The Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo – Eastern province

The Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo – Eastern province

Adrien Villa, # 28 Surappatu Main Road, Vinayagapuram,
Kolathur P.O Chennai 600 099
St. Charles Borromeo

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Yelagiri

One of the rarest and most visually stunning colors of roses is lavender; probably the most mystical and fairy-tale perfect color. The eye-catching shade of light purple makes the lavender rose popular. A bouquet of lavender roses can definitely make a striking impression. The lavender rose is a symbol of enchantment.

ranipetA person who makes a maiden visit to Yelagiri Hills may have a breath-taking experience at the exuberant, regal majesty and splendor of the nature, a sense of the magical touch makes one fall in love with it at first sight.

Yelagiri, a hill station, is situated off the Vaniyambadi- Tirupattur road. The winding roads to the top of the hill brings you to a fascinating world altogether. Though this hill station has not seen the development like Ooty or Kodaikanal, it attracts many visitors who have already enjoyed the charm of this hill. It is called the ‘Poor man’s Ooty’ since the effect of commercial tourism has not much affected it. The path taking the roadway to Yelagiri is finely constructed with the milestones and signboards all the way through. Petrol pumps are sufficient enough which make travelling safe and easy. The District administration has taken up the task of developing Yelagiri Hills into a tourist destination by promoting the adventurous sports such as Paragliding and Rock climbing. The highest point in Yelagiri is the ‘Swamimalai,’ standing tall at 4,338 ft. It is the trekking enthusiasts’ destination. The view from the summit is spectacular. The Hill provides a good number of trekking trails through the thick reserved forests.


If you enter the campus of St. Charles Convent that is a few yards away from Athanavur bus stop, you will find simple buildings, well maintained gardens and mango groves, coffee plantation, shady trees, playgrounds and above all teeming children with bright smiling faces, leaving you in wonder and a thrill of joy. This is the result of a response given to an invitation extended to the Sisters of St. Charles in 1968 by Rev. Fr. Francis Guezou SDB, a French Missionary, and his vision for collaboration in his adventurous Endeavour of uplifting the primitive hill tribes.

Rev. Mother Christiane, a courageous Belgian missionary, the then Provincial Superior had no hesitation in answering this call of the hills and sending her sisters to work there. It was their wild dream and unabashed obsession with the mission of Compassion that enthused and energized them. But the reader should know that forty-five years ago this hill was almost an uninhabitable place for human beings. ‘Send forth your Spirit O Lord, that the face of the earth be renewed.’

Responsibly sharing in the mega project of Rev Fr. Guezou, the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo worked with loving heart, creative vision and an unflinching courage. When we pool our strength and work in one mind and heart, the presence of the religious in a place becomes a source of growth and inspiration to all. The mission at Yelagiri Hills is a testimony to it. Owing to the generosity of Rev. Fr. Guezou and Mr. Duhayon, a friend and benefactor, the Sisters of St. Charles were able to open new avenues of apostolic activities, all for the cause of the tribal.

The English Medium Residential School was built in 1975 in view of assuring some source of income for the community and extending their service to the poor. When it did not prove to be beneficial another project was planned and executed. In 1977 ‘Snehalaya- ‘a home for the tribal girls was built. This home continues to accommodate 100 to 120 girls purely of tribal origin. The sisters are not able to satisfy the growing demands for more admissions due to lack of space and sufficient water.

In those days a Residential English Medium School in the hill stations was an attraction to many. Many hands and hearts have worked to ensure good education to the students of St. Charles English Medium Residential School from the time of its inception. As the years rolled by, the mushrooming of such institutions around, led to the decline in the number of admissions to St. Charles. This has triggered greater enthusiasm in the sisters to fight tooth and nail in order to enhance the quality of education. They hope to revive its credibility and prestige in the true spirit of selfless service.

The Primary Tamil Medium School was started in 1983 with 35 children. Today this school has a strength of 480 students.

The land purchased for the purpose of upgrading the Tamil Medium School has an interesting story behind it. While Fr. Guezou was searching for a piece of land, a lorry driver in Kodiyur filed a case accusing him of confiscating his property. As it is always with the court cases, this case too lingered long without a final verdict passed on it. The lorry driver was almost at the end of his financial fund as he had to pay heavily to the advocate. That was an opening to an unexpected easy solution to a virulent plan to trap an innocent missionary. The visceral response to forgive and embrace the offender often tips the balance of justice. The lorry driver requested Fr.Guezou to buy his land appraising it as he thought it best. Without delay the deal was made. (Adapted from ‘A Man without frontiers, Fr. K. Maria Arokiam SDB) “Everything works for good for those who love God.” Rom. 8:28.

“Each rebuff is an opportunity to move forward and an experience to learn.” (Paper passion)

With his careful planning and systematic execution, this land, almost a rocky ground was leveled and a School was built. In 1987 a Middle school was opened which was developed into a High School in 1990 and into a Higher Secondary School in 1998, solely for the tribal boys and girls. For a person like Fr. Guezou, no goal was too high to reach.

To incarnate the compassionate love of God by living in solidarity with the poor, on July 3, 2002 a centre for tailoring and free coaching classes was opened at Nilavur with the initiative taken by Sr. Navamani under the guidance of Rev. Fr. Guezou. Every year an average of 15-20 women from the surrounding villages are trained in tailoring. They also run a project of cap, mask and gloves making, which gives job opportunities for the trained tailors. Candle making is another income generating project run by this centre. A considerable number of students from Nilavur and neighbouring villages attend the evening classes. They are provided with supper and they stay at the center for night-study as they lack facilities in their house.

Every year the NSS and summer camps are held for a period of ten days each. The sisters visit the houses in the nearby and far away villages on the Hills; encourage the women to enroll in Self Help Groups. 15 Self Help Groups (SHG) have already been formed and are functioning quite well. ‘Womens’ Day’ is celebrated every year with great enthusiasm and much preparation. Awareness program for women are conducted on Pro-life and HIV/AIDs; orientation on house-keeping, small saving funds, hygiene and cleanliness and cottage industries. Adult education classes are held at the centre. Sr.Punitha Gopal is incharge of this centre at present.

The St. Charles Prayer House at Yelagiri is frequently used for retreats, seminars and courses. Though it is an energy draining task to get this house ready for common programmes of the Province, the sisters consider it a privileged occasion to serve and extend their hospitality to all. They make the necessary arrangements and joyfully and readily take up this mission to make everyone feel at home so that they go back to their communities, refreshed physically, spiritually and emotionally. The community had the rare privilege of hosting the Provincial Chapter of December 1987 and the General Chapters of 1987, 1993, 2000 and 2006.

Sisters are involved in the parish activities, teaching Sunday catechism, preparing children and people for the Sacraments.
Jubilant songs of praise resounded on the hills inviting celebrities, officials and heads of the institutions on several occasions like the Golden Jubilee of the Religious Profession of late Sr.Theresita a S.C.B, the Indian Pioneer in 1987, of late Sr. Gertrude Datarayan in 1996, of late Sr.Catherine and Sr. Monica in 2000 and the Silver Jubillee of Sr. Sukitha, of late Sr. Helen and Sr. Gracy Pothen. The Silver Jubilee of the Tamil Primary School was celebrated in 2007.

The exacting work of teaching and looking after the boarders does not deviate the sisters from the original purpose of starting this mission. Families of the students are visited specially those of the less fortunate ones, the poor are cared, visitors are welcomed warmly thus the mission of compassion is continued through small and great activities. St. Charles Dispensary started in 1967 has come to a stand-still as better medical facilities are made available on the Hills through a number of Health Centers.

The Sisters of St.Charles have lost a benefactor, a spiritual guide and a Big Brother in the death of Fr.Guezou, but they continue to work even today in close collaboration with the Salesian Fathers enjoying their support and spiritual help.

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