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The Trail-Blazing Educationist

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

If Etelvina de Melo, from Sonarbhatt in Saligao, were alive today, she would surely have been honoured with an award on International Women’s Day (which is observed on March 8th) in recognition of her pioneering work in the field of women’s education in Saligao.

Etelvina de Melo was born on 1st January 1869. She was one of the seven children of Nicolau de Melo from Sonarbhatt, six of whom were girls. All the daughters, except Etelvina, were sent by their father to do their schooling in Bombay. Etelvina remained in Saligao, where she did her Portuguese studies and at the same time learned to play the violin. As she showed keen interest in studies, her parents decided to send her too to the convent school in Bombay where her sisters were studying.

She excelled at this school and later decided to take up teaching as a career. She surprised everyone by joining the Carmelite Order in Madras, but soon she learned that her vocation lay elsewhere, and so returned home.

In the year 1900, Josinho de Sousa, the Headmaster of St. Mary’s Boys’ School located within the Salmona ward of Saligao, founded a branch called St. Mary’s Girls’ School in the same locality for the education of girls. With Etelvina de Melo in charge, the school was the first English school in Goa for girls. Etelvina was ably assisted by Ernestina de Souza in the task of running the school.

Under the careful supervision and direction of Etelvina, St. Mary’s Girls’ School became very popular and girls from far and wide came to study there; for this reason, boarding facilities were also set up. Etelvina de Melo imparted not only bookish knowledge, but gave also sound moral, physical and social education. Her motherly concern for every girl and her emphasis on the refinement of their personality and social behavior made her a household name, and St. Mary’s attained fame as the foremost institution for girls all over “Estado de Goa” (Goa State). General proficiency and character-building were other strong points of the school. Etelvina firmly believed that service to the old, infirm, poor and helpless was akin to service to Almighty. She led by example in this regard, and her students invariably emulated her, without the need for coaxing or castigation.

Over a period of time the building housing St Mary’s Girls’ School deteriorated and was badly in need of repairs. In 1930, the school was shifted to Etelvina’s own residence and she began to run it independently but with limited activity. Meanwhile, two other schools where girls could study were launched and began to gain in prominence. One was the co-ed Mater Dei Institute, bordering Saligao-Calangute. The second was Costa’s School in Mollembhatt, with a separate section for girls housed at the Tabravaddo residence of Salvador Cordeiro (the grandfather of singer Lorna Cordeiro). With these schools also in operation, the number of students at St Mary’s Girls’ School began to dwindle gradually.

As Etelvina de Melo was advancing in years and becoming increasingly feeble, she felt the need of handing over the affairs of the school to her niece Mother Bridget, who was the joint founder (along with the Dutch Franciscan Monsenhor Salesius Lemmens) of the Order of the Franciscan Missionaries of Christ the King (FMCK), with headquarters in Karachi.

As Mother Bridget already had her own responsibilities, she was not inclined to contact her aunt or talk to her. However, Rev. Monsenhor Alcuino advised her to write to her aunt in Saligao. On receiving Mother Bridget’s letter, Aunt Etelvina was instantly filled with tremendous peace and joy. She wrote back immediately and invited the Sisters to come without delay. “I could have wished for nothing better,” Etelvina (affectionately called Ethel) remarked.

All this happened in 1945. After successfully overcoming all the regulatory hurdles, Mother Bridget obtained permission from the Patriarch of Goa, who had already been  made aware by the then Vicar of Saligao of the advantages of having a Girls’ High School run by competent and well-qualified nuns. On 13th May1946, Mother Bridget along with three other nuns – Sr. Mercy from Moira, Sr. Clare from Mahim in Bombay, and Sr. Ubaldina from Loutulim – took over the school from Etelvina and resumed its operation at a private house in the Cotula ward of Saligao. After completing all the formalities and obtaining the requisite recognition and affiliation from the authorities, the nuns shifted their school to a house on the main road at Arrarim. Subsequently, the foundation stone of what is now called Lourdes Convent High School – the offshoot of St. Mary’s Girls’ School in Salmona – was laid on 15th September1953 in Sonarbhatt.

Etelvina de Melo passed away on 28th February 1949. Though long gone, Etelvina will always be remembered as the pioneer of girls’ education in Saligao, and this trail-blazing educationist lives on through the many girl students she educated and groomed, and also through their offspring.

Sources:

  • Footprints on the Sands of Time; by Sr. M. Ursula, FMCK.
  • She Blazed the Trail in Girls’ Education; article by Sunita D’Cruz in Saligao Newsletter, Bombay, Oct-Nov-Dec 1985
  • Souvenir Mae de Deus Church (1873-1973), Saligao.
  • Souvenir St. Anne’s Chapel (1843-1993), Saligao.

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