Thrilled by an inspiring sermon by one of the Redemptorist Fathers, on Good Friday of 1971, we the members of The Legion of Mary, Oliver Dooland and I, chose to visit the Central Leprosarium on Magadi Road. The first patients whom we met were all praise for us standing so close to them and talking to them, when their own wives had deserted them after they were afflicted with leprosy. That was an encounter.
These patients were from several slums in Bangalore: Magadi Rd., Sheshadripuram, East Station, Tilak Nagar, etc. We were visiting them in the slums, where we met others with similar interest: Brother Christudoss, a Holy Cross brother from St. Peter's Seminary, a few sisters from Mother Teresa's organization, and a certain Ms. Chris Saddler, a Britisher. There were days when after a hard day's work, I would join other friends in the colony and lay my head on the damp ground over a thin mat….I understood for the first time what Communion is. In the wee hours of the early dawn I used to whisper in prayer "Lord, is there any place for them to grow more human?"
After attending the All India Leprosy Congress in Baroda, I reported back to His Grace Arokiaswamy. He brought in Dr. Marshall, Professor of Dermatology at St. John's Medical College, along with one medical student, Fr. Antonio Salafia, Fr. Michelangelo and Fr. Mario from the Montfort Fathers, Mother Marguritte (SJT). Work was on to run clinics for the patients in various slums.
Mr. J.C. Lynn, (later Chief Secretary to the Government of Karnataka) ushered in a token of financial help from the Beggar's Relief Fund for each leprosy patient who would stop begging. A gesture of hope and faith extended by the Government. In May 1976 the Government asked us to put up a Leprosarium and offered land.
The Archbishop asked me to help draft an appeal to Mother Teresa to take up this task. Providence had other plans…Mother Teresa regretted her inability. With no plan, no project and no set-up funds, we just said "fiat" (we accept) to the Government.
Fr. Michel from the Servants of the Holy Spirit came with the first donation of Rs. 1 Lakh. The faith ministry began. The Sisters of St. Joseph's of Tarbes moved in to stay at Sumanahalli. This was followed by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate. The Daughters of the Church and the Daughters of Wisdom also joined the SET (Survey, Education & Treatment) programme.
With houses built, the patients from Sheshadripuram moved into Sumanahalli. Mr. Bonnie Mascarenhas joined as Technical advisor. Mr. Michelangelo took over the portfolio of Treasurer. Sr. Mary Mascarenhas began the rehabilitation activities. Volunteers from far and wide began to trickle in. The rest is history.