The Pioneers: Sr. Maria Bricarello

Auxilium Girls' School, Agartala
Died in Guwahati on Feb. 24, 1925

Sr. Maria Bricarello was the first missionary Daughter of Mary Help of Christians from the N.E. to return to the Father’s house, to receive the reward prepared for her dedicated life and service, as the Lord Jesus said: “He/she who loses his/her life for My sake will receive it back abundantly.”

Maria Bricarello was born at Chieri, Turin (Italy) on 13th December, 1889. She joined the Institute at Turin but did her Novitiate at Chertsey, England and professed there on 4th October, 1915. She was very intelligent and bright. She studied at Oxford and worked for the FMA Institute in England till November, 1923.

Her request to go to the missions was granted and when the Superiors decided to open the mission in Assam, she was called back to Italy to get ready to join the group headed by the valiant Sr. Innocenza Vallina. Much was expected of Sr. Maria Bricarello, as he was an ardent, generous soul, well equipped with spiritual and intellectual assets and she knew English very well.

When the Sisters reached Guwahati on 8th December, 1923, Sr. Bricarello being the only one who knew English became the interpreter. A little later when the English section of the school was started, she took charge of the children of several Europeans, who had settled at Guwahati as officers of the Railway, Post and Telegraph departments, also of the tea estate managers. She was much appreciated by all. Though she was a teacher, she readily lent her hand to the household tasks and as soon as she learnt a few words in Hindi, she eagerly visited the villagers and the civil hospital. She became fluent in the language and could instruct, console and enlighten. She went from ward to ward and bed to bed.

She also helped to start the weaving school as she had learnt the art in her younger days at Chiere. She took to herself the charge of teaching English to the Sisters. Everything she touched prospered and the works progressed rapidly; but the Lord had other plans …… in one of her visits to the hospital she contracted smallpox and in 24 hours she was no more. At 02.30 a.m. of Feb. 24th, 1925, she winged her way to Heaven.

The Pioneers: Sr. Innocenza Vallino

Died in Guwahati on May 22, 1946

The intrepid leader of the second FMA missionary expedition to India and the first to Assam was Sr. Innocenza Vallina. She it was who blazed the way right up to the North East, precisely to Guwahati, together with her five companions: Sr. Giulia Berra, Sr. Maria Bricarello, Sr. Antoinetta Rossetti, Sr. Clotilde Appiano and Sr. Cecilia Da Roit.

The pioneering group left Italy on November 14, 1923 and reached Guwahati at about noon on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This was the last expedition sent by Mother Catherine Daghero, the successor of St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello, for she died on February 26, 1924.

Innocenza was born on January 6, 1876, at Gamelero, Alexandria, Italy. Her early education was with the Sisters of Charity at Turin, but afterwards she was with the FMA at Nizza Monferrato. After getting her Teacher’s Diploma she was admitted as a Novice and made her Profession on August 13, 1900.

In Italy she worked chiefly in Sicily, where she was the Superior of two houses successively and did much good among the poor. She long to be in the missions and when she recovered from a serious sickness she made her application and was accepted.

At Guwahati the Sisters stayed temporarily in a small house belonging to the Catholic mission and their first task was to study Assamese, Hindi and English. At forty-seven it was no longer easy for Sr. Vallino to pick up new languages.

Very soon a group of orphans sent by the two touring Salesians began to arrive. An orphanage, a primary school and later a workroom were started for these children. Sr. Vallino visited the Civil Hospital and the Villages around in order to meet the people and learn about their material and spititual needs.

On March 17-18, 1926 together with Sr. Clotilde Appiano, Sr.Cecilia Da Roit and a Khasi girl came by bus to Shillong and from here on foot to Jowai, walking up hill, down dales, jumping streams and crossing dark and lonely forests, with four-footed friends prowling close by. At Jowai all sorts of pioneering difficulties came her way: Language, dire poverty, climate, sickness and the most uncanny opposition of unfriendly Sects. She braved them all, placing great trust in Divine Providence and by the time she was transferred after six years to South India, Jowai St. Mary Mazzarello’s, was already cited as an example for the whole District of the Jaintia Hills. In 1934 she was sent to Italy to recuperate, a time she spent not in the missions but for the missions………..!

Toward the middle of 1935 Sr. Innocenza returned to Guwahati, this time in the community attached to the Civil Hospital. Besides the hospital her chief preoccupation was village visiting, which she did on foot for several hours in the blazing sun.

On March 25, 1936 together with Sr. Severina Schiapparelli and Sr. Mary Rossini, Sr. Innocenza started the new mission at Tezpur. Trials dogged her steps. Her indomitable courage was taxed heavily. The difficulties of the beginning were there, then others came tumbling and after another. Sr. Carmelina Spitalieri, who came to Tezpur soon after them, died, another Sister caught Malaria and had to be transferred and Sr. Maria Mezzacasa who was sent to replace her, died in 1944, almost suddenly, far away in Calcutta.

Here in Tezpur a new apostolate was begun, that is, a month long pre-nuptial course was held twice a year, in Advent and Lent. Good Christian families were ensured. Sr. Vallino took great care incultivating vocations.

As her health started declining because of the exhausting pioneering works, she was relieved of her responsibilities in 1943. She stayed on at Tezpur as a simple Sister, putting herself under the disposal of the new Superior, with simplicity and humility. Interior trials and hidden martyrdom marked her life at this period. Her response was prompt: “May God’s will be done!”

The heat in the plains was unbearable and oppressive and she was getting weaker and more and more exhausted. She left Tezpur for Mawlai in 1946, but on reaching Guwahati she could not proceed. The Sisters at the Civil Hospital welcomed her with love and attention. They all hoped that a little rest would give her some strength to reach her destination; but it was otherwise. She lost her power of speech and received the Anointing of the sick. Quietly she passed away on May 22 and was buried in Guwahati, the first field of her apostolate.

Sr. Innocenza Vallino loved and sought souls. She did not spare herself in doing good to all. Sacrifice and privations were welcomed as blessings from the Hand of Divine Providence. Great love for Jesus, His Passion and His Suffering strengthened her. When there was no priest to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sisters could not receive the Bread of Life, her meditative Way of the Cross was her support.

Her devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Help of Christians was practical and she imitated Her charity, which was intuitive, extensive and delicate. Bishop Ferrando declared: She was a genuine missionary …… The Mission of Assam owes her a great deal of gratitude…..”.

The Pioneers: Sr. Giulia Berra

Died on October 8, 1968 at Turin-Cavoretto

Sr. Giulia was born at Genoa, Italy on July 24, 1883 and died at Villa Salus, Turin on October 8, 1968 at the age of eighty-five, after sixty-two years of Religious life. She is included in the list of the missionaries of the NorthEast because she did spend four years of intense activities at Guwahati, Assam.

Early in life Giulia lost her father and her mother, though a saintly woman was rather sickly. After her father’s death the family shifted to Turin, near the famous shrine of Our Lady of Concolata. One day after a fleeting visit to the Church, she found her very seriously ill and was dying. Giulia and her sister were now left alone with a tutor who took charge of them.

On October 12. 1902. When she was nineteen, she went as a student to Nizza Monferrato. That evening she met a missionary who was on the point of departure for the missions. From now on, Giulia’s heart too, was set for the missions.

On April 3, 1904 she became a postulant and made her Profession on September 17, 1906. Sr. Giulia was sent to University at Parma to complete her studies but had to return to Turin because of ill health.

At Turin Don Rinaldi was her confessor, nay more a father to her. He encouraged her to start a coaching class for poor girls of 12-13, many of whom were working already in the factories and had no chance of studying. She developed the Oratory with marvellous entertainments, gymnastics, marches, theatrical displays and catechetical competitions.

When she came to India as a pioneer in 1923, she was already 40. Her old Oratorians were inconsolable. Once in Guwahati, she started her visits from village to village, overcoming the language barrier by taking a catechist with her. As soon as the Sisters admitted some orphans, she took charge of them and gave them games and gymnastics to make them happy. She used wooden boxes to build up a ramshackle school and made benches and cupboards with boxes likewise.

Sr. Giulia was not physically strong. She was weak. Sr. Da Roit said of her: “It was only her zeal that lent wings to her feet.” The heat of Guwahati was oppressive and she found it hard to stand; yet it was she who nursed Sr. Bricarello, when she contracted small pox, and was isolated in a hut, in the convent playground. In 1927 she went to Italy to accompany a Sister and seeing her, the Superiors did not have the heart to send her back. However, Guwahati and the missions remained imbedded in her heart. An inscription “Jesu ki barai” hang close to her bed and was ever happy to receive visitors and news from her beloved mission field. She offered her prayers and her life for the missions and the Lord accepted all and rewarded her on October 8, 1968.

The Pioneers: Sr. Cecilia Da Roit

Died on August 10, 1981 at Bellefonte

The last of the pioneers of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians to the North East India, Sr. Cecilia Da Roit, joined the glory of the Saints, from Bellefonte, Shillong, in the early hours of August 10, 1981, after 58 years of silent, dedicated service toGod, to the Church to the Institute and to the people of our region.

Cecilia's life unfolds like the pages of a novel, pages full of adventures, full of acts of 'dare and do', interspersed with musical notes from 'pianissimo' to 'fortissimo'. Born on August 31, 1887, her mother, the Parish Church organist and father, member of the Parish Choir, it was appropriate to name their eldest daughter after the Patroness of musicians, whose protégé at ten already played the harmonium.

Quite early in life Cecilia tried to help her mother in the household works and in the fields; but when she had a little time she would visit her father in his shop saying: "I came to help you." The father though he had an assistant in his carpentry shop, always found something for her to do; providentially, as little Cecilia would grow up, become an FMA, a missionary in far away Jowai, where at the initial stage, sickly babies were dying and coffins were to be made.

The Pioneers: Sr. Clotilde Appiano

Died on January 8, 1968 at Mawlai

Sr. Clotilde Appiano belonged to the pioneering group who came to Assam in 1923, headed by the valiant, Sr. Innoceza; while her sister, Sr. Luigina, was one of the six pioneers who came the previous year to Tanjore in South India.

Their parents, Antonio and Felicita Musa gave five of their girls to be Daughters of Mary Help of Christians: Sr. Maria, Sr. Anna and Sr. Teresa were the others.

Sr. Clotilde was born at Turin on July 7, 1894 and at the age of 22 she answered the call of God. She made her Profession at Marseilles, France on July 10, 1916. After working in France for seven years she volunteered for the missions in Assam and her first house was Guwahati.

In 1926, this ardent and zealous Sister joined Sr. Vallino and Sr. Da Roit in starting the difficult house of Jowai. Poverty and indigence were the hallmark of the first house of Guwahati but here in Jowai misery was a tame word describing their condition. The orphans from far outlying villages were undernourished when they arrived and often were carriers of infectious diseases. At certain seasons funerals were frequent. The Sisters fought tooth and nail to save these little ones. After a period improvements were visible.

The Pioneers: Sr. Rosetti Antonietta

Sr. Antonietta Rosetti made her first profession in 1921 at Arignano, Turin. She was as assistant of the boarding girls and orphans in the first years in Guwahati. In 1927, she returned to Italy along with Sr. Giulia Berra.