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Indian nun enables prisoners, their families to "reinvent" themselves

Sister Mary James (Photo supplied)

An Indian nun, who has worked with persons deprived of liberty (PDL) and their families, says her mission is to proclaim Jesus to them. 

Sister Mary James, a member of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Annecy, Vishakhapatnam Province, has helped thousands of prisoners and their families in Visakhapatnam, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. 

She has worked in different places like St. Joseph's Hospital, Visakhapatnam; St. Joseph’s Hospital, Bobbili, St. Joseph’s Convent, Waltair, Eluru, St. Joseph’s Hospital Prathipadu, St. Joseph’s Convent Mondosoro in Odisha, Madurawada and St. Joseph's Home for the Aged in Visakhapatnam, a port city.

Sister Mary James, an assistant coordinator of Prison Ministry India (PMI), Visakhapatnam, has become a role model and inspiration to many. 

PMI is a national voluntary organization under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI). It works for prisoners' freedom, rehabilitation, and reintegration. It has been supporting tens of thousands of prisoners and their families through its 20 rehabilitation centres and 8,000 volunteers all over India.

The PMI provides pastoral care to over 4,500 prisoners in 1,412 prisons across India. The major thrusts of its work are to reach out, release, renew, rehabilitate, reintegrate, and redeem prisoners.

In 1962, Sister Mary Francoise, a Swiss-born nurse, started a prison ministry in Visakhapatnam. She was a role model and champion of the prison ministry in Visakhapatnam. She was the inspiration and guide for Sister Mary James to continue the prison ministry.

In 1996, Sister Mary James started her journey with the PMI. Initially, she started to get permission from government officials to visit prisons, motivate the people in the service, and collaborate with various people amid many challenges for the PMI. 

She has been actively engaged in prison ministry for over 26 years. She has worked with other PMI members and volunteers in the Central Jail in Visakhapatnam. 

"One of her approaches in PMI is to minister to prisoners and their families through biblical literature and give them hope and transform their lives with God’s grace," she told RVA News. 

"Prisoners often shy away from Bible teaching or preaching for many reasons, but we have to talk with prisoners and listen to their problems with compassion and empathy," she added. 

The Indian nun said it takes time for them to rebuild their lives with optimism.

She helps prisoners and their families in the light of the Bible to enthuse them about their living conditions, future and the struggles that they have gone through so that they can move forward in hope. "They have gone through painful lives and difficulties. They need to be supported to collect the pieces of their lives and begin rebuilding their lives with grit and courage," she said. 

The nun, along with the rest of the PMI team, shows some motivational videos and Bible-related messages to prisoners and their families, so that they will understand the message of the Bible with an open heart.

Sometimes it is going to be a big discussion, but she never gets into an argument with them about the Bible. 

"Every time we minister to them, we are ministering to Jesus. This is our approach. We hope that they have more opportunities to reinvent themselves," the nun said. 

She visits their families to support them and conducts prayers along with the team. Several inmates are incarcerated for life, and others will be released after serving their sentences. They need everybody’s payers and goodwill.

The nun hails from Elamgulam, Kottayam District, in the southern Indian state of Kerala. At present, they are in Cherupusha, Kannoor district. 

She has two older sisters and one younger brother. Her parents and brother died. Her father's sister (paternal aunt), Sister Theophine, is a nun in the same congregation. She is 92 years old and worked as a pharmacist, caring for leprosy patients in one of the substations. Many people have faith in God.

Due to her hard work, she admitted many poor girls to nursing in the government hospital. Her love for the poor was a real inspiration. She worked hard to spread the good news wherever she worked. 

And she obtained the piece of land and built Our Lady’s shrine in one of the substations of Prathipadu. Her zeal for souls was an inspiration from her aunt.

Sister Mary James decided to work for Christ. She professed her vows on June 28, 1986.

She has a good medical team. They visit slums and remote areas to treat the poor. With her support, many beggars and poor, sick people are treated in hospitals, besides her commitment as she works as a volunteer at PMI. 

She said that Holy Mass, Eucharistic adoration, and the Holy Rosary are her strengths to carry out this mission successfully. 


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.