Women religious
Divine Providence Convent, Kumbalanghy, Cochin - 682 008


Teresa Magdalene Grillo, born on September 25, 1855 at Spineta Marengo, the suburb of Alexandria, Italy, was the youngest of the five children of Dr. Joseph Grillo and Antonieta Parvopassu. At the age of ten she experienced a great grief by the death of her father, after which she was sent by her mother to the Collegio Delle Grazie di Lodi where she studied till the age of 17. Returning home, lady Teresa started participating in the social life of the poor intensively and she received recognition and admiration even from the society of the affluent in Alexandria.

At the age of 22, she was married to John Baptist Michael, a captain of the military. Even though very happy in her married life, she was not blessed with the joy of maternity. Within two years she lost her husband and mother as well. The tragedies in life one after the other were so much more than she could put up with that ultimately she became bed-ridden. At that time she wished so much to have relief from all the miseries that she prayed continuously to our Lady to bless her with the termination of earthly life.

In answer to her prayers she heard the voice of God: "Dear daughter, why do you wish to die? You will be cured soon and will become the mother of many poor people". After the miraculous recovery, as per the suggestion of her cousin Fr. Prelli, she visited the small House of Cottolengo in Turin and decided to consecrate herself to God completely "like here but not here" in the service of the poor, surrendering herself completely to the providence of God.

Soon the great house of Teresa became the refuge of poor people and their number increased steadily. Realising her house was not big enough to take them all in, she transferred them to an old building near the via Faa di Bruno at the end of 1893. She decided to rebuild the house to make it big enough and buy some small houses as well. She named the rebuilt bigger house the 'Little Refuge of Divine Providence' and this was destined to be the cradle of the new Congregation.

Obstacles in the beginning were many and she had much to undergo as a result of misunderstandings on the part of the Authorities, of friends and even members of her own family. She was called crazy and was despised even by her own kith and kin. Divine grace and the courage of her conviction kept her rooted to her resolution. Teresa relished the rewards received in the form of being loved by the destitutes, help from generous souls and enthusiastic and staunch support from a group of collaborators. 

Teresa received her habit along with eight of her collaborators from the Bishop of Alxandria on 8th January, 1899. Since then there have been many vocations to the new Congregation especially after the approval of constitution. With the increase in the number of the needy, their houses also increased in number in Italy. In 1900 Maria Immaculate Gilet, the first missionary, initiated a mission in Brazil and in 1927 it spread to Argentina under Mother Teresa, the Foundress, who had to go six times to Latin America to visit the new Houses. 

Teresa who offered herself to God in the service of the poor showed the womenfolk in her society how much they could contribute to the Church through services rendered to the handicapped children, the sick, and the senile. The charism of the Congregation is the total abandonment of the self to the providence of God in the service of the most needy. The spirituality of the Community is centered on the profound rapport with Jesus who is present in the Holy Eucharist. The very basis of the Congregation apparently is this rapport.

On 5th July 1935, the Congregation was approved by the Church partially and on June 8, 1942 full recognition finally reached when it was bestowed with the rite of canonical entity under the name, 'The Little Sisters of Providence'. Teresa died on 25th January 1944 in Alexandria and on July 6, 1985, she was proclaimed the Servant of God by Pope John Paul II in recognition of her heroic virtues. His Holiness beatified her on 24th May 1998 at Turin.

Teresa Michael continues to live through her work and the regenerated fidelity and constancy of her charism continues to mobilize the strength of the Congregation. The Alexandrians are proud of their 'Mother of the Poor'.

That somewhat sums up the origin of the Order, the Little Sisters of Divine Providence. Well and good. But how does it happen to be here now ? For that we will have to come to the oldest but the smallest diocese in India, Cochin. To be more precise, we will have to focus on the ' kochu Methran of kochu Kochi ( the little bishop of diminutive Cochin), His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara.

The bishop had been compelled to be confined to bed, more so with the menacing symptom of paralysis. While on such a situation, to His Excellency, an extremely unpleasant and unbearable compulsory rest, a few Sisters unexpectedly arrived at the Bishop's House on 27th March, 1985. They had just landed in Cochin and were coming to the Bishop's House straight from the Air Port. No visitors had been permitted but upon receiving the information of the unannounced arrival, the Bishop instructed that the Sisters be brought to the parlour upstairs. 

Meanwhile, His Excellency, with the help of two priests who virtually had to lift him up from the bed and seat him on a chair, made himself ready to give audience.

The visitors were Madre Consolata Zordan, the Mother General, Sr. Carmela Colombo and Sr. Maria Theresa of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of Divine Providence. Mother Consalata presented two letters: one from His Grace Arch Bishop Simon Lourdusamy, the Secretary General of the Sacred Congregation of the Evangelisation of People and the other from His Excellency Dr. Kagitappu Mariadas, Bishop of Guntur Diocese. These letters, in fact, paved the Congregation's providential path to the Cochin Diocese. Before the Bishop they unburdened their woes, distress and disappointment which prompted them to approach His Excellency directly.

"As the Sisters had already started a House without obtaining permission and had also taken in some girls from the Oriental Rite, the Archbishop was not quite willing to accept them. The sisters were in trouble and they didn't know what to do". The personal notes of the Bishop reveal why the Little Sisters of Divine Providence had to approach him and seek help and how it later led to their opening a House in the Diocese of Cochin. 

At their Mother House in Rome, they had some Sisters of the Syrian rite staying for their studies at the Universita Urbaniana. The Oblati di San Giuseppe, who had their Generalate at Boccea near the Generalate of the Sisters, had opened a House at Changanachery. Later on, the Oblati Fathers of St. Joseph knowing the problem of multiple rites in Kerala and having come to know that there was at Kodungalloor a Monastery of the Oblates of St. Joseph, welcomed and united this Indian foundation with their Generalate in Rome. They instructed the Sisters to take a building on rent near Kodungalloor. They found one available at Mathilakam, remodelled it and started taking in girls irrespective of Rite differences.

Only then it dawned on them that they should obtain permission from the Religious Authority of the place. The belated wisdom took Sr. Carmela Colombo and Sr. Maria Bernardini, the newly admitted girls and an Italian priest of the Oblates of St. Joseph, to call on the Archbishop of Verapoly. His Grace, Dr. Joseph Kelanthara had already been aware of the developments in the Archdiocese. Once Archbishop Kelanthara had been to their Generalate in Rome but now, as the Sisters had already started the House without permission and had also taken in girls from the Oriental Rite, His Grace was rather disinclined to accept them. The Sisters were in trouble and they didn't know what to do.

Then they thought that an easy solution would be to approach the Oriental Bishop of Irinjalakuda diocese and thus on 12th December 1984 they called on him. Bishop James Pazhayattil whole-heartedly welcomed the Sisters since Mathilakam was also within his diocese. He directed them to attend Holy Mass not in the Latin Church but only in churches belonging to the Malabar Rite. Bishop James sent them some girls also from the Malabar Rite to join the Order.

The frenzied welcome from the part of the Oriental Bishop, his vehement insistence on their attending only the Oriental Rite Mass which they could not understand and the bigoted encouragement to bring more girls solely from the Oriental Rite so confounded the Sisters that their Mother General in Rome was duly informed of all the developments. Madre Consolata, at the advice of Monsignor Bovone who was working at the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith and staying as chaplain at the Generalate, went to seek the advice of Archbishop Lourdusamy.

His Grace advised them to approach Bishop Joseph Kureethara of Cochin and also gave them a letter of introduction. The Sisters in the mean time consulted also Bishop Beretta of Warrangal Diocese and Bishop Kagitappu Mariadas, the then Bishop of Guntur Diocese. Both the bishops had only one recommendation - the Sisters approach Bishop Joseph Kureethara of Cochin. 

The decision was taken all on a sudden and Mother Consolata Zordan flew to Kerala to settle the problem. She was received at the Cochin Airport by the two Italian Sisters and girls from where it was a straight trip to call on Bishop Joseph Kureethara. That was how and why they reached the Bishop's House, Cochin and what eventuated His Excellency being lifted off the bed and placed on a chair in his parlour. His Excellency consoled Mother Consolata and said that God wanted them to work in his diocese.

His excellency reiterated there would be no objection and that they would be wholeheartedly welcome. This warm reception and assureances invigorated them to confront the numerous problems for which they had to find solutions. They had to see to the vocations of the ones from the Oriental Rite, the house taken on rent, the money spent on readjusting the house and of leaving Mathilakam but they were prepared to follow His Excellency's advice.

They went back to the place to wind up the activities of their House there, instructing the girls to return to their homes and join some other convents. Leaving the rented house and bidding farewell to Mathilakam, they came to St. Agnes convent, Pandikudy for a few days as arranged by the Bishop and then left for Italy. Back in Rome, they wrote to all the girls of the Latin Rite that their return to the Congregation would be so much welcome if they still wanted to but this time in the Cochin Diocese. Likewiswe they wrote also to one girl, Celine, from the Syrian Rite who had given a very good impression and whom they wanted to retain.

In August 1985, two nuns of the Congregation landed once again in Cochin. The Sisters of the St. Catherine's Convent had in the meantime vacated the building at Thoppumpady, facilitating the same being occupied by the Sisters of the Divine Providence. Soon five of the Latin Rite candidates who were waiting for the arrival of the Sisters rushed back to be with the fold at Thoppumpady. With His Excellency's special permission, the girl Celine from the Kanjirapally Diocese also was admitted.

The Sisters found a plot of land at the northern end of Kumbalanghy belonging to Rev. Fr. Denson Oliver quite suitable as location for the convent. The Community bought the property consisting of an acre and 71 cents together with three houses therin. At last the foundation stone for the new convent building was laid on April 25, 1989, effecting thereby the providential planting of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of Divine Providence in the Diocese of Cochin.

Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara