Helen de Chappotin, born on 21st May, 1839, had a deep yearning right from her very childhood to commit herself totally to the service of the Lord. She joined the Poor Clares in 1860 but unfortunately her not so commendable health made her ineligible. After some time her aspirations could be fulfilled when she was taken into the Society of Marie Reparatrixin in 1864. In 1866 Helen was sent to Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu for the mission. There she made her first profession, assuming the name Mary of the Passion and subsequently was appointed Superior at Tuticorin.
Her innate simplicity and ardent commitment to the cause raised her to the position of Provincial in 1867. The Houses at Trichy, Madurai and Tuticorin were all managed by her very well and being far-sighted and daring, she could reach out to the poor by various means according to the needs of the time and place.
The office of the Superior was far from a bed of roses for the Provincial; On the contrary, it was one of thorny branches! Mary of the Passion had real passion for commitment and endeavour and the courage of conviction to carry out the tasks she found duty bound as part of her mission to fulfil. These traits or gifts viewed through coloured glasses were obviously misread and misinterpreted, resulting in wrong signals reaching Rome. To make a long story short, Mary of the Passion was unceremoniously and abruptly removed from Provincialship without any justifiable procedures like intimation and enquiry or 'show cause notice' practised in lay associations and nay, even in atheistic organisations!
The inequitable, impulsive and impudent imposition of punitory measures in no way blew out the flame of her love for and services in the name of God. Having been through bitter experiences of struggle and agony, thirty of the Sisters of the Society of Marie Reparatraxin came away from the Congregation. Together with them, Mary of the Passion formed and set in motion a new Order.
Wth proper guidance from Rome, this severed shoot sprang up into a new Congregation in the cool climate of Ooty. That is how the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary founded by Mother Mary came into existence. Started as a small and slender shoot on January 6, 1887, it grew up into an international Community with Sisters working all over the world, engaged in ministries as per the needs of the places.
Thus having glanced at the inception of the Congregation, we can now turn to that time in the Diocese when the Community put up her appearence. At Cheriakadavu of those days lived Mr. Edward and his wife Mrs. Eliswa of Kattiparambu family. The childless pair of comfortable means had for their residence a two storeyed building. He had approached the Bishop of Cochin and expressed his desire to donate his house and properties to the diocese to start some convent.
With much difficulty the bishop had sought out a native religious Congregation and brought its Sisters there. A day had been fixed for the blessing of the convent and chapel and inauguration of the convent. There was no road to Kattiparambu and the prelate had to be brought from the Bishp´s House. Arrangements had been made to fetch him in a palanquin. Then came the disqieting and disheartening news that the bishop was not going to inaugurate the Convent. It gave Mr. Edward a stroke and he died then and there. The Sisters who had come to start the convent finally left the place.
It was then that H.E., Dom Jose Bento Martin Rebeiro, the 29th Bishop of Cochin under the Portuguese Padroado adminstration, invited the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary to open a House here. He succeeded in getting them from Coimbatore diocese and two missionaries, Mother Michael and Mother Alberta, arrived in Cochin. The property gifted to the bishop by the Edward Kattiparambu family was right there to welcome them.
The double storey building at Kattiprambu had earlier been converted to a convent by His Excellency, Msgr. Rebeiro. The bishop had remodelled the house with the cherished hope that it might form a nucleus of missionary activities and above all, a source of missionary vocations. Already five aspirants to religious life had gathered there and had been living in community when the first F.M.M Sisters, Mother Michael and Mother Alberta came to Kattipparambu. They reached the place on August 6, 1915 in a country canoe and started St. Elizabeth's Conent. Thus they were the ones chosen to nurse, nourish and nurture the infant Community of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.
The five girls received their mothers with great eagerness, enthusiasm and love and served them their first meal on that happy evening. This was to mark the growth of a beautiful family life into the warm aura of which was to be drawn later many a maiden to cherish and relish consecrated life in the service of the Lord. The next day, 7th August, the first Mass was celebrated in their little Convent. Six days later two Sisters joined them and from 15th onwards they had the privilege of having daily adoration. On August 22, 1915, the Convent of St. Elizabeth of Portugal was consecrated by His Excellency, Msgr. Rebeiro, Bishop of Cochin.
Attached to the house of Mr. Edward, a chapel facing east had been built earlier. Later on two other FMM Sisters, Mother Sebastina and Mother Perfecta, came there on August 15 and two more, Mother Jermane and Mother Angel, joined them four days later. They also received five girls as candidates to join their Congregation. With the arrival of more Sisters, they started perpetual adoration to the Blessed Sacrament in the convent which had warm response by way of participation by the locals.
The Sisters started an embroidery and tailoring centre with five girls on September 1, the same year. This centre slowly grew up to make a beautiful embroidery work centre where training is given simultaneously to 375 young girls. The scheme is to help the girls acquire some empowerment in their future family life. Later on a workroom was erected and added to the centre in 1965.
The year 1916 is an important one in the history of the Convent as well as of the place Kattipparambu. After living and studying among the people of the locality for nearly an year, the Community found the basic need of the people and place was a school. The village was comprised of landless labourers, fisher folk and landlords, where the landlords were but just a handful. These landlords had their children in boarding schools elsewhere but the poor could not dream of any access even to primary education. So the Sisters started a school which was blessed on May 14, 1916. Classes began the very next day with eighteen pupils under the heavenly patronage of St. Joseph.
Through the pupils of the school the Community could reach out to the families and build up closer relationship. Regular recurrence of sea erosion during the monsoon season used to be a threat to the people of the locality. Because of this the people started the Eucharistic procession to the sea shore and bishop Jose Bento Martin Rebeiro used to conduct the procession.
In June 1962, the school was upgraded with 34 pupils and the Government of Kerala granted recognition to the institution. To this primary school was added a new building in 1966. Thus the humble beginning the Franciscan Sisters of the Missionaries of Mary made way back in 1916 with just eighteen children gradually grew up to a big institution. Now the school boasts of a strength of almost one thousand in twenty two divisions with twenty seven teachers and remains as the pride of the place.
The Sisters are engaged in teaching catechism in he neighbouring parishes within eight kilometres. The catechetical mission of Kari which can be reached only by country canoes across the river is in full swing. In order to intensify their spiritual life, the Franciscan Third Order was started in 1917 which still continues in great fervour. Now the Sisters are teaching Catechism at regular Sunday classes.
The first group of Novices had their religious habit on March 19, 1919 and in February 1920 they made their first profession. When the number of Sisters increased, Bishop Martin Rebeiro opened a second House for the F.M.M. Sisters in the Diocese on April 5, 1923 at Lourdupuram, Thiruvananthapuram. A third House was instituted at Thoppumpady in May 1926 and yet another, St. Francis Xavier's Convent, Kaloor was establsihed later. Today in Kerala alone there are nine Convents for the Congregation of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.
The Superior General from Rome visited the Kattipparambu Convent in 1964. The new church was blessed in December 1967 by the then Bishop of Cochin, Dr. Alexander Edezhath. From January 28, 1968 onwards a permanent chaplain was also appointed there. After arranging a private chapel for the Sisters in the Convent itself, the church at Kattipparambu was elevated as a parish church under the patronage of St. Francis of Assisi on June 22, 1980 by Bishop Dr. Joseph Kureethara.
A businessman of Mattancherry, a Gujarati, found a large picture among the goods he had imported and he planned to place it on the wall. One of his workers, one Mr. Sauro Oliparambil from Thoppumpady found that it was a picture of Our Lady, Mother of God, the original of which by the famous painter, Raffaelo, is preserved in an art gallery in Milan, Italy. Mr. Sauro managed to bring the picture to his house and slowly people started coming in to pray before the picture. Number of devotees and the amount of votive offerings increased.
The matter was brought to the attention of the Bishop of Cochin, H.E., Dom Joao Gomez Ferreire, who ordered Mr. Sauro to place the picture for public worship which he refused. His relatives also claimed ownership of the picture and finally the Bishop had to threaten them with excommunication. The picture, now called "Our Lady of Miracles", was thus brought to a small shrine at Thoppumpady on February 4, 1891. Before long devotees to Our Lady of Miracles increased so much that it was found necessary that a more spacious edifice be built. Consequently, on November 11, 1894, the foundation stone for a large church was laid. In course of time Thoppumpady became a famous pilgrimage centre of the Diocese of Cochin.
Bishop Jose Bento Martin Rebeiro who brought the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary to Kattipparambu and Lourdupuram thought that a convent would be a great help at this Marian centre. He duly set to work for the establishment of a convent of the same Order and on May 31, 1926 he could accomplish it with the institution of one with six Sisters. The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary came to Palluruthy to open a small convent in what is now the sacristy of Our Lady of Miracle's Church.
The place was bleak, monsoon was heavy, rain swept in from all sides but the Sisters were jubilant in their new abode; for, they had come with a burning zeal to serve God's children. In the same year the Sisters started a needle work centre there. The convent buildings were constructed in the year 1931 and Rev. Fr. Sequeira was appointed as the first chaplain. There was a primary school at Thoppumpady, called Pope Leo XIII School which was housed in the convent building. At the establishment of the Convent, the school was shifted to the verandah of St. Sebastian's Church, Palluruthy, as independent from Santa Cruz School. Rev. Fr. Fernandez later on raised it as a High School.
Their immediate aim was to cater to the needs of the poor and the sick of the locality. A needle work centre was started on a verandah where young girls could come along to learn and then earn a decent living in good surroundings. Immediately a dispensary was opened for the needy and the sick and since then benefits and blessings began to spread around Palluruthy.
To give the girls a chance to secure a sound education in a safe environment, a primary school was opened in June 1941. The cry of the people in the locality was responded to when it was up-graded to a High School in 1949 and subsequently classes on Teachers' Training Course were started. The chapel was renovated. A cutting and tailoring centre was started to provide a career to young girls. They started a hostel as well for the young working girls in order to provide them healthy and safe surroundings.
Thus, today the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary work in various fields such as education (L.P.S., H.S., and T.T.C.) social welfare (social training centre, working women's, family apostolate), Catechetics (teaching Catechetics, family apostolate), Secular Franciscan Order, F.B.A. etc. and extend the spirit of Christian life among the people of God.
Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara