The Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Theresa of Infant Jesus is a diocesan Congregation. It was started in 1959 at Kunnam, Mavelikara. The Generalate is at Umayanalloor, Quilon, Kerala. As the name of the Congregation indicates, its special mission in the Church is the preferential love of their founder to the great Carmelite saint, Theresa of Lisieux.
The charism of the Congregation is imbibed from its founder, Late Bishop Rt. Rev. Jerome Fernandez, Bishop of Quilon. It aims at an intimate and contemplative union with God and apostolic zeal. Obviously, its specific mission in the Church manifests itself in the propagation of faith through prayer, penance and various work of charity especially for the benefit of the deprived and the down-trodden, those really down in the dumps.
His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara has made detailed notes on the Congregation. The record is an all-embracing history. The Bishop's sketches trace it from its inception to what it is today in the Diocese. The Congregation, of course, has had to face many a twist and turn akin as if caught in a cyclone in its course. How heavily did the developments weigh on his Excellency's mind, no one can really tell now. What bits and pieces one can glean from reading between the lines would suffice to send a shudder down one's spine. That silent submission to sufferings and sustenance of strength for selfless sacrifice can be deciphered only as symbolic signals of what was ordained - a channel of Divine Providence.
Those tormenting thoughts and feelings His Excellency had to put up with can be sensed only if one has known the prelate and can decipher between his lines. Going through those lines, one not well-versed in theology and spirituality wonders - after all, what are Pious Associations, Religious Congregations etc for? Self-exaltations or unitary exultations ? To one not well disciplined or tutored in matters of religion, certainly not for the flare of any flippant feelings of particular sect or rite! Glory to God on high and peace to men of good-will on earth ! Well, one can only guess at the torrent of torments the visionary in him must have been through.
Let us have a tour to its cradle. In 1940 Rev. Fr. Vigilius and Sr. Kochuthresia started a devout union at Chelakkara, Trichur. This pious endeavour had the approval of the Bishop of Trichur, Rt. Rev. Dr. George Alappat. Later, due to conceivable infantile infirmities and inadequacies of any organization, Bishop Alappat was compelled to withdraw its recognition. The union thus having lost its status as an entity at its very place of birth, many of the members left the association.
But eight of them, together with Rev.Fr. Vigilius, set out for Quilon. In 1953, Rt. Rev. Dr. Jerome Fernandez, Bishop of Quilon, accepted them as a pious union. A Capuchin Ashram building at Kunnam, Mavelikara, became their new abode at the new place. Fresh candidates were subsequently admitted.
In 1959 the Congregation's constitution was approved by the Holy See. Four candidates started their Novitiate at the Holy Cross convent, Kottiyam. But before long two of them left and Sr. Kochuthresia was thus compelled to call her noviciate to a halt. From 1954 to 1960 almost all of them remained just as aspirants. Later on a Canossian Sister named Sr. Christina was appointed as Novice Mistress to train eight novices. Meanwhile, Fr. Vigilius and Sr. Kochuthresia tried their best to keep things going.
In 1963 the Apostolic Pronuncio Most. Rev. Dr. James R. Knox visited all the candidates, then about 60, at Kunnam. At his suggestion two Sisters from the Apostolic Carmel of the Syrian Rite were invited. They were entrusted with the conduct of noviciate from 15th October 1964. When Fr. Vigilius found that he could interfere no more, he left, taking along with him whatever he could lay his hands on. Those that could not be dislodged, like fixed properties, he disposed off. Sr. Kochuthresia and a few others followed him to Cherianad.
It was a religious Congregation of the Diocese of Quilon. And Quilon, of course, is a Latin diocese. Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel were in charge of the formation of the Order. Vocational response to the new Congregation was encouraging. The slender sapling seemed set for a steady growth. Yes, on the surface. The Congregation's annals indicate an invisible and indiscernible infection embedded deeply within.
Records display a strange ailment, apparently an inexplicable phenomenon. The symptomatic manifestation of the malady was the simultaneous sprouting and shrivelling of vocations. On a closer examination it was found the former persistent in the Malabar and the latter in the Latin Rites! The good God in His mercy granted Bishop Jerome Fernandez respite in that His Excellency remained oblivious of this strange disorder.
Then Bishop Joseph G. Fernandez assumed charge of Quilon diocese. Once while visiting them the Bishop found that most of the candidates and novices were not of the rite of the Diocese. The Sisters in charge had an expedient explanation - the Latinite lasses lacked real perseverance and genuine vocation. His Excellency examined the list of candidates who were admitted. The Bishop found then that for nearly twenty years, there had been a steady dropping of Latin vocations. The healer in the Bishop prescribed then and there a potent remedy: entertain only Latin vocations for a few years!
Ready rejection of the antidote was the repugnant result on the patient. This repulsive syndrome surfaced on the Sisters of the Syrian rite who formed themselves into a group. Fifteen of them who had had their final profession asked for dispensation from their vows. In a group they approached Bishop Dominic Kokkat, C.S.T., of the Diocese of Gorakhpur, North India. The other Sisters of the group declared they would leave the Congregation and join those fifteen. On December 1, 1988, Bishop Joseph Fernandez contacted the Cochin Diocese and His Excellency Bishop Joseph Kureethara was informed of the unpleasant developments at Quilon.
Tracing the trail of the fifteen is an enlightening and edifying experience. They had a momentarily gratifying verdict from Rome - dispensation from their earlier vows. Thus their Novitiate taken and profession made at Quilon remained null and void. Logically, therefore, Rome could not and hence did not recognize their religious ranking. This meant they had to undergo novitiate again and make profession afresh - perhaps a 'supreme sacrifice' for the sake of the sought after illusory self-esteem sensed in sectarian superiority!
This provoked the Sisters who were initially entrusted with the conduct of novitiate. The result was yet another display of sectarianism. They wrote to Rome demanding two-thirds of the assets of the new Congregation of the Diocese, by the Diocese and for the Diocese. Roughly shaking one out of the reverie of the calm and quiet of the spiritual into the rough realities of the volatile political environ, the reason furnished was that they were 100 Syrian but only 50 Latinite Sisters.
The Holy See appointed Rt. Rev. Dr. Alan de Lastic, Secretary to the C.B.C.I., to study the problem and report to Rome. Bishop Alan de Lastic met each and every Sister. Later on they approached the Latin Archbishop's house Ernakulam. The Latin Bishops unanimously declared that the convents were all within the Latin Parishes. Nay, the properties rightly belonged to the Diocese of Quilon. Socially true and legally genuine ownership of the Latin Diocese, therefore, just could not be countermanded.
All these happened beyond our borders. But here at Kannamaly within our bishopric also bubbles of bias burst. It is painful to recollect that some Sisters even wrote to Rome demanding that the House at Kannamaly be allotted to them. It makes one more sad to realise that the particular spirit ( sorry, not spirituality! ) left no scruples nor compunction to furnish reasons fictitious to substantiate their claim and the resultant demand. They had reported that at Kannamaly there were many families of the Syrian rite, that there was a church of the rite nearby and finally that they themselves had been working at Kannamaly for more than five years. On these imaginary grounds they claimed they had the right to the Convent and the hospital for themselves!
The Archbishop of Changanacherry was asked by Rome to deal with the developments. A voting was conducted at their Generalate in Umayanalloor, Quilon. Almost all the Syrian Sisters expressed their desire to stick to the kind. They wanted to be separated from the Latinites. All these are parts of the past. Let us hope there is no recurrence. Let us hope, too, there is true spirit and practice of "et unam, Sanctam, Catholicam et apostolicam, ecclesiam."
Now let us return to our own vineyard in an optimistic mood. Kannamaly is a suburb of Cochin city. From the town area in west Cochin itself, it is at an unpleasant distance. On the whole, a remote place. Transport facilities were and still are but precarious. Imagine an emergency situation for an invalid or one suddenly stricken by some serious affliction!
Hospital facilities at such a place was a must. Prayers must have been answered. The Diocese was able to set up St. Joseph's Convent at Kannamaly - a pilgrim centre dedicated to the devotion of St. Joseph. "It was a pleasant surprise". Listen to what the Bishop has to say on how the convent came to be established in the Diocese of Cochin. H.E. Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara recollects the time when Rev. Fr. Amalolbhavadas from Bangalore was conducting a three-day seminar for priests at the Mount Carmel petit seminary hall.
While the Bishop was quite busy making all arrangements, there arrived quite unexpectedly the very Rev. Mother Vicar, Mary Theresa of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Theresa of Infant Jesus, a diocesan Congregation of Quilon. The Rev. Mother was accompanied by two Sisters. The day was 7th April 1981. Her mission was to start a House in the Diocese of Cochin. Indeed a pleasant surprise it was!
Permission was readily granted and two prospective sites were proposed to them. They visited both the places. The first was at Moolamkuzhy where Karunalayam is at present. The second was the property at Kannamaly, along the southern side of the church. One St. Joseph's Charities hospital was already there. The Sisters selected the second one, the property of which belonged to St. Joseph's Charities, Kannamaly. The Charities had been running a small hospital there, 'St. Joseph's Charities Hospital' since May 1978.
The site had once been proposed to the Pattathanam Sisters. H.E. Bishop Jerome Fernandez and Sisters had visited it on 29th May 1978. Also the Presentation Sisters (Italian) from Calicut had come to see the site on 19th April 1979. But neither could find the place suitable. Now have come the M.S.S.T. Sisters who accepted it and agreed to take Kannamaly as location for their convent. Chevalier B. M. Edward, vice president of St. Joseph's Charities, took real interest in bringing the M.S.S.T. Sisters to Kannamaly. The erstwhile St. Joseph's Charities Hospital thus came to be used by the Sisters as their temporary residence.
The Bishop sent a formal request dated 19th November, 1982 to H.E., Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph G. Fernandez, Bishop of Quilon, seeking His Excellency's kind permission to start a Convent in Cochin Diocese. The Bishop's permission dated 15th February 1983 reached in due course. Mother Theresa MSST came on 28th February 1983 and fixed the date and details of the inauguration of their Convent here.
The decree on the erection of St. Joseph's Convent, Kannamaly, was issued on April 10th, 1983. On the same day H.E. Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph G. Fernandez, Bishop of Quilon, blessed the Convent (temporarily) at the doctors quarters. The concelebrated Mass was led by H.E. Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara. After the Holy Mass a public meeting had been arranged. Mr. C.T. Antony, I.P.S., inaugurated the public meeting. Msgr. Marcel Paliath, Chevalier B. M. Edward and Professor Leelamma Jose, offered felicitations. Mother Theresa, MSST, gave the reply and Mr. A.B. Mathew proposed the vote of thanks. At night there was also a drama 'Vilayattam' by Alleppey Theatres.
Rev. Sr. Mary Gemma was appointed the first Superior of the Convent. The Sisters arrived on 16th May 1983. Soon they started a dispensary on the ground floor. The hospital was really taken up by the Sisters. The ground was not strong enough. So, the plan for a two storeyed building for the convent was altered. Before long a simple single-floor building was completed and blessed on June 13th, 1986. The new building, intended as the Doctor's quarters and dispensary, was blessed on 2nd February 1989.
Running the hospital, the Sisters are involved in the healing ministry. They also participate actively in parochial missions such as catechism, family apostolate and prayer meetings. St. Joseph's Hospital has out-patient and in-patient departments, ECG, X-ray and Lab facilities. A long cherished dream of the locals has thus been realized. The Hospital offers 24 hour service. There are two resident doctors and members of medical and para-medical staff.
Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara