Dialog Editor This is the first in a series of stories on members of religious orders in the Diocese of Wilmington. The series is part of the paper’s coverage of the Year of Consecrated Life declared by Pope Francis. The Christu Jyothi Sisters or Sisters of Christ the Light are the newest order of religious women in the Diocese of Wilmington. The order, founded in 1992 in India, now has two sisters working for the Capuchin’s Ministry of Caring. Sister Lissy Sebastian Karottumalayil, CJS, works at the ministry’s Emmanuel Dining Room on Jackson Street in Wilmington. Sister Shasdideir Vennapusa is a nurse at the ministry’s House of Joseph II, a residence for people living with AIDS in Wilmington. Brother Ronald Giannone, the Capuchin priest who founded the Ministry of Caring, invited the Christu Jyothi Sisters to work in Wilmington.
The two sisters came to Wilmington last June and live in St. John Paul II Convent near the Emmanuel Dining Room. Their Christ the Light order is a relatively new one in India, too. The late Bishop S. A. Aruliah of the Diocese of Cuddapah, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, founded the order in 1992. The Christu Jyothi sisters are a diocesan order that currently has 45 members. About 30 novices have entered in the last two years and the order does not take vocation candidates older than 25. Sister Lissy, one of the first members of the order, said the bishop became the order’s founder, when its first leader didn’t want to follow his recommendation that the sisters follow the rule of St. Benedict. The order’s website states its charism, its chief gift from the Spirit to the church, is “to radiate the light of Christ in loving service through a life of contemplation and action.” Sister Lissy said the order’s main missions are teaching and social work. “We receive the light from Christ and spread the light to the people,” she said. “That’s the main charism.” Sister Lissy grew up in a family with a long Catholic heritage. She was raised in the state of Kerala, which is home to the most Christians in India, having been where St. Thomas the Apostle preached. One of 10 children, Sister Lissy recalls her father telling his children he would give them money if they went to church for a month “and go to Communion and go to the cemetery.” “He wanted his children to be faithful to the church,” she said. However, her parents didn’t want her to become a nun, despite her mother having three brothers in the priesthood and three sisters who became nuns. “My parents were worried I would not survive the convent,” Sister Lissy said. “I cried so much, I didn’t eat food for a week.” Finally, her father relented and let her go into the convent before she finished 12th grade. Sister Lissy has a bachelor’s degree, with studies in theology and Scripture. She worked as both a teacher and social worker in India before coming to Wilmington. Sister Shasdideir, from Andhra Pradesh on India’s east coast, didn’t grow up Catholic. Her whole family was Hindu, but her parents wanted her to go to a Catholic boarding school run by the Fatima Sisters, she said. “We had a chance to join the school before receiving baptism,” Sister Shasdideir said. While her parents were still Hindus, “they started going to church and the parish priest tested them (on the Catholic faith) for one year before giving them baptism.” The family was baptized when Sister Shasdideir was seven. Her parents became the parish catechists. She became interested in joining a Benedictine order in another region after attending a vocation camp. “My friends were going to join Benedictine Sisters in another state,” Sister Shasdideir said. “I thought to go with them but my parents refused. … You are going in our own place, be a sister here.” So she joined the Benedictine Christu Jyothi Sisters in her diocese in 2006, and took final vows in 2012. A registered nurse in India, Sister Shasdideir has become a certified nursing assistant here. She noted that in India, “churches are full for Sunday Masses and people even stand outdoors.” “The culture is quite different here from India,” Sister Lissy said. “We cannot judge that. “I feel really sorry to see the churches, big churches, with no people,” she added. “I feel really sorry to see the people come here and it’s cold and they have no house. Indians are very poor but they have a place to sleep.”