The Salesian Sisters are the living monuments of Don Bosco's gratitude to 'Mary, Help of Christians' for his vocation to be the bearer of God's love to the indigent and ignored juveniles. Not long since the birth of his Congregation when the sororial Order took shape and substance of the same mission, Don Bosco called them the 'Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians'.
Started an hundred and twenty five years ago from the most unexpected roots, these Sisters have shown a remarkable resilience and though years have flown by, they have not distanced nor detached themselves from their lineage. Rather, with an affectionate fidelity to their authentic charismatic co-foundress Mother Mazzarello, an unlettered and unostentatious soul, they have reached the threshold of the third millennium with great creative fecundity in spirit.
Mary Mazzarello, the Co-Foundress and their inspiration in early years, was enthusiastic but was prematurely burdened with many physical ailments culminating in contracting even the deadly typhoid fever while attending to a sick relative. Having had anchored herself on a strong personal love for Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother, she had already heard in her teens the call of the Master to follow Him to care for the poor young girls around her. Her call of close affinity with Christ had a special manifestation in that she shared her closeness with her companions which evinced as expressions of loving service to the displaced and distressed young ones around them. Her charisma was similar to that of another Piomontese, 22 years older than her, John Bosco, the founder, father and teacher of the Salesians.
John Bosco had lost his father when just a tiny tot of two and a half but under the care of a brave, loving and sensible mother Margret full of home-spun Christian values and virtues from an agrarian background, he grew up into a boy healthy in body and enterprising in mind. Even as early as that tender age of sprightly nine, the divine design was divulged unto Bosco in a dream - to care for and reform the wayward young ones.
The providential meeting of Mary Mazarello with John Bosco, now a priest and a full-fledged social worker, in October 1864 was like the confluence of two rivulets to form a commendable channel of charismatic current, which today we see as the Salesian Movement. Mary had already been initiated into the Community by her discerning parish priest, Don Pestarino, who himself would later become a spiritual son and admirer of Don Bosco. Mary Mazarello knew instinctively that Don Bosco was a kindred spirit and took him for her model in her mission among the young girls in need.
Don Bosco was hesitant in the beginning to start a woman's wing to work among the capricious, divested and disturbed young ones but Mary, Help of Christians, herself intervened in a dream. The Holy Father confirmed, Don Bosco's council approved the formation and on August 5, 1872, the fresh Salesaian shoot sprouted with the profession of fifteen highly motivated and deeply committed daughters to keep Our Lord's vast vineyard clean, healthy and fruitful. Since then the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, have multiplied in geometric proportion as their 20th general chapter in 1996 did demonstrate. At this general chapter there were delegates from nearly 85 provinces from all over the world - a convincing testimony to their fidelity through years for over a century and a quarter!
Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara had absolute faith in his conviction that God has His own ways of doing things in the fullness of time. An opening to go through the personal notes of His Excellency on how he longed to have a convent of Salesian Sisters' Congregation to cope with the tides of time of the Diocese and how His Excellency chanced to initiate moves to institute one will surely be a real treat.
On April10, 1983, His Excellency was hastening out of the Bishop's House to attend a function when he noticed a Sister hurrying to Shalom within the compound to address the girls attending a vocation camp. On seeing the Bishop, the Rev. Sister moved straight up to him and introduced herself as Sr. Elizabeth Cyril F.M.A., a Salesian. Though a shepherd of crowded hours and under pressure just then to make haste, His Excellency could not help but pause right there to borrow some precious moments to convey his long relished reverie on a Salesian Convent in the Diocese.
Well, that was the time and there was the one brought right before him. " I told her straight away that I desired to establish a Salesian Convent at Palluruthy near the Salesian Monastery. Rev. Fr. Varghese Menachery is running the Sneha Bhavan for boys from around Cochin City. But there is no one to do similar work for the poor girls here", so run the lines recorded in his diary.
Delighted at the unanticipated turn, Sr. Elizabeth Cyril gave His Excellency the address of their Mother Provincial in Madras. The very next month the Bishop wrote to Rev. Mother Philomina Prabalanathan, the Provincial. In November the same year the Provincial and four Sisters arrived at the Bishop's House accompanied by Rev. Fr. Vargheese Menachery. Elated at this positive response, the Bishop himself took them to Palluruthy. His Excellency showed the site he had in mind, a plot of an acre and twenty-three cents at Nadakkal on the southern side of Binny Company which the Bishop promised then and there as gift to the Community of Salesian Sisters.
Regarding the site, there is an engaging entry in the personal chronicle of the Bishop. In His Excellency's own words: "God has His ways of doing things. I had desired so much to have a cloistered convent in the diocese. I had acquaintance with the Poor Clares of Alwaye. But I didn't have the courage to invite them. Then I thought I could easily approach V. Rev. Mother Tequila Famigliety, Mother General of the Bridgittine Sisters in Rome. On 16th December 1980, she came to visit me together with Sr. Sophy Puthenpurackal. This is a semi-cloistered Order. So I invited her to see the site near Binny Company at Palluruthy. She liked the place and promised to take it. I was quite sure that soon I would have a semi-cloistered convent of the Bridgittine Sisters in Cochin Diocese.
"But to my great disappointment I received a letter from Mother Tekla informing me that her General Council did not approve of a second House in Cochin. Their first House at Kalamassery now comes within the Corporation of Cochin. I felt disappointed and wrote to Mother Tekla on January 7, 1982, thus - 'Thank you for not coming to Cochin diocese; God will give me something better'. Later on I met Mother Tekla in Rome and she repeated the sentence that I had written. By that time the Carmelite Cloistered Sisters from Thiruvalla had already started building their convent at Eramalloor. So I told Mother Tekla that God had given me a fully cloistered Convent instead of a semi - cloistered one!"
Thus the property at Palluruthy was free to be donated to the Salesian Sisters and the Provincial Council at Madras approved His Excellency's request on 9th November 1983. The Golden Jubilee of the Canonization of St. John Bosco befell in 1984 and so the Salesians too desired this foundation in Cochin to cherish as a special gift of St. John Bosco. Sr. Philomina wrote in January 1984 to confirm that she received a positive response from their Generalate in Rome and thereupon made arrangements with Fr. Vargheese Menachery to purchase a strip of land adjacent to the plot assigned by the Diocese.
Formal request to the Provincial for the institution of a House of the Salesian Sisters at Palluruthy was dispatched on 22nd February, 1984 and a speedy approval was returned to the Diocese on the first of the following month. Further steps moved fast and the gift deed of the property was registered and the agreement between Bishop of Cochin and the Provincial was signed on June 18, 1984. Soon the construction of the compound wall commenced and it was completed in August the same year. An adjacent property with a house was also bought by the Community.
His Excellency fell ill on 26th August 1984 and was taken to Kottiyam hospital on September six but remained indisposed from that October onwards. In the meantime the Community moved to Palluruthy on September 25 and occupied a house on the adjacent plot they had bought. Though the Bishop was taken again to Kottiyam he came back to the Bishop's House on the 14th November, 1985. While at Kottiyam hospital, the Salesian Sisters reached him to receive his blessings which His Excellency had to bestow on them reclining on bed.
The foundation was to be laid on 19th December, 1984 but His Excellecny's condition continued to be indisposed. Still the Sisters wanted Bishop Dr. Joseph Kureethara himself to bless the stone. His Excellency was carried by two priests to the car and again taken out by them from the car onto a chair. Thus reaching the site where the foundation stone was to be laid, the Bishop blessed the stone and the Mother Provincial laid it. When the construction of the Convent building was completed in 1988, the solemn blessing of the House was performed by His Excellency Dr. Joseph Kureethara on 28th November that year at which the Mother General Marinella Castagno was also present.
On 2nd June, 1987, ten girls were accepted into the convent in the presence of the Bishop of Cochin, the District Collector Mr. Venu Gopal IAS., some Salesian Fathers and several people, both public and private, of the locality. These girls between the ages five and fifteen were destitutes brought to the Re-settlement, belonging to Cochin Corporation by the police and thus the Home came to be known as "Prathyaasa Bhavan". The inmates who had an aptitude to study were sent to educational institutions and those who were unable to proceed with their academic pursuit were given the option to learn trades like Dress Making, Machine Embroidery and Type Writing.
Over an hundred girls have already been admitted to the Bahaven in these past years and at present there are 49. Those who have completed the S.S.L.C. are given option and opportunity to continue their academic course or a professional one according to their aptitude and inclination. These dear unfortunate ones are provided recreational, cultural and vocational education, special tuition classes, singing and dancing lessons - all contributing to proper formation of personality and an all round wholesome growth. Indeed they find in Prathyaasa Bhavan a family atmosphere which they have been denied and thus have missed out in their lives earlier.
In 1987 the Salesian Sisters started a secretarial course with a few girls, which still continues. They also had a P.D.C. and B.Com. Parallel College for girls which was closed when St. Joseph's College started functioning at Thoppumpady. At present they have N.C.V.T. Secretarial Course, K.G.T.E. and Machine Embroidery Classes.
On 26th January, 1991 their chapel was raised to a sub-station in the parish of St. Thomas More, Palluruthy by His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara to enable the Catholics around to attend Sunday and daily Masses. They started conducting catechism classes for Children from class I - XII. Besides to the blooming buds of the parish of St. Thomas More, the Sisters give instrction in catechism at Madura Company surroundings and near by parishes as and when the needs arise. They take part in the family apostolate through the family units of respective prishes.
A kindergarten school started at the request of the local people in June 1992 has now reached a strength of 350 pupils and the level of Standard VI and is awaiting the approval by the Indian Council of School Education. There is also a successful unit of the Women's Integral Development Society for small-scale savings under the Social Service Society of Cochin Diocese.
Auxilium Centre aims at creating integrally formed, self-reliant, morally upright, socially committed women who will live with their God-given dignity as women and as Christians and agents of social change in their own surroundings through their educative and friendly presence using reason and loving kindness of the method of St. John Bosco, their founder and St. Mary Mazzarello, their co-foundress. They hope to be effective messengers of God's love to the young people of the area. They are grateful to their pastor and Bishop for all his paternal loving care and concern for them.
Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara