The Congregation evolved its essence and imbibed its spirit from the work of Fr. Didacco Bessi, Parish Priest of St. Peter of Iolo, Prato (Italy) on 8th September, 1895. By his initiative and instruction some young people began to lead a pious life in common at Iolo under the celestial patronage of our Lady of the Rosary, professing the rule of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Dominic. They had as their apostolic commitment, Christian education, assistance to the needy young and care for the poor.
In 1941 the Institute had a rejuvenating impact when incorporated with the Dominican Sisters on the closure of their House in Castellina (Parma). The Order was recognized as an Institute of diocesan rite on February 2, 1949 and was affiliated to the Order of Preachers on 10th October 1959. On it was bestowed Pontifical recognition by the Holy See as the 'Congregation of the Teritary Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary' on October 7, 1962. The Community also received recognition as a moral entity in the State of Italy by the Presidential Decree on May 21, 1963.
In 1960 the Congregation had opportunity to extend its apostolate across the European Continent. Before long the Order could expand its mission to Asia as well. It was Fr. Joseph Kureethara who became instrumental in establishing a convent of the Community here in Cochin. In 1969 he had helped 20 aspirants reach Iolo to have their religious formation in Italy and some of them had returned to India to open a convent.
In April 1974, Mother Rosa, the then Mother General and Mother Dominica and four other Sisters came to Kerala for the first time. With the help of Fr. Joseph, Mother Paula was able to find a place in Palluruthy. The dream of the mission officially materialised when the foundation stone for the new House was laid on New Year's Day in 1976. The edifice, when completed, was inaugurated as the Rosary Convent on 10th December 1977.
"How God works wonders! Starting with an apple on board the train from Rome bound for Florence! His ways are really wonderful and mysterious", so runs the notes in the Bishop's (then just Rev. Fr. Joseph Kureethara) diary. The notes shed light on the intervention of the Divine Designer in planting a tiny vine of a new house in the orchard here. He narrates how the warmth in sharing an apple among strangers forged a friendship, which led to the arrival of so many Religious Congregations to the Diocese of Cochin.
Early morning of the Yuletide, 1964, found two fathers, Rev. Father Joseph Kalappurackal and Rev. Fr. Joseph Kureethara on board the train in Rome bound for Cremona, Italy. The Rev. Fathers had two small packets of bread, apple etc. for lunch. When it was about noon, Fr. Kalappurackal began to hear the rumblings and grumblings from his empty midriff but chose to remain rather reluctant to respond to the rebellion in public.
Perhaps sensing the predicament, Fr. Kureethara cut an apple and gave it to Fr. Kalappurakkal, who with all shyness, started munching on it ; for, in the cabin with them was Rev. Mother Quintilla Soligo, the Foundress of the Instituto Sorelle Apostole della Consolata, Scandicci. The Mother invited the Rev. Fathers to her Convent and gave them some instruction on speaking Italian. She also told them that if they needed any help they were just to make a phone call from the Railway Station in Florence and say 'Indiani' so that she would identify the callers.
The Rev. Fathers reached Florence at 1.00 p.m. and proceeded to Cremona to visit the brother of Rev. Mother Rosa Confortini, a Canossian, who was working in Cochin Diocese. On completion of their tour of service at the parishes they were assigned to, the Rev. Fathers paid their courtesy call on Mother Quintilla Soligo later. When Rt. Rev. Dr. Alexander Edezhath reached Rome to attend the Vatican Council II, Mother Quintilla invited the Bishop too and on His Excellency's visit the Prelate was given a grand reception.
After studies at the Urbania University Rev. Fr. Kureethara was about to return home. Rev. Mother Quintilla sought his help to find vocations for her Congregation from India. Ms. Mary Kureethara, a cousin of the Father who had revealed her longing to become a nun was at the Vypeen convent then as a Canossian Auxiliary. Fr. Kureethara informed Mother about her and Mother gave a sponsoring letter for Mary. Back in Cochin, the Rev. Father received a reminder from Mother Quintilla and the Bishop was duly informed of the request. His Excellency then instructed the Rev. Father to look for suitable candidates.
On 28th January 1968, Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara was appointed Rector of the Mt. Carmel Petit Seminary and Fr. George Malatt as assistant. The Rev. Fathers, together with the help of some Parish Priests, chose ten girls. Mother Quintilla wanted 10 girls and while they were being prepared, Mother Quintilla introduced Rev. Mother Rosa Caterini of the Dominican Order. The Dominicans also wanted aspirants and so ten more girls were selected. With the consent of the Bishop, the twenty were given Italian classes on spiritual life, religious vocation, Etiquette, Italian culture, etc.
But Mother Quintilla's effort at expanding her mission for the Lord and the girls' longing to consecrate their lives for the love of the Lord then had a set back. As it is said, 'the course of true love never runs smooth.' Mother Quintilla's Instituto Sorelle Apostole della Consolata had yet not had recognition as a canonical entity. As such the Mother had been counselled it inadvisabe to take in expatriate aspirants.
The Rev. Mother was immensely sad and kept the photographs of the girls who were to join her Congregation right on her table. The predicament here at home was quite different but definitely delicate. The first group of ten girls for the Congregation had to be kept in abeyance while the second batch for the Dominicans to be taken to Rome! At this disheartening dilemma it was pleasant surprise for the Rector, Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara to go to Italy and settle the problem.
The Rector reached Rome on December 1, 1968 and went straight to the Dominicans at Iolo. During the discussion Mother Rosa revealed her plan about the ten Indian aspirants. They were to remain in Italy itself even after their formation and religious profession but the Rector could not agree to that. At last she accepted his proposal to open a House in India as well so that every year more could reach Italy to help the Congregation grow simultaneously in Italy and India.
Accompanied by Mother Rosa, Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara went to Scandicci to meet Madre Quintilla to discuss about the first group of ten candidates. Madre Quintilla strongly recommended that the first group be accepted into the Dominican Order but Madre Rosa Caterini, who already had problems of accommodation, seemed reluctant. Madre Quintilla persisted in asserting it might be divine design and she should not doubt God's Providence. Madre Rosa responded: "If it is God's will, I am ready to accept it". Thus at last the first batch of twenty aspirants flew to Rome on March 15, 1969.
At the Fumicino Airport in Italy, several Sisters, Priests and laity from Prato were present to welcome the new arrivals. By a special bus the Rector and the aspirants were taken to Basilica di San Paolo, where Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara celebrated Holy Mass for them. Thereupon they reached Piazza San Pietro, where the aspirants had the unique fortune to receive the Papal Blessing of the Holy Father Pope Paul VI. After a long drive the Rector and the Aspirants reached Iolo, where bells from the Parish Church welcomed them!
On Sunday 23rd March 1969, a warm parochial reception was arranged by Rev. Don Eligio Francioni, the Parish Priest, at the school hall. The girls were rather disconcerted on facing the people; for, they could speak no Italian and they were strangers to European customs. Fr. Joseph Kureethara told the girls just to speak anything they wanted in Malayalam. Thus it was real fun when the Italians and the Indians exchanged their sweet nothings in their respective native tongues but neither nationals could digest the verbiage of either but both enjoyed and warmed up at the smiling faces, absorbing and relishing the language of the hearts!
Rev. Sr. Paola Collotto, in charge of the Indian Aspirants, had a hard time getting along with them. The Indians knew neither language nor culture, Italian. But her patience, perseverance and above all love triumphed over all the problems. The aspirants thus made their first Religious Profession in two batches - on 26th September 1971 and 20th September1972 respectively.
On 15th December 1975 Mother Rosa Caterini and Rev. Sr. Paola Collotto came to Cochin. They were on the look out for a place to establish their first convent in India. Having observed and studied a few locations at Kannamaly and Eramalloor, the Sisters finally chose on Christmas Day, 1975, a property shown to them at Palluruthy. They were extremely glad to have had the plot as donation from the Diocese of Cochin.
By then, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara, the promoter and well-wisher of the Congregation in India, had become the Bishop of Cochin. The Sisters had the privilege of attending the Episcopal Ordination of the new bishop on 21st December 1975. On the New Year's Day in 1976, the foundation stone for the "Rosary Convent" as suggested by His Excellency himself was laid at Palluruthy.
Msgr. Michael Kadaviparambil, who was staying in a house within the property, was very happy to be the chaplain of the convent. He followed the construction work of the convent with very much interest and when the building was completed, its solemn blessing was held on 10th December 1977.
In 1978 they started a Kindergarten, St. Dominic's School and early the very next year the St. Joseph's Dispensary was opened. A new building for St. Dominic's Elementary school was started in February 1983 with the help of Cassa di Risparmio of Prato, Italy. The St. Joseph's Dispensary was also shifted to a new building donated by the diocese of Prato, together with the Commune di Prato. The donation was a symbolic gesture to commemorate the visit of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II to the city of Prato on March 19, 1986.
Once the first Novitiate commenced at the Rosary Convent on 16th September 1979, His Excellency phoned Bishop Cornelius Elenjickal, Bishop of Vijayapuram. As a result, Madre Rosa Caterini was invited to visit Kottayam, which later led to the donation of a property and a social work centre at Amayannoor. This donation culminated in instituting the convent "Japamala Bhavan" which was blessed on October 31, 1985.
The Dominican Order was started by St. Dominic in the year 1215, which then was meant just for priests. As their work was preaching the Gospel, they were called the Order of Preachers. Now the Congregation is one big family of many Communities for men and women.
Through the influence of the Dominican Sisters of Iolo, we now have the following institutions, The Gleaners of the Church Chullickal and Dolours' Convent at Perumpadappu ( from Pisa), St. Agnes Convent at Pandikudy (Florence), Cottolengo Convent at Fort Cochin (Turin), St. Catherine's Convent at Edacochin (Rome), St. Augustine's Convent at Palluruthy (Valdarno Arezzo) established in the diocese of Cochin. The people of the diocese of Prato have come here many a time to see the activities of the Dominican Sisters at Palluruthy and they have been sharing in all the missionary activities of the Sisters.
The Congregation undertakes pastoral activities like Catechism, education of the youth, house visits, care for the aged and the mentally retarded and mission activities like preaching and adoption of various schemes. With medicines, food and clothes they help the poor and sickly regardless of caste, colour, community or creed.
Poor children are adopted by Italian families. Such families send financial help for the education, health care etc of the adopted ones. Many leprosy patients and T.B. patients are cared for by the Sisters. By their frequent visits to the families and conducting catechism classes in different centres of the parish, they assist in the spiritual growth of the people as well.
Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara