A documentary titled Sr Loreto — A Gift from Ireland to India directed by Ramakrishna Dhanasekaran is in progress. Hailing from Carrick-AnSuir, Ireland, Sr Loreto said she never thought India would beckon her. “I was attending a convent school by the Presentation Sisters. I thought I would go to China or Africa. But a book on the sisters’ work in India changed my mind. So, I left from Liverpool, UK, in 1944 to India. Those were the war years and it took us an entire month to reach India but we had people around us, who made sure we had a good journey.
Our sleeping quarters were way below in the hold but a kind person had ensured we got two first class cabins right on the first day. I really enjoyed that journey. We landed in Mumbai and then, took the train to Madras and alighted on 8 December 1944,” she reminisced, adding that it was a tough decision for her mother. “It was my mother who made that sacrifice. She found it difficult to let me come to India. She could have easily denied that permission but she didn’t. By the time I went back to Ireland, 16 years later, my mother was no more,” she added. Sr Loreto’s initiation to Chennai happened much before she set foot in the city.
“We started learning Tamil on board the ship. A priest from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) taught us the alphabets. I still remember the letters, after all these years. We were brought here to work with the poor Anglo Indian children, who were left as orphans after the soldiers returned to their country after the war. I was sent on a mission to help and serve the poor Anglo Indian community which was struggling as a minority in India. During the independence, neither the British nor the Indian governments considered them as a citizen of the respective countries. Due to which the Anglo Indians struggled to make ends meet. I had also spent a few years among the Santhal tribe in Bihar. They were really simple people and I even learnt their language. It was such a rewarding experience,” said this teacher, who is fondly remembered by the countless students she moulded.
For Sr Loreto, every moment in India was special. “I have been very happy here. I accept each day as it comes. I did feel lonely when I returned to India after my first holiday back home in Ireland. But after that, when I returned from Ireland, it was like I had never left. Chennai has really become my home now,” she concluded.
Filmmaker Ramakrishna Dhanasekaran, who is making a documentary on Sr Loreto said he was touched by her simplicity, during their first rendezvous. “The first time I interviewed Sr Loreto, we spoke for close to an hour. Her life was not easy. But she looked at the good side of life, while she worked amidst poverty and sickness. She enjoyed her interactions with the children she taught as well as her colleagues. It is her simplicity that is so endearing – which makes a lasting impression on everyone. This documentary, which started small, has grown bigger,” he concluded.