“He will dwell with them; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them” (Rev. 21:3)

The Book of Revelation gives us the assurance that God dwells with us. With the Incarnation Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us – started to live in our midst. We the followers of Jesus form but one community, as God’s sons and daughters, a single family, one people. Our vocation therefore is a call to spiritual unity, universal fraternity, trying to love every one and building a relationship of mutual love and respect as members of one family, making ourselves one with others, as children of the one Father.

Mother Veronica (Sophie Leeves) the Foundress of the Apostolic Carmel felt the desire to live the spirituality of Communion at a very early age. As a young teenager fifteen year old Sophie Leeves loved to teach the village children near her home in Castonitisa (Greece) to write, to sew and sing. She was open to the needs of the poor and weak children and helped them to grow as lively, well developed youngsters. Her presence was as it were a source of new life.

The spirituality of Communion is possible when one identifies with the burdens of others, with their joys and sorrows. As a sister of St. Joseph of the Apparition Sister Veronica’s first assignment was the supervision of the studies of the boarders at their boarding house in Syros, Greece. They were for the greater part rich and indolent. Sister veronica was however able to manage their study hours well as she tried to understand them and their ways. Later as Head Teacher of the Free School she won the hearts of the poor students and became a very successful educator. Her next assignment was to Athens where her zeal overshot the bounds of prudence and created problems because she opened a class without the authorization of the School Authorities – her Superior and the education Department. The error had been the result of her ardent commitment to the pupils. “Her zeal would have to be regulated” her superior observed.

Sister veronica had a talent for nursing too. Her mother had seen her dressing children’s sores, itch and treating their fevers with simple remedies and had made no resistance or objections. Now as a Sister of St. Joseph of the Apparition she was deputed to nurse a member of the French Diplomatic corps at Athens, Visconte de Senre at his request. Her attitude, the impact of her personality and above all her prayer brought the man to his faith before he died and his wife abjured the schism she had joined and later returned to the church, the Communion of the Faithful. Sister Veronica’s desire to help poor children got opportunity at the Orphanage School at Piraeus where she worked after leaving Athens five years later, and also at Tremorel, Brittany, France. These were cherished moments for her as she lived out her spirituality of Communion in small acts of love and kindness to the poor peasants.

God had special plans for Sister Veronica. He opened the door of India for her by sending her thither through her Superior General, Sr. Emilie Julien who decided to open a house at Calicut at the behest of Bishop Michael Antony OCD Vicar Apostolic of Mangalore in whose diocese the Congregation had already opened a Convent at Mangalore. India was a place of many religions and different cultures, and great diversity. Bishop Michael Antony appointed Sister Veronica as the Superior of the new convent of St. Joseph at Calicut with two other sisters, Sister Paul, Sister Mary Joseph and the first Indian Postulant received by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition in India, Anne Mary Texeira.

At St. Joseph’s School, Calicut, Christians, Hindus and Parsees who sent their children forgot all their differences of creed and caste and were happy. Mother Veronica loved these children and taught them not only to read and write and sew but also to build better homes and a God fearing society. She was a powerful witness to Christ in the locality of unity in diversity.

Mother Veronica was transferred to Rangoon, Burma, before two years were completed as Superior of the convent there. The Burmese tribal children came to study from homes steeped in superstition and black magic. Mother Veronica quickly set about to get acquainted with the families in the neighbourhood and won their affection. There was plenty of scope too to serve the poor and the sick. Here too the spirituality of Communion beckoned Mother Veronica and her sisters to engage in works of Mercy both spiritual and corporal. Providence works in strange ways! A fall and a bad fracture made Mother Veronica’s Superior to ask her to leave Burma and proceed to London for good medical treatment and then proceed to Marseilles, France the Mother House of the Congregation. After a long process of discernment and prayer, painful struggles and obstacles she left the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition and entered the Carmel of Pau, France to begin a new uncharted chapter of her life. She had been with the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition for seventeen years.

She had entered the Carmel only to remain for a time to imbibe its spirit as she had been entrusted with a special task. She was to start a Congregation of Active Carmelites, teaching sisters who would work in the Mission on the West Coast of India. Bishop Marie Ephrem OCD had given her this commission for his Diocese of Mangalore. After many trials and travails she founded the Apostolic Carmel with two postulants in a little house at Bayonne, France on 16th July 1868. The house had been formerly occupied by the Sisters of the Carmel of Bayonne. Mother Veronica received young aspirants and soon was preparing a batch of Novices to go to India. Her concern for them in those early hard days was over whelming. She grieved that she could not provide adequate food or comfort but love and the shared life brought immense joy. When God’s hour struck it was only three of her newly professed sisters who were called by Bishop Marie Ephrem to India and not Mother Veronica herself. Though she did not understand the arrangement she set aside her own position and continued to train the Novices for the distant Mission. When adverse circumstance brought about the closure of the House at Bayonne she with a brave heart once more sought admission to the Carmel of Pau after a period of five years.

Her magnanimous gesture saved not only her relationship with the Apostolic Carmel but also with the Diocese of Bayonne and the Carmel of Pau breathing unity and peace.
Mother Veronica was granted the special grace of making her Solemn Profession. United with Jesus she celebrated the day with deep joy and gratitude with her dear friend Madame Pedro Gil Moreno de Nova a Spanish lady who had befriended her from her Bayonne days. Two years later they would part as Mother Veronica was sent to Palestine to set up a new Carmel at Bethlehem together with eight other sisters from the Carmel of Pau. One of these was Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified who had entered the Carmel of Pau at her first entrance there.

The Bethlehem years were fraught with much pain and hardship for her. The relentless heat, the difference of opinions which led to conflicts were severe trials for her. Nevertheless her spirituality of Communion led her to die to herself rather than sever the bonds of community. She struggled to understand, to be open, but finally on the advice of the Patriarch of Jerusalem she returned a third time to her ‘Cradle’ home of the Pau Carmel in France.

The last years of Mother Veronica were peaceful years. She was visited by her Apostolic Carmel daughters from faraway India – Mother Marie des Anges and Mother Elias who were heading the two distinct branches of the Congregation at Mangalore and Trivandrum: The Candle of her life which had shed light on so many was now flickering and blew off nineteen years later in 1906. Her life and writings continue to inspire many as she lived her specific vocation as a shining witness of God’s love and the messenger of unity and communion a dire need of the hour in our time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sister M. Noelle A.C. (726)
St. Ann’s Convent, Mangaluru

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