PLACE OF BIRTH- PUTHENCHIRA
Puthenchira in the Diocese of Irinjalakuda in Mukundapuram Taluk of Thrissur District has the fortune of being the place of birth of Mariam Thresia who created movements in the religious and social life of Kerala and attained the fame of sanctity. At the very beginning of the Christian era, Puthenchira covering an area of some 5509 acres was a part of Cranganore (Kodungallur) which was then known as ‘Mahadevar Pattanam’! There is a legend about the name of the place. When the Perumakkans ruled the land they built a bund (‘Chira’ in Malayalam) for agriculture and the place surrounding the bund was called ‘Puthenchira’ (new bund). Another is that the place for building the bund was pointed out by the ruler Cheraman Perumal by scattering ‘Puthen’ (gold coins) and thus the place was called ‘Puthenchira.
The big church raising its head overlooking the village beauty of Puthenchira has hundreds of years of history to proclaim proudly. In the seventh century the Malabar Church had been ruled by the Chaldean Patriarch. In 1567 Mar Abraham shifted the head quarters of the Diocese of Cranganore to Angamaly which was a parallel Diocese of Goa. In 1609 the centre was again shifted to Cranganore. Archbishop Don Ros Reis S.J. took up the administration of the Archdiocese of Cranganore. He and his successor Archbishop Don Britto S.J. resided in Cranganore. In 1706 during the administration of Archbishop Don Riberio S.J. Puthenchira became the head – quarters of the Archdiocese of Cranganore. Archbishop Don Pimentel S.J. whom Arnos ‘Pathiri’ called the “intellectual bishop”, Archbishop Don Vasconsellos S.J. who ruled the archdiocese between1753 – 1756 and Archbishop Don Ros Reis S.J. who ruled between 1756 – 1776 were all buried in Puthenchira Church. The memorial slabs of the tombs are still seen in the church. The double cross constructed in rock which was an official sign of the metropolitan church still stands in this church compound.
The first church which is said to have been established in the 4th century was renovated in the 15th century and then after the attack of Tippu Sultan in the 18th century according to the records. When the Thrissur Vicariate was formed and the rule of the Syrians was transferred from the Latin See of Verapoly to Thrissur under Bishop Adolf Medleycott, the Puthenchira Church came under Thrissur. In 1896 Bishop Menachery took charge of this vicariate. At that time Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil of the Parish of Puthanpally was appointed the vicar of the parish of Puthenchira. The forane church of Puthenchira as seen today had been reconstructed in 1915. The life and work of Mother Mariam Thresia had closely been related to this church and its surroundings.
Chapter 2 – BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD
The Chiramal Mankidiyan was a famous ancestral family of the village of Puthenchira. Kunjithomman of this family first married from the noble and rich Menachery family of Njarakal. The only daughter of his first marriage was given the name of Ittianam.
After the death of his wife Kunjithomman married Thandamma from the Manjali family of Thuravur. This pious and virtuous woman became the lamp of the Mankidiyan household. With her arrival a new light shone in the family. Mariam Thresia was born as their third child on 26 April 1876. On 3rd May the Vicar Fr. Poulose Maliakal Koonan gave baptism to that darling child in the church of Puthenchira. The godparents were Antony Chiramel Mankidiyan, her paternal uncle, and his wife Anna. The child was given the name Thresia after St. Teresa of Avila who renovated the Carmelite Congregation. Nobody would have thought then that child was called like her numerate to open a new path in the religious life of Kerala. The Mankidiyan household was rich. But the drinking of Thomman had been ruining it. The poverty-stricken household must be fed; the children must be fostered and educated. Thanda was perplexed not finding a way for this. But she who believed deeply in God was not shattered. She laboured day and night. She trained her children to do small works. She brought them up daily in the love of God and virtue. The fragrance of the holiness of Thanda filled the household. Porinchu, Mariamkutty, Ouseph and Ittianam were the other children of this marriage. Porinchu and Mariamkutty fondled their younger sister. The Pious mother made her sit on her lap and taught her along with her breast-milk to utter the holy names of Jesus and Mary. The child had always been with the mother when she did anything. She would do the work along with her mother. She used to look intensely at that face when the mother prayed. The effort of the darling daughter to imitate her thrilled the loving mother.
When the church bell rang in the evening the pious Thanda taught the children to make the sign of the cross, recited the evening prayers and made them pray after her. Little Thresia, though without understanding anything, would be looking with eyes filled with curiosity at the mother making the sign of the cross and praying. The influence of good example on the children is not at all slight. The reality evident from the life of Little Thresia is that the love of the Trinitarian God lighted in the darling children by that good mother blazed giving light to thousands. Instead of amusing the children with granny tales Thanda related to her children the Bible stories and the lives of saints. The spiritual knowledge imparted by the mother had a wonderful influence on the dear daughter. It is seen in her infancy – history that Thresia consecrated herself to God when she was 3½ years old.
Little Thresia loved the Blessed Mother as her own mother. She participated in the evening prayer together with the household. She used to watch with interest others moving the rosary beads. Taking a rosary in her hand, she too would begin to move the beads. But she could not recite the prayers like others and so she was grief – stricken. But one day suddenly when Thanda heard her recite the rosary with them clearly without hesitation she asked her with surprise, “Daughter, how was this possible for you?” As though she had achieved something Thresia answered joyfully, “Mother, Our Lady taught me”. The Mother could not understand it fully.
When Thresia was five years old, Kunjithomman sent the daughter to the village school. With her exceptional intelligence and memory Thresia caught the attention of the teacher. Her classmates liked her. She learnt the lessons very fast and instructed her companions. It was a delight for her to tell the companions the Bible stories and the lives of saints which her mother had narrated to her. Thresia telling a story and the companions around her hearing and enjoying it was a common sight in Puthenchira. No matter her many stories of Thresia they heard, they were not enough for them. But some laughed at her, calling her a ‘saint’. Thresia did not mind that as much at all. The fellow – feeling and compassion for the sick had been her evident even in her childhood. When going to the village school, Thresia liked it very much to share with poor children the foodstuffs which Thanda gave her.
On Sundays special alertness and diligence were seen in Thresia. The church filled with people, sung mass and sermon – these she liked. As she did not know reading, she could not participate in the Mass using a hand – book. Thresia had written in her auto biography that she had prayed to Our Lady to teach her reading and that Our Lady herself had taught her reading.
Thresia participated in the catechism classes diligently on Sundays. She was foremost in answering quickly the questions asked. So the teachers avoided Thresia when asking questions and it pained her very much, “I have no occasion even to say a good word” was her sorrow.
The parish priest entrusted Thresia with teaching the children the prayers which they did not know, and many laughed at her and found fault with her for this. This news reached her home as well. And her people at home also scolded her. Although she informed the vicar of this, he did not exempt her from teaching the prayers. She submitted to his instructions, Thresia’s desire was to please Jesus in every way.
She always grew in grace. Even the small faults found in her companions pained her. She tried not to hear the bad words they spoke. When she found anyone committing a fault, she used to being unable to restrain sorrow.
Thresia’s mother had a deep devotion to the Passion of Christ, Showing the nail holes on the hands and legs and the crown of thorns on the head of Jesus who died lying and struggling on the cross, the mother used to tell Thresia: “Daughter, it is the faults and sins of each one of us that nailed Jesus on the cross. We should not pain Jesus by committing even the smallest fault. We should always do good and make Jesus happy.”
With eyes filled with tears that girl would listen to these words of the mother. Those words could impress on that tender mind the devotion to the crucified Jesus. The devotion to the Passion became a persuading force for Thresia to participate in the suffering of sorrowing Jesus.
Thresia began to think about the passion. She desired to suffer afflictions like Jesus. The means she found for this was to perform such acts of penance as using a stone instead of the pillow, spreading grovel and lying on at night without a mat and kneeling on grovel. Not only these, meditating on Jesus carrying the cross, without anybody seeing she used to place a stone on the back and crawl on her knees and palms. One day when she had swelling of the body and a boil on it, she crawled with a stone on the back. Suddenly a bright light appeared where she was crawling. Raising her head, she looked. A dazzling light! Not only that, she experienced an inexpressible increase of love. She struggled to open her eyes. The Child Jesus in front of her! She felt that the stone placed on her back was knocked of and that the Child Jesus was sitting upon that place. Thresia shone with untold joy. There was lack of interest in worldly affairs for Thresia who had found joy in Jesus. Once, Thanda had to go to her home in Thuravur to participate in a marriage. She kept elegant clothes and ornaments for the daughter. But she liked neither to wear then not to go to the wedding celebration.
Thresia did not show so much interest in play as children of her age. One day her companions called her to play. But she declined. Then the mother asked, “Aren’t your kind calling to play? Couldn’t you go? Why are you so sad always?” she answered “I have no sadness. God does not like wasting time.”
During the time got for playing, Thresia used to help the mother in her work. Thresia had been a great help to Thanda who had to attend to the youngest child. Usually she went to the church to participate in the Mass. This unusual piety made her the subject of ridicule of the companions.
Thresia said, “On the way to the church my companions laugh at me calling me granny.” And her mother answered, “Thereafter you don’t go to the church daily. Aren’t you young? It is the elderly who go to the church daily. I won’t call you when I go to the church again.”
Thresia said without wavering, “Mother, don’t say thus. Age is not necessary to love God. I am going to be six years old. When you go to the church, come to the school and call me too. I will wait for you there.” At that time it was customary for the women of the place to go to the church in the afternoon after finishing their housework. Thresia’s mother took her with her to the church.
Abstinence, fast and penance became part of her life. She used to do penance by keeping awake for hours at night. To beat the body with a thorny stick, to kneel on grovel, to lie and roll on thorns, to take curry after making it bitter, to give up meat etc had been her penitential practices. She had been meditating on the dolours of Our Lady and getting up from sleep many times to recite the rosary etc. As a result her body became weak and pale. The condition of Thresia’s health made Thanda anxious: Although the mother asked the daughter to sleep with her to prevent her from keeping awake, Thresia tried to avoid the control of the mother in this saying that it was the youngest child that should sleep with her and that she had been practicing all these according to the instructions of the spiritual father. What Thresia had to ask the mother who insisted on her sleeping well at night was whether the Lord had any sleep? Thanda was surprised to hear this and became silent realizing the favourable disposition of her daughter for the ascetic life. Thresia had been practicing during Child hood the acts of penance performed by the great saints of the holy Church. The mother advised the daughter to keep the heart always pure. Thresia desired intensely to make her confession. Speaking of this she used to quarrel with the mother. Although she had shown interest to make her confession at the age of six itself, the priests did not allow her in the name of lack of age.Thresia who had claimed to know the necessary particulars about confession was examined one day on the subject by a priest and as he was satisfied with her knowledge and fear of God, he heard her confession. Afterwards she used to confess once a month. It was not the practice of the time to receive the Holy Communion after the first confession. So she had to wait for a long time again to receive the Holy Communion.
Thresia had, continued her unusual piety, fast and penitential practices. She became weak. And the mother got anxious. Thanda who realized that the treatment would be very expensive and that her husband would not be able to bear it took the daughter to her home and treated. But the weakness still increased. So the treatment was stopped temporarily. Then she got well gradually. Still the mother insisted on her taking the ghee prescribed by the physician. When she started to take the ghee the illness increased again. And she told the mother who was worried about it.
“Hadn’t God given me good health? Your not accepting it, has caused this difficulty. So now trust in God”. ”I don’t have your courage”, said her mother. The mother was surprised at her immense trust in God and maturity beyond her age. Afterwards the mother always sought her will before doing anything for her.
The prescribed age for the first Holy Communion was eleven. She greatly desired to receive the child Jesus after her first confession. She could not wait for five years more. For the fulfillment of this desire she grieved much. She thought that her desire would be realized if she maid it known to the priest of the monastery at Ambazhakad which was some six kilometers away from Puthenchira. She decided to go there the next day itself. She could not sleep that night. She waited for the morning. During the night she looked several times through the window to find whether it was time to start the journey. She got ready quickly and waited. And at dawn she started with her mother. Her heart- beat increased as she approached the church. She climbed the steps very fast. With hope she met the priest and made her desire known. He said that you are only nine years old, wait till you are twelve. But Thresia continued her request with humility. Seeing her ardent desire, the priest asked her the prayers. She recited the prayer one after other. He could not prolong the desire of that young heart, beating with the love of God. He gave her permission to receive the Holy Communion.
The reception of Thresia’s first Holy Communion was done with full preparation without any ostentation. That tender heart was thrilled at the thought that within moments she could see the Child Jesus face to face. She approached the altar with a heart beating with intense love. The child Jesus came in procession into her little heart accompanied by the heavenly hosts. She experienced the Child Jesus embracing her with a smiling face. Thresia’s heart was filled with such joy that she had never experienced before. The mother enjoyed looking at the glow of life and joy on the face of her little daughter. With inexpressible joy and satisfaction Thresia returned home with her mother.
Thresia’s life became a field producing virtues .Thresia had been enthusiastic in praying mentally the name of Jesus. The attractive factors of her life were patience, tranquility and the ability to suffer that would surprise anybody. There is an event narrated in the autobiography of Thresia which manifest her heroic patience and ability to suffer.
When young I had a boil on my arm. And I could not move about because of the swelling. One day I was carried outside and made to sit for some fresh air. My brother and his companions had been playing there. A stone thrown by them fell on my arm and I fainted. When I became conscious I found my father, getting ready to beat my brother. I said, ”Will my pain be reduced if you beat him”. I begged my father, “To forgive my brother”. The father did not beat him. He asked me, ”My daughter, where did you get this patience from? What are you thinking about?” The father felt that her patience and ability to suffer were unusual.
At another time when Thresia had been playing with the brother, he disliked something she said and he came running and hit on her back. Although Thresia had felt great pain, she forgave him, thinking that it was the will of God. But because of the force of the hit, she could not get up and walk. When the mother and others inquired about Thresia’s illness, she said that it was only some pain on her back. When the mother prepared to massage her in order to remove that pain, she made the mother understand that it would go by itself. Then the mother said: ”It is God Himself who gave you patience. Praise be to God”. Her father and mother had been proud and happy about her character. If anybody came home the father would speak of her virtues. That made Thresia uneasy. She desired to have a hidden life. The mother had full confidence in Thresia. Thus she became the centre of hope and pride of that family.
Mean while Thresia fell again fatally. Immediately an Ayurvedic physician was brought. Knowing the condition of the illness, he left saying that there was no hope. And Thresia’s illness became grievous. She lost her memory. But suddenly one day she was cured of her serious sickness. She sat on the bed saying,” I will not die”, and consoled others. She thanked God for giving her a miraculous healing.
Even after the deliverance from illness, her body had been getting weaker. Thanda, in her anxiety, brought the Ayurvedic physician and got ready to treat her. Thresia told her mother, “If I had died of the illness, this would not have been necessary. Be thankful to God for having given me a speedy recovery. But now if you do all this, the disease may increase and it may become fatal. God did not heal the illness with treatment. Likewise He Himself will make me all right”. The mother who saw the hand of God in the daughter’s movements, got peace listening to these brave words of hers. The health and weakness of her own body were not a problem for Thresia. Why should Thresia who had surrendered her body and soul to God be anxious?
Whenever Thanda went to her home, she used to compel Thresia also to go with her. But Thresia did not like to go there, fearing that she would become fat there. It was painful for her mother. The mother would tell her, ”Daughter, take good food at least for some days”. She would accept gladly the food the mother gave but would give it away to others with out the mother noticing it. The mother was upset when she found out what the daughter had done. And to appear herself the mother said,” My daughter, it’s enough, I’m satisfied. I won’t tell you this again”. it is not to be wondered if the spirit of the later life of Thresia who wiped out the tears of those who suffered, gave food to the hungry, cared for the sick and became a synonym of love shone even in child hood. Many years passed by. And the youth in Thresia had been blossoming like a flower. Many marriage proposals came for her. And the household thought of giving her in marriage to a good family. It was customary at that time to pierce the ears of girls and adorn them with ornaments. Thresia who had been leading an unostentatious life did not like to wear ornaments on her pierced ears. So Thresia broke twice the holes which her mother had tried to form in her ears. Thus when she strongly expressed her dislike for marriage, the household gave up the proposals.
In her ninth year itself Thresia had promised the Lord that she would remain a virgin and had chosen the Lord as her spiritual spouse. Thresia had been very careful not to obstruct this decision. Thresia thought that worldly comfort would keep her away from the love of God. Her desire was to give Jesus ever and always a heart pure and spotless. She moved forward peacefully with courage in those matters which she was convinced would be pleasing to God. Thresia spent her free time fruitfully. She did every house- work without wasting time. She had been living fondling Kunjittianam, teaching small children, reading books, making meditation and saying prayers.
Some problems that arose in the household after the marriages of Porinchu and Mariamkutty disturbed the peace there. Then her mother who had been everything for her was suddenly laid up with illness. Hundreds of scenes passed through Thresia’s mind. If mother goes then who will understand her action? Who will guide her? The whole house will be empty! God, help me, she prayed from the depth of the heart. That illness caused her death. When the mother died Thresia was twelve years old. Thanda died on 2 March 1888.
Chapter 3 – SEARCH FOR THE WILL OF GOD
In the previous chapter we saw that the influence Thresia’s loving mother had on her life was incomparable. The mother had been her guide, inspirer, spiritual adviser, teacher, shelter and all. It was the mother who had rectified the failures that occurred to the father in his household responsibilities. Thresia was shaken by the quite unexpected departure of the mother who had been everything to her. Her life-boat oscillated without a helmsman. Thresia sobbed thinking of the disappointed father and the motherless brothers and sisters.
Thresia who had a character that would never lose courage for anything did not succumb to despair even in this helpless situation. She found a strong shelter in the Mother of God who would never leave her. She accepted the Blessed Mother as her own mother. She determined to live as a fitting daughter of that Mother. Her sense of dependence on the Mother of God gave Thresia strength to live with full hope and sense of security, overcoming the sorrow of having no mother. Her later experience proves that she had received from the Blessed Mother life-long inspiration, leadership, protection and all necessary for the spiritual life.
Even in childhood Thresia’s way of thinking and behaviour were found to be different from those of other children. She had always been God-oriented. The mother’s presence and advices gave it momentum. As she had been growing in age, the love of God had been flaming in her. She began to search way and means to love the Lord of her heart according to her age. She longed for deep solitude. An age ready to take any risk! A heart flaming with the love of God! Zeal over eager to be burned in that fire of love! She decided to go away from all to a faraway forest to be dissolved and hidden there with Jesus.
Thresia, loving by nature had three childhood friends, Thresia Maliakal Koonan, Kochumariam Maliakal Koonan and Mariam Karumalikkal. They went to the church together. They collected flowers and decorated the altar. Thresia guided that small community. They went to visit the sick and give help to the old and the destitute in the neighbouring houses. But the companions did not have the prayer experience that Thresia had. Still they used to pray together. They mutually exchanged their plans and experiences. And Thresia told one of her companions that she had decided to go to a forest. Her younger sister Ittianam, whom she had brought up as her own daughter after her mother’s death, happened to hear it. She immediately told the news at home. Prohibitions and complaints rose from all parts. There was a warning not even to think of it. Thus she had to give up temporarily her desire to live in the forest.
The thirst for solitude and prayer often increased in Thresia. She was convinced that this desire will not be realized in the circumstance at home. Again she began to think of ways. The financial condition of her household did not allow her to join a convent as a member. Thresia felt that if she becomes a servant in a convent she could always be in prayer and the presence of God. The fire inside her did not allow her to stay still. So she went to the Carmelite Convent of Ambazhakad and expressed her desire to the Mother Superior. When she saw her zeal and sincerity the Mother Superior realized that there was a greater goal for her than becoming a servant. So the Mother asked Thresia and found out everything. It is not possible to spend a long time in prayer and meditation at home. But there is no dislike for work. In the convent it would be possible to pray and be alone even during work. Her great desire to spend time always in prayer and silence, listening to the voice of God and live accordingly. There is no circumstance for this at home. She feels that some power is inviting her to solitude. It is not possible to ignore it. So Thresia begged the Mother Superior to give her some work in the convent. The Mother Superior, who learnt the sincerity, family back ground and other circumstances of Thresia, desired to receive her as a member of the convent, accepting only a part of the patrimony. But she sent her back home, saying that it was not possible to take her as a servant and told her that she should pray specially to know what the will of God was.
Thresia returned home without showing any dissatisfaction. She searched again for the will of God about her. Even in her young age she had enduring patience to wait until His mysterious ways were revealed. She continued her prayer and search during the ordinary life at home. Then comes a message of consolation from the Mother Superior. Feeling great interest in Thresia, the Mother Superior told everything to the Bishop. She had even a small discussion with him about Thresia. The Sisters were ready to accept her in the convent. The message was that the bishop has allowed her to join the Carmelite convent, exempting her from the usual patrimony and asking her to pay only 150 rupees instead. The first part of the message made Thresia happy. The second part disappointed her. Still she did not give up hope. Paying 150 rupees was nothing for her mother’s family. They paid special attention to matters concerning Thresia as she had lost her mother. She set out for the mother’s home in Thuravur with the expectation that this reasonable desire of her’s would soon be realized. But the response from their side was unexpected. They were not interested in sending Thresia to the convent paying 150 rupees. The members of the mother’s family (Manjali) made another suggestion befitting their status. They said that they would build a house for Thresia to live according to her desire. This suggestion did not see acceptable to Thresia. She said, “I did not desire my comfort. I came here taking so much trouble to love God with peace”, and she returned.
Thresia’s desire to lead a consecrated life had increasingly been strengthened. But for a young woman like Thresia who lived about 80 years ago in a small village of Kerala it was not easy to put into practice such supernatural interests. Her inner soul continuously desired solitude. It made her action-oriented. Externally she was a pleasant and modest girl who kept herself away from noise. A virgin, not wanting to marry, though of marriageable age. Others did not think anything else about Thresia other than these. Nobody knew the unquenchable thirst in her mind. She had already chosen the supreme spirit, the creator of all, as the Lord of her heart. And so she decided to go to the forest without anybody knowing it.
Thresia did not think how she could live in the forest. She believed that her divine spouse, who fills the entire universe, would be awaiting her in the solitude of the forest. What to eat was not a problem. She thought that fruits and green leaves would be obtained there. She lived for two or three days at home eating only green leaves and drinking only water without anybody knowing it. And there was no problem. Her mind had often been in the forest that she dreamed of. It was painful to leave her beloved father, younger sister and brothers. Thresia had been the Jewell- lamb of that home. After the death of the mother it was she who made all co-operate, gave affection and helped the household to go forward. The anxiety about the state of the household in her absence distressed her. The hope that Jesus who was calling her will look after all removed Thresia’s anxiety.
This time the companions were not informed of Thresia’s decision to go to the forest. The day appointed came; silently she said good-bye to everything. She treated her younger sister, father and others with more affection than usual. During the evening prayer she submitted the whole household to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. She prayed for a long time on her knees. Thresia lay down waiting the mid-night hour when the whole world would be sleeping. She heard the cock crow somewhere. She tried to get up saying “God, here I come”. But she could not even move from the bed. Thresia accepted her willingness to wait as long as necessary if the present desire was not the will of God. Then Thresia was relieved completely of the numbness she experienced. She sat on the bed and took refuge in prayer.
When it was dawn Thresia got up as usual with enthusiasm and went for the Mass. She moved forward as though nothing had happened without telling anybody about the conflict experienced at night. But the enthusiasm experienced within was not weakened in anyway. She searched for ways again. None of the doors she knocked at to collect some 150 rupees in order to realize her desire to join the convent was opened. At last she thought of making 150 rupees by begging from the parishners with the permission of the parish priest. She believed that the people would donate generously if permission from the parish priest was obtained. She informed the parish priest of her desire and decision. But the idea of one of the girls of his parish begging for money in order to join the convent was not acceptable to him. So he consoled her saying not to worry about anything for the elders of her family would not allow her to beg for money and so her staying at home might be the will of God. He sent her home advising her to stay at home with modesty and submission, practicing what virtues she could.
Chapter 4 – TURNING POINT IN LIFE
None of the doors Thresia knocked at was opened. Still the intense desire of the heart was not quenched. The peace of that face was not disturbed. She went forward with hope. The courage gained from the Almighty-that was Thresia’s capital. We saw already that none of her efforts to enter religious life bore fruit. She saw them as chemical action moulding the visions of life which would help to form her future life.
The three companions of Thresia who were attracted by her ideals of life had constantly been with her. They were ready to serve the families around as they would serve their own families. And consoling the families after wiping out their tears became the mission of that small group under the leadership of Thresia.
Thresia and her companions had been a great help to those old people who, neglected by their own children, had been living a life of affliction and desolation. They paid attention to give them bath, to dress the wounds on their hands and legs and wash their clothes. They begged and got food and medicine from other families for the old people. Along with their temporal needs, Thresia paid great attention to their spiritual matters as well. They prayed with them, gave them good advice and prepared them to receive the sacraments properly. The old people considered the services of this group a great blessing.
It was the spirit of God that led Thresia and her companions. They recited the rosary whenever they went. It was the power behind all their activities. Thresia had received a spiritual gift from God, even when she was young, to understand the marital problems and to help couples to re-establish their relationships. Thresia used to visit the women who had not been in good terms with their husbands and so living in their own houses. She listened to their problems. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, she would tell them good things and help them to find ways to be reconciled with their husbands. By the special grace of God each word she spoke touched their hearts, though she did not know any theory of today’s counseling. And many could make a good confession and through it lead a new life. The godliness that filled Thresia became a topic of conversation among the people of Puthenchira.
The old people used to think that the unmarried women were the curse of the land. But Thresia was an exception to that-By doing acts of Charity for the love of God she became a blessing for the people. The presence of Thresia and companions gave peace to the people of Puthenchira. The following event explains how the women of the place desired Thresia’s presence. When they made “achappam” (a kind of cake made from rice flour etc) in their houses, they were particular that Thresia should hold the mould first. If she held the mould first, they were convinced that confecting would proceed well. The description of an event like this, though simple, proves how much faith the people had in Thresia. Thus Thresia helped them in all their needs, small or big.
After the death of her mother Thresia, who like a mother affectionately brought up her younger sister Kunjittianam, had a special love for motherless children. Thresia paid special attention to love like a mother the children who were motherless and were abandoned by the parents and give them as much affection and service as possible. Thresia could not bear the suffering of little children who did not know what fault was. Thresia and companions used to go to the homes of the children to serve them. Those children were brought up getting for them whatever they needed from anybody.
Thresia made her own with love the naughty children who gave headaches to their mothers. It was possible for her to change their character more with words than with a stick. She could saw seeds of God’s love in their hearts. Many of her contemporaries still testify that Thresia’s words were capable of making many grow into people of honour who could have been a burden to the land.
The source of power for this type of activities of Thresia and companions was the Lord of the Blessed Sacrament. Participating in the Mass and receiving the Holy Communion were part of their daily life. After the Mass they spent a long time in prayer, under took works like cleaning the church, putting the church articles in order, making hosts etc. Thresia and companions were very particular about keeping the church and it surroundings clean and beautiful. In these they were led by the thought that the house of God is holy. Meanwhile Thresia fulfilled all her duties at home in due order.
Thresia who had been busy with charitable activities during the day spent a long time at night in prayer. Young Thresia had not received any theoretical knowledge about meditation or its methods. Still it was possible for her to spend hours in prayer, experiencing the divine presence of her personal Lord, Jesus. The people at home had wondered seeing Thresia in her small room standing still before the crucifix. They used to ask one another how it was possible for her to kneel motionless with eyes closed for such a long time. She only smiled looking at the members of the household who inquired about the reason of all this.
Thresia’s heart thirsted for God. The occurring of unusual divine experiences which she herself could not understand perplexed her. She feared that her life-boat would capsize in the storm. She prayed from the depth of her heart to give her a master to help her in her helplessness- to give her guidance. She might have thought of St. John of the Cross who guided St. Theresa of Avila. She desired to have a spiritual guide like that.
In March 1902, the annual treat had been going on in the church at Puthenchira. Thresia was also there among the parishners to listen to the retreat sermons. During that time also she had been praying silently for getting a spiritual father. On the final day of the retreat three priests came from the neighbouring parishes for hearing confession. The vicar of the parish church of Mala, Fr. Joseph Vithayathil, was one of them. By some divine persuasion Thresia approached Fr. Joseph Vithayathil for confession. She had an inner urge that he was the person God had chosen to be her spiritual father. After the confession she told Fr. Vithayathil her desire to choose him as her spiritual father. That Holy priest, who heard from Thresia about the divine experiences and visions in her life, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit agreed to be her spiritual father. That holy priest must have discerned the will of God. Thresia thanked God for giving her a spiritual father to discern the divine control on her and to help her.
Fr. Joseph Vithayathil was born on 23 July 1865 as the son of Yohannan Vithayathil of the parish of Puthanpally. In the year 1880, in his fifteenth year, he joined the seminary. He was ordained on 11 March 1894 at the church in Ollur. Mukkattukara, Edathuruthy, Kandassankadavu, Chalakudy, Kottekad, Pariyaram, Mala and Puthenchira were the parishes he served commendably.
Thresia found in him a spiritual father who had been holy, wise, prudent, sharp, mature and capable of leading souls to great holiness. Thresia’s life afterwards proved that the responsibility he undertook was quite arduous. He was a holy soul chosen by God to shed light on her path of life made turbid with indefiniteness, uncertainty, misunderstanding and all, and lead her to the right path. He guided Thresia from April 1902 till her death. He had been more a charioteer who fought along with Thresia her battle of life than a mere spiritual guide. Thresia made out the quality of the divine control on her by the touchstone of perfect obedience to Fr. Joseph Vithayathil. In her spiritual life he acted as a tireless support and solace from beginning to end.
Chapter 5 -LIFE OF SERVICE
It was in famous for families of that time to have a young woman of 26 like Thresia staying at home without entering any state of life. In the case of Thresia it created some more difficulty. If she remained modest and quite at home, the family members would not have any serious problem. But Thresia did whatever she could to serve the dying, to make peace among quarrelling drunkards to reunite in love broken couples and to give protection to orphan children. She loved and respected these, spent long time praying for them before the Lord and treated them patiently. They also had great love for Thresia. She set out for activities like these only with the permission of the spiritual father. She heard always the echo of an invitation which was not fully clear even to her. She desired much to respond to it. She waited for its perfect clarity.
Thresia who received the divine invitation could not remain quiet. The sorrows of life did not make her turn back from the charitable activities. The people at home could not understand the depth of her experience of God. Her rough- natured brother found her head strong. She became a question mark to her old- fashioned father. The father and brother tried hard to change her style of life. They frightened her with warnings and punishments. None of these could create obstacles on her way. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil came to her help. He made the father and brother gradually calm. As they had faith in his words, they began to treat her in courage of time with some more understanding. Afterwards when she had to go to visit the patients at night the father or brother accompanied her. Many of those about to die in that place desired Thresia to be near them. Her presence gave them strength to reach God with hope. Without disgust and laziness she ran to the dying with joy.
Chacko, an old man of Puthenchira parish had been lying about to die. Thresia went daily to nurse him. The patient appeared to be very disturbed. She sat near him and recited prayers for him. But she could see that temptations were disturbing him. He did not like even to think that his life in this world was about to end. He had been in very great despair. When Thresia found that there was nothing fit to calm him down, she knelt and began reciting the rosary. The patient was getting angry with her and showing hatred towards her. As a result of her praying without losing hope and making many pray the patient had a change of mind and with a heart of unrestrained repentance he made his confession and attained a happy death.
Thresia always tried lovingly to bring those living a sinful life into the path of a holy life. She happened to meet a childhood friend who had been married to another place. She was able to understand the sinful life of that friend, who used to come to her own place only rarely, as soon as she met her. She felt sad at the bad state of her friend, carrying the burden of sin in her mind. During the long conversation that woman admitted all her mistakes to Thresia.
Thresia listened to it with great love and care, prayed for her and made her understand the all-forgiving love of God. With the merciful love of God without blaming her Thresia led her to repentance. Thus that meeting made a great transformation in her friend’s life. She was changed into a loving mother and wife.
Thresia, who made her own the heart of Jesus who came searching for sinners, had special care and love towards sinners. The ideal of her life was the conversion of sinners. Suffering anything she prayed for the conversion of souls to quench the thirst of Jesus who thirsted for souls. Let us add here the conversion of a public sinner abandoned by all from the Diary of Fr. Joseph Vithayathil.
“In this parish (Puthenchira) there was a man called Antony who filled with despair lived for about twenty years without going to the church, without participating Mass and without making confession. He used to say that he was lost and that God had forsaken him. Priest and lay people came to advise him. Although they struggled much, there was no conversion. The spiritual father asked Thresia to pray for him. Not only, that he ordered her to go to his home daily to advise him. When the spiritual father asked her to go to his home, she requested him to leave her out, for he was old and knowledgeable, whereas she was young and ignorant. The spiritual father advised her that she should go and advise him indeed. Thus she began to pray for the conversion of that sinner and meet him and advise him. She consecrated him to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She requested the spiritual father to recite together for nine days the novena to the sacred Heart of Jesus after the Mass, exposing the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle and he carried out the same. On those days when she began advising him at home he spoke much unnecessarily and hit on his head himself etc. Then she would kneel down and recite the prayer to the Sacred Heart with him. After two days that sinner began to go to the church to pray and hear the Mass. But when he was told about confession he was very much opposed to it. On the twentieth day he was fully converted and he confessed with repentance and received the Holy Communion. (Diary p.178).
Many such events of conversion of sinners through the prayer of Thresia are recorded in the Diary. She saw Jesus in all the little ones. She desired that nobody should go away from the love of God. She helped them in their bodily discomforts and material miseries. She was ready to accept any suffering for that. Thresia tried to see the depth of Jesus’ love. Accepting that suffering, she became a living sign of the love of Jesus. Her interest in loving services began to be known in the neighbouring places as well.
Thresia, the daughter of Lona of Karanchira parish, who had lost her power of speech owing to an illness when young, could not speak well even at twenty. Lona who heard that Mariam Thresia healed illness and was consoling those who suffer came with daughter to Mariam Thresia’s home with hope and detailed to her the pitiable condition of the child.
Thresia consoled that father and daughter. She prayed with them for the daughter. She said farewell to them saying that she would continue to pray for the recovery. After they left Thresia knelt before the crucifix and prayed for that girl. She prayed fervently confessing to suffer anything so that, that child might get the power of speech. As a sign that God accepted this prayer. Thresia experienced at night on the last Sunday of May severe pain and paralysis on her left side. That state continued for about two days. She needed the help of the companion even for her own needs. It looked as though the entire suffering of Lona’s daughter was taken over by Mariam Thresia. It is seen in the Diary of Fr. Joseph Vithayathil that on many other occasions Mariam Thresia like these had taken over the suffering of others. Afterwards Thresia was even warned not to pray for taking over the suffering of others.
Mariam Thresia accepted as her duty the services most necessary for the situation of Puthenchira at that time. Every religious congregation is formed hearing the voice of the call of God in the signs of the time and circumstances. Thresia’s eye first turned on the spiritual problem that man faces at any time in any society. The old, children, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, sick and handicapped who are denied love and regard in the endeavours for wealth and comfort are found everywhere and at all times. When they get the love they deserve but denied, they and society become the real society. The ordinary man running after pleasure and wealth has no leisure to give this. But Mariam Thresia found time for this. Her self- annihilation gave the energy for this. In the words of Henry Noven, Thresia was the “Wounded healer” of Puthenchira. Mariam Thresia set apart her life, forgetting her suffering and participating in the suffering of others in order to shower real joy in their life.
Anthony belonging to the parish of Puthenchira had been laid up with cancer of the cheek for some days. The spiritual life of Anthony who had been poor was not at all exemplary. He was a day-labourer who had also been engaged in serving the patients who had an attack of smallpox and been abandoned by all. He served such patients when he was drunk and senseless. The main service he used to do was to sleep along with the patients at night. The locals who thought smallpox to be incurable used to segregate the patients from home and employed people paying wage to serve them. It was the talk of the place that Anthony had even buried some patients even before death. For the locals Anthony was a debauchee and troublemaker. The people hated him. But Mariam Thresia loved him. When she heard that he was ill she visited him many times, prayed specially for him and observed penance for him. But the patient without hope had been cursing all. He had been shouting abuses even when unconscious. Thresia was ready to wait for any length of time and observed penance for the salvation of a human soul. Daily she went to the patient’s room and recited the rosary with the companions. Gradually the patient became calm. His eyes glittered with joy and satisfaction. Through the intercessory prayer of Thresia that patient was able to attain a happy death.
One day when Thresia was on her way to her mother’s home in Thuravur there was an event at Chalakudy. Thresia was called into a house on the side of the road. Where a baby girl was lying about to die. The mother of the child requested weeping to save her daughter. Thresia knelt near the child and prayed with eyes closed for some time. She patted the child fondly with hands and prayed again. The people were looking with curiosity. Thresia asked all to kneel and participate in the rosary. The sound of the rosary resounded in that room. Without heeding anything else Mariam Thresia immersed in prayer. The others also tried to pray surprisingly, after some time the child sat up and smiled at all. Mariam Thresia got up from her prayer went out, patting the child. The mother full of thanks and love caught the hands of Mariam Thresia and kissed them. That heart replete with gratitude could do nothing but salute by joining both hands.
Thresia was a person full of God’s grace. Because of this, she could love all alike. She loved all regardless of caste and creed. She saw the rich and the poor as the children of the same Father. A hut and castle were for Thresia human dwellings. Thresia evaluated a human individual as valuable as the sacred blood of the Lord. Thresia made the rich man’s box open often for the poor. She desired to include all in her charitable activities.
The following event proves the truth that Thresia could rush to those who deserved her service. One evening when she had been immersed in prayer, she went out of her home as though she had received an inspiration and entered a hut. In that empty house a smallpox patient was wrapped in a mat, tied up for burial and the attendants had gone for drinking. Thresia untied the knots, stretched out the patient and gave the last services. After some hours’ that woman died. But she had happiness of dying in peace in the presence of Mariam Thresia. When those who went for drinking returned, they saw Mariam Thresia sitting near the patient and serving her. The drunkards stood aside without quarrelling with Thresia. That man was middle-aged and belonged to the Ezhava community. It was a vision that Thresia had during prayer that brought her to that hut.
There were no families in that place which had not received the attention of Thresia. The presence of Thresia near death-beds is fresh even today in the memory of contemporaries. She would do all the services for the sick with the family. While doing these external services, Thresia’s inner eye would look into the spiritual state of the patient. She specially prayed for and observed penance for each patient. The truth that life does not end with death but through it one only enters into the endlessness of eternal peace or eternal torture, beyond time had influenced the whole of Thresia’s life. She found death to be the most blessed moment of life. This conviction must have been the force that made Thresia run to the dying.
Once while praying, Thresia had a vision of the people who died in sin experiencing the pain of hell in the fire of eternal annihilation. From that day she prayed fervently that nobody might have the chance of being included in such a punishment. She desired to pray more and observe penance for souls. The occasions she spent the whole night in prayer for the conversion of sinners were not rare in her life.
Thresia interest in those suffering in purgatory was another side of her vision of the end of time. She had also the enthusiasm to make the souls, who after death had been staying in purgatory till the removal of the stains of life attained full purity, awaiting the vision of their creator, reach heaven how much so ever fast. The Christian belief being that those in purgatory cannot gain sanctity by themselves nor observe reparation. Thresia firmly believed that what the living did for them after death helped them. So she was often interceded in praying for the souls who were being purified in purgatory. Many events were recorded about those suffering in purgatory appearing to Thresia, requesting prayers and Thresia helping them.
One day during the evening prayed Thresia had a vision of a dead person standing and crying before her. A person of that parish who died recently was asking her to redeem him from his debt before death. Thresia informed the household of the vision she had and they paid his debts, gave alms for him and had a Mass said for him. It is seen in the Diary that as a result of this Thresia had a vision on another occasion of that person being assumed into heaven with the Mother of God.
Thresia was engaged in the services necessary for each one like converting sinners to the path of virtue, to light the lamp of peace in the households, to help the poverty-stricken people and to prepare the dying for a peaceful departure from this world. She continued these activities faithfully along with her other responsibilities until death.
Chapter 6 ORDEALS
How blessed was the life of Thresia! But the truth is that it was a battle field. The powers of evil tested her severely when she was longing passionately to attain God who is goodness itself. Thresia spiritual life flourished in the storm of continuous temptations just as the trees tossed about in the storm flourished all the more. Thresia had to face innumerable physical and spiritual ordeals. She was to be subjected to inevitable purification process as it would happen in the life of any saint. Her sanctity was purified in the furnace of suffering and ordeals. She was severely tested like a ‘mystic’ against chastity, faith and hope.
Thresia who had a lean physique experienced many kinds of physical torments. She often felt pain as if a crown of thorns was thrust and as if it was spreading the whole head, as if the body was burning and as if bones were shattered. The whole night she was afflicted with pain like this. But in the morning she reached the church joyfully. Thresia consoled herself by offering her life replete with torments as a holocaust with the Mass to the Eternal Father. This surrender was the source of power of her life. The strength obtained from the Mass helped her to find the sacred hand of God in suffering and sorrow. We could understand the intensity of Thresia’s physical suffering from the letters she wrote to the spiritual father. Thresia wrote to the spiritual father: “Pithave (father) God is sending me very great suffering and sorrow. But it is all right. My suffering is very dreadful. Please pray for me.” “God must win in this trial. I do not have any knowledge. I desire that God’s Holy will and my will be one. From now on suffering is shaking me much. This is truly an ocean. My inside is full of suffering. And I cry aloud without patients”.
Thresia wrote again to the spiritual father in other letter:
“Pithave, you know about my illness. It is enough that I get the strength to suffer. I never had an illness like this before. Let it be the holy will of God”.
Thresia bore all the physical suffering patiently. We do not see a Thresia who stands bewildered during the moments of suffering, but a Thresia who passes through ordeals with confidence and courage. The medical methods could not find any reason or remedy for her physical suffering. Thresia who firmly believed that suffering and affliction come from the sacred hand of God never complained to anybody. The suffering in fact increased the quality of the sanctity of her life.
Thresia was subjected to severe mental conflict. Thresia was often so perplexed that she could neither think about nor understand any thing properly. She writes again: “If I am asked about anything, I struggle, being unable to answer.
“Pithave, will I become mad?”.
The nature of the mental conflict of Thresia is clear from these words. She was pained by many thoughts which she herself could not understand. The tug of war between good and evil taking place in the mind perplexed her. The crises and mental conflicts did not make her exhausted. She accepted all as crosses leading her to God’s side. In the words of the spiritual father Thresia suffered everything silently listening to the voice of God. Thresia was running up the ladder of sanctity through suffering and sorrow.
Thresia obtained the power to overcome temptations from the moments of meditation spent before the crucifix. Prayer was her fence of security. But she experienced obstacles there also. Because of physical discomfort and illness she could not hear Mass. Exhaustion, sleep and distaste disturbed her during prayer. As she used to pray with fervour she felt pain when she experienced distaste. Thresia wrote with pain to the spiritual father about the loss of concentration during meditation:
“What a sight am I seeing during meditation? What thoughts come to me I cannot tell you”.
Thresia felt that even god had forsaken her. She wrote:
“Pithave, I feel always that had even god abandoned me?
Thus Thresia often experienced rigorous temptations against faith and hope. But these temptations or thoughts could not deviate Thresia even an iota from her unwavering faith and prayerful life. Her entire hope was surrendered to God. As Thresia had not read any theoretical books or the teaching of the Church, she had not heard about the dark night of the soul. Some times she experienced prayer as lip-service. There was no movement in the soul. Still she approached prayer without disgust. This new experience vexed her mind. During prayer it was possible for her to experience the divine presence. Where is that Lord now? Her heart became turbid. She was relieved thinking of the mystery of divine love when she heard from the spiritual father that the dark night experience were an indivisible factor of a holy life. She viewed her experiences with the eyes of faith. She listened to the sound of His steps in the hours of darkness. She firmly believed that nothing would happen in her life without God knowing it. In the storm of ordeals the roots of her faith grew deep. Faith helped her to move walking without wavering aiming at God in any unfavorable circumstance. One day after Mass Fr. Joseph Vithayathil saw that Thresia was not leaving the church, though it was unusually late. When he enquired of the reason the reply was, “I could neither see nor walk”. The prayer without sleep and penance might have affected seriously her health. But such an anxious thought never vexed Thresia. She was certain that God would look after her. Thresia after spending some time in the church drank little holy water, gathered strength and returned home.
Thresia had to face also temptation against chastity. In childhood she used to run away from companion who used bad words and pray for them. She did not allow the least trace of sin to enter her heart. But during a period she was extremely vexed by unholy thoughts and imagination. She was wearied by temptation. She tried to resist bodily temptations through self-mortification. As St. Francis of Assisi rolled on ice and thorny shrubs and overcame bodily temptations, Thresia controlled the body wearing an inner garment of hair, using a pillow stuffed with prickly shrubs and taking the discipline. It was possible for Thresia to control her bodily temptations by self-restraint and mortification. She wrote to the spiritual father about the temptations she experienced thus:
“Pithave, the temptations I have against chastity are very severe. So I feel great fear and turbidity”.
Thresia tells the spiritual father also that she feels as though her whole body was being dragged into sin. It is the spiritual leadership of the spiritual father that led her on these occasions. Thresia’s life makes it clear that the help of a spiritual protector is inevitable on occasions like these. The superfluity of the suffering experienced on the occasions of these temptations by Thresia who was over eager to fly up to sanctity was unimaginable.
When an ascetic tries to attain communion with God by control of the senses, suppression of bodily desires, night vigil, fasting and penance, his/her body will often react against it and hasten to experience bodily pleasures. Thresia had the same experience. The lives of many saints witness that when a soul longs to rise to God body will try to drag it to sexual pleasures. It can be seen also in Thresia’s life the clear expression of the power of darkness to entangle the mind in sexual desires, separate it from God and make the heart unclean in order to make it his abode. But Thresia did not submit to the greed of the body or the pleasures of the senses. Thresia who overcame the temptations of the body by night vigil attained unblemished sanctity. She proved that no power of darkness could turn her back from the love of God. The attitude and control of senses of young Thresia may appear foolishness to the world of today which says that for the full growth of personality it is necessary to experience and enjoy bodily pleasures. Only the experienced are able to understand the beauty of the spiritual realms which the human mind can fly high through real discipline and control.
Thresia was consoled by the Holy Family through divine visions when she was perplexed in the whirl temptations and the body was exhausted by suffering. Visions are moments of consolation God gives to holy souls who are severely tempted. Thresia writes about this:
“Our lady and St. Joseph came and told me words of consolation and each and everything. The Lord came to me carrying the cross, finding it difficult to bear this sorrow. He asked me to lessen his sorrow and telling me not to be afraid of anything. He embraced me and placed the cross of the Lord on me”.
These points to the continuous spiritual relationship with Jesus. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil, who had been many times an eye witness of the suffering of Thresia, had been intimating the Bishop John Menachery all these in detail. In the light of it he wrote a letter to Fr. Vithayathil which is given below:
6th July 1903
“My dear Father,
This is from God, you should ask her on my behalf to submit herself to God in everything and suffer everything, to entrust herself completely to Mary Immaculate and Saint Joseph and seek their protection so that she may not go astray.
A special order will be sent after consultation with the Sisters at Ollur.
(Sd) Dr. John Menachery”.
Initially the bishop viewed Thresia’s experiences favourably. He believed the unusual events of her life to be the will of God. Puthenchira was a little away from the palace of the bishop at Trichur. But the diary of Fr. Joseph Vithayathil bears witness that the bishop had paid special attention in the case of Thresia. It was his responsibility to analyze that life, discern the will of God and make decisions. We see in him a Church authority who evaluates very strictly matters found sympathetically. More than mere pious woman Mariam Thresia has begun to become uncommon people who like some rare great members are prominent in the pages of church history.
Thresia had centered all her attention on God. Because of this she was found to be different from others. Her mind and body were filled with the zeal to love the good God. She observed all the pious exercises and acts of penance of her time with great attention. Her approach to the sacraments was unique. The sacraments were the centre of the spiritual life for Thresia. Because of this she desired to confess and receive Holy Communion in childhood itself. She tried to get the permission necessary for it. As she grew up she received Holy Communion daily without fail. This was not very common at that time. Thresia had great devotion and love for the Blessed Sacrament. The very thought that the supreme Lord renouncing all glory reigns in mere wheat bread moved he. The kenosis of God was the model for her humble life. She knelt for long before the Blessed Sacrament without blinking. She did acts of penance very strictly. Her only desire was to conform completely to the will of God. In order to control the body and its tendencies that stand as obstacle to it, she gave up with joy even moderate comforts and conveniences.
Thresia tried to nourish her spiritual life through giving alms and donations. Although today it is seen as a criterion of material prosperity, Lord Jesus has approved helping the needy as service done to Him. The message, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:40) had become a valuable invitation in Thresia’s life. Love, readiness for service, suffering and prayer were the warp and woof her life. If suffering and interest for service are removed, then that life will become nothing. That life was a pure garland made on the cord of divine love strong with the fragrant flowers of suffering and service. Thresia always had divine experiences and visions at the end of her intense suffering. A vision Thresia had on 21 November 1903 is recorded by Fr. Joseph Vithayathil thus:
“She felt intense suffering and difficulty during the whole night. She wriggled with pain as though she was beaten up. The arms and legs seemed as though they were cramped and the muscles as though they were tightened. This agony was prolonged for a long time. After some time she heard Jesus saying lying on the cross that He was still being tormented thus by men. She saw also the figure of an old man. It was St. Joseph. Soon that vision disappeared.”
It is written in the diary and the autobiography of Thresia that she had many times the vision of the Holy Family. On all the occasions of the spiritual conflict Thresia had the presence and help of the Holy Family. The reason for the Holy Family paying special attention to Thresia must be for building a religious congregation in the name of the Holy Family and Thresia must have been found beforehand as its foundation – stone.
The extraordinariness of Thresia was an obstacle to the ordinary life at home. The people criticized her and those at home punished her. But none of these could distinguish the internal inspiration and spiritual brilliance in her. Thresia who set apart her life for the love of God and the service of man had the inspiration on 21 December 1903 to live in an ‘ekanthabhavan’ (a house of solitude) and shape her activities. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil informed the bishop of this. But the response of the bishop was not favourable:
“I don’t believe any of these. If they are really from God, the above should be intimated by signs. Ask in the name of God the person appearing in the guise of our Lady who she is”.
Thresia waited patiently in silence for the sign from God. She had an insight that God was preparing her for something (Diary p.52). A letter she wrote to Fr. Joseph Vithayathil at that time witnesses this: “Praise be to God! I feel all the time the things I said yesterday. Pithave, you know there is no good in me. Then what is the reason for this to happen? God willed thus. Pithave, I feel proud”.
Could Thresia who found the depths of humility be proud of finding the divine presence in her? That humble virgin must have been disturbed by the thought that God has been preparing her for something great. Thresia herself is the gold purified in the crucible of trials for a great workmanship. The pages of her life makes this clear, “He exalted the lowly; the rich he sent empty away” (Lk 1: 52, 53). This couplet from the song of praise of the Blessed Virgin makes sense in the life of Thresia.
Thresia was tempted most during this time in her life. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil has given in his diary of more than 300 pages the account of the suffering and ordeals she had in her life. Only very few events from that are included in this chapter. The way Thresia faced the suffering and ordeals of life and the attitude adopted towards them is a model for us to face the suffering and sorrow of our daily life. That life was the sum total of extraordinary experiences and temptations.
Chapter 7 -SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES
The most remarkable thing in the spiritual life of Mariam Thresia are the unusual experiences she had been having. It is seen that in the life of Mariam Thresia also there had been such experiences the saintly mystics had been having as visions, revelations, locations, stigmata, trans-vibrations of the heart, discernment of the spirit, reading of the hearts etc. Two doctors of the Church, St Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross have clearly borne witness. These extraordinary experiences, however, are not the indivisible signs of a holy life nor are they inevitable to grow in holiness.
It is the heroic practice of Christian virtue that the Church has approved as the sign of a holy life. But the words of the famous theologian Karl Rahner on the subject are very remarkable: “It is not possible to deal with the history of the Christian religion rejecting prophecy and visions. The attempt to explain these in a mere natural or faulty stance based on human reasons would be equivalent to the denial of the truths of self-revelation of God through historical events. Doing this would be rejecting the truth that the Christian religion is a historical and supernaturally revealed one” (Karl Rahner, ‘Vision and Revelation’, Germany 1963 p. 15). Although God is unseen to the human sight, He reveals Himself to man through things, persons and events. He used to make some persons instruments for this from time to time. The history of the life and experiences of Thresia witnesses that she was a person thus specially chosen for this. Thresia who had from early youth observed much penance and made many sacrifices out of love for God was blessed with many supernatural experiences. Her thoughts were always about heaven. God himself was her only subject of thought and love. Let us describe here only some of her special experiences of God.
On Sunday 26 June 1904 Thresia who went to receive the Holy Communion during the Mass prostrated with devotion and respect when the priest raised the host. At the end of the Mass when the people returned home Thresia continued in the same position. It is recorded in the Diary that meanwhile she had a vision of heaven being opened and Jesus being served by the angels seated on a throne with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On 15th August of the same year Thresia had another vision of Jesus giving her his divine heart. It must have been in the memory of that Thresia instructed her spiritual daughters later on in order to grow in the love of God to pray to the Lord ceaselessly to give His heart. On 13, 14 and 15 August 1904 Thresia prepared for the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady in a special way by observing fast and vigil. On 15th August from morning onwards in memory of the Blessed Mother she had been in her bed-room immersed in prayer. That evening, as indicated above, Jesus and His mother appeared to her in a vision. Jesus came slowly near her and giving his divine heart, could hear him saying with love, “I am taking your heart”. That vision disappeared slowly.
The experience of exchanging the heart with Christ is recorded in the life of St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Margret Mary Alacoque, St. Catherine de Ricci, St. Michael de Los Satos and in the lives of many other saints.
How can this special experience be explained? We could only find the ordinary explanation that God willed that Thresia through her intense desire should have this experience which many saints were said to have had in their lives. Those who have not had this experience may find it incredible. But its validity is to be determined on the basis of the healthy influence it exerts on one’s daily life. Thresia’s life was changed into one of loving God and man intensely after the above indicated vision. Her heart spent the night in solitude seeking vigilantly the depths of prayer. During the day she spent many hours in her own room in prayer and solitude and the remaining time for doing charitable works.
The Golden Jubilee of the declaration of the Immaculate Conception was on 8 December 1904. Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil had arranged a retreat for the parishners in preparation it. Thresia had a great desire to participate in that retreat. But she had been subjected to many kinds of suffering and temptations during the previous months. There was an excessive increase of it by the month of December. She prayed incessantly to the Blessed Mother to obtain for her the healing and health necessary for attending that retreat. God received the prayer. Her illness decreased, health improved and as desired she participated in the retreat.
It was usual for many people to approach the sacrament of reconciliation in connection with the annual parish retreat. Thresia had shown special interest in praying intensely for the return of those sinners to repentance who had not approached the sacrament of reconciliation for years. She had received a special divine inspiration for this. During the retreat days Thresia meditated and prayed for a long time in her small room at home. On those days also she was subjected to severe suffering and temptations. On the Jubilee day 8th December Thursday evening Thresia who had been in continuous prayer with the companions enjoyed an unworldly spiritual experience-ecstasy. She continued in that state more than the usual time. The companions informed the spiritual father Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil of it. The priest reached Thresia’s home with his fellow – priests. There they saw Thresia kneeling with folded hands in joyful experiences. The priests, companions, household and all stood watching this scene silently with prayer. After about 8 O’clock it appeared that Thresia was trying to say something. At that time as if the Blessed Mother was speaking, Thresia spoke as follows: “Her trials are over. She must be called ‘Mariam Thresia’. You must give praise and thanks to God. I give you my blessing, Father.”
After that her ecstasy ended. All together offered praise and thanks to God. From that day all began to call her Mariam Thresia. But the official recognition for this name was given after ten years with the declaration of the foundation of the Holy Family Congregation on 14 May 1914.
Mariam Thresia would always get ready for Christmas days with very great preparation. With the permission of the spiritual father she prepared for the Christmas of 1904doing more than the usual prayer, fasting and acts of penance. Mariam Thresia had a vision of Jesus with Our Lady and St. Joseph on the night of the 24th. She spent in that Joyful experience until the bell rang for the midnight Mass. And the Christmas of that day was celebrated under the influence of this experience.
The beginning of the New Year also was an occasion of intense spiritual experience for Thresia. At midnight on 31st December, as indicated above, Thresia who was vigilantly awake for meditation in her own small room, had a vision of the Child Jesus coming with a crown of flowers to put on her. She heard also a voice from the Child Jesus, the Child Jesus, “I am taking you”. After this she stood still. This position continued until noon the next day.
During the ensuing days Thresia had been growing in the love of God. She was being moulded in the crucible of suffering and temptations. Many accounts and indications are available that Thresia had the experience of the spiritual espousal described in the “Interior Castle” of St. Theresa of Avila. From the first Friday of February 1905 Thresia had been having some supernatural experiences which were repeated on many other Fridays. She had an ecstasy on the first Friday of February. Knowing about it, the spiritual father Fr. Joseph Vithayathil reached her home. When he saw her distressed and immersed in spiritual ecstatic experience with the legs and arms frozen and cold, he asked her in the name of God what was the nature of her vision. She responded to that as if the Blessed Virgin Mary was speaking:
“From now she will suffer very much on all Fridays
From the afternoon till midnight. These torments are
Permitted by the Lord. During the Fridays of Lent these torments will increase”.
She experienced very sharp pain in her heart, hands and legs till midnight that day and blood oozed from these. That was the beginning of the stigmata.
Thresia had been having this experience on every Friday. Wounds were seen on her legs and hands in the size of a small coin until her death. Blood flowed from them on Fridays and the feasts of Our Lord. Thresia did not like others to see this. On such occasions she used to enter her room and immerse herself in prayer. The jackets, wet with blood from the wound in the heart, are kept adorable even today. It is recorded that on some occasions during these torments Thresia was seen hanging as if on a cross with hands outstretched and legs rose from the floor. At that time it was not possible to pull her hands from the wall, the onlookers felt that then Thresia was in some other world.
Amid this suffering other temptations were also experienced. But none of these made Thresia waver. She accepted with joy the suffering and torments that came one after the other.
There is nothing to be wondered if about 80 years ago these mystical phenomena occurred in the life of a 28 year old virgin staying at home without entering the marital status made her household extremely anxious. Thresia patiently suffered all the insults from the household.
Chapter 8 ASCETIC LIFE OF MARIAM THRESIA
Thresia’s life was ritual and richly experiential. Through all these she had been searching ways to be united with Jesus. It was at this time the bishop allowed her to join the Third Order of the Carmelites. The third orders were established in connection with the regular religious congregations for obtaining the holy merits also for lay people. Thus one joins the third order of the Carmelites by wearing the scapular. When the Joseph Vithayathil desired Thresia to join the third order, he was especially inspired to give her a veil with the scapular. The letter of Fr. Joseph Vithayathil to the bishop about it and the reply are given below:
“Dear Rt. Rev. Bishop,
I wish to inform you what our Lady has ordered me to do. It is the desire of Our Lady that I convince you to give the veil to Mankidiyan Thresia on the first Friday of this month.
Always ready to obey your order.
The Vicar of the Puthenchira Church
Fr. Joseph Vithayathil
01 March 1905
The Reply from the Bishop:
My dear Father,
As you desire the permission is granted to give the veil to Thresia on Friday, with it I give her sanction to join the third order, please bless and give her the big scapular sent from the convent.
From the Bishop’s Palace
01 March 1905
Trichur Vicar Apostolic
Bishop Yohannan Menachery
According to the permission from the bishop Thresia was given the veil on 12 March 1905. Wearing 1) ‘Mundu’ and 2) ‘Chatta’ with a veil. Thresia was visiting the houses of Puthenchira with humility to give spiritual services and it marked the beginning of a new religious life.
Foot notes: 1) ‘Mundu’: a white cloth seven yards long and one and a half yards broad worn by the Christian women in Kerala. A number of pleats forming a fan – like appendage in the back made it elegant:
2) Chatta: A white loose blouse with long sleeves worn with the ‘Mundu’ by the Christian women in Kerala style.
One must doubt if she was not a Christian manifestation of the solitary wayfaring Indian ascetics. She lived in the world having conquered the senses with fast and penance.
Stigmata, crown of thorns, crosses and ecstasies had been continuing in regular order. Besides all these Thresia observed curtain acts of penance during that time, the acts of penance allowed by the spiritual father were the following:
1. Always wear a chain of thorns around the waist.
2. Lie on the mat with stones spread underneath.
3. Fast four times a week.
4. Eat food after making it bitter.
5. Take discipline daily.
6. Pray kneeling on gravel.
7. Kneel on the palms.
8. Pray with outstretched arms.
9. Wear a hair shirt.
These acts of penance gave spiritual strength to Thresia who had been very eager to be united with God. It is not to be wondered if a person with self – mortification had divine visions and experiences. On the days when the passion experiences began it was usual for the Holy Family to be present in Thresia’s room in the evening of all Fridays. At that time her companions, spiritual
father and others would come there and recite the rosary.
None of these unusual experiences caused any pride in Thresia. She had always been very humble. But many complaints reached the bishop about her. One of the complaints was that she had been taking special food like milk and bread. On 24 October 1905 the bishop instructed her spiritual father Fr. Joseph Vithayathil that she should, change the special food (which she had been taking because of illness) and take the ordinary food at home. This caused her difficulty. Taking only gruel for many days made Thresia very weak, weary and ill. But by the first week of January 1906 her illness subsided very much as a result of Ayurvedic treatment. And she had been taking the ordinary food at home. Although the spiritual father requested the bishop permission for her to take milk and bread, he did not grant it. On Saturday 10 February 1906 night when Thresia was in meditation she had a vision of the Lord Jesus carrying the cross. In that vision Thresia entered into a conversation. To Thresia who burst into tears sobbing:
Jesus: “Not your sins, but the sins people commit in the world are the cause of this.”
Thresia: “Lord, I shall carry the cross you are carrying”
Jesus: “Will you carry the cross I give you without complaint?”
Thresia: “I will carry, give it to me”.
Jesus: “Then you carry and reduce my weight”.
During this vision Thresia felt that her heart was splitting. She cried aloud.
Thresia: “Enough, Lord, enough. I do not want to see this. I shall carry the cross. I need your help only to put it on the shoulders.”
Then Thresia felt as though her heart was being pierced with a spear. The wound was not a mental feeling. Sweat and blood were seen at the side of the heart. Those who entered her room, hearing her cry and knowing her discomforts, saw her immersed in some unworldly experience. She showed gestures as if lying on the cross. To the friends who stood watching this, Thresia said: “Aren’t we to carry the cross of Christ?”
Thresia had trans-vibration of the heart often. The passion experiences that had been happening on Fridays and the feasts of the Lord were severe than the experiences during the Lenten season. Thresia had another vision of the passion experience 23 October 1906. She experienced two angels coming and beating down a crown of thorns on her head, After this experience some witnessed that blood oozed on Fridays at the time of the passion experiences. Another calumny that Thresia had to face was the understanding of the bishop that she possessed by the devil. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil had pasted the order of exorcism given by the bishop on the wall of her room. She kissed that order of exorcism calling it “a blessed gift”.
She was happy to be mocked at like Jesus. It must be because of it that she asked Fr. Joseph Vithayathil to paste the order of exorcism not only in her room but also on the main door of the church as all could see it and also to read in the church on Sunday. But he did not agree to it. Thresia was very much laughed at by some who happened to see the order of exorcism pasted in her room. As the bishop believed that Thresia’s daily reception of the Holy communion with special permission was to get the attention of others, he decided that her reception of the Holy Communion be only once a week. Accepting the instruction without any dissatisfaction, she lived almost one year receiving Holy Communion only once a week. One day after one year the bishop came to the Carmelite convent at Ambazhakad, Thresia went with the order of exorcism which had faded out with time and requested for a clearly written order. The bishop began to believe somewhat in the holiness of Thresia when he saw her childlike behaviour and the respect towards him. He destroyed the copy of the order of exorcism she brought saying that there was no more need of any order of exorcism. The bishop asked Thresia to find out whether she had a call to the newly begun Clarist congregation in the diocese. He asked her to pray to God for the same. She prayed before the Blessed Sacrament for a long time to find this out. She did not get any hint about the call to that congregation. So the bishop did not compel her to join the Clarist congregation. She continued to be the ‘Mother’ of Puthenchira.
Accusations and calumny against her went on as usual. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil was after a witness of the Passion experiences and trials of Thresia. She was her help in all anxiety. He was controlling her activities and religious observances. Her life between 1906 -1909 was especially filled with visions, Passion experiences and trials. She continued her service of love incessantly amid all these.
Thresia found in Fr. Joseph Vithayathil her guide and spiritual father. He was a brave spiritual guide who could find the hand of God that worked in her. Both had mutual respect and esteem. Their spiritual relationship was very firm. They helped each other to grow in holiness.
From 1902 – 1914 Fr. Joseph Vithayathil had been the vicar of Puthenchira, Thresia’s parish. He closely Co-operated with the foundation and growth of the Congregation of the Holy Family. He helped in spiritually directing this congregation and shared its destiny until his death on 8 June 1964.
There was a violent outbreak of smallpox in Puthenchira in 1909. As there was no preventive injection or effective treatment for the illness about 60 patients died from the parish of Puthenchira alone. The sickness had the dance of death there. People took refuge in prayer fearing that it was the curse of God. Thresia prayed for the safety of the place day and night. She observed special acts of penance. She promised the Lord who was pained by the sins of man that she would make atonement for them. Following that she experienced severe pain for 19 days. She suffered all this with joy for the people of the parish. Gradually the attack of the illness decreased and those who had been ill had begun to get healed. It was recorded that Thresia also got the disease in the end. With this event the people of Puthenchira had more faith in Thresia. She people of the place began to feel her presence a great blessing.
After the attack of the smallpox Thresia had been experiencing temptations against chastity for some time. One side of her body was paralyzed and she became wearier. Still she was able to go for Mass. She prayed specially for the healing of the paralysis. The experience of the passion of the Lord became a part of her daily life.
In 1912 until Thresia went to the Carmelite convent at Ollur, she used to visit the families in her own place, serve the sick and pray for sinners. Thus she had been gaining experience in the family apostolate which she was to give shape in the future. The three or four years that followed had been the time of waiting during which she thought of moulding her life on the love of God and the love of neighbour in the light of the divine inspiration she received and the control of the spiritual father.
Chapter 9 – DAWN OF THE CONGREGATION OF HOLY FAMILY
Knowing the unfavourable circumstances at home to continue: her manner of life. Thresia at the age of 36 requested again the spiritual father to build a house for her. Behind this she had the inspiration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her spiritual father who knew the inner essence of her spiritual life informed the bishop of the matter.
As the bishop was not convinced of the divine visions, Passion experiences and holiness of Thresia, he was not ready to build a house for her according to her desire.
At that time the bishop came to Ambazhakad near Thresia’s parish to visit the Carmelite convent there. Thresia went to the convent with a companion and informed the bishop directly of her desire. Then the bishop showed a favourable attitude and asked her to join the Carmelite convent at Ollur. Accepting this instruction joyfully, she went to the convent at Ollur after bidding farewell to the household; the members of the convent gave her hearty welcome.
During Thresia’s life at the Ollur convent also she had been having the passion experiences and temptations as on previous Fridays. Sr. Ignatia who had been the C.M.C., Superior General then had described the sight of the Passion experience that Thresia had. When Bishop Menachery of Trichur went to the Sacred Heart Convent there, he asked the sisters there whether they would like to see the passion experience that Thresia Mankidiyan had on Fridays. The sisters showed interest in it and one Friday they went to Ollur. When they went to the convent and entered Thresia’s room, they found her as if hung on a cross and leaning on the wall, at the head side of her own cot. And blood was oozing from her hands, legs and head. Although there was an attempt to shake and move her from the wall, it was felt to be difficult. Thus it was found that Thresia accepted on her body the Christ hung on the cross on Golgotha.
Thresia faced all the difficult circumstances of the Carmelite convent patiently. It was Sr. Euphrasia, then boarding mistress who taught her psalms and other prayers. Today she is declared a Blessed. Sr. Euphrasia had much esteem and love for Thresia.
Thresia’s parishners of Puthenchira desired very much to bring her back to their own parish. For that they approached first Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil. Afterwards they submitted a petition to the bishop to achieve their object.
As the acquaintance of Thresia increased, the conviction and esteem about her sanctity of life also increased for the sisters of the convent at Ollur. Her intense prayer life, humility, total obedience, endurance etc virtues attracted them. They inquired the bishop whether it was possible to admit her to their community.
The bishop came to know from Thresia that she had no desire to enter the Carmelite convent. So he did not encourage the sisters according to their desire to persuade her to join the Carmelite convent. During her stay in Ollur Thresia sent again a letter to her spiritual father. She had written in it that nothing was certain about her future. Besides, she had written in it that the bishop had pointed out her financial difficulties and the relevance of her returning to her place. She wrote also that the sisters at the Ollur convent desired her to enter their convent and that they taught her Ps.129 and other prayers, following the order of the bishop. She was not interested in joining the convent at Ollur. Still following the advice of the spiritual father she was obeying the instructions of the bishop. Quoted below is a part of the second letter:
“I do not know anything yet of the rule of this convent.
I was ordered to line in a room. Accordingly I live…
They put a garment on me. They ordered me to walk
Wearing slippers. And I do that also”.
There was an echo in the letter of the spiritual father that she reached the Ollur convent according to her own desire. But Thresia said clearly that she acted only because of she bishop’s order. She requested Fr. Joseph Vithayathil to pardon her if anything happened to the contrary. She wrote in the same letter:
“It was the will of god that I suffer also this hold and pull. Let that also be over. I shall suffer all this”.
Thresia experienced many conflicts during her life in Ollur. The strong feeling that she had no call to the Carmelite congregation and at the same time the order of the bishop to stay in a Carmelite convent on one side. Besides this the misunderstanding of the spiritual father that her stay at the Ollur convent was the outcome of her own decision. Moreover, the strong desire of the people of the place to get Thresia back to their parish. These different circumstances created a great conflict in her.
Thresia had informed the spiritual father of all her mental afflictions in another letter. In it she made clear that though “she was well in everyway” she was convinced about her not being in the place where she ought to be. Soon after receiving the letter Fr. Joseph Vithayathil visited her in the convent at Ollur, inquired of her and found out her mental feeling. She told him that she had no desire to join that convent. He informed the bishop of her lack of interest. The bishop asked Thresia to pray that he might receive God’s help to make the right decision in this matter. In the light of all this and after long consideration, the bishop allowed her to go back home. Her spiritual father told that he would give a house. According to the instruction of the bishop after saying good – bye to all in the convent at Ollur Thresia returned home on 27 January 1913.
The first thought of Thresia who returned to Puthenchira and Fr. Joseph Vithayathil was how to make an ‘Ekanthabhavan’ (A House of Solitude) Maliakal Koonan Kunjuvareed, a parishner, showed interest in this matter and donated the land to construct a house. After getting the land the main attention of Thresia and Fr. Joseph Vithayathil turned to construct a building there. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil began the construction of the building with some money that was left over with him. Although with the help of the parishners the construction of the building reached the lintel-level, it could not be completed because of financial difficulties. At this stage Thresia told Fr. Joseph Vithayathil that she could collect the money needed by begging. As there was no other means, he allowed her with much reluctance to do so. Thresia with her companions went to Njarakal, Pallippuram, chakkarakadvu etc. places and received donations from many generous people. They were able with the money got thus as donation complete the construction of a beautiful two storied building of some 47 yards circumference in Puthenchira. God blessed abundantly this new venture of Thresia which was begun without any capital but with reliance on God.
As Fr. Joseph Vithayathil was ill, he sent Thresia herself to the bishop to obtain sanction for the blessing of the newly constructed ‘ekanthabhavan’ the bishop scolded her instead of encouraging her. Thresia returned without losing serenity, finding the will of God in the bishop’s decision even in these opposing circumstances.
Although the bishop scolded and sent Thresia back, he felt respect for her sanctity and good desires and sent his secretary Rev. Fr. John Ukken to Puthenchira the next day to bless her ‘ekanthabhavan’. The blessing ceremony took place on 23 September 1913. Many priests and the people of the place took part in it.
Thresia changed her residence to the ‘ekanthabhavan’. The blessing ceremony took place on 23 September 1913. Many priests and the people of the place took part in it. Thresia changed her residence to the ‘ekanthabhavan’ on the day after the blessing. Thus that great thing expected for 10 years (1903 – 1913) and prayerfully desired to sec fulfilled was realized. Her own household had silently looked at and seen this new undertaking of hers. Their companions Mariam Karimalikkal, Thresia Maliakal Konan and Kochumariam Maliakal Koonan resided with her taking turns. Thresia lived in that house with a heart full of thanks singing praise and gratitude for the great blessing God bestowed on her. Her companions began their permanent residence there in January 1914. The order and simplicity of their life attracted the people.
We saw in the chapter on supernatural experiences that the subject of Thresia’s visions was the Holy Family. The love relationship that Thresia had for the child Jesus, the central point of the Holy Family, was simple and guileless. The days of the assumption of our lady were days of intense experience for her. From the day our Lady appeared and taught her how to recite the rosary, the mother of God had become the centre of her piety. She obtained the protection of St. Joseph, the head of the Holy Family to establish peace in the broken and disrupted families. This must be the reason who she had often had the visions of the Holy Family.
On the morning of 13 May 1914 Bishop Menachery came to the ‘ekanthabhavan’ (The House of Solitude) of Thresia and companions without any warning. They received the bishop with joy and surprise and expressed honour and respect, after a cordial and friendly conservation the bishop met Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and informed him of the purpose of his coming.
Bishop : “It is my desire to make the ‘ekanthabhavan’ of Thresia a comment. What do you think?”
Fr. Vithayathil : “As your Lordship desires, I have also felt that it is ideal to make this a convent”.
Bishop : “If so, what congregation be begun?”
Fr. Vithayathil : “A congregation of the Blessed Virgin Mary would be fine.”
Bishop : “There are many convents in the name of the mother of God in our diocese. So what if this be a congregation of the Holy Family?”
Fr. Vithayathil : “I see the will of God in your desire, Praise be to God.”
Providence of God what Thresia had been herself and desiring unclearly for a long time was made crystal clear through the decision of the bishop. It was the blessed moment when the search of Thresia, Unclear to herself, received nature, form and recognition in the Church.
Thresia was delighted to hear about the discussion of the bishop and Fr. Joseph Vithayathil to make the ‘ekanthabhavan’ a convent and was immensely gratified at the fulfillment of her long – cherished desire.
According to the instruction of the bishop, the next day, 14 may 1914 was decided as the day of the official approval of the congregation of the Holy Family. For Thresia the religious life in solitude of the convent was not unknown. She had been leading such a life for seven months. For some months her companions had also been with her. In short a small religious community really had taken shape there. With the approval of a new name, their area and style of work had a definite form. It was clear to them that theirs was a religions community in the name of the Holy Family with a mission to sanctify families.
There were many preparations to be made for the sacred services of giving the official approval. Important among there were the preparation for the religious life in the ‘ekanthabhavan’ and the preparation for the sacred services in the Church, Bishop Menachery had sent two Carmelite Sisters early enough to Puthenchira do make the religious habit and do what was necessary for the sacred services. The bishop arrived in the Church in the morning of the 14th. As they were told in advance the people of the place, the household and some sisters of the Carmelite, Clarist and Visitation congregations had reached the Church. Mariam Thresia and companions wearing their best clothes stood by the altar. The ceremonies began when the vicar Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and other priests with the bishop in their sacred vestments entered the sanctuary. First the bishop declared approaching the religious life led by Thresia and companions and raising their community as the Congregation of the Holy Family. Then Mariam Thresia was given the religious habit and afterwards she made the final profession of the religious vows dedicating herself to god before the people of God and in the presence of the bishop. The three companions Mariam, Kochumariam and Thresia were given the veil and accepted as candidates of the congregation. They were given the names of Veronica, Agnes and Clara respectively. Thus the Congregation of the Holy Family was formed officially in the Church
Some specialties are to be borne in mind in connection with the foundation of this religious congregation. A person is allowed to take the final of this religious congregation. A person is allowed to take the final vows in a congregation only after years of formation and testing. Every member after making the first vows is given several years for experimenting whether the moment is able to continue for life the new way of life. This is for the congregation and the member to know mutually, without any of there tests Mariam Thresia was allowed by the bishop to take the final vows on the same day of the approval of the new congregation. The Church has given this privilege only to very few persons. The bishop himself had subjected Mariam Thresia to tests and observations for about 12 years. The might have considered this period as her novitiate and testing time after the first vows.
As explained above what persuaded the bishop to adopt a different method from the ordinary to give official approval to a religious congregation and appoint its first Mother on the same day allowing her to make her perpetual profession was his conviction in Mariam Thresia’s sanctity and dedication. Thus What Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and Mariam Thresia had been searching for many years through unclear circumstances attained definite form and shape in a holy lifestyle with the approved of the congregation.
Chapter 10 – FIRST COMMUNITY
After the sacred services related to the religious profession in the parish church, the vicar Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil duly entertained the distinguished guests and sent them. Then he and there who began religious life went to the convent. When the reached there and were alone the seriousness and attractiveness of their new path of life became clear to them. Nobody was able to speak for some time. Through those silent moments they lauded the mystery of divine providence. They were the hale of inexpressible satisfaction. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil returned after giving them instructions on the regularization of their life.
Mariam Thresia spent that day and night immersed in the satisfaction of having found what she had been searching. The feelings of her heart were transformed into the song of Praise of Mary:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden… he who is mighty has done great things for me.” (Lk. 1:46-49).
The next morning that small community of four came for prayer. They felt that the community prayer of that day had a greater depth. After the Morning Prayer, Thresia and companions went to the parish church to participate in the Mass. The people of the place watched there with pride, joy and interest.
The Mass of that auspicious day was a heart felt experience for them. The rapture of the fulfillment of a long – cherished desire was very evident on their faces. As usual Mariam Thresia spent a long time in the divine presence. There were many women waiting for her in the yard. They all wanted to congratulate Mariam Thresia and express their joy. They stood around the Mother; Mariam Thresia had only to speak to them of the immense and boundless grace of God. They had been listening to all that with great attention. Thus Mariam Thresia shared her joy with those village women. The newly-formed religious community should attain the sanctity and simplicity of a convent; the movements afterwards were for that. They prepared a prayer room, a dining hall and a parlour. They fixed the enclosure for prayer and solitude. Heavy responsibilities came one after another. They had neither food nor money for livelihood. They were happy even in this affliction. Mariam Thresia used to strengthen the sisters saying that they should not have anxiety about anything.
Knowing the needs of the newly formed convent in their place, the people of the place came to their help. They brought often paddy, rice and other food-stuffs to the parlour. Still the convent had to suffer the pain of poverty as they had nothing of their own. Even in this adversity the zeal of Mariam Thresia was to share whatever they got with the poor. As far as Mariam Thresia was concerned, she did not set aside even a moment for herself. Her compassionate eyes were cast on other persons and suffering families. The compassionate gracefulness and the loving spirit of Jesus who identified himself with the poor and those who suffer was the persuasive force of Mariam Thresia life.
On 22 July 1914 the congregation of the Holy Family received a Constitution for the first time. Bishop Menachery brought through the bishop of Jaffna, Ceylon the Constitution of the Holy Family Sisters of Jaffna, translated it from Tamil into Malayalam and with some modifications gave it to the congregation with the title ‘The Holy Family Congregation and its Rules.’ For the time being it was appropriate to get such a constitution for a newly formed congregation. There is one thing to be remembered here. It is the ordinary practice for newly founded congregations to accept temporarily the constitution of any existing religious congregation. In goal those congregations may not be similar.
The Holy Family congregation of Jaffna and the Holy Family congregation Mother Mariam Thresia founded are one in name. But in heritage they are different. The mother accepted the rules that commonly affect religious congregations from the constitution obtained from Jaffna. This was no obstacle to continue through the congregation she founded the family services she performed before the foundation of the congregation. The rainy season was over and the fragrance of the flowers spread in the forest. Just as the fragrance of the flowers the aroma of the sanctity of life of the mother spread around. Many had been coming to see that virtuous woman. All who came were attracted by the charming behaviour and the divine affection flowing from her face. Many young women expressed the desire to embrace religious life. The members had been increasing. There was not enough space in the convent. So Mariam Thresia wanted to construct rooms on the south side adjoining the convent. She informed Fr. Joseph Vithayathil of it. “Where shall we get the money from?” asked the Father. And Mariam Thresia’s reply was, “We shall begin the work trusting in God and God will give the money.” Fr. Joseph Vithayathil who knew well the firmness of mind of the mother promised help. The construction began. The compound next to the convent was brought with the donation of the generous people of the place and financial assistance of Fr. Joseph Vithayathil. A building of about 24 yards in circumference was completed. As a result of the effort afterwards it was possible to extend further the convent building on the south and west sides.
Even in the midst of the hard work for the convent that virtuous woman did not allow her mission to be affected in the least. The families were Mariam Thresia’s special area of work. She was ready to suffer and sacrifice anything for the uplift of the families. The specialty of her life was to work hard day and night to wipe away the tears of the human being, who were suffocated by mental and physical conflicts. She used to say: “There are many suffering families around us, there are people deteriorated in morality; there are those immersed in drinking; let us console all of them and show all of them the right way.”
Mariam Thresia encouraged the followers also for that noble service. She went down with them into the families and used to listen with compassion the stories of people soaked in grief. Using her humble redemptive power, she pacified them. It was usual for Mariam Thresia so pray for and with them. Thus she did all she could to give new life to those who lost their way. After the visit when she was leaving the steps of the home, the members of the household used to tell each other, “What a peace there is when Sr. Mariam Thresia visits us here.”
Mariam Thresia entered bravely into persons who were wearied by social cankers. She accepted prostitutes and tried to make them retreat from their sinful life. Mariam Thresia herself brought their children up. Here is a proof given by contemporaries: “There was a baby-girl born out of wedlock to a carpenter woman. The family expelled her. My mother looked after this child for some three months. When there was nobody to look after the child, all said, “Entrust the child to the Mankidiyan Sister.” Thus the child was handed over to Mariam Thresia. The mother looked after her until she grew up and gave her in marriage.”
Mariam Thresia had helped many like this. As she worked very hard to help the helpless in the society, she trained also the members of her community for this. She was convinced that it would be possible for them to enter this field of service if only they sanctified themselves through prayer and sacrifice.
The only education Mariam Thresia had been the training in the ‘Kalari’ in childhood. There were no schools in her place or in the neighbouring places. The rich educated their children in the boarding schools. Generally in those days education of girls was not encouraged in our country.
The thought arose in the mind of Mariam Thresia of forming in the minds of children a sense of God and personal holiness through the medium of knowledge. Thinking that it could be achieved through education she discussed with the spiritual father about starting a school. With his favourable response the got permission from the bishop and began the first and second classes in a building of the convent. It was very difficult to get teachers. When the bishop was informed of this, he appointed the Carmelites, Sr. Prescilla and Sr. Sarsila to this school. With them aspirant Margareetha Sankoorikal was also appointed in the new school as teacher. Thus the long-awaited desire of the people was fulfilled to some extent.
The construction of the school building was completed within a year. But the school did not get recognition because of the lack of qualified teachers. As a result of long time search the school got two teachers, P.T. Eliswa from Kottayam and Tresa Menduza from Calicut. With that the school got recognition. It shone as the primary school of many priests, religious and lay leaders.
In the meantime there was an event that fascinated the mind of Mariam Thresia. Mar Alexander Choolaparambil, Mar Thomas Kurialassery and Mar Yohannan Menachery, the Bishops of Kottayam, Changanassery and Thrissur respectively, who came on 30 May 1915 for the blessing of the reconstructed church at Puthenchira, visited the newly begun Holy Family Convent. It was a great approval and encouragement for Mariam Thresia and companions. The bishops returned happy after inquiring about and understanding the activities of the new congregation.
The news about Mariam Thresia and her activities spread also in foreign countries. Many came to Puthenchira from Kaipuzha, Manjoor, Neendoor and Koodallore as teachers. Attracted by the charm of Mariam Thresia some of them joined the Congregation of the Holy Family. Thus the new religious congregation had been growing daily.
Chapter 11 GROWTH OF THE CONGREGATION
As the tree of the congregation began to grow, spreading on all sides, there was congestion for lack of space and convenience. It became a necessity to begin new houses. The Mother consulted Fr. Joseph Vithayathil on this. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil who had been looking closely at the growth of the Congregation felt the desire of Mariam Thresia acceptable. But from where they could get a land became a problem for them.
Fr. Joseph Vithayathil came to know that there were 6 acres of land for sale near the convent at Puthenchira. He decided to buy that land after consulting Mariam Thresia. Although steps were taken for it, the plan did not work out.
The divine visions and the miracles of the stigmata had been continuing. Once when Mariam Thresia had the experience of the stigmata, the other Sisters informed Fr. Vithayathil of it. There was with him at that time Fr. Yohannan Ambooken who had been very famous and influential in the Diocese of Thrissur. He believed nothing he had heard about Mariam Thresia. So he was happy thinking that he would have a chance of seeing Mariam Thresia hanging on the cross with the stigmata. When he went to the convent with Fr. Vithayathil he saw Mariam Thresia with hands and legs spread in the shape of a cross and also blood dripping from the head. Then Mariam Thresia paying attention to Fr. Yohannan Ambooken recited a special ejaculatory prayer, “Queen of heaven, do not abandon me until I reach you” and asked him to say it every day, and it is seen in some records that he recited it every day until his death. But Mariam Thresia continued in her ecstasy of the passion experiences for some time more. Afterwards she became her usual self and received the priests and served them with due respect, In the light of what he saw and what he learned from Fr. Joseph Vithayathil. Fr. Yohannan had firm faith in the miraculous attributes of Mariam Thresia. Mariam Thresia told Fr. Yohannan about her community and the difficulties she was facing for it. She also spoke about the failure of their attempt to buy a piece of land and construct there a convent as they had many vocations. Feeling interested in the personal sanctity and lifestyle of the new congregation headed by Mariam Thresia, Fr. Yohannan Ambooken promised to give 8acres of land which he inherited by birth in Kuzhikkattussery and Rs. 1000/-. Mariam Thresia and Fr. Vithayathil could see on this occasion the hand of God leading them opening a new path when they felt that they had missed the way.
Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and Mariam Thresia went with Fr. Yohannan Ambooken to the land donated in Kuzhikkattussery to decide where to construct the convent. It is seen that Mariam Thresia had vision about determining the place of the convent. In a dream she saw an angel digging in a particular place. That place resembled the compound in Kuzhikkattussery. Fr. Vithayathil and Mariam Thresia went and inspected the compound thinking that there night be some meaningful hint in this. Then they saw that in one place some soil was moved. They decided that it was the place for the mother house. It was in that place that the mother house of the congregation of the Holy Family was built. It was Bishop Menachery who laid the foundation store of this house in 1917. It is in the chapel here the mortal remains of Mariam Thresia are preserved with veneration. Today this is a great pilgrimage centre where many devotees come to pray.
Placing her trust in God with empty hands Mariam Thresia began the construction of the convent. As it was the time of the First World War, financial distress was generally experienced. So the people of the place could not help Mariam Thresia with money. But they co-operated in the construction of the convent with their labour those who could give money helped that way also. The construction had to be stopped for back of money when it reached up to the lintel-level. At the same time the fame about the family apostolate of Mariam Thresia had reached the King’s palace.
The manager of the Maharaja of Cochin, Chackochan Vilangaden, came to know that the mother was in difficulty for lack of money for the construction of the convent. He was a person who loved the Mother sincerely and considered her a saint. His instruction was that if the mother approached the generous Maharaja of Cochin he would help her.
One day Mariam Thresia with Sr. Margareetha left for the palace of the Maharaja of Cochin in Tripunithura. When they reached there the queen told Mother that the Maharaja was ill with “Rajakuru” (a kind of boil) and so it was not possible to see him. When the Mother heard about the illness of the king, she prayed for him with compassion. She plucked some leaves from the palace compound, made a concoction, gave it to the manager Chackochan to smear it on the boil and returned. The king got well as a result of smearing it on the boil. Very much pleased with this, the king sent for Mariam Thresia and gave her 80 volumes of teak wood. This wood was used for the construction of the mother house.
There had been no progress in the construction of the building until 1919. But the construction began again on getting the necessary wood from the Maharaja of Cochin. The teak wood was brought in country crafts and boats to the jetty at Puthenchira. The people of the place helped with interest to take it to the proper location. The people were always ready to perform whatever Mariam Thresia asked them to do.
Mariam Thresia used to direct the construction going daily from Puthenchira to Kuzhikkattussery. She was not at all worried by the physical suffering and labour behind it. She worked hard with the labourers. She had special sympathy for those engaged in physical labour. The mother helped them in all their needs by asking and getting aid from many. Mariam Thresia who saw labour as part of the vow of poverty gave an example to her daughters by doing hard work.
Mariam Thresia emptied herself in order to make her own the gospel spirit of spending oneself for God and neighbour. “I am nothing, I have nothing, and all is almighty God’s” – This was Mother’s personal invocation. Humility persuaded her to hide all the fame and praise she received from others. She used to pray that nobody should see her stigmata and ecstasy.
The mother was happy to share with the needy the things she received as gifts. She used to advise to use things with care. “Use anything only when it is urgently necessary. Never pour out even cold water unnecessarily”. Mother used to show the Sisters even how to use water. Humility, simplicity of life, hard work and moderation were the hallmarks of her vow of poverty.
Mariam Thresia found time to do the family apostolate even in the midst of her life of hard work. Once when she and the sisters were returning home, hearing a cry from a hut on the roadside and entering it, they found a child trying to suck milk sitting on the breast of a dead woman. Taking the child and entrusting it to the sisters, the mother made all the arrangements to bury the dead body. Poulose Mukkattukarakaren, an eye – witness, witnessed the difficulties Mariam Thresia suffered to bring up that child. She had brought up many babies like this. Thus she got the respectful name of ‘The mother of the orphans.’
Mariam Thresia used to tell the Sisters often, “how great is the reward God gives if we help those who have none.” Mariam Thresia spent her days working hard on the one side for the service of the sick, poor and abandoned around and on the other for the growth of the congregation. She attained bliss spending long hours at night before the Blessed Sacrament even in the midst of hard work.
Mariam Thresia who had grown in the love of God and had been progressing in sanctity had been often having temptations and torments. At one time temptations against faith troubled her. In this condition she prayed intensely to the heavenly father to give her the power to believe deeply in God. She had been having after heavenly experiences along with these temptations. Ouseph Lonappan Thettayil has given an eye-witness account of an ecstasy she had once. In this account it is recorded that he saw Thresia lying in the shape of a cross on the wall of her own room and that blood was oozing from many parts of her body and that at the end of the ecstasy she was like a dead body. He witness that he was greatly surprised to see Mariam Thresia, who was lying as a dead body on the previous day, coming for mass the next day.
The life through the furnace of suffering enabled Mariam Thresia to offer generous and loving services. Keeping the passion of Jesus in front of her eyes, Mariam Thresia developed in her life spirituality conducive to enrich others through service and taught her Sisters the same.
Chapter 12 OBSTACLES
At a time when our country had been progressing rapidly culturally Mariam Thresia desired that all her Sisters should be enlightened in every way in services beneficial to the society. As the facilities conducive to this kind of training were not available in Puthenchira or Kuzhikkattussery. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and Mariam Thresia searched for ways to open a house in the town of Thrissur, which was the cultural centre of the time. As a result of trying for a long time it was possible for them to rent a house of the Thottan family near the East Fort. A few Sisters and candidates were sent there for English education under the leadership of Sr. Agnes. Rev. Fr. Yohannan Ukken looked after their spiritual needs. After seven months they transferred their residence to the house of Kuppy Kulangara near the Lourdes church. In course of time they gave up the rented house and bought a piece of land in Chembookavu. It is there that we have today the Holy Family convent and the Holy Family girls’ High School. With this step the apostolic activities of the Holy Family Congregation took a new turn. Mariam Thresia had been engaged in the service of the destitute and orphans. The foresight of Mariam Thresia is seen here in preparing her sisters to do other apostolic activities which she herself could not do. The members of the same congregation could engage themselves in different kinds of activities was the conviction that persuaded her for this new venture and new step.
Mariam Thresia often went to Thrissur to see the sisters studying and receiving training residing in the Holy Family Boarding. With great maternal affection she used to go there with the things needed for the sisters from Puthenchira to Thrissur in a bullock cart. They would always anxiously await her who came to inquire about the well – being of her sisters. These meetings were the source of strength for all their labour.
One day when Mariam Thresia reached Thrissur from Puthenchira there was an instruction from the bishop’s palace to meet the bishop. Mariam Thresia who went to the bishop’s palace and met the bishop was ordered not to go outside the boundary of the Puthenchira parish. She accepted it gently without showing any mental disturbance. But this instruction was heart – breaking for Mariam Thresia and the sisters at Thrissur. According to the practice of those days the Sisters had to be living modestly within the enclosure. The relation with the outside world was very limited. But the way of functioning that the mother had accepted was quite different from this. The reason for the bishop stopping Mariam Thresia’s Thrissur visit might be what was said above.
The mother’s style of working was to go to those in need and help them. She always used to reach running wherever help was needed. Mariam Thresia lived in the midst of the people as one of them. The bishop’s order of restriction had made considerable restraint on this style of working.
The mental blow this gave Mariam Thresia was great. The Sisters burst out in tears when they heard about this order of restriction. Mariam Thresia, however, who was accustomed to obey, accepted that sacrifice with joy.
The lifestyle and family apostolate of the Congregation of the Holy Family was a subject of criticism from the beginning. The masses of the day stamped St. Theresa of Avila who reformed the Carmelite congregation as ‘arrogant’ ‘insolent’ etc; Mariam Thresia also had the common knowledge that all reforming enterprises would be criticized. She did not complain about criticisms. In the midst of there she had been continuing her activities unaffected.
The beloved father of Mariam Thresia passed away in 1919. When she received the news, that her father was seriously ill, she went home with the sisters. Drinking had paralyzed the life of the head of that family. Mariam Thresia served him at his death – bed and prepared him for a happy death.
At that time Bishop Menachery became ill. Mariam Thresia who heard the news from Fr. Joseph Vithayathil went with Sr. Metilda and visited him. It was the first time that she went to Thrissur after receiving the order not to go outside Puthenchira. Mariam Thresia had been much grieved that her activities had been restricted to Puthenchira and that she could not meet her sisters in Thrissur. But she could not remain quiet when she heard that the bishop was ill. When she met the bishop she said, “Pithave, if I have pained your Lordship in any way, please forgive me.” The bishop who was pleased seeing her childlike behaviour and simplicity blessed and sent her away. When she reached the convent at Thrissur, she told sisters that the bishop was seriously ill and led them to the prayer room saying that we should pray for him. When all were immersed in prayer, Mariam Thresia said aloud,” Our bishop has died”. By the indwelling of God Mariam Thresia had been able to know this her self. Then, the gun salute announcing the death of the bishop sounded. Bishop John Menachery who had been officially guiding Mariam Thresia till that day disappeared for ever on 19 December 1919.
Rt. Rev. Bishop Menachery had been a person who had exerted considerable influence on the life of Mariam Thresia. The owner of a personality of prudence coupled with strength of determination, he encouraged and formed with full responsibility the special charism of Mariam Thresia. It was very difficult to discern her supernatural charism. He passed judgment on all claimed to be supernatural after subjecting them to examinations and study. These examinations had caused suffering and shame to Mariam Thresia in many ways. But His intention was not to torment her.
The death of Bishop Menachery who had been giving permission and encouragement after discerning the working of the Holy Spirit and giving it character and form created a vacuum in the life of Mariam Thresia that could not be filled.
Chapter 13 – FRETERNITY IN THE COMMUNITY
Let us examine the outline of the rules prepared by the foundress, Mariam Thresia, for the community life of the congregation of the Holy Family. It is attempted to present here mother’s vision in her own words as much possible.
Even when the mother had always been engaged in the construction of the convent at Kuzhikkattussery she paid special attention to giving personal formation to the members of the community she founded.
1. Peace and Co-operation
Those who came prepared to consecrate themselves to religious life desired mainly to maintain a healthy relationship with God, themselves and others and live in peace. Let us quote some pieces of the exhortation of Mariam Thresia regarding this:
“….Dear children, I inform you that it will not be permitted
to have any division among the members in this….”
“….You remember this properly, love one another.
Do not take it lightly, thinking that I say this often….”
“….All of you must mutually regard as the children of one mother.
Is not this congregation newly formed? If
You become good; this congregation will grow well….”
“….Love all as the children of one mother….”
The mother’s conviction that how a strong bond is attained in a natural family, in the same way to have a strong bond in a religious community it is necessary to develop brotherly or sisterly attitude is understandable from the above quotations.
2. Healthy attitudes
The community life will succeed only if the members tried sincerely for it. Mariam Thresia has given many important teachings helpful for it. Some of them are noted here:
“When something happens against ones own
Liking, it is not proper to turn the face and cry.”
“Do not waste even a minute of time. Any work
Should be done for the praise and glory of God.”
“As we are born of different parents, our character
Will be different, so have patience in everything.
Do not get disturbed by anything. Have moderation.”
“Do properly what is entrusted to you; apart
From that it is not your business to remember or think of anything else.”
“Remember specially that God sees all your actions.”
“Treat the thing you receive from your homes
As the property of the community.”
“Rejoice if your request is rejected.”
“It is not proper to turn the face and cry when
You get ill; face sorrow and affection and something
Is said or done against your own liking.”
3. The need for silence
Mariam Thresia had the conviction that silence and solitude were very necessary for those engaged in apostolic activities specially for those who are called to work in the field of family service to grow in the experience of prayer. Some instructions she gives about this are given below;
“Silence should be kept strictly. It is wrong to talk during that time.”
“During the time of silence do not talk, hum a tune or rub the feet.”
Only the experienced will know how helpful to attain mental peace and the atmosphere of prayer it crates by putting into practice these instructions which may seen unimportant at first sight.
4. Self Mortification
Mariam Thresia considers self mortification a necessary condition for solitude and prayer. About this she says:
“When you feel to eat or take something against self mortification, consider that it is a thing forbidden tome.”
“If you feel the desire to see a sight, deny neither it, thinking that you have neither leg to get up nor eyes to see.”
“What the sisters essentially need is the mortification of the mind. You are specially reminded that in everything you should practice self-sacrifice.”
“Pay attention not to ask about unnecessary things.”
“Do not eat in between meals. It is not necessary to do any great penance. Control of desire, control speech, control of hearing- it is enough if these are kept properly.”
“When you see something valuable in the hands of others, do not say that you also want it.”
“It is not a difficult thing to control our senses one way or another.”
“Controlling the senses is prescribed in Indian spirituality as necessary for gaining spiritual knowledge. The above given utterances are replete with this spirit itself of our heritage.
5. Love of insults and humiliations
Mariam Thresia gives her spiritual daughters the out look of accepting with gratitude the occasions got to be humbled. She advised to consider them valuable occasions to participate in the passion of Jesus:
“Think that it is good to get a word of insult and humiliation, and go about remembering when you would get it.”
“It is equanimity that you need mainly. You should
be the same whether you praised or insulted,”
“I do not need the respect of this world. I greatly
desire to get the respect of heaven.”
“Accept insult, humiliation and experience of
affliction with great patience and joy.”
Mariam Thresia kept exactly in her life the above mentioned ideals. She could accept appreciation and humiliation with equanimity. She did not consider greatly the approval, applause and praise of the world. In the same way she could face with equanimity criticisms, accusations and misunderstandings.
6. Devotion to the Passion
The essence of spiritual life is prayer and meditation. Mariam Thresia mediated also on the passion of the Lord daily. In the light received from it she taught the members of the community. Let us quote again from her notes:
“God loves much meditation.”
“The knowledge about God is the greatest of all knowledge.”
“When there are sorrow and affliction, insult and humiliation and ups and down during the season of Lent we should forgive, remembering the passion of the Lord”.
“The suffering reminds man that the life in this world is not permanent. We must gain freedom from the thoughts of this world to grow Christ oriented.
Mariam Thresia saw in the axiom of doing everything for God the basic principle of religious life. Let us conclude this chapter presenting a small incident exemplifying this. It happened when Sr. Metilda had been a novice. It is given in her own words as follows:
“The Novice mistress made us, novices’, stitch ‘Chatta’s for the women in the kitchen. They were not stitched properly. So she asked us to undo them and stitch again. The novices grumbled. Their prefect complained to the mother (Mariam Thresia). The mother heard it with joy asked them everything one by one and found out their difficulties. That evening the mother called all to the room. She called the novice mistress also. The mother asked the novice mistress: “Did you make these stitches the ‘Chatta’s’?”Yes”, “What happened then?” “As they were stitched badly, I made them undo and stitch again,” The mother said, “It is not good, Margareetha. Shouldn’t you have made them take out every stitch without breaking the thread?”
The novices had told the mother, thinking that she would scold their novice mistress. The mother said; “you are doing like this when you do it for others. When you do all for God, you should do with perfection.”
The intention of religious communities in engaging themselves in apostolic activities in the light of their original charism is the sanctification of the members by doing everything for the love of God. Mariam Thresia was fully convinced that the character formation of the sisters enabling them to participate in this would make community life most cordial. That was the reason for Mariam Thresia taking special care to give a formation that would make community life easy.
Chapter 14 – FAMILY APOSTOLATE MISSION OF MARIAM THRESIA
Mariam Thresia was a person called specially by God for family apostolate. She dedicated herself for its growth from the day that call was clearly experienced by her until death. When the church founded a religious congregation to continue her effort for the restoration of persons and families and entrusted it to her, it survival, growth and development became her responsibility.
Mariam Thresia was very particular that when attention is paid to the growth of the congregation founded for family apostolate, there should not be any fault in the accomplishment of its main mission. As usual she found time to run to the death-bed of person, to the sick and to those who lost peace of mind while struggling for the growth of the congregation. She paid special attention to give a proper disposition and training to those who came to join the community as candidate.
When Mariam Thresia visited the houses around the convent in Kuzhikkattussery, she used to take the sisters with her. They observed with care and learnt how Mariam Thresia met the members of a family, carefully asked, learned their problems and suggested solution etc. She and the sisters went to the families reciting the rosaries. She behaved as a member of the family. She cared to serve them in their and sickness even keeping awake at night.
Once the swollen leg of a pulaya woman called Thairi suppurated and became an ulcer, her house hold, suspecting it to be leprosy, sent her out of the home. The mother, made that women who had been suffering severe physical and mental pain stay in the convent compound and served her. That Mariam Thresia her self had washed and cleansed her wounds was an example to the sisters. The mother who taught to serve the sick was giving here a model.
Lonappan Karumalikkal testifies to another incident which shown Mariam Thresia’s fellow feeling. As he could not find anyone for help when his house collapsed in the monsoon destruction he approached Mariam Thresia. Without expressing any objection Mariam Thresia with the help of many others and doing much hard work constructed a house and gave him. He always remembered with gratitude this help received in time of need.
Mariam Thresia cared for the construction of the mother house in Kuzhikkattussery because of the conviction that for perpetuating permanently the apostolic activity she began it was necessary to have a firmly knit religious community. Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil also helped much for the completion of the construction of this house. The difficulties and troubles in its construction did not weary her. That house constructed under her leadership, overcoming intense physical and mental suffering and torment, remains even today as their mother house inspiring the sisters called for the family apostolate.
Mariam Thresia had the perfect faith that it is Christ Our Loud present in the holy tabernacle who gives security to the religious house. She also had the conviction that a family should be made stable by the love and faith for the Eucharistic Lord. So it was usual for her to pray with folded hands for many hours of the day before the tabernacle. She maintained this devotion to the Eucharistic Lord until her death and advised it to her sisters. In the same way Thresia taught her spiritual daughters that it was necessary to grow in the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Eucharistic life. “When you go to receive the Holy Communion give your heart to Our Lady and you should receive our Lady’s heart”. As she felt for the sanctification of Christian families the most ideal way was to have clear and definite devotion to the Holy family. She gave this advice to the sisters.
In the same way Mariam Thresia tried to develop with emphasis the devotion to the souls in purgatory. She encouraged the sisters incessantly to remember and pray for the souls departed. She has told the sisters that she saw once a soul from purgatory entering heaven because of her prayer. She advised the members of families that death would catch us like a thief, how it would happen was unknown to us and we must make life rich with good deeds. Thresia often reminded the members of the families as we could not do anything for our own sanctification after death those who are alive must help the souls in purgatory by holy deeds and alms giving. The mother had a special zeal to help those nearing death. Thus Mariam Thresia still remains a close relative of the families she visited.
The weapons Mariam Thresia used to turn those who lived in the way of sin and evil to the path of virtue were prayer and penance. She desired to sanctify the people through service by identifying her self with Christ who enriched man through self -giving. Once the venerable old man of a some what well-to-do family was about to die. His wife requested Mariam Thresia to pray for the conversion of that man who had been living a life contrary to the Christian faith. That man did not mind the mother when she reached his home to pray for him. The mother began to recite the rosary, when she asked him whether he wanted to make his confession; his replay was to let him die without it. Mariam Thresia who came out of that house deeply pained at the unhappy state of that desperate man continued to pray for him. He was converted. That man died with peace of mind after making his confession.
Mariam Thresia believed that the control of the self and the senses would be useful not only for self sanctification but also for the atonement of the sins of others. The tools she used for the sanctification of families were penance and a life of atonement. The arena of family apostolate is an area conducive to give room for misunderstanding. It is universal to question the sanctity of life of those trying to lead others to a way of virtue. This happened also in the life of Mariam Thresia. Even some people of her own place doubted whether her relation ship with Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil who guided her in all matters was holy. Some of them removed the tiles of Fr. Vithayathil’s room and entering inside had examined the diary notes he had been writing. There existed some doubts about this relationship among her own sisters. To clear this doubt a sister called Francisca hid herself in Mariam Thresia’s room. What Sr. Francisca saw was Fr. Vithayathil who came to help Mariam Thresia kneeling in the room and praying. The tendency to cover with suspicion and see defectively even holy spiritual relation ship has been always every where.
So far we have seen the indications of how the spiritual lifestyle of the Congregation of the Holy Family founded with the main aim of the renewal of the Christian life of families should be. Mariam Thresia who endured mental and Physical afflictions, misunderstandings etc. practiced many kinds of Christian devotions and made others practice them gave a new spiritual leadership which attracted many young women. The religious congregations then cared mainly for educating the children, serving the sick and looking after the orphans. But the religious then were not engaged in any of the apostolic activities like entering into the houses and helping those living in sinful ways to lead a life of holiness. The appearance of the Holy Family Congregation was an exception to this. Mariam Thresia did not hesitate to improve families disintegrating through drinking, to find solutions in the light of faith to families distressed through property disputes, separation of couples, financial collapse etc. and to help Christian families. She prepared the members of the community to continue this. There are many social organizations to help these people. Still there are many who experience disregard as they are outside their working limits. In area like this Mariam Thresia paid more attention. It is in this circle that she instructed her successors to work mainly.
The news about the lifestyle and activities of Mariam Thresia began to spread in many parts of Kerala. Accepting her example of life many young women came forward expressing interest to work in the field of family apostolate. Sr. Metilda has described the circumstances of the remarkable vocation of Sr. Alberta Ittianam, born in the rich Chakola family of Thrissur was very beautiful and of good character. The household thought of giving her in marriage. But her desire was to join the community of Mariam Thresia. Her mother and aunt favoured this. But her elder brother did not give his consent. Besides he decided to marry her off forcefully. Then Ittianam went with her aunt to see Mariam Thresia who had come to Thrissur. She told Mariam Thresia that her engagement had been fixed for the next day but she desired to join the convent. Mariam Thresia thought for awhile and said: “We shall go tomorrow morning by train. I shall arrange a horse-carriage to go to Kokala (Railway Station) from here. You must reach here at day – break itself.”
Ittianam agreed to this. She had understood the difficulties she herself, Mariam Thresia and the other sisters would have from her family. She had feared, perhaps her brother would attempt to harm her physically or even to kill her. Without being disturbed in mind by this, she stood firm in her decision to join the convent. The next day 3 O’clock in the morning, saying secretly good – bye only to her mother, Ittianam with her aunt reached the convent at Thrissur. As was spoken and agreed, they had reached the railway station and left Thrissur. She has witnessed that every moment of this dramatic, secretive flight had been filled with anxiety. That sister who received the name of Sr. Alberta in the congregation had been the owner of an exceptionally distinguished personality.
Many of the members of the community used to say that it was not the fame or the financial strength of the congregation but the holiness and family apostolic activities of Mariam Thresia which attracted them to the congregation. Mother Josephine who had been the Superior General of the congregation for 9 years writes thus about her vocation:
“Being a relative of Fr. Joseph Vithayathil, he used to advise me often to join this congregation. But I did not show interest in it. But I reached unexpectedly to stay in the boarding house of Kuzhikkattussery for a month. But I did not have the mind afterwards to return home from there. My change of mind was only due to the work-oriented prayer life of Mariam Thresia.”
Although the construction of the convent at Kuzhikkattussery began in 1917 it was completed only in 1922. The same year on 17th May the convent was blessed and with the permission of His Excellency the Bishop Mariam Thresia and the sisters changed their residence to the new convent. For some special reasons the convent at Puthenchira had to be closed down for sometime. But Thresia and companions had been continuing the activities at the parish of Puthenchira without any abatement. Thus Mariam Thresia could extend the family apostolate begun in Puthenchira to Kuzhikkattussery. Mariam Thresia and the sisters who converted the sinners, served the sick and attended the dying earned the love and respect of the people of Kuzhikkattussery. The people of that place used to say; “Mariam Thresia is the relative and support of our family.” The change to this new place and house had been a milestone on the path of the family apostolate begun by Mariam Thresia.
Mariam Thresia’s fame of sanctity had spread by now to the neighbouring places. A native of Thumpoor and a parishner of Velayanad, Kunjuvareed Thekkekara Parokaran with some people of the place visited Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and requested him to begin a convent of Mariam Thresia and the sisters engaged in family apostolic activities in their place. As a result of their continued efforts for a long time permission was granted on 29 December 1923 for the sacred Heart Convent there in Thumpoor.
In this chapter indications are given about some of the houses established during the initial period of the congregation. It can be seen that there were all begun with the aim of advancing without hindrance the family apostolic activities.
Chapter 15 EXHORTATIONS
Mariam Thresia’s life in the congregation of the Holy Family lasted only for 12 years. During this time she tried incessantly to enlighten her sisters spiritually by her example and exhortations. This chapter gives some pieces of her exhortations found in her notes and in the writings of her contemporaries.
Presence of God
Mariam Thresia lived always in the remembrance of the presence of God and reminded her spiritual daughters to grow in the same remembrance.
“You should remember specially that God sees all your actions. The thought that God sees all is helpful to do all things according to your conscience. This insight would help to lead a life pleasing to God”.
Mariam Thresia used to say that we should think often of the birth, life and death of the Lord, keep often the remembrance of God and that the greatest knowledge is the knowledge about God etc. There is no wonder that Mariam Thresia who had always been living in deep relationship with God should insist this way. (Exhortations pp, 91.92, 93).
Religious Life and Superiors
Religious life is based on faith. It is not easy for the outside world to understand the relevance of this life. Many may think that the vowed life is foolishness. The desire for freedom is natural to man. But a religious who has taken the vow of obedience subjects herself to the superiors. The criterion of the religious for taking decisions in all things is the will of God revealed through superiors and rules. It is not the talents, achievements or virtues of superiors that should persuade a religious to obey then; on the contrary the conviction that they are the representatives of God that should help for this. A religious should act with superiors with love, respect and openness.
“Obey the orders of the superiors with good will; open your hearts to them.” The superiors have no other means to know your mind except what you tell them. Do not speak ill of the superiors. It God knows all that we do, then why try to hide them from the superiors etc. – these ideas are seen in another note.
Love, respect, recognition, freedom, an open mind – if there is to be an approach with these from the subjects, the Mother advises the superiors to live a life deserving of these. If they live in unity, it would be easy for the will of God to be revealed through them. (The Mother’s Exhortations pp. 87, 91, 92, 98, 102)
The Mother’s conviction was to accept the corrections received from the superiors with humility, gratitude and without seeking justification. Given below is the part about this in the exhortations:
“When the faults are pointed out, confess them and make atonement, when the superiors correct, it is not proper to think that it is the outcome of somebody are reporting. When you receive corrections, accept the fault without justifying yourself. If we are accused of things which we do not know nor have done, accept them without justification or murmur.” (Exhortation pp. 93, 99, 107).
The mother teaches that the rules do not destroys one’s freedom but help one to reach the goal and so they should be obeyed with love. “Obey the rules carefully. If the rules are broken, it is good to confess it publicly. Reach in time for the community exercises. During the time of recreation come and recreate in the community without walking here and there.” (Exhortation pp. 99, 101, 102).
The Mother had the complete conviction that one should liberate the heart from the interest in material things in order to grow in the love of God. She always advised that it was not possible to love God and money equally and that poverty was the great virtue that cleanses the heart.
“Although in the world, live as not of the world. Do not desire the valuable things when you see them in the hands of others, do not destroy things.” (Exhortations p. 93)
“If things are brought after taking what each one needs, do not leave the rest carelessly.” (Exhortations p. 92)
“Inform the superior secretly of each one’s needs”. (Exhortation p. 94)
“Rejoice even if the request is rejected.” (1bid)
“When the permission requested is not given, thank God with joy and content.” (Exhortations p. 103).
“When we were born in the world we had brought nothing. In death we take nothing.” (Exhortations p. 97)
We must use the temporal things, the gifts of God, with gratitude and only for necessity; we must handle them with attention and care; if we have reason to experience the pain of poverty, we must accept it with joy; we must keep detachment from material things etc.- these ideas are seen in the exhortations.
The mother desired to form the congregation she founded in the model of the Holy Family. The Holy Family which lived poor had always been working hard. Likewise the Mother advised the members of her congregation to live by working. (pp. 103, 105)
“We must do the work necessary for the good of the congregation.” (p. 103)
“When working in a group, there will be those in good health and those without good health. Those in good health do the work. Let each one do the work entrusted to each with grace, in time and with diligence. Find out by oneself what work is to be done and do that. Pardon the drawbacks. Work prudently.”
Whilst speaking about work the Mother reminded them that “You should try not to shame me in the valley of Josephath” and gives a weary heart – felt and inspiring advice.
The mother has often spoken about the necessity of growing in humility:
“Think that there is nothing in yourself and that you are to be let down by all and practice humility.”
“Meditating that nothing is possible for me, all belongs to God almighty and I have only what he has given me, pray to God.”
Repentance and Penance
(Exhortations, pp. 95, 99, 103, 112, 114, 117)
Given below are some parts of the advices the Mother gives, explaining how to suffer the afflictions of life, meditating on the Passion of Our Lord and how to make atonement for sins:
“Remembering the difficulties and Passion of the Lord, beg pardon with grieving hearts for the sins we committed. Control our senses… Look at my hands. With these what kind of sins I committed… Look at the hands of our Redeemer. He who is goodness itself willed both hands to be stretched out and struck with nails for our redemption. What great pain he endured. What we commit in thought, word and deed… Did the Lord not place the crown of thorns on the head in atonement for our sins? What severe pain he endured when it was struck on the head. Remember the pain he suffered for each sin we committed… His feet are struck with nails… Repent, remembering the sins we committed with the senses… His Sacred Heart was pierced open out of love for us… Weep over remembering our sins; remembering the suffering he endured…promise not to do them again. Mortify our body which made him suffer torments… make atonement for sins. All that I say now is madness of divine love… How can you give yourself fully to God without mortifying the senses.”
Suffering (Exhortations, pp. 112, 114)
The mother who led a life of heroic suffering says: “Accept praise and insult with equanimity, with patience… When permission is rejected, accept it gladly, remembering the suffering of the Lord… We should become good daughters, bearing the difficulties of community life with patience without murmur and complaint… We should follow Jesus by suffering hardships.”
Purgatory (Exhortations, pp. 89, 90, 117, 118)
The Mother points out the truths of faith about death, purgatory as a persuasive force for leading a good life: “Nothing is taken with us after death. We are born naked and we will go naked. The time of death is one that makes us depressed in mind. Death will catch us like a thief. Nobody is certain of its day and hour. Remember specially that the minutes and hours pass away quickly. Pray specially for the souls in purgatory. The suffering there cannot be equalized to anything. I tell you truly that a person who thinks about it even for a minute will not even live in this world. Some of you think that I am doing this much; so I shall not be made to lie in the fire for long. But remember what you do in this world is not as much as a mustard seed in heaven.
Preparation for nativity
Some instructions of the Mother for the spiritual preparation for Advent: “This is a happy month, especially for the religious men and women. With the coming of Jesus, we must lead a new life, we must become new persons. Hate fully the world. Meditate always on the humble birth of the child Jesus. Be persons with moderate joy and sorrow in everything. Earn virtues like purity, humility, obedience, charity and equanimity which the Child Jesus desires most.
Holy Mass (Exhortations, pp. 93, 99, 103)
What follows are some of the ideas of the Mother about Holy Mass and the reception of the Holy Communion. The Mother had extraordinary devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She felt the long hours spent before it as just minutes.
“By keeping the remembrance of God, by practicing
Self – mortification and by offering oneself to God,
Prepare to receive the Holy Communion. Reciting
Ejaculations, participating in the Holy Mass with
Concentration without looking here and there etc.
Are helpful for this, we are unworthy to receive
The Holy Communion. Remember that we
are able to do this only because of the mercy of
God. We must have great devotion to the Holy Mass.”
Blessed Virgin Mary
The love of the Blessed Mother grew in Mother Mariam Thresia from time to time. See some parts of the Mother’s advice:
“Do you love our Lady? We must burn with
the love of Our Lady.
… Do you know whom you are receiving in the Holy
Mass? When you go to receive Jesus give your
heart to Our Lady and receive Our Lady’s heart.
There are many reasons for loving Our Lady.
Jesus is the head and we are members. So
the mother of Jesus and our Mother are one
and the same. The Church teaches that what
Christ lying on the cross said, “This is your son”
about John was meant for all the faithful.
We are obliged to love the Mother who suffered
sorrow with her son until death on the cross.”
From the above cited pieces of advice the Mother’s view about the love of God and love of neighbour and the understanding about the devotional practices to be adopted to attain a life of union with God are clear. The Mother who advises simply and clearly in a village style what she believed to her spiritual daughters thereby unveils the depths of her own personality.
With the foundation of the congregation Mother Mariam Thresia’s responsibilities increased. She had been trying intensely for the growth of the convents which she began without growing weary and retreating from the difficulties. The construction of the third convent of the congregation had begun in Thumpoor in 1923. Mariam Thresia went there from Kuzhikkattussery and managed the construction. Even between her coming to and going from Thumpoor she found time to serve and help the sick.
With three years of effort the construction of the convent and the chapel was completed. Its blessing was on 10th May. There on the same day seven novices had their vestition and six candidates received the veil. The people thrust into the sanctuary to see closely the sacred services during the Holy Mass. Then one of the rails of the railings broke and fell on the leg of Mariam Thresia who has kneeling and praying there and caused a wound. Nobody doubted that this wound would cause death. Mariam Thresia participated devoutly in all the sacred services there as though nothing had happened.
The thought of death had strengthened in Mariam Thresia for days. She had been having the thought that her end was near. She began to spend more time in prayer at night in her own room. She seemed to withdraw slowly from the various external activities in which she had been deeply involved. An unearthly splendour could be seen on that face. Her heart whispered that she would arrive in the not distant future before that Lord searching whorl she had begun the Journey into solitude, into human hearts. One day nobody saw Mariam Thresia for a long time during the day. When the sisters went searching they found that she was in an ecstasy of devotion in front of the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, not knowing what was happening in the surroundings. When Sr. Metilda asked what was the meaning of it all, the mother’s reply was that nearing end. The Mother had given hints earlier to many others also about her death.
The only superior of the congregation of the Holy Family until 10 May 1926 had seen mother Mariam Thresia. It became a necessity that others also should take up the responsibility of the growth and leadership of the congregation. So she consulted Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and decided to conduct the first election of the congregation on 10th May. As a result of the incessant effort of Mariam Thresia for 12 years, the congregation had 55 members, 3 houses and two schools by this time. The followers of the mother had by now acquired enough strength to lead forward this new endeavour. Thus in Kuzhikkattussery Sr. Alice as the superior and Sr. Anna as the assistant superior and in Thumpoor Sr. Alberta as the superior and Sr. Christina as the assistant superior were elected. As Mother Mariam Thresia had been seeing her end in front had not been ready to accept any position of authority. When compelled she agreed to be the mistress of the junior sisters. Some sisters felt sad when the Mother withdraws from the external field of activities.
When the mother left the position of authority, she experienced a great freedom within her. That night she prayed for a long time in her own room silently before the crucifix. When she thought of the mysterious ways of God she experienced an inexpressible joy. Mariam Thresia stayed for two days more in the convent at Thumpoor. Meanwhile she had a noteworthy conversation with Junior Sister Metilda:
“I shall not live with you for a long time. This illness of the leg will take me away from you. That is the decision of God.”
“Nothing life that will happen” said Sr. Metilda.
“No my daughter, I’ll say good-bye soon. Look and
learn everything. Don’t think that you are a child.”
This Conversation took place while walking through the compound of the convent, showing the vegetables and plants cultivated there without wasting even an inch of space. St. Metilda burst into tears during the conversation. She could not even think of the untimely death of the Mother.
After the first election of the congregation Mariam Thresia requested the blessing of Fr. Joseph Vithayathil holding and placing his hands on her head. Besides, she said that she was entrusting the Holy Family congregation and every member of it to his loving care. All these make it clear that she understood clearly her approaching death.
When the wound in the leg got festered the Mother was taken in a bullock cart from the convent at Thumpoor to Kuzhikkattussery. The mother said good – bye to all as the feeling that she would not return to that convent had strengthened. It is only after praying for each member there she departed from the Thumpoor convent.
The festering of the wound in the leg had increased daily even after reaching Kuzhikkattussery. Mariam Thresia was taken to the hospital at Chalakudy to do a surgical operation on the leg. The operation was done without giving anesthesia the day after reaching the hospital. She accepted all the pain consciously and gladly, remembering the suffering of the Lord on Calvary.
Hearing about the mother’s illness, the people of the place and relatives visited her and Mariam Thresia blessed them all in silence and sent them away.
The operation done in the hospital at Chalakudy on 6th June did more harm than good. Realizing that the death of Mariam Thresia was near Fr. Joseph Vithayathil gave her the last sacraments on 7th June in the hospital itself and took her back to Kuzhikkattussery. The mother did not forget those in sorrow even during this last journey. On the way back she called near the bullock cart the sorrowful household of Sr. Evugina’s brother-in-law who had died, and consoled them. This was a proof of Mother’s constant desire to comfort others disregarding her own sorrow.
The people of the place came running to see the Mother as she reached Kuzhikkattussery. According to the request of the people to facilitate the visit the mother was laid in the sacristy of the convent chapel. Seeing her with a fully swollen leg suffering unbearable pain and fighting against death her sisters burst out crying aloud. The mother spoke lovingly to them:
“My beloved children, why are your hearts troubled like
people of little faith? You know just like me that I shall
not be relieved of this illness. If it is the will of the heavenly
bridegroom that I leave you very soon in response to his
Invitation, let it be fulfilled. Our congregation is still an
infant. You should not forget that it is the responsibility of
each one of you as members of the congregation to foster
and rear it. Act with the superiors sincerely and lovingly.
On 8 June 1926 the sisters from other convents reached Kuzhikkattussery. The mother showed an example of loving others even during her last hours by sending them crying near the bed to take food. By noon that day the pain and difficulties increased more than before. The Mother, a paragon of virtues, recited ejaculatory prayers continuously. When it was evening Fr. Joseph Vithayathil made her repeat the ejaculatory prayer ‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph, continuously after him. The mother repeated it clearly. She was laid on the floor according to her wish. The mother inclined her head to one side as though she was surrendering her soul to the holy hands of God. Her eyes closed peacefully. The hands and legs became still. The breathing stopped. Mother Mariam Thresia bade farewell and departed from this world, immersing all around in sorrow on 8 June 1926 at 10 in the night.
On Wednesday 9 June 1926 morning many came to Kuzhikkattussery hearing the news of Mother Mariam Thresia’s death. Some were trying to touch articles on her body to keep as relics. The funeral services were conducted that afternoon. The funeral Mass was celebrated with very Rev. Dr. Mathew Edakulathoor, the Vicar General of Thrissur Diocese, as the main celebrant with 11 priests as co-celebrants. The funeral oration was delivered by Rev Fr. Joseph Kayyalakam who had witnessed the death. This priest who had not believed in the sanctity of mother Mariam Thresia became fully convinced of her holiness after witnessing her peaceful death.
The death of Mother Mariam Thresia created a gap that could not be filled- in the congregation of the Holy Family. The senior members who entered the congregation attracted by the personal charism of the Mother as well as the young generation which experienced her love were equally sad. The orphan children and the sick who grew under her protection and the people of the place who enjoyed her loving services were all sad.
Sr. Thecla, an eye-witness, describes something remarkable related to the funeral. The coffin of mother Mariam Thresia, who had been very found of jasmine flowers, was decorated fully and beautifully with jasmine flowers from the jasmine plants of the convent which had miraculously flowered that day. When the tomb of Mother Mariam Thresia was opened after 55 years on 3 January 1981 some jasmine flowers and buds on the crown adorning the head were found unfaded. Those present there bore witness to this as a miraculous phenomenon.
Mother Mariam Thresia passed away after 50 years of holy life. But the fragrance of love and holiness she spread is still replete in the Church of Kerala. The sisters who lost courage and wept at the time of her death have after days stepped into the field of action with new spirit. The sisters of the Holy Family have been realizing in their lives the heritage received from Mariam Thresia.
Chapter 17 -TESTIMONIALS OF CONTEMPORARIES
The memory of Mariam Thresia has not faded out in hearts of the people with her death. The fame of her virtuous life has spread all over the place and the faithful seeking graces has been visiting and praying at her tomb. The reports about many favours received through the intercession of the Mother have been coming. In this background the Church declared her a servant of God and appointed a commission to study about her sanctity. In these circumstances some sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Family had collected between 1974 and 1975 information about her sanctity and charitable works. Some of the testimonies received thus are given in this chapter.
1. Kochappu Chummar (Age 65)
Maliakal Koonan, Puthenchira Parish.
I have seen Mother Mariam Thresia. My mother and Mother Mariam Thresia have been neighbours and loved each other. I used to go with my mother to visit the mother. I failed in Class 3 and my brother failed in Class 2. Both of us joined the Mother’s school. The construction of the convent at Kuzhikkattussery had been going on then. I used to accompany her from Puthenchira to Kuzhikkattussery and from there back to Puthenchira at 5.00 p.m. The Mother had a special ability to attract everybody. She was of medium complexion. One woman got pregnant before getting married in that place. She was thinking of committing suicide. The Mother went to her house and advised her. And she decided against committing suicide.
2. Mariamma, the wife of Kochappu Perumpilly (Age 78)
I was brought here by marriage some 65 years ago. I have heard of some miracles happening through this woman (Mariam Thresia). To see them I went with my companion to her home. When we peeped through the window we had seen her lying on the wall in the shape of a cross with blood oozing down from her. I was much surprised. Afterwards one day when she was going to the church I saw on the veil on her head a circle wet with blood. But when she entered and knelt in the church the blood on the veil disappeared. I have seen thus twice.
3. Thresiamma, the wife of Kunjulona Ambooken, 14.09.1975
When about 300 coconut saplings in an islet were seen infected by worms, we were pained very much. That was the only wealth we had. In this crisis I sent a letter asking the Mother to pray for us. After a few days the defective coconut saplings became all right and we were very happy. We believed then and still believe today that this was because of the prayers of the mother.
4. Rosamma Joseph, Vithayathil House, Varappuzha (Age 73), 17.03.1974 Mariam Thresia, the foundress of the Congregation of the Holy Family used to come to my home. Then she came wearing a veil. I belong to her mother’s family.
Mother Mariam Thresia one day came to our house. When we were all talking together, Mariam Thresia said that she would like to lie down. And she lay there on the bed. After some time she became unconscious. After awhile blood was seen oozing around her head like a crown of thorns and on her chest in a small circle. Besides this, we saw blood oozing from her palms and feet. After some time she became conscious and got up. Then aunty (the mother) changed her ‘chatta’ and wore another. After that even the marks of the oozed blood disappeared.
5. Ouseph Koruth, Mangaly, Thuravur (Age 15)
I have known Mother Mariam Thresia at home. She prayed always, went daily to the Church for Mass and received Holy Communion. She was very pious and humble. She did not like others to know her piety at all. I felt that she had very great devotion to Our Lady of Dolours and the crucifix. She had great love for others. One day grandmother and mother entered the room during the time when Mariam Thresia was lying unconscious, and we children heard them say that blood was oozing from the hands and legs. We were not let into the room. Soon I went upstairs and when I peeped through the upper flow I saw Mariam Thresia lying unconscious on the bed and blood coming from the hands and legs. When Mariam Thresia came to our home, I used to accompany her to the Church for Mass. Without any other thought she will go directly. She would not talk to me until we crossed the field. She liked much to go to the sick to pray and serve them.
6. Sr. Scholastica CMC, Carmelite convent, Manalur (Age 88), 02.03.1974
I had seen and known Mother Mariam Thresia at the Carmelite convent, Ollur in 1912. Once afterwards I was one among those who went to Puthenchira responding to an invitation to the Carmelite convent, Ollur to attend a vestition. The night we reached there we inquired of Mother Mariam Thresia while at supper and leant that she was in bed unconscious. As we desired to see the Mother in that condition, we were taken to the Mother. When we reached there the Mother was lying unconscious. Moreover, blood was dropping from around the head as if caused by wounds of sharp thorns struck on her head. The blood flowing through the forehead could be specially seen. A sister from that convent came with a wet towel and had been wiping off the blood flowing from the head. After some time the mother opened her eyes. Seeing many people standing there at that time the Mother asked “why have you gathered here?” By then the flow of blood from the head had stopped. We did not even answer the question. And the Mother came with us as though nothing had happened. I had been close by when the above mentioned events took place. And it was possible to see all clearly.
7. Antony Devassy, Alappadan, Puthenchira, 14.09.1975
I have seen mother Mariam Thresia. When anybody made a quarrel, she tried to make peace there. She gave money, clothes and food to the poor. She forgot hurts quickly. She never took revenge. She behaved calmly with everybody. She served the sick. When my mother was in death-bed, she came home daily and nursed her. The day my mother died when it was time for the Mass she said that she would come after some time and sent all the others for the Mass. Mariam Thresia left the house only after the death of my mother. She loved the children. She prepared the children and the elderly for confession. To keep peace between families, she would call both families and reconcile them.
8. Lonappan Kunjuvareed, Karimalikkal (Age 73)
I have known Mother Mariam Thresia. Daily she went to the church and participated in the Mass and received Holy Communion. She was an example to the onlookers. After her pious practices she had been engaged in charitable activities. She had been doing daily: visiting the houses, nursing the sick, preparing the dying for a good death and giving all possible helps.
My house is near the convent in Puthenchira. This house was a hut formerly. When it collapsed, we used to sleep in the neighbouring house. When the Mother came to know of this, she came herself and called the coolies who made solid blocks with mud and constructed a new house on the same site as our old house. I am living now in the house built by the Mother. She did many works like arranging flowers on the altar, sweeping the church etc. She made the way of the cross with devotion. She helped the people to receive the sacraments with proper preparation.
9. Rosa Vareed, Kuniyassery, Manjapra (Age 65)
The mother had great love and compassion for the poor. She brought those with nobody to look after them and gave them food and treatment. I have seen her serving an old woman. The mother used to reproach and punish us. After the punishment she would give us foodstuffs.
10. Kochanie – an orphan (Age 65) 04.08.1978
I came to the convent at Puthenchira at the age of 5. Mariam Thresia brought me up as her own daughter. She admitted me to the school and taught me up to Class 4. The Mother used to give me good advices, saying that I should become a saint. She gave much alms to the poor. She had great compassion for the poor. I slept in the Mother’s room for 5 years. She combed and fixed my hair. She kept me near her while participating in the Mass. She treated the workers with great love and compassion. She used to give the confection brought from the convent to the workers without eating it herself. She used to close her eye often and think for some time.
11. Kochumariam, the wife of Poulothu Kottakal, Puthenchira (Age 60) Mother Mariam Thresia has done us many favours. It was she who gave all the ornaments for my elder sister and conducted her marriage. When my father died it was the mother who helped to conduct the funeral. I used to husk paddy at the convent.
12. Ittoop Kunjuvareed, Maliakal Koonan, Puthenchira.
I have seen Mother Mariam Thresia. She had been a person of deep prayer. She gave all possible help to others in spiritual and temporal matters. She had a special love for the sick. She visited and consoled them. With what she got as help from others, she gave good to the poor and treated them. She showed exceptional bravery in the afflictions of life. She was found to be of a loving and humble character. She was interested in doing service to all. That life had been in continuous service. Daily she participated in the Mass and received Holy Communion. It used to develop the spirit of piety in the onlookers also. I have heard many speaking in praise of the Mother’s life of prayer.
13. Kunjayi, the daughter of Ouseph Kannai, Puthenchira (Age 78)
I lived with my husband for three years. Then he left the country for Ceylon. He died there. Now I live with my brother. I have seen the Mother. I have seen her visiting and consoling the sick. She has prepared the sick for a good death. She gave the necessary help for reading spiritual books, for making confession and to receive the Holy Communion. She has helped the poor in many ways.
14. Mother Josephine, CHF Providence Home, Malampuzha 16.3.1974.
Sr. Marthina had been a Sister of the Congregation of the Holy Family. While she was studying in Thrissur she got frightened and as she was unable to continue her studies, she returned to Kuzhikkattussery. Then Sr. Martina’s character itself changed. She became careless in spiritual matters. Her interest in receiving the sacraments diminished. Mother Josephine testified that it is for this Sr. Marthina that Mother Mariam Thresia prayed.
1. One day Sr. Marthina who had been ill became unconscious; she took a deep breath and became still as if dead. Then Mariam Thresia, embracing the crucifix, lay prostrate, cried and prayed. Permit not Lord, the first fruit of my convent to be lost. The Mother prayed thus for a long time. Meanwhile Sr. Marthina, opening her eyes, wanted to make her confession. She received the last sacraments and made her perpetual vows. She died after a few hours.
2. I have seen Mother Mariam Thresia at Ollur. She liked much to serve the sick. She was very loving to all. She loved the workers much and gave them much, she used to pray much. She recreated with us during the recreation time. The mother liked much to visit the sick, to serve them, to prepare them to receive the sacraments with proper preparation, to give and make others give money, clothes and foodstuffs etc. to the poor. If anybody spoke or did anything against the Mother, she suffered gladly without any change of face or murmur and prayed for them. The mother gave exhortations on the love of God, love of others, humility, patience, sacrifice, mortification, poverty, obedience, chastity, the behaviour towards others etc.
15. Mother Isabella, Vijayamatha Convent, Chitoor, Palakkad (Age 72) 16.03.1974
I have seen Mother Mariam Thresia. She had a loving heart. The mother’s charity was all – embracing. Not only the sisters, relatives and servants but all who had any dealings with the Mother were attracted by her charity. Her dealings and behaviour were so hearty that every member in the convent would feel that she was loved specially by the mother. It must be said that the earnestness she showed in taking to the workers in their place of work anything she got in her hands horripilate them. She gave us many advices on love of others, charity, love of the enemies, suffering etc.
She had great devotion to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. She used to give food and clothes to three persons on the feasts of the Holy Family and St. Joseph. She recited the prayer to the Holy Family without fail. She died reciting the ejaculatory prayer recited to her at the time of death ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I surrender my body and soul to you’. The Mother’s life had been one of suffering, prayer and sacrifice. She tried as far as possible to love God and others for His sake.
16. Mother Anna CHF, Holy Family Convent, Kuzhikkattussery (Age 77)
I have lived with Mother Mariam Thresia. It was her service to the sick and charitable activities that attracted me to this congregation. Even during my childhood I have seen the mother coming to my home. Even since my household have great love and respect for her. On Fridays especially on Good Friday she used to have ecstasy. It was only because of the love and respect for and the confidence in the Mother that Fr. John Ambooken gave 8 acres of land, Kunjuvareed Parokaran gave his entire property and then Maharaja of Cochin gave the timber to build the convent to Mother Mariam Thresia. The woman of the place used to help her giving much money when she had been in difficulty without money to pay the daily wages and for food. They took meals only after sending rice and foodstuffs to the Mother.
When a barber woman of Puthenchira was dying, the Mother went to serve her and gave her the help necessary and finally gave her also baptism. After her death the Mother brought her child to the convent and brought her up and giving her the name of Bridgita baptized her. When she was of marriageable age she was given everything needed and married off. She used to come to the convent, stay there and behave as if it was her own home.
17. Sr. Ignacia CMC, St Mary’s Convent (Age 60) 04.05.1974
One day when the late Bishop John Menachery came to the Sacred Heart Convent, Thrissur and met us he said that Thresia Mankidiyan would lie unconscious every Friday with nails struck on her hands and feet and asked us whether we would like to see it. When the sisters said that they would like to see it, he said that when you go you should take the junior sisters also with you. When we reached there we saw her in her own bed with hands stretched out and nailed on the wall on the head side of the bed and legs one placed above the other and nailed. The nails were not seen clearly. Then blood was oozing slightly from the palm to the wrist and from the feet. We tried to lift her hands and legs, but did not move. There was some pain and groan. The blood was oozing around the head as if from a crown of thorns. It was flowing slightly to the forehead and head. The eyes were half closed.
18. P.C. Kunjuvareed, Parokaran House, Thumpoor (Age 64)
I have known Mother Mariam Thresia from my childhood. Her behaviour was loving, though she appeared to have great interest and authority in advising good things. When I was fifteen years of age, my elder brother suffered from snakebite. I believe that he was cured of it because of the special prayers done as asked by the mother. She visited, consoled, encouraged and asked us to do some good deeds when all of us were affected by typhoid. It must be mentioned specially that my family and I have received many blessings through the prayers and mediation of the mother.
Feeling great compassion for others in their difficulties, the mother has given them many helps. She has treated with great love the poor, the children, the sick, the housemaids and the workers. She came and consoled us on the occasion of the death of my father. She had a thankful heart when she visited the houses; she used to speak personally to each, understand matters and gave the necessary help and co-operation. She used to conduct special prayers to have peace in the families.
19. Josephine (Kottayam)
What follows is an event which happened when Sr. Josephine had been teaching at the school in Puthenchira. The sister desired to join the congregation founded by the Mother. But that desire was not fulfilled. But in the fullness of time she founded the St. Joseph’s congregation in the Diocese of Kottayam and had been its superior General for a long time. “In September 1916 I went to live and teach at the school in Puthenchira. The Bishop of Kottayam Mar Alexander Choolaparambil told me that the Mother was a person who had received special graces from God. Meanwhile living these I desired to see directly and learn many things about the Mother. One day while lying unconscious in ecstasy the mother had been saying many things. Then I asked her which congregation was I called to and she answered that you were called to St. Joseph’s Congregation. As there was no congregation then existing in the name of St. Joseph I did not take it seriously and thought that the mother meant the congregation of the Holy Family. But in the fullness of time after the death of the Mother all the prophecy was fulfilled in the providence of God. So all my doubt was cleared.
Shower of Graces
The life of the great after their death is not confined to the expansion of six feet of soil. Their glory spreads trespassing the boundaries of time and space to distant places even to the close of the age. Their words and deeds bound within time and space during this life belong to all after their death. A life confined to the veranda of the cloister and the chapel of Lisieux has been shining as a symbol of the apostolate scattering petals of rose to all good souls today. Blessed Alphonsa (Saint from 12 October 2008) who lived as a mad woman of love in the convent at Bharananganam unknown to all has left the land of Kerala and become the wealth of the universal Church.
Born and brought up in Puthenchira Mariam Thresia too who had confined her life within the limits of some small parishes has become after her death the common wealth of the people of God, Mariam Thresia who opened her heart, loved and served all she met, has been blessing her devotees with a show of graces even after her death. The blessings the faithful have been receiving through her are many. Some of them are given here:
Sister Linda Secunia testifies the healing received by her brother’s wife:
My sister – in – law had been suffering from cancer of the uterus. The doctors judged that it was in an advance stage. Immediately she was brought to Bombay. She had been suffering from great mental and physical agony. I too went to Bombay to stay with my sister – in – law for a day or two. I happened to see the picture of Blessed Mariam Thresia in the thanks giving column of the ‘Examiner’ weekly and I cut that out and gave it to her to read about the miracles which happened through the Mother. I asked her to pray with faith to Mother Mariam Thresia. Her operation was fixed for the 8th. I went to stay with her on the 9th night. I lay down without sleep until mid-night. After that I slept suddenly. When it was dawn my sister-in-law told me about a dream she had at night. The Sister dressed in the habit as seen in the picture with some sisters appeared. I was told that the illness in my uterus had been cured and so I should not weep. When the result of the biopsy came the next day it became known that there was no sign of cancer. My sister – in – law believes that it was a miraculous healing through the intercession of Mariam Thresia.
Healing of Sister Claudia CHF
I have been experiencing incessant pain because of many kinds of illness from a few days after my joining the convent. Once I had an attack of rheumatoid arthritis. As these had been no improvement even after treatment by several physicians I went to physician Imman khan of Mala. He said that this illness would not be fully cured, and so no point in treating it. Thus when I was in despair our mistress Sr. Susanna asked me to make a novena and pray to our foundress Mother Mariam Thresia. On the ninth day of the novena Mother Mariam Thresia appeared to me and said that I had been cured, of the rheumatoid arthritis, but I would continue to have other diseases.
That morning I got up and was able to go to the church and take part in all the morning devotions. My illness was cured completely. All were surprised. When the Mother General heard this news she asked me to be examined by the doctors. Dr. Imman Khan examined me and testified that it was a miraculous cure.
Giovanna Giansante Marullis, Rome
I was admitted in Guarneri Clinic in Rome, where the Holy Family sisters from India had been working, for treatment of stomach cancer. I underwent three operations and a good portion of my stomach had been cut and removed. Repeated operations were needed as the stitches of the wound had not healed. At last the doctors gave me up. The sisters who nursed me asked me to make a novena to servant of God Mariam Thresia. My husband and I made the novena whole – heartedly. At the end of the second day of the novena all my wounds were healed and I was completely cured. I fully believe that I was healed through the help of Mariam Thresia. A medical check-up was conducted again after four years. I did not have any illness at all. We thank Blessed Mariam Thresia heartily.
Kunjuvareed Antony, Vadakkethala Mundassery, Chelakkara 15.08.1983
My son Davis had pain on both knees and had been treated by many famous doctors. Finally, all the doctors gave him up. It was at this time we began to pray for the mediation of Mariam Thresia and made a novena to her. As a result he could walk easily and do any work. We went to the tomb of the Sister and made arrangements for saying the office of the dead and for offering a Mass.
The Testimony of Antonio Kulla
The Holy Family Sister Kripa and I working in Bihar had been traveling from Ranchi to Bhagalpur. We met with a major accident. I had a severe head injury and had been unconscious for 10 days. My sad parents had been praying anxiously for my recovery. The Holy Family Sisters made us hopeful, asking us to pray for the intercession of Mother Mariam Thresia. They and my household had been praying fervently. After 10 days the doctor who had been treating me asked my people to take me to the Ranchi Medical College. The neurosurgeon there, Dr. H. P. Narayanan, found from the X-Ray of the head that there had been bleeding inside the head. The Holy Family Sisters informed their Superior General of the matter. All were sad. With faith they continued their prayer to the servant of God Mother Mariam Thresia. The operation was on 4th July. To the surprise of all there was no bleeding in the head. The doctor could not explain the reason for this. After taking rest for three to four months more she returned home healthy. The neurosurgeon H. P. Narayanan himself has testified that this is a miraculous healing. My households also believe that this is a miracle that happened through the intercession of the servant of God Mother Mariam Thresia.
The Healing of the Holy Family Sister Boromeo
On 1 March 1964 I was laid up unable to move my hands and legs during my canonical novitiate. I had been experiencing unbearable physical pain. I could not even turn while lying without the help of others. One day my novice mistress asked me to make a novena to the founder of the congregation Mother Mariam Thresia 9 times a day. Besides, she said that within two weeks after the cure of the illness I must participate in the community exercises regularly. I prayed fervently. On 13th March night which I was lying sleepless because of pain I experienced somebody making me walk on the veranda and the premises holding my hand. I also felt that my illness was healed. But I could not believe it. On Friday the 14th night also I had the same experience as on the previous day. I heard a voice scolding me, “You must have at least some faith. What is the use of having no faith?”. That day when it dawned the scolding heard at night came to the memory. Soon I tried slowly to get up and sit and I was able to do so. When the Sisters came they were surprised to see me sitting. Then I began to feel that I had been completely cured. Thus from 15th Saturday it was possible for me to participate in some of the daily activities of the community. The doctor said that my illness was severe arthritis. Although I was completely cured of this sickness, I had been suffering from many other illnesses. I believe fully that I had the healing of my illness through the mediation of Mother Mariam Thresia.
The cure of the Grand daughter of V. Bal Krishnan of Juticorin
My grand daughter Sudha was admitted at the Health Centre at Puthiampur, with very severe vomiting and diarrhea. As her condition was very bad many suggested that it would be better to take her to a good hospital in Madurai. The condition of the child had been getting regularly worse. On 6 December 1987 the illness reached its climax. The doctors said that it would be difficult for her to be cured of the illness. Sr.Treesa Ambooken who was there at that time placed her hand on the Child’s head, prayed, took us to the church, gave us a prayer to the servant of God Mariam Thresia printed in Tamil and helped us to recite it once at night. After Sr. Tresa left by about midnight some signs of alleviation began to appear on the face of the child. She opened her eyes, moved her hands and legs and began to smile. Seeing it we were surprised. We thanked the servant of God Mariam Thresia and Sr. Tresa. When the doctor and the nurses came at 4 O’ Clock in The morning to ask about the illness of the child, they were surprised to see the child cured. We believed fully and acknowledged that this miraculous cure was due to the power of intercession of the Servant of God Mother Mariam Thresia. From that day we began to call Sudha “Kochurani” (“Little Queen”, a Christian name)
Getting Back the Money Stolen
The Headmistress of the School at Charkapather in Bihar writes that there was a theft of Rs. 6,500/- from their office on 30 January 1988. The teachers and the children began a novena to the Servant of God Mariam Thresia to find out the thief. A boy who had left the hostel without permission returned suddenly after 40 days. Fr. Wilson George who was there then questioned him and he admitted that he had stolen the money. All believed that the return and confession of the thief was because of the prayer with trust to Mother Mariam Thresia.
Gift of an Offspring
Lonappan Francis, Tharkan, Koonammuchi, 26.04.1988
Lonappan Francis writes his own experience. We had no children even after 15 years of marriage. We had been very bad about it. Seeing our sadness, my mother Rosy gave us a picture of Mother Mariam Thresia with a prayer. We had been reciting the prayer without fail. And a baby – girl was born to us. She grew up a clever girl and increased our joy. We went to the tomb of Mother Mariam Thresia and thanked her.
Healing of the illness on the Leg
Mrs. Mary Benny, Mattam, Thrissur 13.12.1987
I had been experiencing unbearable pain on my left leg from childhood, It had been increasing daily. Our household made an offering to go and pray at the tomb of Mother Mariam Thresia, Accordingly we visited the tomb on 23rd July last year and as we had been praying there I felt numbness on my leg and the pain disappeared completely. Our firm belief is that this grace was obtained through the intercession of the Servant of God Mother Mariam Thresia.
Reconciliation of Couples
Mariamkutty, wife of Kunjuvareed, Thettayil, Angamaly 23.03.1987
When my daughter gave birth to two children, her husband left her and she had been living with me for the last five years and a half. One day I sent to the tomb of the Servant of God Mother Mariam Thresia and prayed that the quarrel between my daughter and her husband should be ended as soon as possible. After that I returned home. My prayer had been continued. Before the completion of a month my son-in-law and his mother came to our home and took my daughter with them. They are now living together peacefully with joy. I went again to the tomb of the Mother to thank God for this great grace.
Mary Thomas, Vallarpadam, Kochi 01.11.1987
When a tumour, which had been on my head for some 10 years, festered the doctors advised it to be removed by operation. Visiting the tomb of the Servant of God Mother Mariam Thresia, I prayed for a healing without any operation. I and my household had been praying for this daily. After some days the tumour disappeared by itself. We believe that this happened because of the intercession of the Servant of God Mother Mariam Thresia.
Club – feet Healed
Mathew Devassy, Pallissery, Ammadam who was born with either of his legs club-footed was healed. Dr. Sunny Pazhayattil who treated him testified that the healing was miraculous. The details of the healing are given below:
Mathew Devassy who had been club-footed was ridiculed by his companions which pained him. Sr. Evugina, the younger sister of his grandmother asked him and his household to make a novena and pray specially to Mother Mariam Thresia. They offered to visit the tomb, carry offerings and publish thanks giving in the papers. They recited the novena prayer for 32 days. On the night of the 33rd day the boy had a vision of two sisters coming to him and one of them massaging his leg. His mother too had the same vision. When he got up and looked he found one of his legs straightened. One year passed. When the time of the straightening of the first leg came the household observed 41 days of abstinence and fast once a week. They also began to recite the prayer for the beatification. On the night of the 39th day he had the same experience as in the previous year. He had a vision that one of the sisters massaged his leg and the leg straightened. When he suddenly got up and looked he found the second leg also straightened. Mathew Devassy claimed that the Sister who massaged his leg had the resemblance of a sister of the convent. Although they desired to go to the tomb of Mother Mariam Thresia to say thanks for the great grace he received, they could not do it because of financial difficulties. But as they could unexpectedly sell the bamboo grove in their compound, they could get the money needed for the journey. Thus they went to Kuzhikkattussery and had the Mass and the office of the dead at the tomb. All received the Holy Communion and thanked the Servant of God Mother Mariam Thresia.
Proceeding towards Canonization
We have seen that the virtuous life of Mother Mariam Thresia came to an end on 8 June 1926. The sanctity of the life of the Mother was widely known. Many had been keeping many mementos as relics and had been praying for intercession and favours. But the official process of the cause of the beatification of the Mother started only in 1973. It is possible for the bishop of the diocese, the religious congregations and individuals to request the Holy See to take up the cause of canonization of a person of extraordinary sanctity.
Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil, the co-founder of the congregation and the spiritual director of Mother Mariam Thresia, had on 20 November 1957 submitted all the documents in his possession to the former bishop of Thrissur, Mar George Alappatt. Chief among them were her writings and the ‘History’ and the ‘Biography’ of Mother Mariam Thresia which he himself had written. After examining these records the bishop put forth the idea of starting the process of canonization of Mother Mariam Thresia. And all the records concerning the Mother were entrusted for safe keeping to the superior general Rev. Mother Josephine. The prayer for canonization was published on 15 August 1963. His successor, the Bishop of Thrissur, Mar Joseph Kundukulam, with the Congregation of the Holy family, acting as petition set in motion the cause for the beatification of Mother Mariam Thresia by submitting the petition on 5 October 1973 to the sacred congregation in Rome. On 3 December 1974 was received the reply from Rome that the petition was accepted. Once the Holy See starts the process of beatification of a person, the person will be known as a Servant of God. Thus Mariam Thresia was raised to the status of the Servant of God with the approval of the Holy See.
After the appointment of Rev. Fr. Simeon de la Sagrada families, OCD (Rome) as postulator and Rev. Fr. Antony Tharakan as vice postulator, on 6 June 1975 a historical commission was set up to collect and examines all the documents regarding Mother Mariam Thresia. Its three members were very Rev. Mgr. Thomas Moothedan, Rev.Fr. Anslem CMI and Rev.Fr. Antony Antikatt (convener). The historical commission collected all the available records and written testimonies about the Servant of God and made a detailed and thorough study. The report prepared in the light of this study was handed over to Mar Joseph Kundukulam in 1977. After adding his personal opinion the bishop submitted the report on 12 July 1978 to the sacred congregation.
There are many proceedings to be carried out on the diocesan level. The tomb of the Servant of God must be opened and ascertained that it was her own. Her writings must be studied and examined to see whether there is anything against faith and morals. It must be proved that the person has not been given public veneration till then. The cause of canonization must be considered officially. There are the main procedures to be done on the diocesan level.
The responsibility of the examination and identification of the tomb of the Servant of God Marian Thresia was that of the Bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Irinjalakuda Mar James Pazhayattil. Under his leadership and in the presence of the specially appointed Bishops of Thrissur and Palakkad and 31 witnesses the tomb was opened and examined on 3 January 1981. The examination was done by specially appointed doctors. The whole procedure was carried out according to the instruction received from the sacred congregation.
Because of old age Rev. Fr. Antony Tharakan retired from the post of vice- postulator and Rev. Fr. Anastasio Gomes OCD was appointed in that place in 1983. As asked by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints an Apostolic Tribunal was instituted on 14 May 1983. Rev. Fr. Joseph Vadakumchery was the Promoter of Faith. The Judges were very Rev. Msgr. Paul Chittilapilly, Very. Rev. Msgr. John Maliakal and Rev. Dr. Joseph Pastor Neelamkavil CMI. Notaries were Fr. Joseph Kadambatt and Fr. Sebastian Arikkatt. These were the members of the tribunal. The tribunal was to collect testimonies about the life and activities of the Servant of God from the contemporaries. In 13 divisions 33 questions and 100 sub-questions were made use of for this purpose. The testimonies from 15 contemporaries of the Servant of God and from the three members of the historical commission were collected by the tribunal. The tribunal came to a close with a concelebrated Mass with Mar James Pazhayattil as the main celebrant on 24 September 1983. The report of the tribunal was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 4 October 1983. This was the end of the procedures in the Diocese. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared the validity of the process on 8 November 1985 after subjecting the report to a thorough examination and study.
What is to be done next is to submit to the Congregation for Causes of Saints the ‘Positio’, the detailed writings and remarkable virtues of the life of the Servant of God. In 1985 Rev. Dr. Paul Vazhappilly was appointed as collaborator to help the postulator. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints appointed Rev. Dr. Peter Gumbel S.J, on 13 November 1987 as the Relator in writing the ‘Positio’. In February 1990 Sr. Franco was appointed vice-postulator. On 20 January 1993 Rev. Dr. Paul Vazhappilly handed over the responsibility of writing the ‘Positio’ to Sr.Pavana. As Rev. Dr. Gumbel retired from official responsibilities, Rev. Dr. Anbrosius Esser O.P was appointed as the new Relator in his place on 11 March 1994.
It was Rev. Dr. Paul Vazhappilly serving in U.S.A, who was appointed to write and submit the ‘Positio’ on Mother Mariam Thresia. But for various reasons he could not perform that duty. So with the concerned of the Superior General Mother Mary Benitia that responsibility was entrusted by the postulator Rev. Fr. Simeon C.C.D to Rev. Dr. George Nedungatt S.J. On 12 January 1995 Rev. Dr. George Nedungatt S.J, was appointed the collaborator of the cause of Canonization of Mariam Thresia. Following this Sr. Pavana C.H.F completed the summarium and handed it over to Rev. Dr. George Nedungatt S.J, Rev. Fr. Kuriakose Bharanikulangara and Sr.Lucy Arickatt C.H.F were appointed to help Rev. Dr. George Nedungatt S.J. In the light of observation and study of a long time Rev. Dr.George Nedungatt S.J. completed the writing of the ‘Positio’ and handed it over the postulator Rev.Fr. Simeon OCD. He submitted this completed ‘Positio’ to the congregation for the Causes of Saints.
As the promoter of the programme of canonization Rev. Fr. Sebastian Panjikaran was transferred. Rev. Fr. Antony Irimpan was appointed in his place on 17 July 1996. Rev. Fr. Simeon O.C.D retired from the post of Postulator owing to ill health. And the Superior General Mother Mary Pastor after consulting the authorities concerned installed Rev. Dr. George Nedungatt S.J. as the postulator.
Rev. Fr. George Nedungatt S.J. had made it clear in the ‘Positio’ that the Servant of God had practiced the divine and cardinal virtues in a heroic manner throughout her life. The ‘Positio’ together with the ‘Relatio et vota’ was submitted to a panel of nine theologian consulters, who were asked to answer the question whether it is certain that the Servant of God had practiced these virtues in a heroic degree. All of them cast a positive vote in a session held on 9 October 1998.
Now it was the turn of the third panel of consulters 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 the theologian consulters. They met on 15 April 1999. Cardinal Simon Lourdusamy from India was the keynote speaker. He presented a paper and declared that the Servant of God Mother Mariam Thresia had practiced the divine and cardinal virtues and other virtues in a heroic degree. Thus the third panel gave a unanimous affirmative note.
It is to be noted that these panels have only a consultative note, the final judgment being reserved to the Roman Pontific who in our case is Holy Father Pope John Paul II. 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 foundress of the Congregation of the Holy Family, Servant of God Chiramel Mankidiyan Mariam Thresia, had practiced in a heroic degree the divine virtues of faith, hope and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Many cardinals, bishops, Rev. Dr. George Nedungatt S.J and the CHF sisters, Sr. Godfrey (N), Sr. Smitha (J) and Sr. Sudha (S) were present
With the promulgation of the degree the servant of god Mariam Thresia became entitled to be called venerable. It is normally a provisional tile used till beatification of venerable Mariam Thresia was the evidence of a miracle attributable to her intercession. The care of the club fact of Mathew Pallissery was that miracle.
The fact and Documentation regarding the clubfeet heeling off Mathew were collected try the vice, postulator and sent to the postulator, Rev. Fr. Simeon O.C.D in Rome. He had them checked try medicals report accredited to the congregation for the Causes of saints to obtain a provisional sanction. This miracle took place in 1970-1971. Mar Joseph Kundukulam, the Bishop of Thrissur, in whose territory the miracle had taken place, set up a diocesan inquiry tribunal on 15 April 1990 with the following personal:
1. Rev. Dr. Msgr.Joseph Vilangaden (Delegate judge)
2. Rev. dr. Andrews Thazhath (Promoter of justice)
3. Rev. Dr. Raphael Thattil (Notary)
4. Rev. Sr. Clerisa CHF (Adjunct Notary)
5. Rev. Sr. Ivantia C.H.F (Cursor)
6. Dr. Nelson Chandy M.D (Medical Expert)
The tribunal held 27 session from 28 April 1992 to 26 July 1992 and heard 23 witness including Mathew, his parent, a neighbour, his class teacher. four doctors who had examined Mathew also deposed in the tribunal to examines case and submit a written report.
The four doctors were:
1. Dr. C.I Ittikaru Cheeram MBBS who had associated at Mathew’s birth in 1956 and ascertained his congenital club feet deformity.
2. Dr. Sunny Pazhayatill MBBS, MS (Orth), MCR (Orth), (England) Associate profession at Medical College, Thrissur who had examined Mathew in 1972 after his were:
3. Dr. M.G Mani MBBS, MS (Orth), MCR (Orth), Profession of Orthopedics and Head of the Department of Orthopedics at Medical College, Calicut.
4. Dr. Bhaskaran Nair MBBS, MS (Orth), Profession of Orthopedics at Medical College, Thrissur.
The deposition given by the witness were translated into English. And the report of the tribunal was sent to the postulator in 1992. After the Servant of God was declared the postulator Rev. Dr. George Nedungatt S.J. studied the document on the miracle and prepared the ‘Positio’ on the miracle and submitted to the Congregation Causes of saint. The relative documentation was first submitted by the secretary of the Congregation to two specialties for there considered opinion. As the game a favourable report, the whole documentation was submitted to an enlarged Medical Commission of time doctors. The medical Commission gave unanimously positive vote on 6 November 1999 that Mathew’s club feet healing was real, complete, instantaneous and permanent and that they had no explanation for it in the light of the present state of Medical knowledge.
It is not common that a miraculous healing submitted for beatification has been examined by as many as nine doctors and that all nine have been in agreement. As regards Mathew’s club feet healing, all nine doctors agreed that they had no explanation for it is the light of there Medical knowledge. When Dr. Ittikuru did not hesitate to call in a miracle, the two medical experts who testified before the diocesan inquiry tribunal in 1992. Gr. M.G Mani (a non. catholic Oriental Christian: Marthomite) and Dr. P. Bhaskaran Nair (a Hindu) found a notable change in the structure of the previous deformity of Mathew’s feet, as if they had been set right surgically, but there were no visible signs of surgery the farmer included his deposition in the tribunal by declaring that he strongly believes that this deformity has been corrected owing to some unknown reasons – a miracle. The latter called it a spontaneous correction which cannot be explained by medical knowledge.
The experts of the medical commission recognized that the outcome of a surgical procedure in such cases is never perfect. Indeed they stated the results would not be as good as the present spontaneous cure the ‘Positio’ was studied by a panel of six theologian consulters, who met in session on 5 January 2000. They, too, gave a unanimous positive report that the medically inexplicable healing of Mathew’s club – feet was a genuine miracle to be attributed to the intercession of the servant of God Mariam Thresia. Likewise, the commission of cardinals and bishops, members of the congregation, examined the ‘Positio’ along with the observations of the theologian consulters. They met in ordinary session on 18 January 2000 and expressed the official opinion of the Congregation with a positively unanimous vote. Thereupon the matter was reported to the Holy Father by the Prefect of the Congregation, and as mandated by the pope a decree was prepared stating that Mathew’s club-feet healing was a genuine miracle that had taken place through the intercession of Venerable Mother Mariam Thresia. This decree was read publicly by the officials of the Roman Congregation in the presence of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II on 27 January 2000 and with his approval promulgated
Afterwards Rev. Dr. George Nedungatt Sig. Informed the Superior General of the date of the Beatification.
Venerable Mariam Thresia who was born and brought up in Kerala performed for years venturesome work for the restoration of families and spread the fragrance of her virtues allover the land was declared ‘Blessed’ on 9 April 2000 by Pope John Paul II. Let us thank God for the graces received by many through the intercession of Blessed Mariam Thresia.
Servant of God Joseph Vithayathil
The Servant of God Joseph Vithayathil had been the spiritual preceptor who holding the hands of Mariam Thresia helped her to climb the steps to heaven, that sage is the owner of a splendour indwelling in the hearts of the people. He was a shepherded who made sinners who were being lost Jesus own through the confessional and entrusted them to the eternal Father. This spiritual preceptor who had the skill of observation, sanctity, wisdom, carefulness, courage and foresight had been a perfect friend of priests and a loving father of the people. This holy priest had been a person of prayer led by the Holy Spirit and an adorer of the Holy Eucharist who prayed for hours before the Blessed Sacrament for his sheep
Joseph born in the Vithayathil family of Puthanpally on 23 July 1865 was ordained a priest of God on 11 March 1894. He had been the spiritual father of Blessed Mariam Thresia from 1902 to 1926. This holy priest who nurtured and made great the congregation of the Holy Family after the death of Mariam Thresia is the co-founder of the congregation. At the age of 99 Father Joseph Vithayathil was called to his eternal reward on 8 June 1964. This venerable priest was declared a Servant of God on 18 May 2004.