India Young Nun's Suicide Shocks the Church in Kerala

Union of Catholic Asian News

August 13, 2008

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (UCAN) -- A young nun's suicide in Kerala on Aug. 11 has shocked the Catholic Church in this southern Indian state.

A suicide note found on 23-year-old Sister Anoopa Mary's body said she took her life because of differences with her superior.

The nun of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary had been living in the indigenous congregation's St. Mary's Convent in Kollam (formerly Quilon), a port town 70 kilometers north of Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, which is 2,815 kilometers south of New Delhi.

Sister Rexia, a councilor of the congregation, told UCA News that the "unfortunate incident" shocked her people. This was the first such incident in her congregation's history, she pointed out.

The senior nun said Sister Mary joined St. Mary's Convent on May 27, after completing novitiate. "We have no clue about the reasons that forced her to take her life," said the nun, who claims to have known Sister Mary personally. "She was to join her graduate studies," Sister Rexia said. "She was a smart and dedicated sister. I didn't know she was undergoing stress or depression."

According to the councilor, the nuns looked for Sister Mary when she failed to come for evening tea. "When we searched her room, we found her hanging. We immediately informed the police," Sister Rexia said.

The nuns informed the police around 4:15 p.m., Kollam's top police official, C. G. Suresh Kumar Kumar, told UCA News on Aug. 12.

Kumar said police recovered from the deceased nun's pocket a suicide note that says she was unhappy with convent life, and it recorded her disagreement with her superior. The police have registered a case of suicide, Kumar said.

Father Paul Mullassery, episcopal vicar of Quilon diocese, expressed shock over the incident. "It's most unfortunate and sad, and I don't know what motivated her to take the extreme step," he told UCA News. In any case, he added, it warns Church leaders to address gaps in the formation of Religious.

"A congregation is supposed to assess a person's mental health during formation," he noted. "It is a dangerous signal if a nun commits suicide at the slightest provocation. We have to reassess our system's effectiveness."

Kerala has the most suicide cases in India, Father Mullassery said, and "when a nun commits suicide, media tend to sensationalize the issue." In his view, the incident reflects problems in "our educational and value system."

The senior priest also said he wants families to instill moral and Christian values in their children. Nuclear families and the current education system, he remarked, make "our children more emotionally weak."

Father Paul Thelakat, editor of the Church weekly Satyadeepam (light of truth), told UCA News the incident has shocked and disturbed the Church.

"Human errors and mistakes can take place in most holy places," he said, "but this should not end with the life of the beloved sister." The incident should spur rethinking "on the life and pattern of convent life," he added.

Father George Rebeiro, Quilon diocese's public-relations officer, told UCA News on Aug. 12 that the young nun's suicide note blames convent authorities for her taking the extreme step.

"It seems she irregularly attended prayers and community activities, and the superior corrected her. She may not have taken the correction in the right spirit," he said. "Still, we are at loss to assess the reasons."


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