Sister Mary Mercy, a member of the Franciscan Immaculate Sisters, was found hanged at her convent chapel
Sister Mary Mercy, a member of the Franciscan Immaculate Sisters, was found dead in her convent chapel in Jalandhar Diocese in Punjab state, India, on Nov. 30. (Photo supplied)
A group of Catholics have urged the Conference of Religious India (CRI) to investigate the recent suicide of Sister Mary Mercy, a member of the Franciscan Immaculate Sisters.
A letter signed by senior nuns, theologians and laywomen said it would be helpful to “find out what needs to be done in order to prevent the repeated occurrence of these sad and traumatic incidents” among nuns.
It further suggested that the CRI send a fact-finding team to her convent in Jalandhar Diocese in the northern state of Punjab to ascertain the facts of the case.
Sister Noellz De Souza, a member of Missionaries of Christ Jesus who is among the signatories to the letter, told UCA News on Dec. 8 that “the audit finding will help religious congregations to develop a mechanism to deal with such situations.”
The Dec. 8 letter addressed to Apostolic Carmel Sister Maria Nirmalini, the newly appointed CRI president, pointed out that the death of Sister Mercy was the latest among “nearly 20 reported suicides since 1987 involving novices and sisters serving in Catholic religious communities mostly in Kerala, a southern state.
“It troubles us, and we ask ourselves why some young women who join religious life with so much joy and eagerness to serve God and people end up taking their own lives,” the letter said.
For those bereaved by the suicide of a loved one, the experience is not only very traumatic but also stigmatizing
Thirty-year-old Sister Mercy was found hanging from a window of the convent’s chapel on Nov. 30. Her family members have sought a police investigation suspecting foul play behind her death, a charge denied by the congregation.
The letter underlined how suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that impacts families, friends and communities, including religious communities.
“For those bereaved by the suicide of a loved one, the experience is not only very traumatic but also stigmatizing,” the letter added.
It further sought that religious communities must be helped to recognize the warning signs early on and need to provide a supportive environment for community members to seek mental health support in a timely manner.
Suicides are preventable and much can be done to prevent them at individual and community levels, the group said.
“Media coverage often reflects hesitation of congregations and church leaders to report the news and this leads to delay in investigations besides suspicion on the cause and circumstances leading to suicide,” the letter said, adding that this only serves to add unnecessary speculation besides more pain and anguish to the loved ones.
The letter also urged the CRI to insist every congregation put in place a mental health policy and action plan in consultation with professionals and actively work to promote and nurture the mental and spiritual well-being of their members.
The signatories also called on the CRI to “create a network of helplines, preferably of women religious with counseling skills, and publicize the same so that sisters in distress can be counseled, accompanied and assisted in dealing with the congregations and if necessary, family members.”
In the extreme event of death by suicide, congregations must be encouraged and supported to conduct suicide audits to learn lessons and inform prevention plans. They could also network with NGOs and Catholic associations for the well-being of nuns and to avoid future suicides.
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