The Society was started in the year 1822 in Holland by Rev. Fr. Mathias Wolff, S.J. Those were the days when literacy was beyond the reach of Christian girls as education for them was prohibited in Holland. So the aim of this Jesuit was to see that the Christian girls were not left helpless to grope in the dark. The society he founded had the characteristic so enduringly an adaptable availability that from Holland it spread all over the world. Today they have their Convents in different parts of the world such as Rome, Indonesia, Australia, Africa and India. Started in 1904, the Congregation has 75 Houses in the sub-continent, of which two are in Kerala.
On September 16, 1981, two Sisters of the Community reached Chellanam on a study tour of the coastal village and the needs of the people there. After observing and analysing the problems of the area through discussions with the locals and assessing the situation, they came to the conclusion that the pressing need of the hour was proper medical care. So they decided to set up a dispensary and on 13th November 1981, the Cortina Dispensary, a real benison to the locality, was blessed and inaugurated. A few years later on December 29, 1985, the Congregation established their Infant Jesus Convent there.
A proper hospital for really effective medical care was a long cherished dream of the people of Chellanam. The J.M.J. Sisters, well experienced in the medical mission running hospitals and clinics, were the right ones to be entrusted with the task. Hence His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara sought the help of the Congregation on this matter of urgency and vital significance to the populace at Chellanam.
Undoubtedly enlightening and edifying an experience it is to have the fortune to browse on the notes personally penned by the prelate, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara. His narration illustrates how dream towers get gutted down all of a sudden and how real mansions of miracle emerge out of the ashes. In His Excellency's own words: "It seems that all the graces of God are linked together. If we accept the first grace given by Him, there follows the second one. A mother who sees that her child already has something in its mouth, does not force the child to eat. She waits till the child is ready to consume it. If we refuse one grace of God, we lose not only that single grace but also innumerable graces that are yet to follow the first one".
Now, let us get back to the village to get a closer look. Except for country lanes, surface transport facilities were virtually nil at Chellanam and for the natives there, country canoes over canals and backwaters were the only means of communication. In times of emergency when one so sick or sinking had to be rushed to the hospitals in town, they had to hire these country boats, row two or three hours despite darkness or drenching downpour to reach hospitals. There had been instances when the seriously ill had died, expectant mothers had brought to bed or breathed their last right on board such canoes! Quite naturally, the natives were eagerly and anxiously awaiting the dawn of the day when there would be a proper hospital they could call their own right there amidst them at Chellanam.
It was at such a time that an encouraging and promising advertisement appeared in the press. Published by the Y's Men's Club of Cochin, it was an offer that the Club was prepared to establish a hospital in the suburban region of the much neglected, oft forgotten and long forsaken West Cochin. The only provision the Y' Men's Club put forward was that some charitable person, association or institution place at its disposal a plot of land about an acre for the purpose. The unambiguous announcement proclaimed the estimate of the proposed hospital building to be at a substantial sum of Rupees Twenty- five lakh.
The advertisement captured the fancy of Rev. Fr. Victor Maraparambil, the Parish Priest of St. Sebastian's Church, Chellanam and Chevalier B.M. Edward from Kannamaly, a co-suffering rural area contiguous to Chellanam, likewise cast into the contemptible corner of indifference. Captivated by the prospects of such a windfall to the hapless, helpless and hopeless have-nots of the coastal area, they approached His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Joseph Kureethara and appealed to the Bishop to help acquire an acre of land at Chellanam and facilitate the building of the hospital there.
Though the Diocesan fiscal fabric was flimsy right then, the paternal perspective of the prelate perceived it as a positive signal from above and placing all the trust in Divine providence, the Bishop readily agreed to take up the cause of the unfortunate inhabitants of Chellanam. Rev. Fr. Victor straight away set to work, looking for suitable sites and finally acquired a plot, an acre and eight cents, to the north of the parish church. The matter was conveyed to the Club together with the message that the Bishop of Cochin would offer the plot to the Y's Men and they agreed to build the hospital there. Consulting all concerned, the date for the ceremonial laying of foundation for the hospital was scheduled for the New Year's eve of 1979.
Thinking their long cherished dream was about to turn to reality, the guileless rustics of Chellanam made all arrangements to make it a memorable one. To effect the epoch making event commencing with the ceremony of laying the foundation stone a grand affair, they even raised a stage. When all the distinguished guests and their better halves ascended the dais and seated themselves together with the president of the meeting, the Bishop of Cochin, the elevated stage swayed and then collapsed, symbolically signalling the still-birth that was to be! Any way, the foundation stone was ceremoniously laid by the International president of the Y's Men's Club. Well, only, that was the last bugle call as befits a respectful final farewell before a sad and solemn internment, of course. Any way, thus was laid to rest the trumpetted offer of a hospital building for the poor!
There after the office bearers of the Club unceremoniously admitted that they had exhausted all the money they had had that day by themselves. Later, when the representatives of the hospital project from Chellanam approached them, the office bearers conveyed to them that they were 'contemplating on a plan' to entrust the money, an amount of $8000 to the Bishop. Glancing over everything from fancy to facts that unrolled before his eyes, assessing the damage control measure on a fresh platter having been nowhere near the original offer publicised through the press and considering the adverse propaganda on all concerned, His Excellency was naturally rather disinclined towards their proposal and hence, declined.
The full moon and the new regularly repeated their cycles in the sky over Chellanam for months on end but the hospital on the ground below remained an illusion still. Confident that the heavenly Father had some singular scheme for His people there, Bishop Joseph Kureethara patiently and prayerfully paused for the divine design to be displayed in due time. And so it happened in October 1980 when His Excellency had occasion to attend a reception at Kumbalangy.
The function was in connection with the priestly ordination of Rev. Fr. Xavier Kattikatt from the parish of St. Peter's, Kumbalangy. There His Excellency met Rev. Sr. Tresa Joseph Theruvilparambil J.M.J. whom the Bishop remembered to have met at St. Philomina's Hospital in Bangalore earlier. Subsequent renewal of acquaintance fetched the information about the presence of their Provincial Councillor, Rev. Sr. Lucy Chirammel at Palluruthy on home visit. From the Rev. Sister the Bishop could also secure the address of their Mother Provincial in Hyderabad.
His Excellency spared neither time nor pains in writing to Rev. Sr. Josepha Rachamalla, the Provincial, indicating the need for a convent and hospital at Chellanam and in arranging a visit to the place with the J.M.J. Sisters already on vacation in Cochin. The visit facilitated edifying experience to the Sisters on the frustration of the people in the symbolic shape of a broken marble slab with partial inscription. It was a fragment of the long laid foundation stone which paradoxically symbolized the scheme of the elite organisation being laid to rest.
Until then retained as it bore the name of His Excellency, the thwarted and hence the resentful hopefuls of a hospital had broken the slab at the sight of the new Sisters and presented it to the Bishop. So too was the enthusiasm of the expectant crowd that gathered there believing the new Sisters who were amidst them right then were the harbingers sent in response to their fervent prayers. His Excellency on his part entrusted the broken slab to Rev. Sr. Lucy to be taken to Hyderabad and asked her to report to the Mother Provincial, the eager expectations of the poor people of Chellanam.
Without making any definite commitment Rev. Sr. Josepha Rachamalla wrote to His Excellency in January 1981 conveying the news she was heading to the Generalate in Netherlands to attend the General Chapter the following month. While thus waiting prayerfully and hopefully for a positive response, His Excellency by chance met Signor Ildebrando Wladimiro Crespi from Italy one day. The providential confluence of these two homo fountains of providence was significantly over the shipping channel that separates Vypeen island from mainland, Fort Cochin as the Bishop and the Signor were crossing the Vypeen - Fort Cochin Ferry then. On this momentous meeting His Excellency has noted in his personal diary: "God has listened to the prayers of the people of Chellanam. God has sent them a benefactor in the person of Papà Ildebrando Crespi from Italy".
The 'Papà', as he is usually called, accompanied the prelate to the Bishop's House, had lunch there and then browsed around on his favorite field, charity projects. Learning about the Diocesan project CULTES meant for leprosy patients, he readily offered help to His Excellency. Later, upon reaching Italy, he made good his promise in the form of a donation of Rs.5, 000. In February 1981 the Signor came to Cochin again, together with an Italian Sister working at the Holy Family Hospital, Bombay. He handed over to the Bishop then a substantial sum of Rs.85, 000/- he had collected from his friends. His Excellency asked the 'Papa' if he would lay the foundation stone for a dispensary at Chellanam the very next day and the benefactor readily agreed.
Though it was eight in the evening, the information was passed on to the parish priest by a messenger on motor bike and the Bishop instructed the vicar to make necessary arrangements for the laying of the foundation. Thus on February 8, 1981 'Papà' and the Bishop reached Chellanam into the midst of a grand reception typical of traditional fiesta like "Paricha Muttu Kali", "Chenda Melam", and "Thaalappoli". The joyous and jubilant people of the locality, without any distinction of caste, colour or creed, were vying with each other to garland the papa and the prelate. In such a happy and festive atmosphere, Bishop Joseph Kureethara solemnly blessed the stone and Papà Ildebrando ceremoniously laid it.
After the ceremony, so much filled with overflowing warmth, His Excellency presented the Papà with a gold ring crowned with topaz. Signor Ildebrando, in his turn, took the ring to Italy and collected money from charitably disposed, offering the ring in return. Quite a few responded, gave cheques for substantial amounts, returning the ring to the Signor to raise more! The funds he thus collected he sent to His Excellency and urged the Bishop to complete the dispensary at the earliest possible, intimating that as many as twenty-six from Italy were looking forward to attending the inauguration of the dispensary!
Meanwhile His Excellency was awaiting the decision of the General Chapter on the issue of a House of the JMJ Sisters at Chellanam. In the fullness of time, Sr. Josepha Rachamalla, Provincial and Sr. Martin, General Councillor and Sr. Theresa Joseph paid a visit to Chellanam in May 1981 and they were found pleased with the plot and the place. Thereupon, the official request to institute a convent of the Congregation was sent on 16th of the following month, informing them that the Diocese of Cochin would be donating the property, an acre and 20 cents and that a Dispensary and a Jeep Ambulance would be ready when they come.
On 8th September 1981 the new Provincial, V. Rev. Mother Anna Maria Gali took charge and within a week on 16th decision was taken to establish a House of J.M.J. Sisters at Chellanam. Subsequently, two Sisters, Rev. Teresa Peter and Rev. Jose Mary arrived in Cochin on the very next day. As proper accommodation was not yet ready, they stayed at the house of Rev. Fr. Berthold Ambalathinkal, O.C.D. Later that year on November 12, twenty-five Italians under the leadership of Papà Ildebrando Crespi landed in Cochin and stayed at Shalom, the Bishop's House. The Provincial, Rev. Sr. Anna Maria Gali and a few J.M.J. sisters also arrived.
That Friday, 13th November 1981 on which the long cherished dream of the coastal village finally turned to reality was indeed a festive one for Chellanam but surprises were yet to follow. The distinguished Italian guests, Rev. Sisters and His Excellency, Bishop Joseph Kureethara were accorded a warm welcome by the people and to add to the gaiety, there was the traditional salute of any fiesta by a decorated elephant. Then the dignitaries were led in procession through decorated pathways to the accompaniment of musical instruments, flower girls, dancers and 'Thaalappoli' by blooming faces to the courtyard of the Cortina Dispensary building.
Signor 'Papà Ildebrando cut the ribbon and His Excellency lighted the traditional brass lamp, sharing the office with the 83 year old Signora Marinoni Rossette. Once the wicks were aflame, reminding the bishop of Aladdin's magical lamp promising fulfilment, the Signora so full of joy, prompted His Excellency to ask for anything he further needed. When the Bishop responded with 'a convent building', the good old lady declared His Excellency's wish was granted! Signor Papà Ildebrando also played the little ghost of the Aladdin's fame and promised to help build one more floor on top of the dispensary - to be used as a hospital ward!!
The ceremony of house warming was conducted on 31st January, 1982 and the Sisters shifted their residence to the Dispensary building. The foundation stone for the Infant Jesus Convent was laid on February 2, 1982 by the Mother General, Sr. Louise Van Laarhoven. The upper floor of the Cortina Hospital was blessed and the in-patients block was inaugurated on January 10, 1984. Papà Ildebrando came again the very next month and laid the foundation stone for the Maternity Ward on March 21. Finally, the new building of Infant Jesus Convent of the Society of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was blessed on 29th December 1985.
The Providence of God has just started doing real miracles!! Through Papà Ildebrando, God worked more wonders - the Convent of the Holy Cross Sisters and Bormio Hospital in Kumbalam (January 15, 1986), the Convent of Carmelite Sisters C.T.C. and Crespi Hospital and a Priests and Doctor's residence in Perumpalam (July 5, 1988), a 'San Cristofero Boat' (March 1, 1990), the Convent and guest house for the Divyakarunya Bhavan at Eramalloor (March 8, 1990) and a chapel, Convent and a work room ( March 1990) for the same Community at Palluruthy west and so on and on.
Commenced simply as Cortina Dispensary, it has now grown into the Cortina Hospital with 18 beds, two Doctors, six Nurses and one Lab Technician through which they give Medical Care. The Sisters uplift the needy through social projects and help the T.B. patients by distributing nutritious food materials like egg, milk and Horlicks. They extend financial help for medical needs and education of poor children by providing books and stationery, clothing and even money. The Congregation is also at work on the pastoral field and the Sisters conduct house visits and counselling.
Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara