AUSTRALIAN missionary Sister Mary Theodore’s story of being “God’s Donkey” will be released in a book by the University of South Australia’s Dr Peter Gale in February.
The Brisbane-born, Australian-Lebanese died in her beloved city of Chennai, India, on December 7, 2012.
Sr Mary Theodore joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in 1948, the year of her 21st birthday.
When she shared with her parents the idea of becoming a missionary nun, they “told her to go away and think about it”.
Returning five minutes later, Sr Mary Theodore said she “had thought about it and had not changed her mind”.
She stepped onto Chennai grounds on April 25, 1951, a few years before making her final vows.
While in Chennai, at the request of the then Archbishop of Madras, she founded Mithra, an institution that educates and rehabilitates children with mental and physical disabilities from the poorest families.
“Mithra”, a Sanskrit word meaning “friendship”, was born out of Sr Mary Theodore’s own desire to serve the disabled poor, whom she called “the forgotten section of humanity”.
It was to be a “living memorial” to St Thomas the Apostle of India.
Pursuing her dream to love and care for the disabled poor was “a tough road”.
It eventually led to the end of her time as a Franciscan Missionary of Mary, a request she made in order to wholeheartedly continue her special work with Mithra.
Sr Mary Theodore fought hard to make Mithra succeed, but never lost sight of God’s providence.
As the administrator for Mithra, Sr Mary Theodore was known for her stubbornness and love of challenges.
She would often refer to herself as “God’s Donkey”.
Sr Mary Theodore’s niece, Helen Mahoney, who read the eulogy at her aunt’s burial in Chennai, recalled a time when her aunt called about donations for Mithra.
“When I said, ‘No’, and that the bank account was empty, she would just say, ‘Oh well’,” Mrs Mahoney said.
This was despite having only enough money to survive another week.
But Sr Mary Theodore knew deeply that God would provide for her.
“I continued to phone her each day and on the third day, she told me that someone had arrived with a truck full of rice as a donation,” Mrs Mahoney said.
She said Sr Mary Theodore said, “I knew God would not let me down”.
Sr Mary Theodore’s work with Mithra attracted much interest from the media, including former 60 Minutes journalist Jennifer Byrne, who will be in Brisbane to launch God’s Donkey.
Blessed John Paul II also met with Sr Mary Theodore during his visit to India in his early years as pope.
Dr Peter Gale’s biographical book on Sr Mary Theodore and Mithra, God’s Donkey, will be launched at St Leo’s College at the University of Queensland on February 9.