[This is a cherished memory of Sr Mary Theodore by her niece, Lyn Gazal, Melbourne]
A new aerogramme had arrived from India. The thin blue paper folded into an envelope with the familiar black typed address…The Asmar Family. These letters arrived every few months and were passed around from family to family. We gathered around mum as she read aloud news from aunty May, mum’s saintly sister who lived in Madras. In each of her sibling’s homes there hung a picture of a white-clad nun, crucifix in hand, her face peeping out of a starched wimple. During my childhood, I only knew her second hand through the stories mum told of her mischievous little sister and the newsy aerogrammes.
She left for India two years before I was born and as a child, I wasn’t too sure she really existed. The letters came but she never visited, even when her mum died in 1959 she didn’t appear. Fast forward to the ’70s and she finally did visit albeit decades after leaving her Brisbane family. I was now married with a family of my own.
On meeting her for the first time I could only think how scary she was but as time went on I could see the family traits…she not only looked like mum but she her big heart and neither suffered fools! She was still mischievous, very cheeky and insisted on her own way…which is quite a feat in our family.
She had a presence and you couldn’t help but admire her tenacity and her resolve to establish her MITHRA dream. My mum would accompany her to local Catholic schools where she spoke about her mission to help the poor afflicted children of Chennai. I remember the many occasions her Indian family would phone of news of the dwindling coffers and ask ‘how will we pay wages and feed the children Sister Theodore?’ Her response was always the same ’This is God’s business and He will provide’…and provide He did every time, often at the eleventh hour. I saw a faithful servant who took God at His word and partnered with Him to achieve His vision for some poor children in a poor city in a land thousands of miles away home. She became His willing hands on earth
Mum, her sisters and sisters-in-laws organised fundraising morning teas and luncheons. The children of MITHRA embroidered tablecloths which we raffled, and I must also mention the handmade greeting cards…I still have some…. and the children are still producing them to this day. The embroidery motifs were colourful and exotic depicting elephants and sari-clad women. As an Art student, these images were exciting and way outside our aesthetic.
These were different times when the world was so big and unfamiliar that you rarely left your hometown well all except for aunty May Asmar AKA Sister Theodore. She dared to dream big!
– Lyn Gazal