Today's Paper

Kerala awaits Sr. Alphonsa’s canonisation

George Jacob

Pope Benedict XVI to announce first woman saint from India today

KOTTAYAM: The Roman Catholic Church in India will have its first woman saint on Sunday when Pope Benedict XVI canonises Sr. Alphonsa, a Franciscan Clarist nun who led a life of suffering and piety in a village convent in the 20th century.

The canonisation is the culmination of a detailed protocol after Cardinal Tisserant commenced the diocesan process for her beatification in 1953 and declared her a Servant of God.

The formal approval of a miracle came from Pope John Paul II in 1985, and on July 9 that year she was declared ‘Venerable.’ On February 8, 1986, during his visit to Kottayam, Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Alphonsa and Kuriakose Elias Chaavara. In June 2007, Pope Benedict XVI authorised her canonisation after he approved a second miracle attributed to her.

The life of Sr. Alphonsa, whose original name was Annakkutty, was one of piety and spiritual fervour. Even in her lifetime, she was considered saintly by her colleagues and the common people known to her.

A premature child born to an agrarian family in Kudamaloor on August 19, 1910, Annakkuty lost her mother on the 29th day of her birth. The child, frail and often bedridden, was adopted by her maternal aunt, who wanted to marry her off to a suitable boy as she grew up. However, though frail physically, she was clear in her conviction that her life was one designated for spiritual avocation.

She joined the Clarist Convent at Bharananganam, near here, in 1927 and received the postulant’s veil in 1928, assuming the name Sr. Alphonsa, in memory of St. Alphons Ligory. She made her final profession in 1936. In 1932, she worked as a teacher at a primary school near Changanassery.

Sr. Alphonsa’s life was one of misery and suffering. She was often afflicted with diseases and was repeatedly down with pneumonia and malaria. A deeply spiritual person, she found her salvation in the acute pain she suffered on account of her diseases. She passed away on July 28, 1946. Her funeral was simple and thinly attended.

However, soon after her death, her tomb near the Clarist Convent at Bharananganam became a pilgrim centre. Students came there in large numbers to pray for their success in examinations, while those with diseases came seeking her intercession.

The Catholic Church has made elaborate arrangements to welcome the news of canonisation. According to church authorities, the parish churches will ring in the news which will be announced between 1.30 p.m. and 3 p.m. There will be special prayers and masses across Kerala to herald the news.

Sr. Alphonsa is the second from India to be canonised by the Catholic Church. The first was Gonzalo Garcia, a Franciscan monk born to an Indian mother and a Portuguese father. He was killed in 1597 in Nagasaki during missionary work. Fr. Garcia was canonised along with 25 others in 1862. Among the beatified are Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chaavara, Thevarparambil Kunjachen of Ramapuram, Sr. Mariam Thresia, Sr. Evuprasia and Mother Teresa.

The Indian Church, believed to be founded by St. Thomas, one of the apostles, in A.D. 52, make up 2.3 per cent of the billion-plus population of the country. The Roman Catholic Church in India, spread over the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites, constitutes nearly 70 per cent of the Christian population, according to Church authorities.

Recommended for you