‘Sister India’ is a new documentary by Irish filmmaker Myles O’Reilly, which is currently being screened at a number of film festivals in Ireland and in India. It tells the story of a 91-year-old Presentation Sister, Sr. Loreto (Peg) Houlihan who was born near Carrick-on-Suir in Co Tipperary in 1927 and who has spent 70 years teaching in India.
Sister Loreto left her birthplace in Ireland over seventy years ago to become a teacher in Chennai, India. She has chosen to live out the rest of her years in India as the last Irish Nun in Chennai out of 131, never to return home. This is her story in her own words.
“India once nearly killed me, so I was lucky to be asked back there to make another film. It was a golden opportunity to ask India some big questions. I’m not very religious but I was invited to follow this beautiful woman Sister Loreto Houlihan, and found her deep love of India and it’s people, absolutely heart warming and deeply resonant. Sitting in front of her and listening to her talk, was like being warmed by the hearth of an Irish fireplace on a rainy day, hearing stories as she put it, from ‘the long ago’. I learned from her, that India and it’s culture retains more of the life she left seventy years ago in Ireland, than the country of her birth today, and so she chooses to live the rest of her days in India, for that natural familiarity.” – Myles O’Reilly
She dedicated her life to love and serve others through education in Chennai. After completing her teacher training at Church Park College in Madras, she went on to work as a primary school teacher spending most of her life at St Joseph’s Anglo-Indian School in Perambur in north Chennai. Today, Sr. Loreto says she is “blessed with strong faith, good sleep, and no regrets”, and intends to live out her life in her beloved India.
Venerable Nano Nagle (founder of the Presentation Congregation) has been her role model in life. Nano is known as “The Lady of the Lamp” – a pioneer of Catholic education in Ireland during penal times.
The idea for the film
The idea for the film ‘Sister India’ was sparked by Irish woman, Áine Edwards, who has been living in India since 2003 where she runs a business consultancy service.
“My many conversations with Sr. Loreto evoked a passion in me to produce a documentary on her. I wanted to not only share her story, but also to celebrate the work of so many other Irish educators in India, as this era draws to a close and another starts.”
According to Áine Edwards, “The Irish legacy of education in India is one of Ireland’s strongest links with the country. The seeds have been sown for the Indian sisters to take this legacy forward for the next generation of children. ‘Sister India’ was made to preserve not only the story of Sr. Loreto, but to remember all the Irish who have dedicated their lives in the service of education and community support in India.”
“The adults I meet nowadays who attended schools where Irish brothers and sisters were teachers, talk fondly of them and their education. The late chief minister of Tamil, Nadu Jayalalitha, has spoken of her school days at Church Park as being the happiest of her life.”
The Presentation Mission to India
The first Presentation mission in India began in 1842 when four pioneering sisters from Ireland arrived in Madras (Chennai). The mission spread to many other states in the Indian sub-continent including Rawalpindi which later became part of Pakistan. Sisters from India went on to establish mission foundations in Matlock in England, in Zimbabwe, and in Zambia. More recently sisters from India are also ministering in Thailand, Slovakia, Ireland, and the Holy Land.
There are currently 165 sisters living and ministering in a number of states including Tamil Nadu, Goa, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. They are involved in formal and informal education, social work, health and pastoral care, as well as justice, peace, and advocacy on behalf of those on the margins, especially women and children.
See link to Vimeo Extract here: Film Trailer