“My childhood friend was a saint”



George Jacob

Kottayam: “She used to come here along with her father,” says Lakshmikutty of Kudamaloor. Though 99, she has a sharp memory, especially when it comes to recalling the times she spent with her childhood friend Annakkutty.

Annakkutty, who later became Sister Alphonsa, died over 60 years ago. On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI will canonise her as the first woman saint from the nearly 2,000-year-old Indian Church, elevating her to the hallowed sanctum of Christendom.

“We used to play in the nearly two-acre compound around our house, where a number of medicinal plants grew in the wild,” Ms. Lakshmikutty says. Little Annakkutty used to come with her father, the local medic.

For Lakshmikutty, who stays with her son, Sr. Alphonsa was a friend so close and real. From classes I to IV, they were together.

Lakshmikutty remembers her best friend as extremely fair and smart. They went to the Government Lower Primary School at Thonnankuzhi, near their home, together.

Muttuchira, a few kilometres from Kudamaloor, was the house of Sr. Alphonsa’s maternal aunt who became her foster mother after the untimely death of her mother.

M.L. Mathew Muricken, who lives at Muttuchira, cherishes his childhood memories of Sr. Alphonsa, who used to visit the house to meet her uncle (Mr. Muricken’s grandfather). She was studying in class VII, staying at the Muricken home, when she joined the convent, he says. The home is now a pilgrim centre, attracting hundred of devotees.

“Kochamma was very fond of me,” says Theramma of Pazhooparambil House, Kudamaloor. Theramma, 74, is the niece of Sr. Alphonsa. “My mother, Pennamma, was her elder sister and I called her Kochamma [aunty],” she says.

“Even when she was extremely ill, she used to hold me close to her on her bed,” says Theramma, of her visits to the convent to meet her aunt. She remembers her aunt as a very frail, extremely beautiful lady with light eyes. “Often she would be in bed and we used to take medicines for her,” she said.

“She used to give me little presents: toffees, thread for sewing, prayer books. To me, they were special and I kept them separately.” Today Theramma has one of the largest private collections Alphonsa memorabilia. Letters, veils which bears her name, the prayer book used by Sr. Alphonsa, and the little presents her aunt gave her — she has kept them all in a specially constructed box.

Theramma remembers her aunt’s funeral. “We knew about her death in the evening [of 28th July 1946]. It was raining heavily and we started from home early next morning to reach the convent by noon. It was a simple affair and only five of us, including me, participated as relatives.”

But Sr. Alphonsa is very close to the hearts of those who knew her. So much so that even as she is being elevated to sainthood, an old lady in this far away village will still be telling her favourite bedtime story to her grand children: “When I was of your age, I had a friend. She was a Saint….”

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