A Tribute to Sister Julie of St. Joseph’s Convent High School
A fond memory I have of Sister Julie is the conviction and clarity with which she addressed us at the morning assemblies. Despite being a strict disciplinarian, Sister Julie always looked at every problem from a humane perspective. Behind the strict demeanour, there was genuine compassion and concern about the students’ well-being. This was very much apparent when I, as part of the school team traveled to different areas in Karachi to participate in various competitions and tournaments. I feel privileged to have been to a school run by such a determined and dedicated principal who cared about every single student. I spent the best ten years of my life there and came out with the best results and memories to cherish forever. I will always remember Sister Julie’s firm yet kind words and whenever I think of St. Joseph’s I will think of her. – Fizza Baig (Former student, St. Joseph’s Convent High School).
If you ever write the story of Karachi, St. Joseph’s school and college will certainly be part of that story. Generations of Karachi women have walked the corridors at St. Joseph’s Convent High School, and many more are yet to graduate from there. It is impossible to be at a gathering and not meet someone who is either a St. Josephian herself or knows someone in her near or distant family who has studied from this great institution.
If you meet a Josephian you are treated to memorable stories of the ever-popular party slims and chicken corn soup cocktail from the canteen, to how they pranked each other in college and school days.
The greatness of this institution cannot be attributed to one person, and though we would love to meet with each and every sister who has been part of the journey of St. Joseph’s school and college, this Christmas we celebrate the efforts of one of them – Sister Julie, who was the principal of the school for 11 years.
Sister Julie studied from Convent of Jesus and Mary herself, after which she joined the Catholic congregation. After completing her induction, she joined St. Joseph’s school as a class 4 teacher, and that’s how her long association with the school began.
She served as head mistress of middle school for 3 years, and then as the principal of the senior school for 11 years. As we sat down with her on a chilly Thursday morning, she spoke in a soft, melodious voice. She shared how she always loved teaching more than being the principal, as it let her concentrate completely on the children and their well being. She tells us that she loved chit-chatting with the children and through this interaction, she would always know exactly what was happening in the classrooms.
She recalls an instance when she was participating in sports with the girls and she slipped and fell down. She was very embarrassed, but she felt that as a young, junior teacher she must mix with the students, in order to get to know them better. And this is how she always governed her office. She always encouraged the students to speak up to ensure there was a dialogue.
She reminisces how girls used to come and talk to her about various things, even inviting her to be part of their mischievous plans at times. Once a group of 4 best friends came to her to request: ‘We are not allowed to go out,’ they said. ‘But if you come with us, we can. We want to go out and have ice cream.’ She explained to them that she couldn’t go with them because that would be unfair to other students who might feel she is indulging in favouritsm. But she sent a junior sister to chaperone them so the 4 best friends could go out and have ice cream.
Rain in Karachi is rare and it’s hard not to be tempted to step outdoors and enjoy it. The teachers would request Sister if they could order samosas or pakoras, and Sister Julie would gladly let them, as long as they could buy it themselves. They used to order samosas, bhel puri etc. When they wanted something, they were not hesitant to ask.
What I miss most is having those little friends, who would come and chat with me about anything and everything. I love talking and sharing with kids … What did you have today,? Did you sleep? What happened at home? What have you read etc?
She tells us that it was her dream to do something for the street children. In 2004 the dream became a reality. She took the initiative to educate street children in afternoon school. Her logic was that, we have a building which is not being used during the afternoon, why not put it to use. When the parents found out about this, many people came forward to help and generous donations helped run this initiative. She also hired two teachers to teach these children. However she soon realized that these kids were so hungry that they could not concentrate on their studies. She then asked one of the parents to provide them with leftover food from his restaurant. The parent responded: I will not give you the leftover food, I will cook fresh food and send it every day”. The day beef was cooked, she would ask the sisters to take the beef and give their food to the Hindu children since they couldn’t eat beef. Soon they faced another problem for these children; how to transport them to school ? She decided to include the children in the School Sports Day as well. At the time, a government official presided as chief guest at the Sports Day ceremony. He was so touched with Sister Julie’s initiative that he asked her; ‘How can I help you?’ Sister Julie requested a van for the street children. He donated his personal van for the transport of these street children. That was the spirit she ignited in people around her. The school that started out with 5 children had 180 children by the time she left.
Do you feel you get the respect you deserve in Pakistan being Christian?
Of course, she smiles warmly and continues … there is a class of people who are poor, maybe from interior Sindh, those who don’t know us or our work, they might not. But majority of the people who are educated, they respect us. Even if I travel abroad, I will always meet a Josephian. So that respect is there. They will come and ask; Sister, which order are you from? My grandmother was there, my wife was there at the school etc The parents who love and respect us. So many of them had helped me during my tenure as principal. Whenever I had a problem, they would help find a solution for the school. I miss that spirit now.
Having three daughters going to the same school l had multiple interactions with Sister Julie. Whether it was a personal concern or a regular parent meeting, it was always a pleasure to meet with her. Her firm and positive attitude made all our interactions very sincere and worthwhile. I can’t thank her enough for the wonderful schooling experience my daughters went through – Nayyar Khalid Baig (Former parent at St.Joseph’s Convent School)
Anything you can change?
I cannot change things as I am not the prime minister, but I can make a difference by telling people, let’s share what we have. Sometimes you become so selfish, you don’t think about another person, especially at Christmas time. There are people who can’t even celebrate Christmas because they don’t have food, clothing or shelter. So I teach my children that we need to share what we have.
The most difficult part of my journey has been being misunderstood by people. I am a person who likes to help others. For some it becomes a case of popularity. For me it’s my work.
Currently, Sister Julie resides at the Providence House where she takes care of homeless children. She provides them with education, a home, food and prepares them for the future. Sister Julie teaches children how to read and write and learn the basics. After they reach a certain level of learning, they are sent to a proper school to complete their further education. These children move on to either get married or work, or both, in order to support their families. Volunteers are rewarded for their efforts with certificates for their community services.
It’s the unsung heroes like Sister Julie, who make these small, positive efforts that become the building blocks of a constructive, and responsible society.
Rabia stays involved in various social causes. Believing in creating equal opportunities for underprivileged kids, she helps The Citizens’ Foundation, Pakistan, to create awareness of the need for providing quality education to children. At the same time, she is also involved with Singapore-based VWO, 4PM’s Ramadan on Wheels project by supporting it through the FUCHSIA platform. At FUCHSIA, Rabia oversees the Marketing and Public Relations work. She is also part of the Editing Team in conceptualising articles and monthly issues.