A Vocation Unto Death – Sister Valsa John, SCJM

Blog Published: May 23, 2011
By Sister Julie

I never met Sister Valsa, but she is my sister and yours. My heart breaks for the congregation, family and friends of Sister Valsa John, SCJM, a Sister of Charity of Jesus and Mary who was killed a week ago. Journalist Stephanie Nolen wrote about her in a piece for the Globe and Mail called "Activist nun who fought Indian mining companies brutally murdered" (November 17, 2011). Here are some quotes:

Sister ValsaSister Valsa, 52, was from Kerala in south India, and 24 years ago took her vows as a member of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary. She was one of the remarkable breed of Indian religious figures who are grassroots social activists, who immerse themselves in the most marginalized and impoverished communities and work on literacy, basic health care and human rights. Sister Valsa said she did Jesus’s work by teaching the aboriginal people – known in India as adivasi or “tribals” – about their rights to their land….

Sister Sudha [Varghese, her close friend], who attended the funeral Thursday, said most who knew Sister Valsa believe it was people from the Santhal community, in the pay of the mining company, who killed her. “This is what the companies do: they divide people. When people are this poor, when someone gives them a little money, they can do anything,” she said. “Valsa knew it, and so many times we asked her to leave. But she said, ‘These are my people and I cannot leave them.’ ”

While the proverbial jury’s out in terms of who is actually responsible, news sources tend to name the coal company or possible local people who were angry with Sister Valsa for reporting to police the rape of a woman in the village.

Said Bishop Julius Marandi of Dumka, “Her violent death was a terrible shock and a great loss to the Church. We seek justice, but while we mourn this loss, our mission for the poor, the weak and voiceless will continue, strengthened and renewed by the blood of Sister Valsa, who now intercedes for human rights, justice, dignity and hope of these people.” (source: AsiaNews)

I’ve been reflecting a lot on Sister Valsa’s life and her death. No one knows where one’s vocation will lead — for some, to be a person of compassion, for others a teacher or a missionary or a parent. For all of us, our vocation leads to our death — not directly, perhaps, but in one way or another we find in our death that final statement of how we have lived our life. For some, one’s vocation necessarily entails facing death. I remember my own Sister Alice Baker, IHM, talking about her trip to the Holy Land. She talked about having to discern the possibility of her own death because she was going on a peace mission in a volatile region. I can’t even pretend to know what that means.

I lead a relatively peaceful existence with no threats to life other than the usual ones that all of us human beings face. Sure, I’ve had my share of “close-calls” but I’m intact for the most part! I am blown away by those like Sister Valsa and Sister Alice and so many others who have faced the real possibility of death. For some like Sister Valsa, death has come directly as a result of living fully one’s vocation.

You know, I’ve always wondered why in Compline — night prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours — the last prayer always reminds us of death. “All powerful God, grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.” I think it may be a reminder of our ultimate source and end in God and a reminder to take to heart our vocation. Not sure, but I will definitely keep pondering.

How do you understand “a vocation unto death”?

Archived Comments

marla November 23, 2011 at 12:19 pm

wow, sister julie, i missed this story. another dorothy stang (maura clarke, ita ford, etc). vocation unto death need not mean martyrdom, but it does anyway all too often. i think a vocation unto death can be persevering at anything god designs throughout a lifetime. one’s end need not be violent, in other words. and yet, sister valsa john’s vocation unto death is a powerful testimony to the values of truth and justice in a world too often filled with opposite things. may she rest in peace, and may we follow the example she set in her life.

Barbara November 23, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I think of it more as a “vocation unto life”. Valso worked for the life of the people she ministered to. She worked for the life of the land about her. It’s about living fully now and proclaiming the Good News. The “vocation to death” is in the mining companies, some of them Canadian. As with Jesus, this time death seems to have won, but God says in Jesus Resurrection: “Death will not have the last word”. We all have this “vocation to life lived fully for God”. Pray that I may live it in all circumstances.

Sister Julie November 23, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Yes, I hear what you are saying Barbara. I too believe that it is a vocation unto life, and at the same time, a vocation fully lived also means unto death. There is a realness there for me,and an acknowledging that life and death often sit side by side.

Barbara November 23, 2011 at 5:20 pm

True, SJ. In order to live fully we need to face the reality of death. They do sit side by side – they are even holding hands.

Marsha West November 23, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Interesting coincidences today – It’s the feast day of St. Clement, Pope and Martyr. In my reflections today in our Word/Communion service I drew together the OT reading from Daniel – the one with the “writing on the wall” in the banquet hall of Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, where Daniel freely proclaimed to the king that he had been weighed in the balance and found wanting and that his kingdom would be divided and given to others. I spoke of Oscar Romero, who died a martyr, slain while saying mass at his own altar, but who still hasn’t been proclaimed a saint – and Sister Valsa whose story I had read last week. I spoke also of Bishop Gumbleton, retired bishop of Detroit, (and founder of Pax Christi) who is not allowed to speak freely in his own diocese or the parishes he pastored. The age of martyrs is not past – and those who speak truth to power will suffer for it. But what a sign they are for the rest of us about how important it is to be faithful to the Truth we serve.

Clement, Romero, Sr. Valsa, Thomas Gumbleton – faithful to the end. Truly, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Soniya November 23, 2011 at 8:39 pm

I too think its a nuns vocation unto life.i m very happy to see that there is still someone who doesnt care for her and fight for others like u.but on the other side there is also a sadness to loose a great sister valsa and also very embarssed because of the day to day news of the convents and indian churches………………keep up ur good work ……… May god bless you

Recent Comments