By Linda Bordoni
Sr. Maria Nirmalini was elected Superior General of the Congregation of the Apostolic Carmel in February 2020. The Congregation, founded by Mother Veronica, works in the field of education. Its headquarters are in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Most of the 1,500 members work in schools and educational programmes in India, but there are also thriving communities in France, Kenya, Uganda, Kuwait, Bahrein, Italy, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.
As Sr. Nirmalini told Vatican Radio, the Order’s charism is in education, and in particular “education for the girl child.”
Sr. Nirmalini explained that Mother Veronica, the founder of the Order, wanted education for the girl child. Particularly in her own country, India, she said, if girls are educated, they are able to stand for their rights and dignity, adding that this is true across the nation as well as in other countries where the Congregation runs schools in the Middle East and Africa.
“To me, education is the most important thing in one's life”, Sr. Nirmalini said, “at least the basic elementary education, because especially for the women in India, it helps them to know themselves, their own standing, their dignity, their rights.”
“In rural India, education has always been on the lower side and therefore educating girls is very, very important, also for the raising and development of their own families,” and for society at large, she said.
“It’s so very vital [for them] to understand who they are, and the power each woman has within her to be able to be the voice,” not only in politics but in the family, and in the community, and to be able to have that voice it is fundamental to receive an education.
Sr. Nirmalini went on to speak of the efforts made by the government in India to improve the predicament of the most vulnerable. She explained it is often the people at the grass-roots level and at a local level that really make the difference, but generally, she said, the situation remains very uneven.
The birth of the girl child is not always welcomed
That’s why she has recently opened a new school, about 180 km from New Delhi, for boys and girls, but largely for girls. It serves communities in the State of Punjab and Haryana, where, she explained, “the birth of the girl child is not welcomed.”
“You still have such stories: from day one they [the girls] are told they are meant for household chores and not for education,” she said.
Sr. Nirmalini said she is telling girls that the school is especially for them as she strives to overcome prejudice and deep-rooted diffidence.
Although the situation differs from state to state and from cities to rural realities, she said there is still much to be done in India in the field of female education.
The Superior General also explained that the Congregation is also very active in furthering the academic studies of the Sisters who belong to the Order, many of whom are able to travel to other countries to be teachers or to run schools where most needed.
As already mentioned, the Apostolic Carmel Sisters are present in Kenya, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka as well as in Middle Eastern nations like Kuwait and Bahrain where, she said, it can be very challenging for the nuns to run Catholic educational institutions.
A challenging but fulfilling ministry
And yet, she said, “It’s a very fulfilling ministry,” also because thanks to the work of the Sisters there is a great demand to access to those schools across society. The Sisters, she noted, teach students of all faiths.
Sr. Nirmalini goes on to speak of how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the work in the missions and of her commitment to lead the Sisters to always be attentive to the suffering of those with whom we live.
“My main task as a leader is to go back to the roots, to spirituality, to accompany the Sisters, leading them and teaching them to be attentive to the signs of the times,” she said.
Although the Order is experiencing a decline in vocations as all Orders are, she said that Africa and Sri Lanka are providing fresh vocations and renewed energy.
“We do not lose hope, we carry on with what we are doing,” Sr. Nirmalini concluded, doing “works of humanity, reaching out to human beings to share with them the message of Christ…: I think we will continue doing that with a lot of passion.”