Mary Xavier was born and raised in Bangalore, India. She and her family were introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when she was a teenager. Mary experienced true conversion while teaching the basic principles and truths of the gospel in Primary where she served as the president. Throughout her life, Mary has continually sought to keep Christ at the center. She married a Hindu man, but her refusal to convert to Hinduism eventually led to their separation. While life as a single mother of two is difficult, Mary continues to find peace in Christ and joy in His gospel.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m Mary Xavier. I have two kids: Daniel who is 16 and Katherine who is 15. I’m a single parent. My husband is not a member of the Church. We separated 2.5 years after getting married, but are not yet divorced. My daughter was 2 years old when he left. Being a single mother has been very tough, but the best part is that it has brought me very close to my Heavenly Father and helped me understand the love Jesus Christ has for me. I have gone on my knees and prayed much for my children. This has always brought me closer to them.
How were you introduced to the gospel?
My younger sister Agnes discovered the Church when we were in high school. I was about 16 years old. She was introduced to the gospel through a family friend of ours who was working with my mother as a tailor.
The missionaries were invited over share the discussions with my family. We enjoyed their company, but I did not act on most of their invitations. I never read the Book of Mormon when the elders assigned us a section. I was from a very strong Roman Catholic background, but I didn’t follow a lot of things like confession with the priest. I did not want to do that. I still stuck to my own belief. I didn’t want to change myself for religion.
My mother and younger brother made the decision of getting baptized. I followed my mother, not because I had a testimony of the gospel, just because my mother told me to get baptized. So we all got baptized together. It took a few months to really get converted. I already knew people at church because I was going before my baptism. I liked the people and the fellowship. I was not really convinced and had not gained a testimony because I didn’t seek for that. My real conversion came with my first calling—as primary president. Being the primary president gave me a chance to teach the children. I learned a lot of things like gospel principles & teachings. I think I may have benefited more than the children. My conversion has made me stay in the gospel even after so much I have gone through in my life. It has made me stand strong and hold onto the iron rod.
I could be the primary president even as a young woman because there were only two of us, so we didn’t have a young women class. If I wasn’t in primary, I would have gone to Relief Society. Our chapel was small. It was a two bedroom house. We met with the children in the kitchen. One bedroom was used for the missionaries. One bedroom was used for the Branch President’s office and for the Young Men. We had a lot of Young Men.
Once I really got converted I decided that I would stand as a witness of Jesus Christ and take upon myself his name at all times and in all places and in all situations. I knew that I had to be an example to my children during the difficult times, so I have to stand and I take upon me his name.
What is it like being a member of the Church in India?
I always felt that we were one family. We had love and unity. We were from all different backgrounds. We were spread across big cities and we had very few people. Now I think we have a stake, five wards, and one branch.
In India, we don’t have neighborhoods where there are many members on each street. We are much further spread apart, but we still have many members. We stay close when we are together. We help each other and talk to each other. I live in an especially wonderful ward. People love to be in our ward because of the service that is done to each other.
When I moved to Hyderabad following my marriage, my family was kind of scared because I was going to a new place. I was brought up in a secure and protective home. I did not know much of the world. Anywhere I had to go, my father or sisters would accompany me. When I was married and had to go, Anne did not want me to go all alone to my husband’s place. She said, “No I don’t think you can go and stay all alone there.” But I had confidence because I knew I would still have a family because of the gospel. Anywhere we go we still have the same love towards one another. That’s one great thing I have learned: that the gospel helps us stay together as a family because of the love of Jesus Christ.
I already had some friends in Hyderabad whom I had met at the All India Youth Conferences, which were Church conferences for both youth and young single adults. A lot of them I came in and helped me and comforted me, and made me feel at home. They were able to take care of my children when I had to go through a lot of trouble, especially after I got separated from my husband.
After a couple of years of marriage, we were in Bangalore and he just left me there. He said he would come back, but he never came back. After two years, I learned he was already married to someone else in his own village. Because my children never understood what had happened, I had to go back to Hyderabad. They wanted to be with their father, so I decided to go back so they could see him once in a while.
During those times I had to face a lot of trouble. Every member there helped me. There was a man who offered to take my children to his home and keep them there while I went to the police station. His mother took care of my children. There are a lot of people like that who have been like angels in my life. These people are a blessing to me.
Right now I am going through a lot of stresses. I have teenage children. My son is not that active. He has not completed a basic education. I am struggling really hard to keep him on track. One of my best friends and her husband have been a great blessing in showing their love towards my son. They know his weaknesses and continue to help him. My friend always supports me and keeps telling me, “Mary, you are the mother of your children. You will know what is good for them. God will help you, so you don’t act upon others’ decisions or what people say. You make your own decisions with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
A lot of people are angels in my life and my children’s lives because they show their love. I am able to understand the love of Jesus Christ because of their love. We would not be able to experience His love on our own—it is only through other people. He blesses us with His love through people around us.
Is there anything you would like to add or share?
When we joined the Church, my friend Prema and I were the only young women. Later on my sisters Agnes and Anne were also there, so there were four of us. We all set goals in our life that we would marry a returned missionary in the temple. We were very strong in that goal. Anytime we had any proposals come in, we always checked the standards of the Church. Our standards were too high for the area. It was very hard for us to get the right person.
We couldn’t find anyone because most of the guys here were all part-members. They were not bold enough to take the step toward getting married to one of us against their parents’ will. In India, the custom is that parents arrange marriages. They will pick out the girl their son will marry. It was a really hard time for us. Prema somehow married one of her friends who was a member. She was somehow able to marry a returned missionary. Anne also found someone in Hawaii who was a returned missionary. It was only me and Agnes. People repeatedly asked me, “When are you getting married?” I decided to get married to get away from everyone’s questions. I was 32 years old at the time.
I didn’t even date for a long time. I never proposed and he didn’t either. My husband is not a member. We don’t speak the same language. We are from a different region. Before getting married I said, “I am not getting converted into your religion and I’m not going to force you into my religion. We were not going to force any religion on our children as well. You will teach your religion and I will teach my religion. Let them choose what is good for them.” That is an agreement I made with my husband before marriage. He agreed and we got married.
A month into our marriage he said he was going to take me to a place where he would do some kind of sacred ordinance and I would be converted to Hinduism. It would make it possible for his family to accept me. His family did not know we were married at the time. I said, “No. I am not going to do that. Jesus Christ is going to be first in my life. Even before you.” I don’t know when he decided to leave or how he changed. Even now I do not know why he left. It may have been because of his family. He made a decision to marry again to another woman. His family may have persuaded him to remarry. I made a big sacrifice in making this decision to remain true to the gospel. In choosing the gospel and choosing Jesus Christ, I made a sacrifice of my life and my husband. My children don’t have a father. But it is also good because my children are growing up with the gospel.
A few months back, a brother gave a talk in Church. He said, “We think we need a sacrifice, but then there is nothing greater than Jesus Christ’s sacrifice.” That talk was like a slap in the face. That’s when I understood there is nothing we can do greater than the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us. I don’t think there would be any other greater happiness than going back and living with Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. What we do is only a small part; there is nothing that can compare to what Jesus Christ did for us.
I would only say to any member when they are making a decision, not to make a decision like what I did. I have gone through much. I know my children have grown in the gospel, but I have been facing a lot of challenges serving with my son because he understood what happened in our life—that my husband and I were separated. He has gone through so much mental stress to understand the situation. At six years old he told me, “Mama, you know the gospel. You know what they teach. You know that you have to be married in the temple and marry a member. How come you got married to a non-member?” That was something I could not answer to my son. So I would only offer this to the other single adults who are making decisions to get married: that they have to prayerfully turn to God and look at the decision and choose the right person in their life.
At A Glance
Name: Sagaya Mary Maithili Xavier
Location: Bangalore, India
Marital History: Married, Single parent
Children: Son (16), Daughter (15)
Occupation: HR , Admin and Logistics
Date of Baptism: June 4, 1987
Schools Attended: St Anthony's girls high school, SJ Polytechnic
Languages Spoken at Home: English and Tamil
Favorite Hymn: Lord, I Would Follow Thee; I need thee every hour
Interview Produced by Anne Leishman Merrell