‘From little acorns mighty oaks grow!’
This pithy saying finds its true meaning in the growth of the sisters of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The ‘Immaculates’, as an entity, was originally conceived in the Synod of Pondicherry (1844) and was subsequently realized by Reverend Father Louis Savenian Dupuis, M.E.P.
The appalling conditions of Indian Women in the Vedic period attracted the attention of the Europen missionaries, particularly the French. They were convinced of the fact only by educating women and bringing them out of the confines of their family, any development in the country could be achieved. Accordingly, in 1844 Msr. Bonnand, Bishop of Pondicherry, convened the Synod of Pondicherry to discuss certain issues. The Synod profited of this occasion to think over the ways and means to improve the low status of Indian women.
It was agreed that a congregation of Indian women chiefly interested in educational activities shouls be established. This congregation was to be given the charge of running schools for the indigenous girls who could not only get freedom and equality but also could improve the status of families and hence that of the country.
Father Louis Savenien Dupuis of the Paris Foreign Missionaries, who had been working in Bangalore for several years, was transferred to Pondicherry. He participated in the synod who appointed him to be the right person to launch the programme of educating indigenous girls by establishing a New Religious Congregation.
A new Congregation
The zealous and erudite Father Dupuis saw the need for a new congregation on account of the fact that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny were chiefly engaged in educating girls of French origin. The Carmelites, on the other hand, had taken the education of the Orphans. Thus on 16th October, 1844, the congregation of the FIHM was founded exclusively to impart education to the indigenous girls.
Catholics in the diocese were neither numerous nor wealthy, yet the Synod deemed such an institution a necessary adjunct—one that would help to spread the Faith far.
When Mgr. Bonnand with his councilors approved the constitutions and regulations drafted by Father Dupuis, started the first convent in a rented building in Pondicherry with four members namely Annammal, Therese Mary, a Carmelite Sister Theresammal and a Carmelite novice Savariammal from the Carmel Convent.
Just like a new-born eaglet trying to waft its wings, the new congregation struggled to take off. It had to face strong opposition from local traditionalists who refused to send their daughters to the newly opened school. However, the persuasion and confidence in God’s province of the Founder and the Sisters brought new students to the Institution. By 1854, there were 9 resident students and 77 day scholars. Mind you, it was no mean achievement in such a horrendous milieu!
Financial constraints were the second major stumbling block Father Dupuis and his wards had to face. The church in Pondicherry financed the school in the initial stages. In addition to the grant extended by the diocese, the Paris Foreign Mission generally came to the help of the new Congregation. The founder himself surrendered all his ancestral assets to the congregation to extend free education to the girls.
For 30 years, Fr. Dupuis guided the young Congregations its first Director until he was called to his eternal reward on 4th June 1874. His constant deliberations with Rome came to fruition firstly in the affiliation of the congregation to the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi on 23rd February 1859 and then in the canonical erection of the same Congregation as a Diocesan Congregation by Pope Pius IX in 1864.
As envisaged by the Founder, 12 schools and 10 convents with 84 sisters were established before his demise in 1874.
Reverend Father Francis Berges succeeded the founder as the Director of the congregation on 9th June 1874. Under his auspicious, the congregation continued to make resounding progress. it also witnessed revolutionary changes in the mode of operation; one such is the periodical convention of the General Chapters. The other Directors were: Fr. Clement Puozzol, Fr. Julien Decquidt, Fr. Alexander Leblanc, Fr. Joseph Thumma and Fr. S Amalorpavanather. The untiring efforts, the sacrificial life and the ardent zeal in Evangelisation of these directors not only encouraged the sisters for the growth of the congregation, but also contributed a lot to its welfare and continuous development.