It was wonderful to meet and catch up with Padma Shri Sister Karuna Mary Braganza on Christmas eve, thanks to good friend Shashikant Sharma. It was nice to see her active, sharp and energetic at 94. Many years ago, she had inaugurated an art exhibition that I had curated at Indiaart Gallery, Pune. This exhibition featured women artists. The show opened on International Women’s Day. Subsequently I had an opportunity to travel with her to see a school she had helped set up. During our conversation, I realised the deep commitment and genuine passion she had towards education.

I met her today after several years on Christmas Eve. When I met her last, Khula Aasmaan did not exist. She was happy to learn about Khula Aasmaan and the way it has evolved. Sister Karuna Mary talked about several children she is in touch with and how they would benefit from a project like Khula Aasmaan. I promised her that I will conduct an art workshop for these children and their parents.

Milind Sathe with Padma Shri Sister Karuna Mary on Christmas Eve
Milind Sathe with Padma Shri Sister Karuna Mary on Christmas Eve

About Sister Karuna Mary

Born in 1924, Sister Karuna Mary Braganza is an educator, social worker, writer, developmental education promoter and former principal of Sophia College, Mumbai. A member of the Society of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ), Sr. Karuna Mary led 204 colleges managed by the Order. In 2008, Government of India awarded her the fourth highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri, for her social contributions.

Stint at Sophia College

She joined the Society of the Sacred Heart as a nun in 1950, her ordination taking place in England. Returning to India, she was a teacher at Sophia High School, Bengaluru. After working there for a few years, she joined Department of English at Sophia College, Mumbai. Furthermore, she rose to become head of that department, vice principal, then principal of the college in 1965, the first Indian to hold the position.

During her tenure as the principal of the college, several educational and social projects were initiated. She founded Bhabha Institute of Science, a division of the college for science education up to graduate level. She started new departments for sociology, psychology, and biochemistry. In 1970, the college started a vocational education centre under the name Sophia Polytechnic and five years late began a junior college. Another of her major contributions was the establishment of S.P.J. Sadhana School for the Developmentally Challenged, on the college campus. Here, differently abled children were given vocational training and provided with opportunities for rehabilitation.

Work in Jharkhand

After retiring from Sophia College, she moved to Delhi to be the secretary of the All India Association for Christian Higher Education, holding the responsibility of 204 colleges under its jurisdiction. She served the Association for six years till she moved to Torpa, a tribal area in present day Jharkhand state. Learning the local dialect of Mundari, she worked among the tribal people and founded the Centre for Women’s Development (CWD) and a women’s self-help group in 1990. The movement, later, grew to host 5000 members.

Padma Shri

The Government of India awarded her the civilian honour of the Padma Shri in 2008. Sister Karuna Mary, a life member of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), retired in 2006. She lives in Pune. Her life has been documented in a 396-page book, The Charism of Karuna – Life Story of Sister Karuna Mary Braganza, published in 2011. ( source : Wikipedia )