Sister Loreto left her birthplace 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.
I had a near death and life altering accident after returning from honeymoon in the winter of 2014. We had just returned from India for Christmas Day, when a ferocious bacterial infection tried to swallow me whole. The images that filled my mind for that month in hospital were all of India from where we had just returned and never felt so happy. My only memory of being on a ventilator and in a coma, was hallucinating meeting hundreds of Indian people, like ghosts, greeting me one after the other. Waking up in A&E after a second surgery, I figuratively let go of all my belongings in the outside world. Afraid for my life and getting a tragic diagnosis of some kind, nothing mattered that didn’t make me extremely happy, and all that made me happy in such a fearful time was the extreme love I felt for my wife and the people in my life who loved me. To accompany those feelings were many images in my mind of our beautiful time spent in Asia, where I had also been letting go of all my belongings at home, and of all routine and familiarity.
Days before leaving India for Ireland, Aideen and I had the pleasure of meeting the sweetest old lady, sister Loreto Houlihan. She had been a nun and an English teacher in Chennai for almost 70 years but listening to her talk was like being warmed by a hearth somewhere deep in the Irish wilderness. She could not have been more Irish. I wondered at the time, what it must have felt like for her to be so far from home. How did she cope with being so isolated and detached from her friends and family for all that time? A year after surviving my ordeal and getting an all-clear, I was invited to return to India and meet Sister Loreto again, to this time make a documentary about her, and the celebration of her 70th year in Chennai. I was also returning to meet my ghosts, to thank them for being there with me in the dark and murky time I spent between this world and the next. Her story in her own wonderfully warm words answered so many questions of mine. Through her I was able to make some sense of my own life, and celebrate finding my own peace and extreme happiness in such a dark frontier.
This is the full documentary. My love affair with India, and my love for a woman who despite all odds, also found her extreme happiness many thousands of miles from home with only memories of her loved ones and the love of her family to keep her strong. I hope I have succeeded in capturing some of the utter joy that India has brought Loreto and I, and thank you each and every one of you who was here with me online in the New Year of 2015, wishing me well and sending your love.
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