Sumanahali. 4 women’s congregations together in the reintegration of leprosy patients. II. SDG 3,10,17

Sumanahali. 4 women’s congregations together in the reintegration of leprosy patients. II.  SDG 3,10,17

Thomas Scaria

Journalist for the Union of Catholic Asian News

also for Matters India

Mascarenhas’ congregation educates the leprosy patients’ children and raises them with dignity.

For this, they set up St. Joseph’s School, which uses English as the medium of instruction, inside the Sumanahalli campus where around 650 students from kindergarten to the 12th grade now study.

St. Joseph of Tarbes Sr. Messiah Joseph, who teaches in the school, says the children “give a real foundation for my vocation.”

The school’s vice-principal, St. Joseph of Tarbes Sr. Deva Priya, says she enjoys interacting with the students. “Each day is different with the students and each session is the fulfillment of my divine call,” she told GSR.

Even the students sounded happy.

Geethanjali and Huligama, two ninth-grade girls in the school, told GSR that the school instills in them confidence and self-esteem.

“My parents are daily wage earners, but I want to become a government officer,” Geethanjali said.

Residents of Support, a home for people with HIV/AIDS, work in a unit for manufacturing garments as part of vocational training on the Sumanahalli campus in Bengaluru, southern India. 

Geethanjali and Huligama, two ninth-graders at St. Joseph’s Convent High School, said the school has instilled confidence and self-esteem in them.

The St. Joseph’s Convent High School was established by St. Joseph of Tarbes sisters to educate children from Sumanahalli and nearby villages in Bengaluru, southern India. 

Sr. Deva Priya, at the chalkboard, of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Tarbes teaches in a school on the Sumanahalli campus in Bengaluru, India. 

Residents of Support, a home for people with HIV/AIDS, work in a unit for manufacturing garments as part of vocational training on the Sumanahalli campus in Bengaluru, southern India.

Geethanjali and Huligama, two ninth-graders at St. Joseph’s Convent High School, said the school has instilled confidence and self-esteem in them. 

Sumanahalli also houses patients with other diseases such as HIV/AIDS. GSR visited Support, an HIV/AIDS rehabilitation center inside the campus, served by the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate.

Sr. Antony Mary Susai, the center’s manager, says those with HIV/AIDS face social isolation similar to leprosy patients.

Support caters to 18 destitute women and a few men who were either rejected by their families or referred by the government retention homes, Susai told GSR. “They have no one and nowhere to go, so they stay with us,” she added.

She said the sisters’ role is to support them to become independent.

At lunchtime, all the sisters working in Sumanahalli assembled in the dining hall with around 100 residents.

“Our main meeting point is the eating place, where we interact with both the sisters and the patients,” says Sr. Fathima Mary Lourdraj, another Franciscan sister who just returned after attending to patients in the clinic.

The residents of Sumanahalli share lunch with the sisters, volunteers, and staff. On the day GSR visited Sumanahalli, the food was served by a Hindu family in a celebration marking their wedding anniversary. (Thomas Scaria)

She told GSR that she learned to wash and clean the patients’ wounds from their sisters who used to come from overseas. “I was amazed at the dedication and commitment of the sisters and volunteers from abroad,” she added.

The overseas nuns and volunteers stopped coming to Sumanahalli two years ago because of the COVID-related travel restrictions.

As a volunteer, Mary D’Souza, a nurse and a lay associate of the Good Samaritan Association visits Sumanahalli twice a month. She says nursing is a vocation like that of the sisters. “I really enjoy it,” she told GSR.

Sr. Genebibha Parbala Ekka, the Montfort Sisters’ provincial, told GSR that her congregation was part of Sumanahalli’s founding team. The Montfort Sisters congregation, founded in 1703 in France, came to India just four years before Sumanahalli was started. The Sumanahalli Society consists of a management board headed by its chairman and all the provincials of the religious congregations serving in it.

Sr. Leela Cheenottu Vattukulam, a Daughter of the Church, says the Italian nuns have served Sumanahalli since 1978.

Vattukulam, who was involved in treatment programs at Sumanahalli from 1981 to 1992, recalls working with the Franciscan sisters in clinics. She continues to serve leprosy patients in Mandya, 62 miles southwest of Bengaluru.

“It was a joy working together with nuns from other congregations, and getting involved in activities to settle the patients back in society,” Vattukulam told GSR.

Only about 100 cured leprosy patients now reside inside the Sumanahalli campus. Others are settled with their families in villages. Sumanahalli has built about 100 homes with the Karnataka government for cured leprosy patients in various villages.

GSR visited such a village, Kenkeri, 19 miles from Sumanahalli, with 25 houses, a clinic, and a community center.

Several people there told GSR they now live in dignity, which they could never have imagined as a leprosy patients.

Leprosy patients who have recovered are rehabilitated with jobs, either in the government or in the private sector. Several Sumanahalli residents work in Ahalli, a garments unit established on the same campus. (Thomas Scaria)

Among them were Nagaraj and Rathna, who Jan. 30 celebrated the 20th anniversary of their marriage after their leprosy was cured. “Thanks to the Sumanahalli sisters, we are happily settled with government jobs. Our son is doing his bachelor of science in nursing,” Nagaraj told GSR.

Sumanahalli has also helped settle the leprosy patients’ children in life.

One of them is Harshita, who had come to Sumanahalli as a child with her mother, both burn victims of an acid attack by the husband and father. Harshita is now a software engineer in Bengaluru.

“I have come to this level only because of Sumanahalli. My ambition is to support the education of some girls like me,” she told GSR over a phone call from her office. Harshita’s mother works in a candle-making unit in Sumanahalli.

The Sumanahalli story began in 1976 when the Karnataka government asked the Bangalore Archdiocese to manage a program for wandering lepers in the city. The government allotted 60 acres in the city’s outskirts for the project to be located.

Archbishop Packiam Arokiaswamy, head of the Bangalore Archdiocese at the time, invited religious congregations for help, and four women’s congregations responded.

“Although the coordination is done by priests from time to time, it is the sisters who actually manage the Sumanahalli,” Kannanthanam acknowledges.

Thomas Scaria












Cuatro congregaciones de religiosas fusionan sus carismas para beneficiar a los enfermos de lepra. I ODS 3,10,17

Thomas Scaria

Periodista de la Unión de Noticias Católicas de Asia

también para Matters India



6 Fathima Mary Lourdraj venda a un paciente CROP.jpg


La Hna. Fathima Mary Lourdraj venda a un paciente en la clínica de Sumanahalli en Bengaluru, India. El carisma principal de su orden, las Hermanas Franciscanas de la Inmaculada, es servir a los enfermos de lepra. (Thomas Scaria)


Bangalore, India – Religiosas de cuatro congregaciones han logrado fusionar sus carismas para idear un enfoque integrado para tratar y rehabilitar a los enfermos de lepra en esta ciudad del sur de la India.


“Seguimos carismas y espiritualidades diferentes, pero cuando trabajamos juntas, ayudan a la gente de forma diferente”, dice la hermana Christina Fernandes, miembro de las Hermanas Franciscanas de la Inmaculada que atienden a la Sociedad Sumanahalli en Bangalore, capital del estado de Karnataka.


El gobierno de Karnataka seleccionó a Sumanahalli, que significa “pueblo de gente de buen corazón”, para el “Premio a la mejor ONG” de este año. El gobierno indio, dirigido por un partido nacionalista hindú, concedió el premio el 30 de enero, Día Mundial de la Lepra de la Organización Mundial de la Salud y también aniversario de la muerte de Mahatma Gandhi. El gobierno elogió los “encomiables servicios” del centro católico en el tratamiento y la rehabilitación de los enfermos de lepra.



La Hna. Fathima Mary Lourdraj trabaja con un residente del centro de rehabilitación de Sumanahalli después de que le vendaran las piernas. (Thomas Scaria)


La lepra, o enfermedad de Hansen, es una enfermedad infecciosa crónica causada por una bacteria que afecta principalmente a los nervios fuera del cerebro y la médula espinal, la piel, las vías respiratorias superiores, los ojos y el revestimiento de la nariz.


El claretiano P. George Kannanthanam, director de la Sociedad Sumanahalli, dice que el mérito, de este premio y de este trabajo conjunto, es del “foro intercongregacional de hermanas que ha proporcionado una vida digna a más de 11.000 personas afectadas por la lepra en los últimos 45 años”, cuando la sociedad fue fundada por la archidiócesis de Bangalore.


El tema del Día Mundial de la Lepra de este año era “Unidos por la dignidad”, lo que, según el sacerdote, es cierto en el caso de las hermanas y los pacientes de Sumanahalli.


El enfoque integrado de las hermanas abarca el tratamiento, la educación, la formación profesional, la inserción laboral, la vivienda y el asentamiento familiar, explica Kannanthanam a Global Sisters Report.


Las Hermanas Franciscanas de la Inmaculada y las Hermanas de San José de Tarbes tienen conventos dentro del campus de Sumanahalli, mientras que las Hermanas de Montfort o Hijas de la Sabiduría y las Hijas de la Iglesia viven fuera.


“Aunque trabajamos según el carisma individual, todos se fusionan para cumplir el mismo objetivo: reinsertar a los enfermos de lepra en la sociedad como ciudadanos productivos”, dijo Fernandes, enfermera, a GSR mientras lavaba y vendaba las heridas de los pacientes en una clínica del campus de Sumanahalli. Su congregación se fundó en 1876 en Valencia (España) para atender a los enfermos de lepra, añadió.


La Hna. Christina Fernandes, a la izquierda, de las Hermanas Franciscanas de la Inmaculada, dice que se siente motivada por la mujer de la derecha, que fue una de las primeras pacientes de Sumanahalli y es como una madre para las hermanas. Fernandes lleva 26 años trabajando allí. (Thomas Scaria)


En la actualidad, las congregaciones, Franciscana y de Tarbes, han enviado a cinco religiosas cada una para trabajar en Sumanahalli mientras residen en el campus. La congregación de Montfort envía ahora tres hermanas y las Hijas de la Iglesia destinan dos a trabajar en Sumanahalli.


Los franciscanos gestionan la clínica, mientras que las hermanas de Tarbes se ocupan de la educación de los pacientes, de su inserción laboral y de los proyectos de vivienda. Las hermanas de Montfort se dedican a las encuestas comunitarias, a las clínicas y a las derivaciones, y las Hijas de la Iglesia se ocupan de la atención general de los pacientes.


La hermana Mary Mascarenhas, que trabaja en Sumanahalli desde hace cuatro décadas, señala que en la India se da más del 50% de los nuevos casos de lepra en el mundo, aunque la Organización Mundial de la Salud declaró en 2005 que la lepra era una enfermedad eliminada. También India afirmó que la lepra había dejado de ser un problema sanitario.


Tales declaraciones sólo han llevado a “reducir la atención al problema de la lepra en la sociedad y a recortar los fondos”, lamenta Mascarenhas, a quien a menudo se llama la “Madre Teresa de Bangalore” por su trabajo entre los enfermos de lepra.


La monja de 80 años dice que podrían corregir las heridas y deformidades físicas de los pacientes de lepra, pero las heridas causadas por el estigma social y el aislamiento son “muy profundas y tardan años en curarse”.


Tras la declaración de la OMS, Amici di Raoul Follereau (AIFO, Amigos de Raoul Follereau), una agencia italiana que financiaba a Sumanahalli desde 1976, suspendió la ayuda.



El claretiano P. George Kannanthanam, director de la Sociedad Sumanahalli, fue premiado en 2003 por el presidente indio Abdul Kalam como “Mejor empleador para los discapacitados” y por su liderazgo en la ayuda a la eliminación de la lepra (enfermedad de Hansen) en la India. (Thomas Scaria)


Kannanthanam dice que la lepra puede estar eliminada en los registros del gobierno, pero “nuestros equipos comunitarios siguen trayendo nuevos casos que nos obligan a buscar fondos locales”.

Thomas Scaria