SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF CHAMBERY IN PAKISTAN
A period of political upheaval which ravaged India in 1947 ended with the partition of the two countries and the simultaneous creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Sisters in Saugor, India lost a great number of students due to the withdrawal of the British empire from the subcontinent.
In early February 1948, an advertisement in the newspaper caught Mother Patricia’s eye that Catholic teachers were being sought at St. Francis Grammar school in Quetta, southwest Pakistan. Mother Patricia asked if sisters would be accepted as teachers in the school. She received a favorable response by return mail. Mother Patricia wasted no time; she proposed that four sisters – Sisters Michael, Mary, Helen, and Teresa, would move to the new Mission. The proposal was accepted, and she made the necessary arrangements for their travel. In the last week of March 1948, Mother Patricia along with four sisters left Saugor for the Mission in Pakistan. There was much weeping and sobbing at their departure. It was an accepted fact, that the sisters would teach for three years and would return to Saugor. It was also hoped that in this interim period, Saugor would return to normal. However, it was not to be so! Man proposes and God disposes of it!
The Sisters faced several problems and difficulties while on their way to the mission in Pakistan (Quetta) but their trust and confidence in God surpassed their fears and struggles. They surrendered everything into the hands of St. Joseph. When they arrived in Delhi, they realized that trains to Amritsar had been canceled. They were sad and disappointed and wondered whether they would ever arrive at their new mission.
However, God’s plan, as always, is beyond our imagination! After a struggle of four to five days, they succeeded in securing help from the Sikh Regiment who transported them to Lahore, from where they began their train journey to Quetta. On 26 March 1948, they were welcomed by two Franciscan friars who took them to an army camp on “Lytton Road “opposite St. Francis Grammar School, which had been obtained on rent for them. Sisters found the climatic conditions very severe.
St Francis Grammar School:
The Bishop of Karachi, Pakistan invited the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambéry to teach in the Catholic School in Quetta, Baluchistan. Initially, the Sisters taught, at the Grammar school, young boys and girls who wanted an English education. Later, at the request of the local community, who wanted a separate school for girls, the Sisters, 1949, opened their English medium school, named Saint Joseph Convent High School.
Saint Joseph school:
As soon as the residents of Quetta came to know of the arrival of the Sisters in Quetta, they welcomed them and requested them to start a school only for Girls. Most of them being orthodox Muslims, disapproved of co-education. Mother Patricia Bolton promised them that she would see what she could do about this matter. Within a month, the sisters opened four kindergarten classes for girls. By January 1949, Mother Patricia Bolton received news that in Karachi it had been announced, from the pulpit, that all the girls in Quetta had to leave the Grammar School and attend the Convent school. Sisters realized that the house in Lytton Road was too small. Besides, the Sisters were obliged to trudge from Lytton Road to Station Headquarters for several days in cold, snowy weather. Sisters sat for hours in various offices enquiring about suitable accommodation. Finally, the military authorities very graciously gave the old “Sub-area” Quarters on Gloucester Road as the Convent.
On 1 March 1949, classes were begun in the new building, The people were delighted to have their girls study in the Convent school. At that time, two sisters were teaching in the Grammar school for boys and three in the Convent.
One can imagine the difficulties encountered in constructing two schools, a convent and a boarding house for eighty girls, under Mother Florentine, who arrived in Pakistan in 1952 from the United States of America. The building was constructed on land vacated by the English army but essentially belonging to the Pakistan Government and given to the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambéry for the Bright Future of Baluchistan Province. The implicit trust in Divine Providence was Mother Florentine’s key to success. Mother Thecla McLaughlin from Ireland replaced Mother Florentine. Sr. Michelle from Ireland remained in for three years from 1981, in the school. In December 1986, Sr Virgina Quinn from the USA took charge of the English School.
Sacred Heart Girls’ High School, for the poor masses of Quetta
Sister Carmeline Joseph was assigned to be the Principal of Sacred Heart School. To meet the demands of poorer families who could not afford to send their children to an English medium school, an Urdu Section was begun at Sacred Heart School. According to the desire of Bishop Van Miltenberg in April 1950, the Sacred Heart School was opened for Urdu-speaking girls. In June 1950, Mother Patricia left for Rome and it was hoped that Rev. Mother General would visit the new houses in Pakistan. In December 1951 Mother General did visit Karachi with Sr. Marie de St. Plaies and Sr. Sebastian. After a visit of two weeks, they returned to Rome. In October 1952, Mother De Pazzi came from Rome to Quetta where she stayed on till February 1953 after which she returned to Europe.
Mission in Rawalpindi (Kohat):
In 1949, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambéry went to the Rawalpindi-Islamabad diocese at the request of the Bishop to build a new school by the name of Saint Joseph Convent School Kohat (NWFP). To empower the poor women of that area, Sisters introduced a Social Service center where sewing, knitting, embroidery, and other skills were taught.
Our presence in Punjab:
In 1974 the Sisters in Quetta expanded their mission by reaching out to poor families who lived in a deprived area of the city. By visiting the individual local families, they were able to build confidence in the people themselves; eventually, their ministerial activities resulted in better sanitary conditions, improved housing, etc., at least to some extent. A large hall was constructed to help drop-outs who were helped by the sisters who taught them the three R’s – Reading, ‘wRiting, aRithmetic. The sisters reached out to the youth, to women and established a small health center to aid the sick and poor.
In 1981, at the request of Bishop Patras, Diocese of Multan, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambéry opened a community in CHAK 75/ B TDA in the Punjab area of Pakistan, about one hundred sixty kilometers from the city of Multan. Here, the Sisters adopted the simple lifestyle of the village folk and sought ways to help them. They opened a school under the trees, visited families, counseled mothers, and operated a mobile clinic. In 1983, another community was opened in Multan city as the House of Formation (Novitiate). In 1990, the Sisters opened a new mission community (school and sewing Center) in Jamilabad, Multan.
In 2006, at the request of the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Lahore, the Sisters began the education ministry at Don Bosco High School for Boys (English and Urdu medium). In 2010, the Sisters made their presence felt at the peripheries to the people who live in tents (gypsies). To educate these, a tent was established at their locality, from where two girls completed their studies till the Matric, a few boys joined a technical center, and a skill center was begun for the women. The Sisters helped them to be registered with the Government to get their National Identity Card. Most of them are drug addicts but with the help of the Sisters and the Local Government, they were offered awareness and rehabilitation sessions.
In 2014 sisters bought a house at 14 Masson Road, Lahore for the Formation and Education of their newer members.