Amy Gonsalves, late Sr. Francis, belongs to the previous century. She was born a year before our congregation was founded! Her early years were lived in Tamil Nadu, in Madurai. She was the eldest of four children, three girls and a boy. Their parents died when they were still young and their grandfather brought them to M. Teresa, our Foundress and entrusted them to her. She gladly received them and promised to take the place of their mother. So Amy, Harriet and Felcy grew up in the convent at Ernakulum as boarders.
Amy completed her matriculation and asked to be received as a novice. While in the novitiate, she contracted tuberculosis, a much dreaded disease at that time. The whole institution made a novena to Pius whose cause for beatification was being considered by the Vatican at that time. To everyone’s delight she was completely cured! We too can vouch for the completeness of her cure, because never, in the remaining 70 odd years of her life did she complain of any lung disorders.
In her early years after profession she worked in various convents. Later she was appointed superior of St. Joseph’s convent, Trichur.
After that she was transferred to Ernakulum and given charge of the school office of the St. Teresa’s Convent school which post she held till she retired. She was known for her meticulous work right from her early years. In addition to office work she taught drawing in the school. Sr. Francis was also a great painter. Many of the Chapel items, like garnitures vestments and altar cloths were her handiwork. Her interest in this type of art remained to the end of her life. She was ever ready to teach anyone who was interested to learn and she was kind and thorough in her teaching.
A person of Sr. Francis’ caliber had to become novice mistress and that office she held for many years. Her novices learnt many things from sister, besides the Rule and Constitution. She was motherly and loving and so it was easy for them to accept all that religious life entailed. She not only showed the way, but she lived it. Mistress did not have the theological training in those days. They were selected o n the basis of their life. Much of the novitiate time – table revolved round prayer and work and Sr. Francis was adept at both. I have never heard any of her former novices describe her as strict or a disciplinarian. They loved her as a mother.
In addition to all her artistic work, she loved gardening. She pottered around her garden and her roses and ferns found their place on the several altars in the chapel. Her novices also helped, you may be sure.
It was in her old age that we knew Sr. Francis as one of the revered sister’s former novice mistress and superior. But there was nothing forbidding about her. I recall her, Sr. Joseph (old Joe) and M. Anne saying the evening office together in the community room. M. Anne was the ‘superior’ and the other two the meek subjects. They would say the office together. Then they would chat a bit and go off for their tea. Sr. Francis also had a pet name. She was called ‘panchi’. As she grew older she was mostly called just that, ‘Panchi’.
Knowing she had a collection of needle work extras in her old trunk, sisters would ask her for a skein of thread to match what they were doing. She would go off to her trunk and rummage around and bring the thread. If it was found not suitable, she would go back and patiently search further. Not a word of grumbling. Finally out of pity for her, and not to disappoint her, the sister would exclaim, “Ah, that’s it Thank you “Panchi! Even if it didn’t really match! And she would beam with delight she was a real mother.
She was generally healthy. There was no doubt that Pius X’s miraculous powers were truly effective. She hardly got sick. Towards the end, she developed a hernia and had to be operated. This was the beginning of the end. She was in her 90s. But her spirit was still young. I remember on her 96th birthday, we gathered around her to wish her. Someone said, “Great! Mother, just four years more. You must make into hundred!” “No, no. I want to die young.” She exclaimed!! In fulfillment of her wishes, she died that year. What a full life! What a life of simple splendor.