Sr. Mary Theonilla was born on December 8, 1922, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It’s a symbolic day for this member of the Congregation of the Apostolic Carmel, who this year celebrates her 100th birthday and 75 years of consecrated life! Sister Mary celebrated these two anniversaries on Thursday, December 8, in her parish of Nainamadama, in the west of Sri Lanka.
Sr. Mary expressed her gratitude to God for the graces she has received during her long life. “I have experienced God’s love in abundance,” she told AsiaNews. “Since childhood I have experienced how much God loves me at every stage of my life. And I see it again today on this day of celebration.”
She entered the Convent of St. Anne in Mangalore, India, in 1945 at the age of 23. She took her temporary vows in 1948, and her perpetual vows on May 25, 1953, after several years of formation. She then returned to Sri Lanka.
For 29 years, she carried out her mission as a teacher in a series of schools. She then was assigned to St. Mary’s Convent in Muthur, working at the service of the poorest and most needy.
“She worked everywhere, in all the provinces of the country,” noted a parishioner paying tribute to her during Mass. “For her exemplary and devoted life, we call her the ‘Rose Flower’ of Nainamadama village.”
During his homily, Bishop Mendis of Kandy, who celebrated the Mass, warmly thanked the nun for her years of service to the Church. “Our people experienced God’s love through you for 75 years of religious life. Today, we are not just celebrating the nice number of one hundred. We are celebrating a beautiful, an exemplary life, shown before us. (…) It is impossible to live the life of Jesus without obedience, service, love given to everyone and accepting challenges,” the bishop continued. “Sister Theonilla has accomplished all that. For this, we thank God for you and your congregation.”
Sri Lanka’s battered Christian minority
About 1.2 million Catholics (7% of the population) live in Sri Lanka, which remains predominantly Buddhist. This minority has already been targeted by terribly violent attacks. Christians remain deeply scarred by the April 21, 2019, attacks that left 259 dead and more than 500 injured in several cities across the country, attacks for which justice has yet to be served.