The Leper Colony

Some Patients at the Colony

              These first few days in Kolkata have been going well. I don’t think that I have waved so much in my entire life! Here it’s as if we are celebrities. People will come up to us and want to take pictures with us. There will be many times where we are in the bus and it will come to a stop. The people in the bus across from us will make eye contact and you can tell that they are intrigued to see you. Some of them will wave and if they don’t then when you wave to them you are met with a prompt wave and smile. There was one instance, we were coming back from our boat trip on the Ganges River. While we were waiting for the bus there was a truck with probably fifty people in the back. They were all very excited to see us and they were waving and smiling. Then as the bus drove away they continued to wave and I wanted to see how far they would go until they stopped waving. As long as I kept waving they waved back and they continued waving until they could no longer see me over the traffic.

              Today I woke up to the same noisy streets of Kolkata. I was up at about five thirty and we went to mass with the little sisters at six. After mass, we left from the mother house and went to the leper colony. This was a place that was completely different from what I expected it to be, which has been typical of my experience of Kolkata so far. Before arriving I thought that the leper house would be a place a great sickness; of people dying; with great agony and with a stench of death. I was also worried that I would be repulsed by what I might see and had doubts that I would be able to serve the poor and the lepers there. What I found was something so very much different than what I expected.

When I arrived at the colony me and some of my brother seminarians went to the wards and we were put in charge of serving food. While we were waiting Ryan Keisling and I were told to visit with the lepers there. There was just one problem, none of the people in the ward spoke any English. The only thing that we really knew how to say was ‘what is your name?’. After only a short while of asking everyone their name there was nothing left to talk about. I thought that I could try to make small talk with a woman. I had no idea how it was going to happen but I was going to go for it. I went over and gestured asking if I could sit down beside her. Of course she agreed, but there was still nothing to talk about. Then I thought to myself that music is always a good way to connect. I told the women that I was a drummer. There was no way that she understood me, but I started drumming on my lap. That must have been clear because she started drumming as well. She then started to sing and taught me a song in Bengali. Of course, I did not understand, but it was repetitive enough that I could sing along. After she was done singing I sang a song to her. It was amazing to see how music can bring so much joy. Even if we didn’t speak the same language we could share through music.

 Seeing this woman’s joy was something that I appreciated a lot. There was a point after we were done singing that was funny: I had a pair of sunglasses on my head and I saw that she had noticed them. I reached up and handed her my sunglasses and without hesitation she placed them on her face. It was wonderful to see the joy that she received from such a simple thing as sunglasses.

I also had the opportunity to sing and play drums at the leper colony with some of my brother seminarians. Again, this was such a simple thing but it brought so much laughter and happiness and joy. There was one boy who I let play on the drum and he would not leave our side until we were done playing.

Today was a great day, very exhausting but full of joy. Most of all it defied all of my expectations. I thought that the leper colony would be a place a disease and death. Instead I found that this was a place of life and laughter and joy and community. It has really helped me to see the circumstances of my life and know that in all of them there is an opportunity to have joy and laughter.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience in the Leper Colony! This is proof that joy is a universal language. So is prayer, so count on my prayers while you are in India!
    Nena Lavoie

  2. Ironic you would end up in such a place. My paternal grandmother was at one point in her life confined to a leper colony in Louisiana called Carville (home of political adviser James Carville). I think (?) the modern name is Parkinson's disease. No worries she lived to almost age 100! Keep sharing your experiences with us. Thank you! Don Sauviac, Jr.


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