Historical Origin Of The Bethlemite Institute

Our Institute of Bethlemite Sisters, Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, arose from the Bethlemite Order, begun in Guatemala in the year 1658 by Holy Brother Pedro de San Jose Betancur, a native of the Canary Islands. He gave his life to the service of God in the poor, whom he sought out and aided with great love and special care. His house was everyone’s house; there, those who were seeking spiritual and material help found it, and the needy were given charitable shelter.Attracted by his life, several brothers of the Franciscan Third Order, to which Pedro de San Jose Betancur also belonged, joined him. They took him as their master in living radically the demands of the Gospel.

Because of the message which he perceived in the Lord’s Nativity, and because of his great love for this mystery, Pedro dedicated his house to Our Lady of Bethlehem, and his brothers in community took the name of Bethlemites. In 1668, under Pedro’s inspiration, the female branch was started. Over the course of years, it passed through difficult times and came to a point of spiritual stagnation. In 1838 Maria Vicenta Rosal, a native of Quezaltenango, Guatemala, entered the Beaterio de Belen. She took the name of Maria Encarnacion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.She made it possible for the Charism and Spirituality of Pedro de San Jose Betancur to come down to us through the Bethlemite community which she renewed. It was recognized as a new Institute in the Church by juridical approbation, obtained through a laudatory decree of February 20, 1891. The Institute’s definitive approval was received in 1909.

The Mother House of the Bethlemite Sisters is located in Bogotá, Colombia. The Congregation has five provinces. The Sacred Heart of Jesus Province encompasses the countries of Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, USA and Spain. Saint Michael the Archangel Province is comprised of the countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Our Lady of Bethlehem Province covers Chile and Ecuador. Immaculate Province in Italy. Holy Brother Pedro de San Jose Betancur Province in India. Our vocation involves in the proclamation of Christ and in the communication of his message of salvation in the unity of faith and love for the realization of human beings, with fidelity to the Spirit, who speaks to us through history and in various ways. Faithful to the charism of our holy founders we are committed to the work of evangelization which, in announcing the God News, seeks the participation of all the people in the mystery of Christ, with a preference for the poor. We accomplish this evangelizing action:

  • Through the medium of education among every class of people, especially among children and youth.
  • In social and charitable service among children, young people and the elderly.
  • By promoting and inspiring Christian communities in missions and parishes.

History of the Indian Province

From the outset it had been a mysterious, miraculous and wonderful journey to the Indian wing of the Bethlemite Sisters. How else to explain this marvellous journey, which had a humble beginning in a priest being sent to Rome in pursuit of his studies; and while in Rome, he went over to Frattocchie to assist the Parish Priest and thus encountered the Bethlemite Sisters there! That was the innocuous beginning.

The First Indian Bethlemite Sisters: Under the able guidance of their Superior and Novice Mistress Sister Maria Clemente De Santis the first group of six Indians Alphonsa Patchala, Amirthu Carasala, Anthoniammal Illur, Fatima Mary Putti, Lilly Josephine Tharigopala and Stella Rubina Mary Pudhota made their First vows at Frattocchie, in Rome on 24 August 1979 in the hands of the Provincial Superior Sister Bianca Maria Simoni. His Eminence Cardinal Lourdusamy led the celebrations on this auspicious and solemn occasion in a Concelebrated Holy Eucharist with Rt. Rev. Dr. P. C. Balaswamy, Bishop of Nellore and other Indian Priests who were pursuing their studies in Rome. It was a memorable day in the religious life of the first Indian Bethlemite Sisters.

Kovur in Nellore District, Andhra Pradesh:

Kovur in Nellore Dt. was the first house to host the first Bethlemite sisters. It had been a house to welcome the new candidates and to be sent to Rome for further formation. In all, eleven batches of aspirants were sent to Rome for formation between December 1975 and January 1991. The First group of Bethlemite sisters from Rome landed in India on 28th February 1980 at Kovur Nellore Dt. It was a humble beginning. The pioneer sisters started working in the schools and improved the standards of the children in that area. This was the first house for Bethlemite Sisters in India. Because of their commitment and hard working nature people appreciated their work and helped them in the upliptment of the mission. From here the Bethlemites spread to other Indian states.

The second house opened in Kothur, Nellore Dt. on 10th October, 1980, in order to extend our service in the rehabilitation centre for the leprosy patients’ children and to educate the poor and the needy children of that area.

Final Vows by the First Indian Bethlemites:

On 25 January, 1986 five of the first six Indian Bethlemite Sisters namely Alphonsa Patchala, Anthoniammal Illur, Fatima Mary Putti, Lilly Josephine Tharigopala and Stella Rubina Mary Pudhota made their final vows in the hands of Superior General Mother Bernice Moreno. Sister Eugenia Serrano and Sister Ligia Gamboa had accompanied her during this visit. A new residential building for the Sisters was opened on that day. The celebration of the solemn occasion of the final vows of the sisters and the blessing of the new building at Kothur were led by His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. P. C. Balaswamy, in a concelebrated Holy Eucharist with numerous priests. Religious from various denominations, laity from Kovur and Kothur, families and friends of the Sisters participated in these celebrations joyfully and whole heartedly.

  • On 14th February, 1986, Superior Sister Imelda Sanchez Botero left for Colombia to visit her ailing parents. Since her return to India was being delayed and prolonged indefinitely, Sister Cristina Piedilato, the then Provincial Superior of the Italian province, came to India and remained with the Indian Communities for two months.
  • On 26th September, 1986, Sister Margarita Rodriguez Ramirez came to India in order to assist the Communities at Kovur and Kothur and to serve as Superior of both these Communities.
  • On 9th January, 1990, the Provincial Superior Sister Maria Letizia Carrara and Sister Maria Clemente De Santis arrived at Kovur for the canonical visit. During their visit, they went in search of land around Chennai in order to open formation house in India itself.

Sister Margarita Rodriguez Ramirez was instrumental in opening new Communities in other dioceses of South India in order to spread the Bethlemite Charism. She directed all her efforts in seeking new aspirants to enter the Bethlemite Religious life in order to strengthen the presence of the Congregation in India. The following communities were opened during the tenure of Sister Margarita Rodriguez Ramirez,

A Tribute to Sister Margarita Rodriguez Ramirez:

Sister Margarita Rodriguez Ramirez silently and tirelessly worked for the well being of the Bethlemites in India. Singularly she travelled to all the communities, to encourage the sisters in their respective missions and to support them in all their endeavours. She made every sister in the community to feel conscious of the fact that she was always there for them whenever they required her presence and support. Her zeal and zest for life was contagious. The welfare of her wards was always upper most in her mind. The people who came into contact with her were touched by her genuine concern for them. No wonder everyone appreciated and lauded her. The less fortunate people were strengthened by her presence and the poor benefited from the economical help she dished out in their critical hour of need. Especially, she bestowed her immense love on the Children at Bethel, who came from a pathetic and deplorable background. She provided these Children a decent and honourable living and took good care of them and made them feel privileged.

Erection of the Province and Installation of New Provincial Superior:

Superior General Mother Bernice Moreno announced by way of the Circular Letter No. 29 dated 19th June, 1998, that a New Province was being created in the Bethlemite Congregation, comprising of all the six communities in India namely, Kovur, Kothur, Koovathur, Porur, Pondicherry and Thaiyur. The newly erected Province was named as HOLY BROTHER PEDRO DE SAN JOSE BETANCUR PROVINCE.

Sister Imelda Sanchez Botero was nominated as the first Provincial Superior of the Indian Province. She arrived in India on 23 October, 1998. She was received by the Bethlemite Sisters of India with great joy and jubilation. On 8th December, 1998 the momentous event of the erection of the Province of Blessed Pedro De San Jose Betancur was officially declared open with a solemn Eucharistic Concelebration led by His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. P. C. Balaswamy, Bishop of Nellore and numerous Priests. Religious from various congregations, parishioners, families and friends of the Bethlemite Sisters participated in the joy of the Indian Bethlemites and fervently prayed for the success of the New Province.

A Salute to the first Provincial Superior of India:

Provincial Superior Sister Imelda Sanchez Botero worked in India, in all, for sixteen years (1980–1986; 1998–2008). She arrived in India for the first time on 19th February, 1980. She adapted herself very quickly without much fuss to the unrelenting weather, totally alien customs and food habits. Language was never a barrier or constraint in her interactions with the Children at Kovur and Kothur or with the people she came across. Her spirit was effervescent and contagious.

The First Indian Provincial Superior:

Sister Lilly Josephine Tharigopala succeeded her as the First Indian Provincial Superior. She was officially installed as Provincial Superior on 10th April 2008 in a thanksgiving solemn Eucharistic Concelebration by Bishop Emeritus, His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. P. C. Balaswamy and His Excellency Rt. Rev. M. D. Prakasam, Bishop of Nellore Diocese and numerous priests.

The Present Strength of the Province:

At present there are 14 Communities spread over 11 Dioceses in South India. Altogether there are 96 Sisters of Indian origin in the Province of Blessed Pedro De San Jose Betancur. Of these 89 are working in India, 1 in Colombia, 4 in Dallas and 2 in Italy. Presently there are 3 Novices preparing for their religious journey in the Bethlemite community at Bangalore. We have two Sisters from the Sacred Heart Province of Colombia, helping us in our Province, as Provincial Councilors and also with additional responsibilities in formation and mission. Most of the sisters have acquired professional qualifications and have equipped themselves adequately to carry on their missions in the fields of Education, Technology, healthcare and Social work.