Mangaluru: When one reaches ninety, one has indeed reached a major milestone in one’s life which few people across the world can boast of; much less, in a country like ours! In the Old Testament, “ninety” was that stage of life when one literally began a revolution. When Abraham was past ninety, the Lord called him “to walk before me” and his wife Sarah who was exactly ninety was called to bear a son. And when the Lord tells Abraham about this he also adds “I will bless Sarah and she shall be the mother of nations, kings of people shall be of her”. A magnificent tribute indeed paid to a woman of faith, of fortitude and of foresight by none other than Yahweh God himself!
So when we look back at the life of Dr Olinda Pereira ( Founder of Vishwas Trust for Elderly, and also Former Principal of Roshini Nilaya School of Social Work): ninety years of many blessings, one cannot but help see in her a striking parallel to Sarah.
If there is one quality that can easily be identified with Olinda is that she is a woman of faith. She was born to Lily and Bernard Pereira on the 15th of August 1925 in an environment which not only nurtured her faith but also helped her in many ways to transmit this faith to others. Her grandparents Simon and Angela Mascarenhas were a well-known couple in Kankanady who had already given their only two living two sons to be missionaries in North India and one of their daughters to the Apostolic Carmel. (Simon’s brother Msgr. Raymond Mascarenhas founded the Bethany Sisters).
Olinda was keen on becoming a teacher and she taught for twelve years at St. Mary’s School (Margil) – communicating not only wisdom but also the faith to generations of young girls in that school. Her elder sister Vida (Sr. Bernadette) had joined the Apostolic Carmel earlier. Olinda became an active member of the Christian Women’s Movement and in several other initiatives in Mangalore and elsewhere. But then her faith demanded a more radical ‘yes’ and ultimately she was one of those “late” vocations when 53 years ago she entered the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary. Ever since that day, she has continued to live an exemplary life transmitting the core values of her faith to legions of her students, companions, collaborators, friends and associates.
Sarah was surely a woman of fortitude who was able to demonstrate a tremendous amount of mental and emotional strength in the face of difficulty and adversity. The same can be applied to Olinda. Were one to look back at these ninety amazing years, one would surely be inspired by the strength of this woman in all kinds of situations. It was she who put the focus on the education of the ‘girl child’ and even in the starting a professional institute like ‘Roshni Nilaya’. Her efforts throughout these years have ensured that the Catholic women of India through the CCWI find a legitimate voice in the Church.
It was not without reason that in the late seventies, the then Prime Minister of India Morarji Desai appointed her to be on the Women’s Commission which the Government of India had established – that was the first start to what has become a major National Institution today. Being a pioneer needs a tremendous amount of strength and resilience. The courage to fight all odds because one believes in one’s potential to do things for God’s greater glory! This is what Olinda has demonstrated throughout. A woman of fortitude indeed!
When Pope Francis speaks about the ‘Year of Consecrated Life’ and ‘Laudato Si: On the Care of our Common Home’ in the same breath, he is communicating a vision for the priests and religious of today. The need and importance to be foresighted: one cannot be removed from the other. So when Yahweh God blesses Sarah and tells her that she shall be a “mother of nations”, it is a vision of things to come. Foresight is founded on hope and like Sarah, Olinda has begun ‘Vishwas’ for the care of the elderly. One often says that life begins at birth, then when one reaches teenage, then at 21, or at 30, or at 40 or when one retires – but for Olinda who is a person of tremendous foresight, life like Sarah really begins at ninety!
In a world which is plagued with all kinds of ills and problems, a woman like Olinda Pereira comes like a breath of fresh air: ninety years young with deep faith, tremendous fortitude and great foresight! Ninety is the beginning of new life! August 15th was India’s Independence Day many years ago, but each year on this day, we renew ourselves towards more meaningful and contextual freedom.
On August 15th this year, Olinda Pereira shows and tells the world that all of us are called to be people of faith, of fortitude and of foresight. Happy Birthday Olinda!
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, and presently here in Mangaluru to join in the celebrations of Dr Pereira’s birthday)