SR. MARIE CECILE (1926-2002)
Benedicta Fernandes, fondly known as ‘Benna’ was the 4th of ten children. Though a Mangalorean, she was born in Trichur, where her father was a police officer. Benna though rather short, was a very clever girl but also very naughty. She could have topped the class every time if she wanted to, but the trouble was that she was not interested. She had numerous projects up her sleeve. Many were the times Mr. Fernandes had to be called in to quell his daughter. She was scared of him, but she also adored. And I think Mr. Fernandes privately, did the same.
Her schooling was in Trichur, and for college, she was shifted to St. Teresa’s, Ernakulam. There too she left her mark for brilliance and mischief. She was once stripped of her Marian Society medal (considered the greatest punishment those days) for some prank. Mother Mary expected her to come and ask for it back, humbled and repentant, but being secretly relieved of the burden of being ‘good’, she did not go. Mother had to covertly negotiate with her to get reinstated into the society in order to save her own face.
After her graduation she went to Bombay, completed her B.Ed and got a job as a teacher. In no time she was appointed Principal of the school and a much trusted assistant of the manager. She brought her younger brothers and sisters to Bombay and helped them to get jobs. They have ever been grateful to her for her help in those early days.
It was after her brothers and sisters were on their own, that she decided to follow her plan for her own future and came to St. Teresa’s to become a nun. This was a great surprise to many but she was always surprising people. After her novitiate, she was put on the college staff in the sociology department and soon became the professor and Head of the Department. Later, she became the principal of the college.
As Principal, Marie Cecile’s interest was academics. She encouraged many of the staff to do their Ph.D. and undertake post doctoral research. She was not a wizard at administration but she certainly was an academician. Unfortunately while encouraging others to do their post doctoral studies, she herself never completed her own Ph.D. due to the many interests and pre-occupations in which she got involved.
Sr. Marie Cecile defies categorization. She had a brilliant mind for conceptual thinking but she could not be bothered with the nitty-gritty of administration and tedious tasks. She got involved in multifarious projects from rearing ducks and rabbits to rehabilitating poor people, but she was disorganized and unpredictable. For all her intellectual ability, she was never appointed to the congregational post nor got elected to a chapter. But she could not care less; her interests were elsewhere. Once when I pointed out to her that she had secured only the third rank in the summer theology course exam, she retorted, with a grin, “others have to convince themselves they are clever; I don’t” She was capable of purposely under-performing not to get selected.
Her intelligence led her to have unconventional hidden agenda which was frowned upon by the superiors. She would be duly repentant when reprimanded, but I used to have a sneaking feeling that she was satisfied because she had got what she wanted anyway.
She had a big generous heart and helped many poor and deserving people. At Trichur, where she spent the beginning years of retirement, she undertook the care of the old and sick sisters and looked after them devotedly.
While never pious or prayerful, she was a deeply spiritual person in her own way. When she took ill the first time, she felt God had spared her, so she could prepare for death. That she did. When she got the last stroke, her tongue and right hand were paralyzed. How hard that must have been for her; she with the sharp tongue and flowing hand! But she bore it; seldom showing petulance. Her passing away was gentle. She was a great person, but her greatness was generally lost on those who count greatness by achievement. I have no doubt that God met her with a warm smile and a twinkle in His eye as He opened His arms wide and said, “Come blessed of my Father…..”