By Larry Peterson
She was born in a place called Kerala, a state on the southwest coast of India. The date was January 29, 1954, and she would be the second of seven children born to Paily and Eliswa Vattalil. They named her Mariam after the Blessed Mother, and she was baptized one week later in the Church of St.Thomas. Mariam received both her First Holy Communion and Confirmation on April 30, 1966, and never missed a catechism class. Deep inside her was a call to serve God, and the only person she told that too was her cousin, Cicily, who also felt a calling.
When Mariam finished high school, she joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation in nearby Kidangoor. She took the religious name of Rani Maria. Her cousin Cicily joined also and chose the name, Soni Maria. They both began their aspirancy (initiation) period on July 3, 1971, and completed it on October 3, 1972. The cousins made their first profession of vows on May 1, 1974. After a year and a half, Rani was sent to St. Mary’s Convent in Bijnor, arriving Christmas Eve, 1975.
Sister Rani Maria took her final vows on May 22, 1980, and continued teaching school. In July of 1983, she was transferred to St. Hormis Church in Ankamaly, Kerala as the new coordinator for social activities. It was during this time that she earned her degree in sociology from Rewa University.
Soon after getting her degree, Sister Rani began working with the poor and deprived. She was extremely caring and had deep compassion for poor people. She started to make enemies of the landlords and money-lenders. They had the people under their control taking advantage of them daily, and they did not want anyone, no matter whom, to disrupts their operations.
Sister Rani began organizing the locals who were exploited by the loan sharks. She developed self-help groups and taught the poor to work together to overcome the obstacles to their daily lives. She also explained to the uneducated poor how to get available government services that were available to them and which they did not know about. The poor people of the area began calling her “Rani of Indore—the Queen of Indore.” But the money lenders and others who preyed on the downtrodden decided Sister had to be eliminated.
As was her routine, Sister Rani woke up early on February 25, 1995, to go to daily Mass. She and another sister hurried down the street to the bus stop. After Mass, Sister Rani got on the bus which was heading to the county offices to pick up and drop off some various paperwork. She then planned to get another bus to go see her parents.
The sister who had accompanied Sister Rani to Mass left her and headed back to the convent. At the next stop three men boarded the bus. They sat close to Rani and started taunting her yelling profanities at her. She sat quietly, frightened and not daring to say anything. The taunting and name-calling continued for a short time. Then, one of the men, whose name was Samundar Singh, stood up and asked the driver to stop the bus. The driver did as Singh was told.
Singh got off the bus and broke a coconut against a rock. He then got back on the bus and began giving the pieces to the passengers. When he got to Sister Rani he mocked her by dangling a bit of coconut in front of her. Then the man pulled a long knife from his cloak and began stabbing Sister Rani. First he plunged the knife into her stomach and then over and over into her helpless body. The people heard saying over and over as she was being stabbed “Jesus,” “Jesus,” “Jesus.”
When Singh was finished killing her he had stabbed her 54 times. He dragged Sister Rani’s bloody corpse into the street and left it there. As the attack went on the passengers were so terrified they never moved. Once it was over they fled in terror.
The police contacted the nuns, who retrieved the butchered body of Sister Rani Maria. They took her back to the convent and cleaned her and prepared her to lie in state. Thousands of people came to Sister Rani’s funeral in the cathedral at Indore. Many bishops and hundreds of clergy were present at the Mass. They all had loved the little nun who had worked so long and hard to help the poor. A day of mourning was put in effect for the entire country.
The hired killer, Samundar Singh, was sentenced to life in prison. Abandoned and alone, he was bitter and forsaken. But Father Michael Poraltukara, (who the people called Swami Sadhananda) kept visiting him. One day Father asked him if he would be willing to meet Sister Selmy Paul, the true blood sister of Sister Rani Maria. It took a few visits, but finally Singh agreed to meet his victim’s sister.
On August 31, 2002, Sister Selmy Paul, accompanied by Father Michael, visited the prison to see her sister’s murderer. Singh, a Hindu, was shocked when Sister Selmy offered him her forgiveness. He was overwhelmed by the nun and began pleading with her to forgive him for his crime. Incredibly, through the grace of God, the following year Sister Rani Maria’s mother visited Singh.
Demonstrating the power of God’s unbridled love, she kissed both of Singh’s hands in forgiveness. Then the entire family came and offered him their forgiveness. They also asked the court to pardon him. Samundar Singh was released in 2006. Their Christian actions changed Singh’s life. He asked to be baptized and embraced Christianity. The Vittalil family not only forgave Singh they welcomed him to his family as one of their own.
On November 4, 2017, Samundar Singh was present as Sister Rani Maria, with the approval of Pope St. John Paul II, was beatified by Cardinal Angelo Amato in Indore, India. Singh stood and wept during the entire ceremony.
Blessed Regina Mariam of Vattalil, pray for us.
Copyright©Larry Peterson 2019