Celebrating 50 years of service as Prioress, Carmelite Convent

By Hiranthi Fernando

The Sisters of 'Corpus Christi Carmel' at Mattakkuliya celebrated the Golden Jubilee of their Mother Prioress, Rev. Sr. Mary of the Holy Face on October 17. 'Mother' as she is lovingly known, took the final vows of her religious profession on October 15, 1959, having entered the convent as a novice in 1957. During her fifty years in the Carmelite Convent, she has served as Prioress for about 25 years in spells, being elected to the post by the sisters in the community.

"She has been happy in her religious life," says one of the sisters at the Carmelite Convent. "She is a loving and friendly person. When we were writing invitations to the Jubilee Service, we found that she has hundreds of friends."

Born on October 29, 1932, as Mary Elizabeth Sebam Stanislaus, she was the youngest in a family of two girls and three boys. She came from a devoutly religious family, being the niece of Bishop Emillianus Pillai and Fr. Peter Pillai.

Educated at Bridget's Convent, Colombo, she had an exemplary school life, being Head Girl as well as tennis captain. Her only surviving brother said that when she entered the university, her uncles had advised her to use her talents and complete her studies. However, she had a vocation to serve as a nun.

Her contemporaries at school have many fond memories of Mary Stanislaus. "We are family friends and I have known her since she was a child," says Marie Goonewardena. "She is a wonderful person, a close friend to many and helpful to the family and neighbourhood." "Mary was a brilliant maths student," says Marina Wijesekera. "She got through the university entrance for a Double Maths degree on the first try. I remember when she first announced to us that she was joining the Carmelite Convent.

She had completed the first year at university and we were having dinner with her on her 21st birthday. During the evening she had a telephone call from her uncle Bishop Emillianus Pillai. Soon after the call she gave us the news that she was giving up university to join the Carmelite order of sisters. We were quite surprised and shocked. She was a very active and brilliant student. She also had a wonderful sense of humour and was always ready for a joke. In our minds, she was the last person we expected to go into a convent, a cloistered one at that."

Her friends say that they keep in touch with her at the convent. "She is still Mary to us," they said.
The Carmelite order is a contemplative one. The sisters spend most of their time in prayer and work. The sisters wake up at 4.45 a.m. for early prayers followed by Holy Mass. Most of the day is spent in cooking, sewing and housework. All their tasks are performed in silence, unless it is necessary to speak. However, during the recreation period of half hour in the morning and half hour in the evening, they speak and laugh as much as they like. They do not employ any helpers but do all the work themselves. They also have a small farm for which they engage some workers. They go to bed at 10 p.m., after last prayers at 9.30 p.m.

To celebrate the jubilee of their Mother Prioress, the sisters have a longer recreation period and they have planned a small variety entertainment with a play and dance items. "We are the actors and the audience too," commented one sister.

Many people go to the Carmelite Convent to request prayers for various special intentions. During her years as a Carmelite sister, Sr. Mary of the Holy Face has helped and continues to help numerous people by her prayers. Rev. Fr. Neil Dias Karunaratne recalls how she comforted his mother who joined the convent after the death of his father. "When my mother entered religious life from secular life, Sr. Mary of the Holy Face became my mother's spiritual mentor, helped her to fit in to the new life and also to cope with the period of loneliness."

With her prayers and her faith in God, she inspires people with courage to weather their problems and live their lives.

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