KUZHIKKATTUSSERY, India — Enthusiasm is growing even among Hindus as they join Catholics in awaiting the announcement of the date for the canonization of Blessed Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, who in 1914 founded the Congregation of the Holy Family (CHF), a community of women religious in southern Kerala state.
“Mother is not an ordinary Christian for us,” P.K. Mohanan, a member the village council for Kuzhikkattussery, told the Register. “She is an icon of love and charity. All of us respect her,”
Pope Francis on Feb. 12 approved the canonization of the nun, who had been beatified in 2000, following the confirmation of a second miracle attributed to her intercession. The Vatican is likely to announce in July that the date of her canonization will be in October.
Blessed Mariam Thresia died on June 8, 1926, as a result of an infection caused by a falling object that injured her leg. On her feast day of June 8 this year, more than 30,000 devotees, including hundreds of Hindus, thronged her tomb at Kuzhikkattussery, which is located 20 miles south of Thrissur near the southwestern coast of the Indian subcontinent, to celebrate the occasion.
“I prayed at her tomb today, also,” said Mohanan, a Hindu by birth and a communist political leader. “It is a tradition for many Hindus here to pray at her tomb.”
“With her service to all, irrespective of caste or creed, Mother served all,” Mohanan added. “We take pride in her because, with her canonization, the whole world will know about our village.”
“Let blessings of Mother Mariam Thresia, angel of mercy and charity, shower on all of you on the threshold of her beatification,” said Bishop Mar Pauly Kannookadan of Irinjalakuda, the diocese in which Kuzhikkattussary is located. The bishop’s remarks were part of his homily during the solemn June 8 Mass at Kuzhikkattussery on Blessed Mariam Thresia’s feast day.
“Mother went out to serve the needy. She dared to care for victims of dreadful smallpox and even stopped the live burial of the afflicted and nurtured them back to health,” Bishop Kannookadan said. “At a time when women were not to step out of the homes, Mother fought for women’s liberation, against superstition, and opened schools for the education of the girls.”
Life of Love
Born on April 26, 1876, as the third of the five children of Thanda and Thoma Chiramel Mankidiyan, Thresia was deeply devout and prayerful as a girl.
Thresia resisted her parents’ bid to marry her off at the age of 10 in an arranged marriage, as was the prevailing practice in India at the time. Despite belonging to a wealthy farming family, the future “Blessed” led a life of prayer and austerity — and practiced mortification by sleeping on a gravel floor instead of her bed.
“I cannot sleep comfortably on a bed when Jesus is hanging on the cross on three nails,” Thresia tells her mother in the hourlong documentary-style retelling of her life, Blessed Mariam Thresia: The Patroness of Families, produced by the congregation she founded.
The CHF’s documentary depicts her concern for ministering to families as a way to share the compassionate love of Christ and care with the poor, sick and dying. The film re-enacts some of the well-known incidents in her life, as recorded by her spiritual director and co-founder of the CHF, Father Joseph Vithayathil, who had been raised to “Venerable” in 2015. The documentary states that “Mariam” was added to her name following an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Dec. 8, 1904.
The future nun began discerning her vocation after her mother died when she was 12. While under the spiritual care of Father Vithayathil, in 1909, Thresia exhibited and suffered from the stigmata, mirroring the physical wounds Christ endured on the cross. Earlier she also suffered from seizures, and when news of this affliction became public, Bishop John Menachery of Thrissur instructed Father Vithayathil to undertake exorcisms, to which she submitted without protest.
She was advised afterward to test her vocation as a member of the newly formed Congregation of Franciscan Claretians but did not discern a calling to join that religious community.
In 1913, a year before she founded her congregation, Thresia moved to what she called the “house of solitude,” built in her native Puthenchira village under the direction of the bishop, with three of her friends. The following year, Thresia received canonical permission to launch the congregation, named after the Holy Family, which she led subsequently for 12 years in a mission of service.
Reflecting Mother Mariam’s desire to attend to the needs of families in accord with God’s plan, the CHF follow the Holy Family of Nazareth as their model, with the words of Christ in the Lord’s Prayer and at Gethsemane as their motto: “Thy Will Be Done.” Today, most CDF sisters work in India, but the congregation also has a presence in Africa, Europe and North America.
After Mother Mariam had been donated 8 acres of land by a Catholic family to start a convent, Thresia took an adventurous journey to Kochi, 31 miles away, to meet Hindu King Rama Varma in 1918, seeking help to complete the convent building.
When the courtesans refused to let her meet the king, who was ill with a serious abscess, the nun made a potion of plants and requested that his court mandarins apply it directly on the king’s wound. The king soon healed and sent word to bring the nuns back to the court. He informed the nuns that, to help them construct their convent, he was going to deliver high-quality teak from forests more than 100 miles away.
“Mother had miraculous powers and had healed many, including the [Hindu] king,” Sister Udaya Punneliparambil, the superior general of the Congregation of the Holy Family, told the Register.
A century later, Latha Lipin is another Hindu witness to the miraculous powers of Blessed Mariam Thresia.
“I have been coming here regularly since 2001 to pray, as Mother takes care of my problems,” Lipin told the Register. One year after her marriage in 2011, Lipin prayed earnestly to conceive.
“Soon I was pregnant. Later doctors told me I had medical complications and would have to undergo cesarean surgery [when the child was to be born]. I came and prayed at the tomb and had a normal delivery,” Lipin said, with her child and husband standing beside her on the feast day.
“I have been sharing my testimony with many childless Hindu couples. They have come here to pray and have been blessed with babies,” Lipin said proudly.
Overcome by emotion, Cicily Choondal, a Catholic, found it difficult to speak when she narrated to the Register the miraculous healing of her infant grandson Christopher. The boy’s case had been acknowledged by the Vatican as part of the approval process for Blessed Mariam’s canonization.
“As soon as the baby was born (on April 7, 2009), [he] was put on oxygen in ICU, and the doctors told us that my grandson ‘will not survive.’ I was asked to prepare the house for the funeral. I went home in tears and brought the relic of Mariam Thresia in our house. I told hospital staff to touch the baby with it,” recounted Choondal.
“Shortly, the Hindu doctor came to us and declared that as soon as the ‘sacred object’ was put on the infant, his condition suddenly improved. … Now Christopher is healthy, like any child, and attending school,” said the grandmother, who had been reciting the novena of Mariam Theresa for years daily after the family Rosary in the evening.
“This is a holy year for us,” said Father Sebastian Panjikaran, vicar of the Puthenchira Forane church where Thresia was born, who spoke with the Register after concelebrating with Bishop Kannookadan and more than a dozen priests at the solemn Mass for Mother Mariam.
“In memory of Mother’s service, we have already conducted a retreat [for 500 families], organized a medical camp for the sick, and parishioners are building houses for the poor ahead of the canonization,” Father Sebastian added.
The great-grand niece of Mother Mariam, Arun Thomas Mankidiyan, reached Kuzhikkattussery from Abu Dhabi to attend the feast, along with three dozen other Mankidiyan families who no longer live in Kuzhikkattussery.
Said Arun, “It’s a blessing that I was born in this family.”
Anto Akkara is based in Bangalore, India.