Institute Mater Dei, a center for theology in Goa has helped thousands of Indian women to assert their rights and play a critical role in society, Church leaders and past pupils say.

Institute of Mater Dei (IMD) is helping the religious women to develop critical thinking, all in view of mission, besides preparing them to meet modern challenges, says Daughters of St Paul Sister Pauline Chakkalacakal, who teaches Bible at the institute.

“Women are trained to speak up for themselves. It helps them develop feminine qualities and feminist perspectives,” the woman theologian claims. He said the institute started Bachelors in Theology course to give feminist –understood as egalitarian, inclusive and holistic —perspective to Theology,” Sister Chakkalackal said.

IMD, she told Matters India, provides facility to have integral formation among women religious. “Theological formation also should help the women religious to critique certain irrelevant traditions, practices within the Church which are maintained in the name of theology. Women

The nun was speaking after attending the golden jubilee celebrations of the institute on January 5.

The IMD was created in 1964 to empower the Religious women to face the challenges of modern world and make their life beautiful in the service of the church and humanity.

It began with a two-year theology program. Later in 1990, to respond to the needs of religious life, the study programs were articulated into ‘One Year Ongoing Theology Program and One Yea Animation Program for Sister Fomators.’

In 2010, the institute launched one year-certificate course in Philosophy and the following year Degree Course in Theology to help sisters heal the wounded humanity.

The institute is the brain child of Apostolic Carmel Sister Theodosia, the only woman observer at the Vatican II from Asia.

The visionary nun was the superior general of her order from 1960-1972. In 1962, she became the first president of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), the national association of religious major superiors in India.

She wanted to respond to the call of the Church to renewal and updating and the result was the Mater Dei institute.

The then Internuncio Archbishop J Knox initiated the process of executing the call of Vatican II for the empowerment of women religious through formation programs, with a request to Mother Theodosia. He requested her to plan and run a national formation house. Thus IMD was opened on June 5, 1964.

The jubilee Mass led by Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio. Archbishop Philip Neri Ferrao of Goa and Fr Joe Mannath, CRI president and other 30 priests assisted him. A large number of religious joined in the Mass and other programs.

A group of 50 sisters performed Aarathi (floral tribute) after the Doxology.

Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio hailed IMD as a symbol of women’s quest to follow Christ, and grow in holiness. “It was felt need to bring about the changes from the Vatican II.”

He exhorted the religious to “keep Christ at the center of your life. Jesus calls the meek and humble blessed.”

“The purpose of IMD is to prepare women to face the changing times. Recalling the words of Pope Francis he said, “I am counting on you to wake up the world. To be prophets who will witness how Jesus lived on earth.

He also said: “Wherever there are religious there is joy. May you never seek your happiness anywhere but in your community.. You should be able to discover your joy in serving others. May the enthusiasm of IMD continue to empower religious to be a dynamic evangelizer.”

Archbishop Philip Neri Ferrao of Goa stressed the need to multiply Institutes such as IMD to empower women religious. He exhorted the students, to grow into the fullness of Christ (the theme of IMD) and to render yeomen service wherever they are sent.

The celebration included a one-hour play involving all the students of Mater Dei, depicting the history of St Monica Convent and IMD.

Daughters of St Paul Sr Manju Tirkey, presently studying in the institute, said it has given her immense opportunities to grow into the fullness of Christ through different classes, community life, spiritual and holistic developmental programs.

She said the students come from different states of India, with diverse cultural and language backgrounds. This has helped enlarge our relationship to embrace life with more love and openness, she told Matters India.

Jesuit Fr P D Mathew, a Supreme Court lawyer who conducts legal education classes for religious and priests throughout India, said IMD’s alumni have grown up to be joyful evangelizers among the suffering humanity.

Sr Auxilia of the Handmaids of Mary, who was in the first batch, said IMD laid a solid foundation for her formation in spiritual life that has helped her meet demands and challenges of the world and “make my life fruitful in the service of my Congregation, the Church and the countrymen.

Another superior general, Sr Shanthi Irudayam, said the institute provides opportunities to have human interactions along with theories.

She studied at the institute during 1992-1994. “It was amazing so many persons from differing backgrounds and cultures and ages can come together to form a community of harmony and learning,” she recalled.

Most classes were vibrant, intellectual, and fun. Teaching and Formation are admirable as the professors were alive with compassion and sense of humanity with lots of worth sharing and discussing. Team spirit of the staff and interpersonal relationship with staff were very much appreciable. IMD had a powerful, life-long impact on me through encouragement, positive feedback and praise’, she added.

Queen of Apostle Sister M Regis, former superior of IMD, said the vision of the pioneers has blossomed. “There was just one course at the start now there are several coursed offered according to the needs of the time of formation,” she added..