St. Joseph’s Convent at Pattanakkad near Cherthala is getting ready to celebrate the golden jubilee of a few of their nuns professing their vows. A star of the celebration is 80-year-old Sr. Infant Teresa, who joined the order when she was a 29-year-old school teacher at Angamaly. Sr. Teresa is one of the senior-most nuns in the convent and was Provincial Superior of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation’s (FCC) Ernakulam province for several years.
For an entirely different reason, Sr.Teresa is a well-known figure among some of the State’s top Congress party leaders. She is Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s eldest sister.
“He is the fifth of eight siblings in the family,” says Sr. Teresa about her illustrious younger brother. Their hometown of Cherthala was a centre of political activity when Mr. Antony was growing up. Some of the Congress party’s top figures in Kerala grew up within the politically charged atmosphere of the area around the time of Independence.
“The Communist Party had already been formed in Kerala by the time we all started school. Fights between the Kerala Students’ Union (KSU) and the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) were frequent,” she says. Though no one in the family was seriously involved in politics, the young Antony soon found himself at the forefront of strikes and political activities of the KSU. He was a leader of KSU from his days at Government Boys’ High School at Cherthala.
“They always held strikes at school for various reasons,” says Sr. Teresa. “But he was good at studies. He would never be in class, but when the results came he would have passed every examination. Then what could we tell him?” she says.
Sr. Teresa, then known as Ammini, was a good student too. She completed her B.A. in English from S.B. College, Changanassery, and began teaching at Holy Family Girls’ High School at Angamaly. After a few years as a teacher of English and social studies, she found her calling and professed her vows.
Mr. Antony had by then left home to study at Maharaja’s College in Ernakulam and carry forward his political activities.
As he grew to become Chief Minister and then India’s Defence Minister, Sr. Teresa was elected Provincial Superior. She travelled across the country and the world, watching over the affairs of her congregation. She continued her work as a teacher under the Church. “Excise Minister K. Babu had been a student of our school. He studied in the boys’ school adjacent to ours. But he used to come over and meet me sometimes. I taught his sister too,” she says.
To her younger brother and his friends, Sr. Teresa, now severely ill, remains Ammini chechi. Mr. Antony, whom she calls by his pet name Thankachan, calls her every week to enquire about her health and well-being. “He was here earlier this month,” she says.
The busy Minister found time to drop in at the convent for a few minutes when he visited the State early in April. “He never talks politics when he comes to see me. He asked about my health and we spoke about our family and people at home,” says Sr. Teresa.
She has been unwell for a few years now and has to undergo dialysis every week at a hospital in Kochi. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy; Union Ministers Vayalar Ravi, K.V. Thomas, and State Minister K. Babu and other leaders occasionally drop by at the hospital or the convent to revisit old times with Ammini chechi. Despite her failing eyesight, Sr. Teresa is ever ready with a smile for a trip down memories with friends and family.