Born Agnes Bojaxhiu on 27.08. 1910 at Skopje, Yugoslavia, Mother Teresa, the Foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, first became Sr. Mary Theresa, a Loretto nun on 24th March, 1931. As a child she was interested in the missions. She had heard about the Indian missions from the Fathers who were working in the sub-continent. To join the Loretto Sisters she left her home on September 25, 1928 for Dublin and on 29th November 1928 she left the shores of Ireland for India to start her Postulancy in Darjeeling.
After her First Profession on 24th May 1931, she was assigned to the Bengali section of the St. Mary's School, Calcutta. Deeply immersed in the mission of the Congregation, Sr. Theresa worked as a teacher and later as Principal of Bengali medium section. As a Loretto nun, while on board a train to Darjeeling to make her annual retreat, she heard the "Call within her vocation"-the second calling. It was on Tuesday, September 10, 1946, that this second call that caused the conception of the Congregation came "to give up all and follow Him into the slums to serve Him among the poorest of the poor."
The statute of erection was the official edict which gave birth to the Society of the Missionaries of Charity within the Church. The decree was issued on 7th October, 1950 by His Grace, the most Rev. Perier S.J., Archbishop of Calcutta. The Archbishop had by then obtained the 'nihil obstat' of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of People - Propaganda Fide - for the establishment of the society. By the decree the society was first raised to the rank of Diocesan Right, bestowing on it public and canonical character. The Congregation, Missionaries of Charity, was subsequently elevated to the status of Pontifical Right on February 1, 1965, by His Holiness Pope Paul VI.
The establishment of the Congregation here was on the personal initiative of His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara. In March 1981 the Bishop requested Mother Theresa, the Foundress, to open a branch in the Diocese and the Rev. Mother deputed the regional Superior to visit Cochin. The Superior visited the areas of Mattancherry and Earavely in June 1981 and thereupon made an agreement between the Bishop and Mother for the setting up of a convent. And the first group of Sisters, the Superior, Sr. Eugene, Sr. Neena, Sr. Junila, Sr. Damascena, arrived on 7th June 1981. The Sisters were warmly received by His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara, Rev. Fr. Peter Thaikoottathil - Parish Priest, Msgr. Paul Kattichery, Fr. Paul Punnakattuchery and several priests, nuns and a big flock.
The Bishop blessed the parochial house in the compund of the church at Earavely as residence for the Missionaries of Charity and then handed over the key of the tabernacle to the Superior, Sr. Eugene. Many were the kind and generous hearts who were there to help the Sisters in every way. On 11th June, Msgr. Paul Katticherry offered Holy Mass in the chapel for the first time and the Blessed Sacrament was installed in the sanctum sanctorum, the tabernacle, on December 23, 1981, when Mother Teresa visited their Cochin House.
The Bishop's relentless pursuit on the up-hill path to achievement despite doubts, delays and denials distinctly delineates the deep faith that His Excellency kept incessantly nursing, nourishing and sustaining. A glance through the thoughts, words and deeds of Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara is entertaining and enlightening and bestows on one simultaneously the same soothing and caressing touch of the Divine Providence. Let us follow the Bishop and see how he was attracted to the compassionate love of Mother Theresa towards the poorest of the poor and His excellency became an instrument in the hands of Almighty Father in the establishment of their convent in the Diocese.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta, known as the saint of the gutters, has been a great missionary of charity. Motivated by the love of the Lord, she dedicated her life to the consolation and care of the deprived, the denied and the discarded - the dying destitutes. The good God blessed this religious Congregation that cared for the poorest of the poor with enough vocations. From the Diocese of Cochin, there are many who have joined the Missionaries of Charity. Bishop's driver, Mr. Peter, has his sister as a Missionary of Charity and the Sister is in Manila, Philippines, now as Superior of a convent.
His Excellency was attending the biennial general body meeting of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. The meeting was in October 1979 at St. Albert's Seminary, Ranchi. While the meeting was in progress, came the joyous tidings - Mother Theresa of Calcutta was selected as the Nobel Prize winner for the year 1979! The good Lord be praised!! At last universal recognition to and global acceptance of "the least of His brethren"!
It is certainly enlivening and clearly enlightening to follow what the embryo historian himself has recorded. So, "I heard that Calcutta had given her a civic reception to honour her. So I was watching whether the Bishops would do anything to honour Mother Theresa. I waited for two or three days. One day after the Holy Mass I saw one of her Sisters waiting outside the chapel. They were there to invite the Bishops to visit their Convent and institutions. About five of us readily went with the Sisters to their house at Doranda. There we saw babies of unmarried mothers and old feeble women. Then we visited their leprosy colony which was a bit far away. This indeed was a rare gift - an opportunity to get on the spot information on and insight into the Missionary Sisters of Charity at work.
"During the next session of the meeting I sent a note to His Eminence, Lawrence Cardinal Picachy, the President of the CBCI. It was a request to His Eminence to get the approval of all the Bishops and invite Mother Theresa of Calcutta to address the CBCI meeting. I was watching the Cardinal. I could see the Cardinal consulting with the vice president, secretary and deputy secretary. Perhaps they were conferring about the convenient day and time. At the end of the session came the announcement which was passed unanimously. A telegram was sent to Calcutta requesting her to address the CBCI meeting and later it was announced in the assembly that Mother Theresa would be coming.
"I had already prepared a written request for a convent in Cochin diocese. Soon after Mother Theresa addressed the Bishops, I gave her the envelope. Some Bishops congratulated me thinking that the poor Cochin diocese had the generosity to give Mother Theresa an envelope full of money! Mother gave the cover to a Sister who was with her. I asked the Sister to recommend the request to which she agreed. When I met Mother the next day, she replied that she would look into the matter and decide later on.
"On 27th December 1980 I had to go to St. Sebastian's Church, Palluruthy, to celebrate Holy Mass. The occasion was the first anniversary of the late Rt. Rev. Msgr. Francis Figueiredo, former Vicar General. Mr. Karl Weigand from Rannungen, West Germany, was with me. Rev. Fr. Gervasis Mulakara, the diocesan Procurator, had information from Kattiparambu. Encouraging news. Mother Theresa, together with Rev. Dr. Michael Aarattukulam, Bishop of Alleppey, had just passed through Kaattiparambu, towards Chellaanam. So had Fr. Gervasis telephoned to Palluruthy. As soon as the Mass was over, I received the tidings. I guessed that Mother Theresa might go to Ernakulam after her visit to Chellaanam. So I hastened to her convent in Ernakulam with Mr. Karl Weigand who was eager to meet Mother Theresa.
"When I reached the Convent in Ernakulam, the Sisters introduced me to the Mother and I asked her again to start a convent at Earavely. Her reply was that she had already had 127 requests from different parts of the world and hence could not help. The Sisters, especially Sr. Eugene, told me not to be disheartened but to keep on pressing. So when Mother got into the car to go to Kottayam to attend the Golden Jubilee of the reunion of Mar Ivanios, a Jacobite Bishop, with the Roman Catholic Church, I approached her again.
"She asked me then to put in an application on which I told her that I had already given it at Ranchi. 'Are there poor people in Earavely area?' she asked. I gave a brief sketch of the situation in and around Earavely. Then she responded saying that she would send three forms of contract signed by her. After signing them, the Diocese could keep one and send the other two back to Calcutta. That at last was really an encouraging sequel which lifted my spirits.
"The Sisters informed me that Mother would forget everything. Hence she was to be reminded again and so did I. Soon the Regional Superior came to visit Earavely and the surrounding slum areas of Mattanchery. On 30th March 1981 Mother Theresa sent me three forms duly signed. Later on she made a detailed agreement which was signed by me on June 7, 1981."
The blessing and inauguration of the Convent of the Community, Missionaries of Charity, was arranged on 7th June, 1981. The Sisters arrived at the Bishop's House, Fort Cochin and after lunch, proceeded to Earavely. The Parish Priest of Amaravathy and many people were waiting at the junction along the main road to welcome the Sisters. Rev. Srs. Eugene, Neena, Junila Damascene, Carmenita, Lourdes, Albertina and Benedicta were escorted to the old parochial house of St. Antony's Chapel, Earavely. We concelebrated the Holy Mass at the chapel, with eight priests. Msgr. Paul Katticherry was appointed the Spiritual Director. Rev. Fr. Mathew Valiaparambil agreed to offer daily Mass at the chapel. The Sisters moved into their abode on 11th June, 1981.
The Sisters set to their mission straight away. On 4th June, 1981, they opened a dispensary and a tailoring centre and started visiting the slum areas of Mattanchery and Vely. A couple of months later, a nutrition programme for children was initiated on 2nd August. On twentieth of the same month they started a weekly dispensary and a regular tailoring classes at Amaravathy. At Panayapally they opened a weekly dispensary on 10th of January 1982. A dispensary was opened in Vypeen in September 1983 and then set up tailoring class there in February 1984. On 6th June 1989 the Sisters began to admit poor old women into the remodelled hall of the old chapel at Earavely.
On 23rd December, 1981, Mother Theresa, on her way back from Kothamangalam, stayed at Earavely Convent. A large flock gathered there to see her and seek Mother's blessing. When she visited Cochin again in July 1984, the Bishop himself took her to the relief settlement at Palluruthy. She felt sad about the pathetic plight of the inmates there - old, feeble and famished-looking men and women. Mother then had a conference with the Mayor and Officers of the Cochin Corporation at which they agreed to hand over the Palluruthy settlement to the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. Since then Mother kept on writng letters to the Mayor but all came to no avail.
On 29th January, 1988, Mother Theresa came again and visited the poor settlement at Palluruthy a second time. Nothing materialised out of the Corporations' promise and their word remained just as such - a hollow one, an empty promise. So Mother Theresa told the Sisters to demolish the old Parochial House and erect a new convent building.
The old St. Antony's chapel too had seen the vagaries of the weather and was badly in need of repair. So a new Chapel was built in its place by Rev. Fr. Peter Thaikoottathil, Parish Priest of Amaravathy. Financial help came from Frau Maria Warmuth, a German Lady. The old chapel was remodelled into a large hall and there beds from the diocesan Petit Seminary and the Passionist Monastery were arranged. From 6th June, 1989, old destitute ladies could have an abode they could call, claim and proclaim their own - a home of care, concern and Love!
The mission here runs a home for the mentally retarded and physically handicapped children. Besides they attend to the various ailments of the poor and destitute and distribute essential medicines through six dispensaries at various localities. They conduct tailoring classes for the empowerment of poor girls and make regular family visits. Teaching at Sunday schools and participating in parochial activities are other items in their mission.
The Congregation is aimed at quenching the infinite thirst of Jesus on the cross for the love of souls. This goal is achieved by rendering spiritual and material help to the poorest of the poor. True to the charism of the Community, they find and feel the presence of suffering Christ when they attend to one of 'the least of His brethren'. Poverty has no caste, colour or creed and quite so, the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, of course, know no bounds when it concerns the last, the least and the lost ! DEO Gratias!!
Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara