History has it in sum that seven nurses working in a hospital in Pisa, Italy, gathered together and started a pious union under the heavenly patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows. Later the Archbishop of Pisa recognized it as a Diocesan Community in 1901 and His Holiness Pope PiusXII raised it as a Religious Congregation of Pontifical Right in the year 1954. This Religious Order has a dozen branches in Italy. Our Lady of Dolours Convent at Perumpadappu in the Cochin Diocese, the first one outside Italy, is the 13th branch. So much in a nut-shell.
The Institute of the Oblates along the centuries had some holy women pre-eminent for their heroic virtues. Committed to their calling, they followed the conditions of the hospital in which moments of splendour were alternated by periods of meanness. This variation used to be in accordance with the changes in the unpredictable political climate of Pisa and Tuscania.
The Congregation had its origin in 1895 when seven Oblates of St. Clara, Sisters Florida Pardelli, Juliana Brogi, Augustina Grisanti, Tresa Grisanti, Maria Sassette, Concetta Sassetti and Eletta Dini, animated by Christian fervour entered the hospital and dedicated themselves to the care of the sick. On 19th April 1893, embittered by the frequent defections and continuous interferences of the administration, 15 Oblates, including their Superior Sr. Florida decided to leave the hospital to give better formation for the aspirants and to live a real Community life based on the vow of poverty. At the same time they wanted to respect the Sisters who did not feel like taking this important qualifying step but wanted to continue according to their secular tradition.
The fifteen took the habit of Tertiaries of Our Lady of Sorrows on December 28, 1895 and made their profession "according to the spirit of the rule of the Friars Servants of Mary" on February 11, 1896. It was the Feast Day of the seven holy founders of the Congregation. Thus began the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows Servants of Mary of Pisa.
With a dozen Houses in Italy, some Sisters began to entertain the notion that it was time the Congregation carried its mission outside Italy. There were enthusiasts to the thought and also some apathetic. Those not in favour entertained gloomy forebodings about such a move and had apprehensive anticipations. They continued to think it would endanger the Congregation if the idea was implemented.
Well, in the fullness of time it was decided to explore possibilities for the expansion of the Community. Of course, there were quite a few still against the venture but as per the divine design, decision turned in favour of an exploratory move. And thus, looking for a suitable spot for a fresh garden, Madre Nicolina Valente, the Mother General, at last reached India.
During her trip in December 1975, Mother Nicolina tried to come to an agreement on setting up a foundation in the Diocese of Trivandrum. Her enthusiasm was so great that she felt she could overcome all reluctance from those Sisters who continued to anticipate adverse outcome in the shape of great danger for the Congregation if the idea was implemented. At the same time Mother Nicolina was able to boost the aspirations of those who considered this undertaking a compelling divine inspiration.
Despite the ailment that disturbed her deeply, she could see only beautiful landscapes and charming places in India. More encouraging and rewarding was her perception that the Community would find many opportunities to help the poor and the needy. She could easily assess there was no ground for any apprehensions and there was no danger at all. The only thing was to set out and to set out as early as possible.
Having come to that conclusion she proceeded with the backing of the Sisters who had dedicated their lives to the service of the suffering. Her pains were becoming always more excruciating but it was nothing to her. Instead, the great initiative that blazed within her was a guarantee of success. She was optimistic and confident that before she died, she would be able to see something blooming. But God had willed otherwise.
Of course it is Mother Nicolina who has been the cause and the spiritual base of their presence in India. But it is Fr. Reginaldo Bernini O.P. who has been the principal contemporary craftsman in the scheme of things. It was the Rev. Father who first succeeded in discerning the plan of the providence in the complicated entanglement of the long preparation.
Many a hurdles had they to overcome on the way. Without claiming anything, without investigations of any kind but holding on to an entire account of intentions and hopes, they landed in India. But Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara, Bishop of Cochin received them with open heart and open hands to his diocese. Nay, the prelate put himself at their disposal to help find the proper place for a formation house. The foreign Sisters found in His Excellency a Bishop who could be trusted, could be relied on and who could really be of help in times of need. Our Lady of Dolours Convent thus came to be set up here with the help of Bishop Joseph Kureethara.
Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara, then Rector of the Mount Carmel Petit Seminary, Cochin, was at the Dominican Convent at Iolo, Prato, Italy, when Rev. Fr. Reginaldo Bernini O.P., (Piazza della Minerva, Roma) invited the Rev. Father to visit the Convent of Suore Infermiere dell' Adolorata in Pisa. The Dominican Sisters of Iolo took the Rector and Fr. Bernini to Pisa, the Generalate of the 'Suore Inferniere dell' Adolorata. Rev. Madre Nicolina Valente, other Sisters and two Malayalee Novices, Bridgit Kakanat and Mary Chakalakal, received them with warm hospitality.
Madre Nicolina and Fr. Bernini unfolded before the Rector the story on Indian candidates reaching Pisa, through a certain cleric, one Fr. Cyriac Puthenpura of Changanacherry Archdiocese. The Madre expalined how ten girls joined their Congregation in 1969 and how, except for the two who were then making their novitiate, they left the Convent. Fr. Bernini and Madre Nicolina asked the Rector´s assistance in oppening a House in India. Subsequently Fr. Bernini took Fr. Joseph Kureethara to the Convent at Piazza Cucchi-2, in Rome where they met the other girls. Three of them later returned to start their Novitiate in Pisa and on March 21, 1975 Sr. Bridgit and Sr. Mary made their first Religious Profession.
Fr. Bernini at first thought of starting the first House of their Congregation in the State of Madras where there was already a monastery belonging to the Servites of Mary. But later he wrote to Cochin in June 1975 enquiring if it would be possible to start a Convent in the Diocese. While the correspondence was going on, Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara was nominated as the Bishop of the Diocese. They made arrangements then to reach here so as to participate in the Episcopal Consecration of the new Bishop scheduled for December 21, 1975.
On December 18, 1975 Fr. Bernini, Madre Nicolina Valente, Mother General, Sr. Bridget and Sr. Mary, together with the Dominican Sisters of Iolo, Rev. Mother Rosa Caterini, the Mother General and Sr. Paola Collotto landed in Cochin. The Sisters stayed at the Canossian convent, St. Mary's, Fort Cochin and Fr.Bernini stayed at the Bishop's House. Madre Nocolina and Fr. Bernini were still undecided as to whether or not their first house should be in Cochin. Mother Rosa Caterini could select a place at Palluruthy for the Rosary Convent of their Dominican Order.
Bishop Alexander Edezhath had not been favourably inclined to the erection of the Convent of the Servites of Mary in Cochin Diocese. So Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara had suggested earlier that they approach the Diocese of Trivandrum. Information had been passed on to Trivandrum and His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Bernard Pereira, Bishop of Trivandrum, had extended invitation to them.
Thus in January 1976, Rev. Fr. Bernini, Mother Nicolina Valente, Mother Rosa Confortini, Superior of St. Mary's Convent, Fort Cochin and Rev. Fr. Santon, a Servite Priest from Madras were taken to Trivandrum by His Excellency Dr. Joseph Kureethara himself. The next day together with Bishop Pereira, all went to Valiathura church where two sites were proposed. Respecting the preference of the guests for the property within the compound wall of the church, Bishop Pereira asked the Parish Priest to set aside the Parochial House for the temporary stay of the Sisters. Mother Nicolina returned to Pisa a happy Mother General.
During his first visit to the Holy Father after the Episcopal Consecration, His Excellency Rt. Rev.Dr. Joseph Kureethara called on Madre Niconila Valente on 14th September, 1976 in Pisa. Rev. Fr. Reginaldo Bernini and Rev. Fr. Francis Fernandez were with the Bishop then. The next day they participated in the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Dolours. Mother Nicolina showed His Excellency then a letter from the Vicar of Valiathura, the content of which was in the least encouraging. So, Mother Nicolina conveyed to His Excellency that given the chance, she preferred to work only in the Diocese of Cochin.
Rev. Sr. Bernardina, Superior of Guciliana at Lucca, Sr. Ubaldesca and Fr. Bernini came again on January 19, 1977 to look for suitable places in Cochin. They were taken to the diocesan property at Edacochin where now stands the Shaanti Bhavan and the Maria Goretti School. Because of the experience they had had in Trivandrum, they preferred to purchase and possess their own patch of land and thus the search went on for the proper location. Fr. Bernini advised that it should not be far from the Rosary Convent because he thought the Dominicans could be of immense help to the Sisters new to the place. On February 20, 1977 a formal request from the Mother General was presented to His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara to open a House in Cochin, their first outside Italy.
On January 27, 1977 Madre Bernardina was granted permission to erect their Convent in the Diocese. Mother Bernardina Pallestri and Sr. Ubaldesca Santarelli spent days on the look out for a proper place. After an uncomfortably uncertain and unduly lengthy delay, they managed to find a stretch an acre and sixteen cents in extent near Kumbalangy Vazhy. The plot located within the parish of Santa Cruz, Perumpadappu, was bought in February 1977.
A bright March 3, 1977 witnessed the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone for the first House of the Sisters Of Our Lady of Sorrow, Servants of Mary of Pisa. Msgr. Francis Figureido, Fr. Paul Punnakattuchery, Fr. Bernini, Madre Bernardina Palestri, Sr. Ubaldesca Santarelli, and Fr. Anslam O.C.D. and several parishioners were present on the occasion.
There was an old house within the compound which had about five deep tanks and on the southeast corner of the property was a tall "Pala" tree ( Alstonia Scholaris - common family name of some trees having milky sap for latex ). The tree seasonally produces very strong, sweet smelling flowers to which snakes get attracted and so they live in the bushes around such trees. Some consider 'Pala' as sacred and keep idols of snake deities near the tree and feed the snakes with milk. Not far away there was also one such a believer.
The tree had to be felled but who would raise the axe against a Pala? All were reluctant for fear that the anger of serpent deities would wreak revenge on the wood cutter with horrible leprosy. It was because of this superstition that the property and the house thereon had earlier been avoided by many prospective buyers. Rev. Fr. Anslem O.C.D., the Superior of the Carmelite Monastery, was indeed a bold man. The temple officers had threatened him and despite the intimidations, Fr. Anslem engaged axe men. Later Fr. Anslem conveyed to His Excellency that there were many small snakes, even very poisonous ones, on the branches of the tree but the wood cutters were really brave. They cut down all the branches and finally the tree itself was felled. In March 1977, Madre Bernardina, Sr. Ubaldesca and Fr. Bernini returned to Italy.
On 25th June 1977, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara visited the Generalate at Pisa again together with Fr. Bernini and Fr. Francis Fernandez and studied the plans for the proposed Convent building. On July 21, 1977, Sr. Ubaldesca, Sr. Bridget and Sr. Mary came from Pisa. Sr. Ubaldesca had already obtained admission to St. Joseph's Pontifical Institute for her Master's Degree in Theology. They stayed at the Creche building, west of the Bishop's House, for about four months and then shifted to Thoppumpady.
The former Mother General Nicolina Valente expired on October 10, 1977. On that very day, the first candidate, Miss Jessy Konnoth, from the Santa Cruz Basilica, Fort Cochin, entered the Convent. V. Rev. Mother Daniela Sabatino was elected Mother General in January 1978.
The blessing and inauguration of the convent building - Our Lady of Dolours' Convent at Perumpadappu - was on June 19, 1978. St. Juliana Nursery School was started in June 1978 itself and in the same month they started the Novitiate too. The first religious Profession in the House took place on June 1, 1982.
The little children of the nursery were to get admission at St. Dominic's L.P. School run by the Dominican Sisters at Rosary Convent and so a new building for the St. Juliana's Nursery School was found necessary. On February 17, 1983 the foundation stone was laid for the St. Juliana's School and the completed building was blessed on 15th September 1983.
Their specific activity is to give loving care and help to the sick and suffering, especially, the old and bring to them the blessing, consolation and hope of the Lord. Education, Catechism and pastoral activities are also part of their mission.
Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara