Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians (MSMHC)
Newsletter of the Congregation:
MISSIONARY SISTERS OF MARY HELP OF CHRISTIANS (MSMHC)
Pontifical Right Institute of Women Religious
1. Founder and Origin
The Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians (MSMHC) was founded in Guwahati, Northeast India, on October 24, 1942, by Venerable Bishop Stephen Ferrando, SDB, who placed it under the patronage of Mary Help of Christians. It is a Congregation of consecrated women dedicated to the service of the poor, especially the less privileged and the marginalized of the society - namely, women, girls, and children. It was founded in response to a special historical situation in Northeast India. World War II was raging in all its fury of tears, toils, blood, and deaths in Assam. More than one hundred missionaries had been taken to internment camps hundreds of miles away. Foreign Sisters remained under house arrest in their convents. The people of the villages, especially the most vulnerable groups - women, girls, and children - became destitute, suffering from misery, ignorance, and poverty.
It was against this historical backdrop that Bishop Ferrando contemplated the founding of an indigenous Congregation of women. Thus, after a long period of discernment, he decided to found the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians. On July 20, 1942, he received permission to do so from the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of Faith.
2. History from the Foundation to the Present
Eight candidates entered the novitiate on October 24, 1942, at St. Mary’s Convent in Guwahati, thus inaugurating the Congregation. St. Mary’s was a Community of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA). FMA continued to nurture the new indigenous Congregation for 26 years. Once the Congregation was strong enough to stand on its own two feet, the governance and formation was handed over to the new Congregation’s own members.
Sr. Magdalene Surin was appointed Mother Vicar by Bishop Ferrando on July 15, 1967. She guided the Congregation most ably during the period of transition of governance from the FMA Superiors to the first MSMHC Superior General, Mother Mary Rose Thapa, who had been so named on February 4, 1970, by Archbishop Hubert D’Rosario of Shillong-Guwahati. The Congregation was raised to the status of Pontifical Right on March 21, 1977.
The Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians is an integral part of the Catholic Church, of Pontifical Right, dedicated to apostolic works, with public vows, and is an Official Group of the Salesian Family of Don Bosco.
The mission of the Congregation is primarily education through direct evangeliation (missio ad gentes); the education of women, girls, and children in villages; and the education of the young in formal and “informal” schools. It also provides health care for the poor and needy, works for the empowerment of women, and becomes involved in society for the transformation of the same.
Affiliation to the Salesian Family
The Congregation was officially accepted as a Group of the Salesian Family onJuly 8, 1986. The aspects and values of the MSMHC that incarnate the Salesian Charism are: missionary vibrancy which manifests the pastoral charity of Don Bosco; the evangelization of women, girls, and children - especially the poor and the suffering; commitment to missionary evangelization and the accompaniment of people along their journey of faith; Family Spirit; Marian piety; commitment to the Gospel way of life (vows, prayer, and asceticism) which reflects the spirit of Don Bosco; and commitment to living the Preventive System as a pastoral and educative method and spirituality.
4. Present Situation
The organizational style of the Congregation is one that is typical of the Salesian Family. The Superior General is the supreme authority of the Congregation who takes the place of the Founder. She is assisted by the General Council which consists of six members, each entrusted with a specific office to be fulfilled in close collaboration with and under the direction of the Superior General. The Superior General and the members of the General Council are elected during the General Chapter held once every six years. Besides the General Council there are six provincial superiors and their councilors who head the six geographical provinces of the Congregation. They are appointed by the Superior General in consultation with her Council for a period of three years.
The Congregation has 1244 sisters in 205 houses. There are six provinces in India, a delegation in Italy, and a sub-delegation in Africa. The African mission/sub-delegation functions directly under the Superior General who animates and administers the communities through a sub-delegate superior and a three-member council. Each MSMHC Community is headed by a local superior (Animator) for a term of 3 years and who may be reappointed for another term of office.
5. Challenges for the Future
A challenge that the Congregation is facing, is how to safeguard missionary vibrancy in the hearts of its members against the growing tendency to remain inert within comfort zones, seeking just to maintain the internal and external status quo. Another challenge is the lack of adequately-prepared personnel to respond to the ever-growing demands of the mission as the Congregation is receiving numerous invitations for collaborative ministry both from overseas as well as in India. Until today, missionary availability and vibrancy have paved the way for many significant choices that contributed to the growth and expansion of the Congregation and its apostolic effectiveness and fruitfulness.
A further challenge is the lack of adequately-prepared personnel for the ministry of formation and accompaniment of the young Sisters who are engaged in varied apostolates, especially in remote and distant mission areas.
The Congregation foresees a radical renewal in consecrated life and mission in the light of the vision of the Founder. It is an ongoing journey of study, reflection, discernment, renunciation, and risk-taking. An ever-challenging process of decision-making calls for fidelity to the founding charism and prayerful union with the Holy Spirit in order to promote creative thinking, daring, and firm steps towards the desired radical renewal.