by SR. ANTOINETTE ibvm
Darjeeling, about 7,000ft above the plains, dominated by the eternal snows of Kanchen-junga, inspires a sense of beauty, mystery and awe. This was the feeling of the first Sisters on arrival at Darjeeling on 10th October 1846. It was the beauty of the Darjeeling ridge, and the healthy climate it enjoyed that convinced Archbishop Carew to plead for a “Branch School of Loreto House (Calcutta)” in Darjeeling. After a perilous journey by riverboat up the Hooghly, and then by ‘palki’ up the steep mountain sides, the first batch of three Sisters, with Sr. Teresa Mons as Superior, together with a postulant and an orphan girl, arrived at ‘Snowy View’, on Birch Hill, Darjeeling, where the Sisters were to stay for six months, till the Convent, at the present site, near Lloyd Botanical Garden, and the Hill Cart Road, was built. It was a time of getting to know the town and its people and institutions, and immediately the Sisters made some good friends in the town. By May 1847, the Convent was ready, and the nuns moved their scanty possessions there. The simple Convent of lath and latticework did good service for forty years, was added to, but not pulled down, till the present stone building was erected.
All great achievements have small beginnings, and so it was that Loreto Convent Darjeeling began with only five pupils in the first year. But the Sisters, with their charming smiles, their harmonious “papist” hymns, and the devotion of the students to their Sisters, won over the confidence and trust of the parents till ‘Loreto’ became a household word in Darjeeling homes. The Convent School was the only educational establishment in Darjeeling, till St. Paul’s School moved up in 1864 – some eighteen years later.
The life of the early sisters was frugal, as witnessed by their Accounts Book. At times it must have been an extremely lonely life, but the ministry flourished. There were frequent reports in newspapers of excellent concerts, and the children’s “proficiency in English, French, Music and Drawing”. As a tribute to the pioneering education of Loreto, the Government exempted the whole convent property from income tax! For the Community, what a relief and joy!
While the Sisters were still struggling to establish the school, changes in ecclesiastical jurisdiction put the Darjeeling Convent under the diocese of Patna the following year, in 1847. This meant, among other things, that the Darjeeling community, along with Lucknow and Shimla, were cut off from Loreto House and its affiliations. This was a nasty blow to the new foundation, and reunion would only take effect some thirty-three
years later. But all this had to be taken in its stride, as the Sisters worked tirelessly for establishing a good educational foundation in Darjeeling, their sole purpose being to build up the women of India, through their English and, later, Nepali medium school, their success being in no small measure to their ardent desire to serve the Greater Glory of God, and the good of the Country and Church.
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