Salesian nuns to set up museum for pioneer missionary

Nagpur: The Salesian of Missionaries of Mary Immaculate (SMMI) congregation in India plans to set up a museum to perpetuate the memory of a pioneering missionary nun from France.

Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur on March 18 blessed the foundation stone for the museum for Mother Marie Gertrude Gros, who co-founded the congregation in France in 1872.

The day marked the 111th death anniversary of the nun, who is now a Servant of God, the first step in the four-stage process of declaring a person a saint.

The museum is coming up at the SMMI provincial house premises in Nagpur, a central Indian city.

Archbishop Viruthakulangara, who led the thanksgiving Mass, urged the gathering to become more pro-active in their love for Jesus by imitating the saintly nun. “We should not just admire her but imitate her and become missionaries of peace and mercy in action,” the prelate added.

 Mother Marie Gertrude Gros
Mother Marie Gertrude Gros

The archbishop said Sr Gros allowed God to accomplish his will in her life. “God does everything and what he does he does well,” he added.

Hailing Sr Gros as a “prophet of her time, who practiced what she preached,” the archbishop urged Catholics to reach out to heal a wounded world.

“Despite her physical ailments Mother Gertrude never stopped in reaching out to the sick and ailing.”

SMMI Nagpur provincial Sr Elizabeth Trinity said the museum will inspire people to follow Sr Gros’ example of selfless service.

“Mother Gertrude translated corporal works of mercy in to action in her life—visiting the sick and sheltering the homeless,” she told a function after the Mass.
“The museum which we envisage now will be able to inspire many more people with the message of selfless service of Mother Gertrude, she said.

On the occasion, the congregation’s superior general Sr Therese Leena released Mother Gros’ biography and Archbishop Viruthakulangara a documentary on her life and mission in India and Dakha, capital of Bangladesh.

The superior general said the congregation has 1,400 members in eight provinces and six regions living in 20 countries. Among them, five provinces and two regions are in India –Nagpur, Raipur, Salem, Tangavore, and Bangalore; Kerala and Northeast.

Mother Gros’s canonization cause began on December 13, 2012, when Archbishop Viruthakulangara signed the decree declaring her “Servant of God” at St Francis Cathedral in Nagpur.

gros2The saintly nun was born on March 27, 1850, as the only daughter of her parents. She was christened Felicie Gros. At the age of 25 she joined an association named,” Daughter of St Francis de Sales.” Later she took the name Sr. Marie Gertrude Gros of the Precious Blood.

Gros soon made an impression in her congregation with her missionary zeal and dedication to the duty. So, when Nagpur bishop requested for a missionary in 1889 Fr Joseph Tissot, the then superior general of Missionaries of St Francis de Sales, sent her to India on October 12. She came with three other companions. She founded the missionary branch of the association which later came to be known as SMMI.

After landing in India, the French nun covered thousands of villages in central India and Tamil Nadu, southern India. She and her companions walked for miles or traveled using bullock carts, horses and boats to visit numerous villages. She helped mend many broken families through personal contacts.

The missionary nun set up several homes and hospitals to care for the health and educational needs of Dalits, marginalized, orphans, widows, lepers, elderly and differently abled.

Her first center came up in 1890 on a land offered by a local donor that housed a stable for camels. She set up a home for the aged and differently abled there, which is still called Untkhana (place of camels).

As an answer to the health hazards faced by the people during those days, she started Amma ka Davakhana (mother’s dispensary) at Sirespet, a Nagpur suburb. It is now known as Asha Bhavan (house of hope) Nursing home.

She introduced schools for girl children at a time few women opted for education. Providence Girls High School and Junior College in Nagpur stands as testimonies to the pioneering nun’s vision to emancipate girls, says the Nagpur provincial.

gros4The school has a hostel where poor children from villages get free board and education.

She not only educated the poor girls, but settled them in marriages through several orphanages across the country.

When epidemics such as cholera, plague and famine hit Nagpur, she and her sisters walked through the streets bringing solace to the victims. She also opened the doors centers to widows and children orphaned by the epidemics.

During a visit to Dhaka (now the capital of Bangladesh) in 1905, her health deteriorated. Gangrene developed in her foot and spread to the whole body. She died on March 18, 1905, a week before her 55th birthday.

Her body was brought to Nagpur and buried in the convent chapel. Her mortal remains were exhumed on January 25, 2015 and placed in a special tomb with the permission of civil authorities. Medical experts, representatives of the congregation and officials of the canonization cause attended the ceremonies.

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