Raised to The Honours of the Altar

Chiramel Mankidiyan Thresia, born in Puthenchira, a remote village of Kerala, was a remarkable person and a social reformer. She came from a family that had lost all its wealth paying the dowry of seven aunts, and grew up in poverty. Her work lay with families affected by drink, immorality and violence. She worked at a time when women were not encouraged to go outside the home. Many ways she was a social reformer. Mother Mariam Thresia founded the order with three friends, who took are of the poor and the needy. There was a great deal of objection to their work in the beginning. But she persisted and the accent of her work was on families, mainly poor suffering families.

Mariam Thresia suffered stigmata or had wounds like those received by Christ on the Cross and had been a mystic. Mother Mariam Thresia was raised to the honours of the Altar on April 9, 2000 or beatified by the Church.

Beatification in the Roman Catholic Church is the last stage in the process of canonization. The Beatified person is called “Blessed”. Canonization is an official act of Catholic Church, declaring one of its deceased members as a model for Christian living and worthy of public veneration, and entering the name in the authorized list known as the canon. There are four stages for the canonization in the Catholic Church.

  1. Servant of God.
  2. Venerable.
  3. Blessed.
  4. Saint.

Normally the process of Beatification will begin after 5 years of the candidate’s death. In the case of Mariam Thresia, her spiritual father strictly instructed the Congregation that the process be started only after his death. He died on June 8, 1964. Before that on November 20, 1957, he had submitted all the related documents such as the letters written by Mariam Thresia, History and the biography of her written by him, to the Bishop Mar George Alappat, the then Bishop of Trichur.

He first instituted a preliminary investigation through Msgr. Sebastin Chereath to ascertain if there was a sufficiently well grounded cause to start with. Then after the appointment of Rev. Fr. Simeon de la Sagrada Familia, OCD (Rome) as postulator, on 6th 1975, a historical commission was set up to collect and examine all the documents regarding Mother Mariam Thresia. Its three members were very Rev.Mgr.Thomas Moothedan, Rev. Fr.Anslem, CMI, and Rev.Fr.Antony Anthikkat (Convenor). In 1975-1976 the historical commission listed 198 eyewitnesses, visited all the relevant archives and obtained written testimonies from several individuals, especially those who might not be able to depose later in the diocesan inquiry tribunal. This historical research was conducted according to the norms laid down in the Mottu Propio of His Holiness Pope Pius XI dated February 6, 1930 and January 4, 1939. 146 documents were collected and later submitted to the Diocesan Inquiry Commission.

With the erection of the Diocese of Irinjalakuda in 1978, the cause of Mother Mariam Thresia was transferred from the Diocese of Trichur to the new diocese, within whose territory her tomb is situated. The process of exhumation and identification of the mortal remains of Mother Mariam Thresia was conducted on 3 Saturday January 1981. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints issued on 25 June 1982 its nihil obstat (no objection) for the canonical introduction of the cause. Its also sent a questionnaire containing a set of questions to be put to the witnesses and an ad hoc diocesan inquiry tribunal of three judges, a promoter of faith, a notary, an adjunct notary and a cursor (errand official).Since the purpose is to collect information in an authentic manner, and not make a judgement, this body is rather an inquiry commission than a tribunal. The cause was officially introduced on 24-4-1983 and in forty five sessions between 14-5-1983 and 24-9- 1983 the tribunal heard 18 witnesses, including four ex officio witnesses, of whom three were the members of the historical commission. The Acts of the tribunal together with the connected documentation were sent to Rome, and a declaration of the validity of the process of 1983 was issued on 8-11-1985.

The next step is to write and present the Positio super virtutibus to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It should contain sufficient information for the experts of this Congregation to arrive at an informed opinion. In the case of Bl.Mariam Thresia, the Positio is a huge volume of 810 pages of large size paper (A4 or 210x297mm). It has two parts: Part I called Informatio, contains the biography followed by the proof of Bl.Mariam Thresia’s practice of Christian virtues; and Part II called Summarium, contains the evidence gathered from the depositions of the witnesses and the writings of Bl.Mariam Thresia as well as other documents. The Positio of the Servant of God Mariam Thresia was written by the present writer, appointed collaborator by the postulator Fr.Simen de la Sagrada Familia O.C.D. (Rome) on 12 January 1995 at the request of the Superiors General Rev. Mother Mary Benitia, CHF. The collaborator had taken over the Summarium already prepared by Sr. Pavana CHF, revised it slightly, added some further pertinent documentation and wrote the Informatio, from which this biography has been extracted. The position was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 8-8-1996.

The Positio had been written using mainly the information furnished by a total of 18 witnesses, who had deposed under oath in the Diocesan Inquiry Tribunal of 1983. Of these witnesses, 15 were eyewitnesses, including 4 sisters of the Congregation of Holy Family, the others being outsiders.

The causes are divided into two kinds: historical (ancient) and modern (recent). A modern cause is one in which evidence is collected chiefly from witnesses, whereas a historical cause is one for which there are no witnesses, and the evidence is based exclusively on historical documents. The cause of Mariam Thresia was a modern cause, and the fact that out of 18 witnesses, 15 were eyewitness, leaves no doubt about the matter.

The Positio together with the Relatio et vota was submitted to a Panel of nine theologian consultors, who were asked to formulate their answer to the question “an constet de virtutibus…in gradu eroico, in casu et as effectum de quo agitur” (that is, is it certain that the Servant of God practiced virtues in a heroic degree in the case as presented and with regard to the matter in question?).All the theologian consultors cast a positive vote while presenting their written observations in a session held on 9-10-1998.

Now it was the turn of the third panel of consultors of the Pope, the panel of cardinals and bishops, who are members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. They examined the Positio together with the Relatio et vota and the observations of theological consultors. They met on 15-4-1999. Cardinal D.Simon Lourdusamy from India was the “ponens” or keynote speaker. They gave a unanimous affirmative vote. It is to be noted that these panels have only a consultative vote, the final decision or judgement being reserved to the Roman Pontiff, who is the only judge (technically speaking) in the whole process. In his presence and with his approval, on 28 June 1999 a decree of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints was read and promulgated stating that the Servant of God Mariam Thresia Mankidiyan had practiced in a heroic degree the Christian virtues. In all, nine decrees were read and promulgated that day, five on virtues and four on miracles, of which two were in view of canonization, while others were in view of beatification. Obviously, only a summary of each of these decrees could have been read in a single session lasting less than two hours. It is customary for the function to take place in the ‘Hall of Pope Clement IX in the papal palace in the Vatican attended by the cardinals and bishops of the respective panels, the postulators and the “actors” of their representatives.

With the promulgation of the decree the Servant of God Mariam Thresia became entitled to be Venerable. What was still needed for the beatification of Ven. Mother Mariam Thresia was the evidence of a miracle attributable to her intercession. The healing of Mathew Pelisseri’s congenital club feet which had taken place in 1970-71, was enquired into by a Diocesan Enquiry Tribunal in 1992. The tribunal sat from 28-4-1992 till 26-7-1992 in Trichur, in whose territory the miracle had taken place. This tribunal heard 23 witnesses, including Mathew, his parents and four doctors. The validity of the process was declared by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 22-1-1999. The relative documentation and evidence were submitted to a panel of five doctors appointed by the congregation for the Causes of Saints, all university professors teaching in faculties of medicine. They returned their expert opinion and a unanimously positive vote on 6-11-1999 that the sudden cue of Mathew’s Club Feet at the age of fourteen/fifteen had no scientific explanation. Their vote and relative documentation were gathered in to a fresh document called Positio super miraculo of 179 pages written by the present writer and submitted to the Congregation on 23-12-1999. It was examined by a panel of six theologian consultors, who in their session of 5-1-2000 concluded unanimously that the healing in question was a miracle that took place through the intercession of Ven. Mother Mariam Thresia. Likewise, after examining the Positio and the Theologians’ written observations, the Commission of Cardinals and Bishops met on 18-1-2000 and unanimously confirmed the vote of the Theologians. The decree stating that this was a genuine miracle that had taken place through the intercession of Ven. Mother Mariam Thresia was read by the officials of the Roman Congregation in the presence of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II on January 27, 2000 and with his approval promulgated. The function was almost a replica of the one of 28-6-1999 on the virtues, this time it was on a miracle. In that long session 12 decrees were read in all, 2 on virtues, 7 on miracles, and 3 on martyrdom.

This time the decree did not confer any new title but entitled Ven. Mariam Thresia to beatification. And it was for the pope to do so. That same evening of 27 January 2000 the postulator was notified by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints that the beatification of Ven. Mother Mariam Thresia was being scheduled to take place on 9 April 2000.

Miracle Lead to Beatification

Beatification is the final step towards sainthood. It is normally the official authorization of the Catholic Church for the local veneration of a person considered to have led an exemplary holy life. This entitles the candidate to be called “Blessed”. Canonization is the formal act of declaring a person as a saint for veneration by the Church. This requires a further authenticated miracle. Beatification or declaring a person “Blessed” is the necessary prelude to full sainthood. Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS), began its meticulous research into the life of Mother Mariam Thresia. The CCS has interviewed hundreds of person who knew late Mariam Thresia and carried out exhaustive enquires into her reputation for holiness.

The key evidence to Mother Mariam Thresia leading the status of Blessed lies with a 14 year old boy whose experience has been judged a miracle. Vatican experts including the Pope’s special physician have also examined the medical evidence of the miraculous cure of club feet deformity by birth of a boy named Mathew pellisseri.

Cure of club feet deformity of Mathew Pelisseri

Mathew Devassy Pelisseri was born on 7 July 1956, in Irinjalakuda, Kerala, with a deformity in both his feet, which was diagnosed by four Indian doctors as “congenital taplipes equinovarus” (CTEV) The five Italian doctors of the Consulta Medica (medical team) employed by the Congregation for the causes of Saints also have identified the deformity with the equivalent Italian technical term “varo-equino-supinato-cavo-addotto.”With prayer to the Servant of God Mariam Thresia, and without any therapy, the boy was suddenly cured of this serious deformity, in two stages in a year. Until the age of five Mathew could only crawl on the ground. Then he began to walk, but with great difficulty pacing with the side of his feet. Owing to the poor economic conditions of his family he was not given any physical therapy. The only effective remedy was surgery, which, however, was beyond the means of his father. Infact, one of his cousins who was born with the same kind of deformity, was cured by the surgery. The deformity can clearly be seen in a photograph of the boy taken when he was four years old, in 1960. He is seated on the ground with both the feet clearly visible. The deformity only got hardened as he walked balancing himself with great difficulty on the sides of his feet till the age of fourteen. But more painful than the physical comfort for Mathew were the reactions of his peers who played various pranks on him.

The deformity of Mathew’s feet was already ascertained by Dr. Cheeran Ittikuru, who was called to assist at his birth, which was a difficult job for him indeed. About his congenital club feet a number of witnesses also have deposed in the diocesan tribunal of 1992. Besides his parents and other close relatives (aunt and uncle), they are his neighbours, classmates and teachers. They are all firsthand eyewitnesses of his condition before and after his cure. They checked the X-ray documentation and attested to the total lack of any signs of therapy like surgery. Finally, the five medical experts of the Consulta Medica verified and confirmed unanimously “the total absence of any surgical or orthopedic therapy”.

In mid July 1970 Mathew’s family got a book on the life and miracles of Mariam Thresia. This book was given to them by his aunt, Sr.Eugenia of the Congregation of the Holy Family. The book narrates many episodes of cures through the intercession of Mariam Thresia. Devassy, Mathew’s father, made a vow to Mother Mariam Thresia, his whole family will go on a pilgrimage to her tomb, Mathew will touch her tomb with his healed feet; they would have a Holy Mass celebrated in thanks giving, and they would have the news of the cure published in a Catholic periodical. Having made the vow, Devassy set a period of forty one days of daily family prayer for the beatification of Mother Mariam Thresia. Besides, all would observe abstinence during this period and fast on every Friday. The entire family took part in this crusade of prayer and penance.

Mathew prayed continuously to Mother Mariam Thresia. After thirty three days of prayer and fasting, on the night of 21 August 1970, in a dream or vision Mathew saw Mother Mariam Thresia come near him and touch his right foot. When he woke from his sleep, he saw his right foot was straightened and cured. The joy of the whole family gave way to loud cries of praise and thanks giving, which woke up the neighbours. Later in 1992 they would depose in the diocesan tribunal what they saw and heard that night. The next day Mathew went to school and his classmates and teachers could see that his right foot was cured.

As regard the cure of the left foot, it would take another round of prayer and penance by Mathew and his mother Mariam. This time the news of the cure was received by Mariam in the thirty ninth night of the forty one day prayer. She too saw Mother Mariam Thresia in a vision at night. She went to check, and found Mathew fast asleep, but his left foot was straightened and cured. It was August 28, 1971. Another night of joyful celebration for the family, and also for neighbours as one year ago! The family went on a pilgrimage to Kuzhikkattussery to fulfill the vow made by Mr.Devassy.

With both of his feet cured, Mathew has been able to walk normally ever since the miracle. There was no relapse. The medical specialists, who visited him in 1992 as ell as the X-rays done then, have noted a functionally complete cure, although it is morphologically imperfect in as much as the calluses formed already on the sides of his feet persist. That means, Mathew can walk normally planting his feet and heels flat on the ground, but his feet are not quite handsome. But then legs are not to look on, but to walk with, which is their function. And for this Mathew’s feet are now perfectly fitted: they are functionally perfect. Most recently, in 1998, this was confirmed by a final medical check up.