Sr Maria Theresa-The ‘Florence Nightingale’ of FMSoN
Students of Father Muller School of Nursing (FMSoN), Fr Muller College of Nursing (FMCoN), Nurses, Faculty and Staff paid tribute to Sr Maria Theresa Fernandes, the Founder Principal of FMSoN (1959-1982), who passed away at the age of 94 on 6 July 2016, and her funeral services took place at St Joseph’s Church, Jeppu-Mangaluru on 7 July.
Mangaluru: “We come to comfort and to heal, to love and serve in woe and weal; As white-robed bands with healing hands to daily tasks arise, And eager limbs await their hour with aching, grim surmise; Where love divine inspires and lifts the failing heart or brain; And healing reach on wheels and wings the distant home or plain; Come, Nurse, by Nightingale inspired, forget your broken rest, Come all who soothe in ways unsung Humanity’s unrest; Let’s all as one, with love pursue the toil by millions blest” – these are some of the lyrics from the Fr Muller Institution Anthem, where nurses play an important role in caring and loving the patients.
As they say, that Nurses are the hospitality of the hospital. Nurses lead very demanding lives. Working with doctors, healing patients and educating the communities are just a few of the responsibilities nurses perform on a daily basis. In fact, you could say that nurses are the backbone of our health care system, providing us with the attention and medical care that we need to live healthy long-lasting lives. Sometimes being a nurse can be exhausting at times, but the knowledge and power to help heal others are what keeps them going in challenging times.
And when you are trained and guided by a good tutor, good principal, good mentor- you are surely bound to be a good, dedicated, loving and caring nurse- and one such tutor and Principal was Sr Maria Theresa Fernandes, the first Principal of Fr Muller School of Nursing. Many nurses who were lucky to be her students and graduated to be nurses out of this prestigious institute, have been serving throughout the nation and abroad at reputed hospitals and medical institutions. And when you have a nurse in the house is like having a doctor, because a nurse knows about everything what a doctor knows, except they can’t perform a surgery or prescribe medication.
I feel proud to say that both of my sister-in-laws namely Florine D’souza and Alice D’Souza, who were students of the 10th batch of FMSoN under the guidance of Sr Maria Fernandes, have been working for over three decades as Registered Nurses (RN) in Chicago Suburbs-USA. I have great respect and honor for the nurses, who are considered as the “Angels of Mercy”, but the only time I disliked them when they try to stick that needle into my buttocks? How mean! Long live the nurses for their commitment to the betterment of the sick and the suffering, both rich and poor, young and old.
Yes, we can say that Sr Maria Theresa Fernandes was truly a “Florence Nightingale of Fr Muller Nursing School”, and like Dr Modi, the chief physician then at FMMC had once said that she was the “Mother Theresa of the South”, one should be proud of her character, dedication, love and caring as a pioneer in nursing at Fr Muller’s. It was indeed befitting to pay respect and tribute to this great soul by organizing a condolence meet today, 11 July at FMCoN hall at 3 pm. The program began with invoking God’s blessings through a prayer song rendered by a bevy of nursing students, followed by welcome address by Jasmine Sarita Vas- Principal of FMSoN. Victoria D’Almeida-Vice Principal of FMCoN gave a brief description on Sr Maria Theresa, which was followed by a reminiscence of Sr Maria through Audio-Video presentation. The dignitaries and faculty of nursing school/college offered floral tribute to the portrait of Sr Maria Fernandes.
Guest of honor, Florine D’Souza, a NRI and a former student of Sr Maria who served as Registered Nurse for 36 years in USA paying tribute to her tutor, principal and mentor said, ” I attribute my success and what I am now is solely because of the guidance, training, love and caring of Sr Maria Theresa. She was not only a tutor, a warden,a principal, most of all she was like a true mother who cared for us with love and empowered all of us with Gods love, compassion and human dignity. She instilled in my heart the love for the poor. As a mentor, she taught us to have faith in God and ourselves.she taught us the value of human life to love God and treat everyone with equal respect. I still remember and will never forget her words that she imbibed in me on the first day of my training as a nurse, to see Jesus in every patient that I came in contact and treat them like Jesus.” (Read the Complete version of the tribute speech below).
Director of Fr Muller Charitable Institutions, Rev Fr Patrick Rodrigues praising the good work and deeds of Sr Maria Theresa said, ” If we have dedicated nurses serving in reputed hospitals in Mumbai, most of them are from Fr Muller, and many were students of Sr Maria. I was very much associated with her those days, and I admired her courage, dedication, love and care towards the students and also patients. Her special, caring ways have touched so many lives, and she was compassionate and dedicated to her profession. She was like a mother to the students, and for the patients she worked around the clock, not only checking their vitals but also making sure they were comfortable, giving them emotional support. She was like an Angel spreading hope to those who needed help each day. She was a great asset to Fr Muller Institution in the nursing field. May her soul rest in peace”.
Sophia, yet another student of Sr Maria Theresa also graced the occasion. Sr Winnifred D’Souza-Principal of FMCoN delivered the vote of thanks, while the entire proceedings were professionally compered by Renita Prathima Tauro- Assistant Lecturer at FMCoN. In conclusion, I end this column with a thoughtful message that was delivered by Sr Maria Fernandes during the Golden Jubilee celebration of FMSoN –
“Times has changed,Institution has grown but the profession remains the same; Human suffering is also the same. Listen to the patient carefully with all your mind and soul, understand deeply, love the patient- rich or poor, where your loving words and touch will heal the patient”.
Following is the tribute speech on Sr Maria Theresa Fernandes delivered during the condolence Meet by Florine D’Souza- Guest of Honor and Ex-Student of Sr Tutor:
“Good afternoon my dear sisters, nursing students,faculty and staff members of this prestigious nursing institute. Let me introduce myself–I am Florine D’souza ,a former student in the 10th batch from 1967 to 1971. Before I go any further let me quote the golden words of the “Lady with a lamp” and the pioneer of nursing, Florence nightingale, who said “I attribute my success to this profession. I never gave or took any excuse. How very little can be done under the spirit of fear. Were there none who were discontented with what they have,the world would never reach anything better. In a similar way I attribute my success and what I am today is only because of my tutor and mentor Sr Maria Theresa, who not only taught me but also guided me on the right path to reach greater heights. I extend my sincere gratitude to her and pray that her soul rest in peace.
Recalling those days when I was a student, there were only 100 of us in the nursing program. Having a sole instructor for all four batches, GNM to Midwifery, with each batch having 25 students. And the instructor was Sr Maria Theresa. She was indeed a true angel and a true blessing for all of us. She was not only a tutor, a warden,a principal, most of all she was like a true mother who cared for us with love and empowered all of us with Gods love, compassion, and human dignity. She taught the true meaning of a nurse, as to how she should be.
As a tutor, Sr Maria Theresa taught us, all about the true meaning of a nurse, as to how she should be. She taught us in a small classroom above our dormitory. Conducting classes in theory and practical to each batch .She taught us to care for our patients with love and respect and dignity from our hearts. In practical, we were taught from bed making to washing bedpans, collecting samples, dressing the wounds, wiping the tears of the patients and easing their pain, also how to interact with compassion and gentleness , physically, emotionally,socially and spiritually, and making plans for their care according to their needs . No doubt she was a great teacher and a dynamic person, who made sure that all her students understood the basic principles and value of nursing. She was there for us anytime we needed her to answer questions and ease our tension, thereby preparing us to serve with confidence and become good caregivers in our nursing profession.
This enabled me to face the society and the world with courage, determination to serve the poor with confidence, love and compassion in my 36 years of nursing career in the United States of America. Let me not forget along with Sr Maria, we had other tutors namely Dr Modi for medical nursing, Dr Venkat Rao, the chief medical officer at the time taught us surgical nursing and Dr Shetty for psychiatric nursing. All of them along with Sr tutor, enriched our minds with a wealth of knowledge to better care for our patients and become good nurses .As students, we worked 8-12 hrs a day or night duty in the wards.and simultaneously attending classes in between, under Sr Maria Theresa’s excellent guidance, who was also a person of patience taking pride in teaching to care for suffering humanity with love and dignity.
She instilled in my heart the love for the poor. As a mentor, she taught us to have faith in God and ourselves.she taught us the value of human life to love God and treat everyone with equal respect. I still remember and will never forget her words that she imbibed in me on the first day of my training as a nurse, to see Jesus in every patient that I came in contact and treat them like Jesus. And all these years I carried this principle of her in my heart wherever I worked as a caregiver, may they be rich or poor, young or old, sane or insane all with sole principle caring for Jesus. Yes, I carried this trend all 36 years of my nursing career with pride. It’s indeed a true blessing from my Sr tutor, Sr Maria Theresa.
As a principal, she was everything for us , apart from being a principal she was a teacher warden , caretaker, and a loving mother. Myself being a mother and grandmother of two I find it’s a challenge to raise them and discipline them . But imagine Sr Maria Theresa handling 100 girls to nurture, love and discipline them . She spent most of her 24 hrs in a day with us, except during her meals and bathing time. She would rush back after her evening meal to have recreation time with us by sacrificing her own personal life for her children. She slept in the same dormitory in a small room on a simple metal cot to watch over us. Thus was her simple life. She was a pillar of our strength and our security. She made sure that all of us were up at 5.30 am to attend Holy mass at the old chapel, and that’s how we began our day.
She made sure to be present during all our three meals and taught us the table manners, and before leaving to the wards she checked every ones hands for nail polish, hair for neatness, our faces for makeup or ponds powder, checked the length of our white ironed apropos,and perfectly folded corners of our white caps. She also opened all our incoming mail/letters and read them before handing them to us. Those days we had no cell phones/ iPads or computers/laptops for emails and communication. Yes she was our T S A (Transportation Security Administration) or I should say NSA (Nursing Security Administrator?)
She had a special character that warmed the hearts of students patients and everyone who knew her, and all these qualities made her a dynamic person. She has left us with beautiful memories. She was very courteous, kind and lived a simple life and served with a smile. We will remember her as women of quite personal grace whose love for her students, patients,and Fr Muller’s institute made a difference in many lives. Her love will remain with us forever. A life well lived, a precious gift of hope and strength. Someone made our world a better brighter place that fills us with sweet memories with smiles and tears and laughter through the years.
Finally, to my dear principal , mentor, teacher and warden and beloved Mother Sr Maria Theresa my message is, “Sr your memory is a keepsake which will never part. God has you in his keeping but you will always remain in our hearts. I conclude my tribute yet with another quote from Florence Nightingale. If I could give you information of my life, it would be a show how a woman of very ordinary ability has been led by God in strange and unaccustomed paths to do in his service, what he has done in her. And if I could tell you all, you would see how God has done all and I have nothing. I have worked hard, very hard that is all. And I have never refused God for anything.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts on my beloved Florence Nightingale, our very own Sr Maria Theresa. May her soul rest in heavenly peace and joy.
About: Sr Maria Theresa Fernandes Founder Principal (1959 – 1982) Of Father Muller School of Nursing
She was born on 19 July 1922 in Bendore- Mangaluru. She underwent a nursing training course in 1945 and Midwifery course in 1949 in Ernakulam Kerala. She won the gold medal in the sister tutors course conducted in Madras in 1952. In 1967 she attended the catholic nurses guild conference at Manila. It was in 1959 with just 12 students Sr Maria Theresa Fernandes started the Father Muller school of Nursing. It was the first educational unit at Father Muller’s and first nursing school in private sectors in the state. On 20 July 1982, she was transferred to Bangalore as Superior of Stella Maris Convent, during which Sr Gonzaga Pinto took charge as Principal of FMSoN.
Sr Maria Theresa was the Founder Principal who instilled in her students the venture of selfless service, love and concerns for the sick. Her immense knowledge, kind words, zeal and indomitable spirit was remarkable. She would always say a nurse distinguishes herself by her brisk walk and quick action. She was at the helm for 23 years and raised the nursing school to the status of a premier institute of nursing both in India and worldwide. More than education, she emphasized Christian values in her students and she practiced them as well. If today the nurses of Father Muller are known for the best nursing care and competence a large share and credit goes to Sr Maria Theresa Fernandes.