Chennai Sisters help girls and young women improve their lives

Chennai is home to 11 Good Shepherd Sisters in Tamil Nadu, India. The Sisters are members of the Province of Central East India/Nepal, which consists of 14 communities in six states of India: The communities in India are in Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, and one community in Nepal.

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Monte Abbott with five of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Chennai.

Province of Mid-North America Mission Partner Monte Abbott visited the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Chennai last month. He was in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu on a mission trip with members of his church congregation Disciples of Christ. The purpose of his trip was to connect with the congregation’s Global Mission Partners.

“How could I not visit our Sisters in Chennai while I was there?” Monte asked.

Monte said he wanted to meet the Sisters in person and develop some understanding of how the Good Shepherd mission is being pursued in other parts of the world. He learned that the Sisters in Chennai manage four vibrant programs to meet the needs of 2,400 girls and young women:

  • day school for girls of all ages
  • orphanage for girls
  • residential dorm for college-aged women
  • job skills training program for young women

The job training program at Marion Home is the newest ministry. The Sisters began Marion Home in 1925. In the past this was a thriving program where young women learned sewing skills. The program has declined in importance and in a few months will be replaced with five new training programs: home health care, data processing, graphic design, hotel hospitality and office reception, and cosmetology.

Students will train in intensive English for the first year. Teachers will use that time to discover student talents and abilities. Each girl will then be steered into the area that best matches her abilities and desires.

Sisters in Chennai enhance lives

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Sisters in Chennai manage a school for girls of all ages.

Eleven Sisters live in the Chennai Community. In addition to managing the school, orphanage, residential dorm for young women and Marion Home, the Sisters operate study centers in several poor communities around the city. They and dedicated volunteers meet with students from poor families in evening hours and tutor them in coursework. Many of the students are Dalit, of the social group once referred to as the Untouchables.

“I spent two weeks in India and saw the poverty and need of the people at close hand. I witnessed how girls and women in India are often disadvantaged. So it was gratifying for me to visit the Sisters and experience how they are tackling social problems through their ministries and programs. The scale of the Good Shepherd mission in Chennai is impressive,” Monte said.

Monte said he won’t forget the Sisters in India. Sr. Anne taught him how to use a free messaging application for his cell phone. Sr. Maria Rose, local community leader, took him to all of the programs on campus and to each school, where the children greeted him. She also took him to Chennai to see various points of interest related to St. Thomas, the martyred disciple of Christ. These included the cathedral where his bones are interred, the cave where he taught, the hill where he escaped and the place where he was killed.

Sr. Madeline, a semi-retired Sister who previously did social work among the children of temple prostitutes and now works in the kitchen, sat beside Monte at each meal and made sure he had enough food, tea and coffee.

When asked about his lasting impression of the Sisters in Chennai, Monte said, “After being  introduced to every classroom and spending time with children, staff and teachers, I can report that the Good Shepherd school is a happy place.

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High School girls at the Good Shepherd school in Chennai enjoy singing between classroom sessions.

“The children smile a lot. The teachers and Sisters know that they are empowering girls and women and shaping their lives and futures.”

Before visiting Chennai

Before visiting the Sisters in Chennai, Monte and his church group spent 16 days in Tamil Nadu visiting Christian Medical College and Hospital (founded by Mission Partner Vicky Barshis’ cousin), a research institute for lepers, and an orphanage with 800 children. They also visited a home for elders and women who have left lives of prostitution and escaped from human trafficking. The women today are supporting themselves through handicrafts. Monte said he was struck by the friendliness and openness of everyone he and his church group encountered.

“I went to India expecting to meet strangers and to encounter the exotic qualities of a different land. That happened, but what I didn’t expect was the kindness that was extended by so many people to me and the group I was with,” he said.

“I have spent a lot of time thinking about how the love and radical hospitality embodied by the life of Jesus was reflected back at me by all these people and how surprised I am to have found that image of Jesus there. I don’t believe a stranger in unusual clothing would find the same welcome on my street,” he said.

You can hear some of the high school girls singing at the Good Shepherd school on Monte’s Soundcloud platform. For more stories related to Sisters and Mission Partners in Province of Mid-North America, please visit https://sistersofthegoodshepherd.com/items-of-interest/.

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website veganstoryteller.com