The once vast Diocese of Cochin - the Mother Diocese of India - which extended from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) down south and from the southern tip of the sub-continent along the eastern portion stretching all the way to the north, including Burma (Myanmar) and beyond, encompassing Hong Kong and Macao, never had a diocesan Congregation until 1945. That year, the last Portuguese Padroado Bishop, Rt. Rev. Dr. Jose Vieira Alvarnaz, established the Congregation of the Visitation Sisters but its existence was short-lived as the dismembering the Diocese dislodged and deposited it in the new Diocese of Alleppey in 1952.
Ever since, the Mother Diocese had been straggling along, hapless and heavy of heart in the matter of a diocesan Congregation it could claim its own for more than a quarter of a century. When His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara, was entrusted with the Crosier of Cochin, the Bishop yearned to have a diocesan Community. The providence of God Almighty did not fail the humble and humane shepherd in slowly evolving a religious Congregation and the Order of the Sisters of Holy Eucharist is the soft and slender sapling that sprouted as a result.
With their life and mission centred round the Holy Eucharist, a small Community assumed aspect and substance in due course and finally made a humble beginning when a small House, their 'maternal mansion' was blessed on June 6, 1979 at Eramalloor by Rev. Fr. John Manakatt, the Vicar of the parish. The next day, on the Feast of Pentecost, when the "Divyakarunya Bhavan" was inaugurated by His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara, the Congregation of the Sisters of The Holy Eucharist came to be a canonical entity!
So much about its becoming a congregational being but what about its inception? Miss Agnes Mathew Kuttathiparambil from Chandiroor had stayed a few weeks at Our Lady's Convent of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Palluruthy but had to return home due to some indisposition. Likewise, Miss Annamma Joseph Manalel, from St. Mary's Parish Muttom, Cherthala (Syrian Rite), had been at a convent of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel at Chowara. She left on her own accord when she found that her calling was elsewhere. Subsequently she returned to the house of her sister, also at Chandiroor, in 1976.
Like minded and like inclined, it didn't take long for Agnes and Annamma to comply to the proverbial concept, 'Birds of the same feather, flock together.' They used to meet quite often at St. Francis Xavier's Church, Eramalloor, both chewing the cud of a reconsecration of themselves to God. Their craving was such that it dawned on them in June 1977 that they could as well start a community by themselves. A noble thought on the unfortunate ones who have lost to the challenges of the academic acid tests at the S.S.L.C. level further strengthened their resolve.
Those aspiring to adorn the bridal habit of a consecrated but are denied because they have not been able to clear the hurdles of Secondary School Certificate Examinations are not just a few. So many who have fumbled at their S.S.L.C Examinations have thus lost all hope of ever getting admitted to a convent. To the pair it seemed a great thing if even such 'unlucky' ones could also be extended an opportunity to dedicate themselves to the service at the Lord's vast vineyard.
The two suitors approached Rev. Fr. Joseph Pollayil, the Parish Priest of Eramalloor, to consult and seek help but were rather reserved in that they were reticent about their singular scheme on a fresh Order. The Rev. Vicar on his part did not have the heart to discourage the dreams of the hopefuls but suggested they seek the advice and opinion of His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara.
Ms. Annamma and Ms. Agnes subsequently reached the Bishop's House on May 31, 1977 and divulged their deeper desire and inner aspirations to the prelate who proffered a patient hearing. The first impression the Bishop had of them made His Excellency think that perhaps God might have some designs on the eager enthusiasts.
However, the cautions, careful but concerned prelate resolved that their sincerity, resolution and perseverance should first be put to the test. So, a week later, on June 3, His Excellency permitted them to live as a Community and the two, resolute on re-consecration, settled at Chammanadu within the parish of Eramalloor.
On April 10, 1978 they bought a small patch of 20 cents of land, the cost of which was shared by the two. Rev. Fr. Thomas Manakatt laid the foundation stone for a small house the same year on 28th May and the structure when completed was blessed on 2nd June, the following year by Rev. Fr. John Manakatt, the Vicar of Eramalloor. On the Feast of the Pentecost on June 3, 1979, with the solemn inauguration by Rev. Fr. Thomas Manakatt, "the Divyakarunya Bhavan" officially came into existence. Bishop, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara, made his first visit a few days later on June 8. Seeing the inconveniences in and deficiencies of the new abode, His Excellency helped them add a closed verandah in front, a kitchen and other essential facilities.
Just a couple of months later they made a humble beginning of their mission in society with a Typewriting Institute aimed at the empowerment of the weaker sex on August 15, the Day of Assumption. A Nursery School for the tiny tots followed on September 26 and a Tailoring Institute for girls and women was set up on October 12 of the same year. From June 1980, Ms. Annamma and Ms. Agnes were sent to get basic theological training at Lux Mundi. Meanwhile His Excellency helped them build a larger hall for their activities at social work and gave them permission to admit new candidates on June 26, 1982.
On January 1, 1983, His Excellency granted them permission to take 'usus and usufructus' from about 25 cents of land along the western side of the Divyakaarunya Bhavan, part of the property belonging to the Diocese of Cochin. Thereupon, the following candidates, Ms. Mercy Jacob Kizhakumkaravely, Kodamthuruthu and Ms. Gracy Joseph Vazhakoottathil, Cheriakadavu were admitted to the Community that October 30. Following them two more, Ms. Sophy Raphael Puthenparambil, Neendakara and Ms. Mary Devasya, Ummathara, Chellanam, also joined the Community on 28th that December.
On 2nd February 1986, they sent formal request to raise their's as a Religious Congregation. A few days later, on the bright and blissful day of the visit of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, to Kerala, 7th February, 1986, the "Nihil Obstat" was issued, their "Constitution" was approved and they started their "Novitiate". On 16th May 1986, the Bishop permitted them to take the usufructus from the entire diocesan property near their Convent. On January 8, 1988 four of them started 'composing' work at the Sadvartha Press, Thoppumpady.
Steady growth of the Community necessitated modification of their abode as well. In June 1988 the remodelling of their workroom-cum-hall as a convent building was begun by Rev. Fr. Bosco, O.C.D. On 24th of the very month this miniature Community was established as a "Pious Union".
In July 1988, Papà Ildebrando Crespi and his wife Amelia Crespi consented to be benefactors to the new Congregation. Meanwhile a few more aspirants had joined this small group of a Pious Union the previous month. Papà Ildebrando Crespi visited them again at Eramalloor, together with Signora Erina and the famous Italian film star, Gina Lolobrigida, on February 22, 1990.
The blessing of the new convent building at Eramalloor was accomplished on March 8, 1990, by His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara and it was inaugurated by Papà Ildebrando. The Bishop concelebrated the Holy Eucharist at the Convent with some priests and installed the Blessed Sacrament in their chapel. On the same day was laid the foundation stone for a dispensary building there. On May 13, 1990, the foundation stone was laid for a second convent building by Papa Ildebrando on a property about 63 cents at Valummel, west of St. Sebastian's Church, Palluruthy.
It is necessary to have "No Objecton" - Nihil Obstat - from Rome to start a Diocesan Religious Congregation. So, when His Excellency was on his "Ad Limina Visit" to Rome, the Bishop had presented a written request to the Sacred Congregation for the Religious and Secular Institutes (petition dated September 3, 1990) for the "Nihil Obstat". The Sacred Congregation responded with the proviso that requests in the line could be entertained only after the aspiring Community has grown to a strength of at least forty Sisters with Perpetual Private Vows.
So in consultation with the Diocesan Counsellors and the Senate of Priests, the Bishop asked the Sisters to get ready for their first Private Religious Vows and Vestition. His Excellency assigned the preparation of the six Sisters of the Holy Eucharist for their Religious Profession to Rev. Sr. Philomina Thannikot, the Novice Mistress of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Aroor. On November 11, 1990, the Kerala Latin Catholic Bishops' Council, held at the Verapoly Archbishop's House at Ernakulam, was also consulted on the issue. His Excellency received the Council's recommendation a week later on November 20 to allow the members of the new Community make their private vows and receive their religious habit.
The canonical erection of the Divyakarunya Bhavan as a Religious Congregation of Private Vows was accomplished on 21st December, 1990. The solemn celebration of the Religious Vestition and the first Private Religious Profession of the six Sisters took place during the High Mass concelebrated by Bishop Joseph Kureethara and many priests at St. Jude's Chapel, Eramalloor, within a week on 26th.
The six Sisters and the Aspirants were then separated into two communities. Rev. Sr. Gracy Joseph Vazhakoottathil was appointed as the Vicar General at the Mother House and Rev. Sr. Annamma Manalel was appointed as Superior of a separate Community. On January 17, 1991, this separated Community was set up at the Catholic Centre, Thoppumpady, as the second "Divyakarunya Bhavan" of the Congregation. The inauguration of this second Community at Thoppumpady was performed by Papà Ildebrando on 1st of the following March.
The Diocesan Congregation that made a very simple and humble beginning at Chammanad with just two on 3-6-1979 has been getting a steady stream of vocations. As more and more candidates joined, it was found necessary to separate Sisters from the Novices and Aspirants. Since it is a diocesan Congregation, it has to depend on the diocese for its growth and development. Slowly God blessed the Congregation in the person of a benefactor, Signor Papà Ildebrando from Gallarate, Italy. To the Sisters who had no resources of their own and found it difficult even to make both ends meet, the benefactor was, indeed, a real blessing.
A separate Community was thus started at the Catholic Centre, Thoppumpady, at the building close to the press on March 1, 1991. Soon they realized the need for and necessity of starting a Day Care Centre to look after the little ones of those who have to go to their respective places of work leaving their babies in some secure hands. Therefore they started a Day Care Centre on July 15 that year. The place Thoppumpady where all the buses pass by was found to be an ideal location for the purpose as the parents could leave their babies in attentive, loving hands and go to their duties with confidence. The Sisters found it a very rich and rewarding experience to relish the sweet smiles and musical cries of the innocent little cherubim and bestow their love and attention on them.
The Community thus instituted at Thoppumpady found it to be very opportune as their Aspirants could go for their studies at the Catholic Centre and also assist the Sisters at taking care of the tiny tots at the Day Care Centre. Later, the larger house at the southern side of the Catholic Centre was allotted to them and the Community shifted to this building on January 27, 1994. The Sisters help the neighbouring priests preparing meals for them and they also help with all the activities at the Lux Mundi and the Catholic Centre.
Though the Divyakarunya Bhavan as a Diocesan Congregation was started in 1979, it was found very difficult to conduct the training of the Aspirants, Postulants and Novices all together in one and the same building. The Postulants and Novices are necessarily separated and so the first six Sisters who had made their profession had not been able to undergo their Novitiate. His Excellency therefore requested the Mother General of the Holy Angels' Convent, Trivandrum (the Carmelite Sisters of Trivandrum) to extend the assistance of Rev. Sr. Mary Laura Koilparambil as Novice Mistress and the Rev. Sister arrived at Chammanad in July 16, 1991.
It was difficult in the beginning both for Rev. Sr. Mary Laura and the Postulants to adjust themselves to the new surroundings and so the Bishop was entertaining the idea of having a separate building a little farther from Chammanadu. It was at this time that a property at Valummel, Palluruthy, came into the possession of the Diocese. When the Canossians wanted to erect a Provincial House, His Excellency had proposed to them the plot as a gift but the Canossians were reluctant as it was a marshy place.
A new Novitiate House for the first Diocesan Congregation was therefore planned at Valummel. God has His own ways of doing things and the benefactor, Papà Ildebrando Crespi came up again as benefactor to the Holy Eucharist Convent. Soon the marshy place was reclaimed and the compound wall was to be constructed. When the construction work started arose the problem of a small banyan sapling, about six feet tall, growing along the boundary on the northern side.
The tree had to be removed to make way for the wall but some averse to a Christian religious House coming up there, created a smoke screen of protest against the removal of the banyan, considered sacred by certain sects. Demonstrations and protest meetings were held which could have resulted in clashes between communities. The diocesan Procurator, Fr. Dominic Aluvaparambil, however, prudently managed the removal of the sapling without any ruckus or confrontation.
All the expenses needed for the construction of a large and beautiful Novitiate House at Valummel was met by the charitable Papà Ildebrando Crespi. Papa Crespi inaugurated the House after His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara, blessed it on January 23, 1992. Into this new Novitiate House stepped the first five postulants, Elsie, Sophy Abel, Gigi Xavier, Anitha Anne Celine and Gisha Lawrence.
Regular Sunday Masses started to be offered at the Convent chapel from 16th January, 1993 and on the first of the following month, the first batch of five Sisters made their initial solemn profession. Nine more postulants entered the Convent for their Novitiate in May that year. In June 1995, a part of the building was used temporarily as a hostel for the benefit of the students of the new Avila B.Ed College of the Diocese.
The fourth House of the Sisters of the Holy Eucharist was opened in Fort Cochin at the former Tharana on St. Joseph's day in 1998 with Sr. Annamma Manalel as Superior. As His Excellency visualised, for the various help and services the Sisters could render to the multifarious activities of the Bishopric, they were provided a residence close to the Bishop's House. The Sisters play a very important role in the day to day activities at the Bishop's House now.
Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara