarded the ship Conte Verde, our floating cloister for 10 days. 11 th April, our first Mass on board.

Mass, Communion, Divine Office sung with Rev.Chaplain of the ship, meditation, practise etc.. Good food, good bed.. all around water !!..!!. We disembarked with a hymn of thanks on the 20 th April on the Bombay docks. On 22 nd April, we left by Madras Express to Pune and next to Hubli. Here our beloved Fr.Beretta celebrated Mass. We left by train to Kadur, Fr. Leone Prosepio S J.our future Bishop met us here along with others and shouted ‘ Ecco Suore’. We proceeded to Chickmagalur and then to Moodgiri, then to Bantwal. Later we halted at A C convent, where Rev. Mother M.Aloysia and sisters gave us a warm welcome and stayed there for the night. Then on 27 th April we reached to Marikunnu; our determined goal.

So the twelve determined, full of fervour to face anything come what may; all for the glory of the ONE WHO CALLED, the replica of 12 Apostles arrived at their mission, with nothing but great trust in the Lord. The initial period was that of many struggles, pain, sorrow, uncertainties. But above all, the complete hope in the providence of God, kept their lamps burning…….

The 12 flowers who were planted in the Indian Bridgettine garden were,
● Mother M. Francis Lalli ( Italian)
● Sr. M. Clementina Manzini ( Italian)
● Sr.M.Philomena Gonsalves ( Indian)
● Sr.M.Agostina Benazzato (Italian)
● Sr.M.Albina Bonacina ( Italian)
● Sr.M.Bridget Coelho (Indian)
● Sr.M.Bernadette Noronha ( Indian)
● Sr.M.Grace Compagnoni ( Italian)
● Sr.M.Rosa Gaddi ( Italian)
● Sr.M. Piera Grilli ( Italian)
● Sr.M.Josefa Gaddi ( Italian)
● Sr.M.Serafina Arnaboldi ( Swiss)

“A Bridgettine must be a support in the mission with her prayer and life generous abandonment and sacrifice, rich in virtue. I thank Jesus, for every grace granted to you all and I do not doubt that my dear daughters understand and use each moment to draw a great many souls to Him and to become saints.” (Extracts from a letter to the sisters in India in the year 1937 by St. Mother Elizabeth)