Blessed Kunjachan—A Profile
Blessed Kunjachan alias Fr. Augustine was born on April 1, 1891 as the son of Itty Iype and Eliswa Thevarparambil. The Thevaraparambil house was a branch of the ancient Kuzhumbil family. Among the five children born to those parents, Augustine was the youngest. On the seventh day the child was baptized in his home parish, Ramapuram. The child was given the name Augustine, in respectful remembrance of the patron saint of the parish.
To the School
In those days pre primary schools such as kindergarten, nursery schools etc. were unheard of. Children in the villages were taught the alphabets and other initial matters by certain professional teachers, called Ashans, in their own schools, which were called Kalaris. The young boys and girls below five sat on the floor under a thatched roof. There were no pieces of furniture common to a class room, such as bench, desk etc. The Ashans were chiefly Hindus, and they treated all the children equally, irrespective of their religion.
There was a primary school run by the Government of Travancore in the compound of Ramapuram Parish Church. The building was constructed by the Church, and then handed over to the Government. On completion of the course in the Kalari, Augustine joined the primary school. Wearing a small cloth around the waist and holding an umbrella made of palm leaf, the boy went to school together with his companions. He was the shortest one in his class. After completing the primary classes at Ramapuram, K.M. Augustine (name in the school register) joined St. Ephrems High School at Mannanam and resided in the St. Alosyius Boarding attached to the school. In the boarding Augustine got the opportunity to foster the devotion to Mary, Mother of God, which he acquired from his parents.
To the Seminary
Augustine Thevarparampil joined the Minor Seminary at Changanacherry to become a diocesan priest. On completing the minor seminary training, Bro. Augustine was admitted to the Puthenpally Seminary, at Varapuzha in June 1915. On July 16, 1915 Bro. Augustine Kuzhumpil received his cassock.
At the end of the 9th year, his life in the Seminary reached its destination. That blessed day fell on 21st December 1921. Mar Thomas Kurialacherry, the Bishop of Changanassery conferred on him the holy order of priesthood. Fr. Augustine was appointed assistant Vicar at Kadanad Church (incharge of Manathoor filial church), in February 1923. The vicar in the church at that time was Fr. Thomas Kuzhumbil, a relative of Blessed Kunjachan.
Even at the time of rendering service as a young assistant priest people used to approach him to save their crops from damaging worms and insects. They believed sincerely that if he came to bless and sprinkled the Holy water, the worms in the ginger field and the insects destroying their paddy would perish and their crops saved.
Kunjachan’s service at Manathoor and Kadanad did not last long. As he got sick, he returned to Ramapuram in March 1926.
Annual Retreat at Ramapuram Preached by Fr. Hilarios T.O.C.D.
The Evangelical work among the dalits in the diocese of Changanacherry was entrusted to Fr. Hilarios T.O.C.D., a religious priest of the Syrian Carmelite congregation. Visiting the various parishes of the diocese, he attracted many to the fold of the Holy Church, by his retreats and counsels.
In his mission tour Fr. Hilarios T.O.C.D. came to St. Augustine’s Church, Ramapuram in March 1926. Actually he had been invited by the then vicar, to preach the annual retreat to the community of the faithful. At the insistence of the preacher, some of the landlords led their own dependents, mostly Dalit people, to the Church on the last day of the retreat. The preacher taught them the essentials of the Christian faith. He told them that those who wished could receive the Holy Baptism and about two hundred people received baptism that day.
Vista to Fr. Augustine Thevarparampil in Evangelization
It was while convalescing at Ramapuram that Kunjachan noticed the events that happened in the Church during the annual retreat. There he witnessed the beginning of a new field of Evangelization. Fr. Thomas Kuzumbil, a senior cousin of Kunjachan, was the parish priest of Ramapuram at that time. Finding that Kunjachan was interested in these people, the parish priest entrusted him with the task of looking after the neophytes. He entered into this new mission whole heartedly and began to work with all sincerity.
He visited the hundreds of Dalit families that lived in and around Ramapuram. None of them owned even a small piece of land. They lived in rickety huts made in other people’s property. In those days the children from the dalit families were denied admission in the public schools. Kunjachan realized that there was not even a single person among the neophytes who knew how to read and write. He was convinced that the first thing his people required was basic education. Therefore he started schools known as Kalaries in small sheds in the different parts of the locality.
Kunjachan: A Model Missionary
Kunjachan led a life devoid of any rest. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning he spent a lot of time before the Blessed Sacrament. Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, he dedicated to the Lord the day’s activities and sought His Grace for the success of his mission. After the Holy Mass and thanks giving he took a very light breakfast. By this time the catechist would be ready to accompany him, and Kunjachan would go with him to the different parts of the parish and to the villages near and far like Uzhavoor, Kurichithanam, Edakkoli, Chittar, Areekara, Veliyannoor, Kondadu, Amanakara, Poovakulam, Neeranthanam, Nellappara, Kurinji, Pizhaku, Mattathipara, Ezhacherry, Chakkampuzha and in the estates of Chennad. He went to the Dalit Houses several times. There was no convenience for travelling, not even a good road. He walked along crossing the canals and paddy fields. There were people who didn’t like to welcome Kunjachan at their home. He waited patiently speaking to them gently and lovingly but a lot of people heard what he told them about Jesus and embraced Catholic faith.
After coming back from the tiresome journey Kunjachan spent a lot of time before the Blessed Sacrament. It was for giving a detailed report of his work of the day to the Lord. He discussed with Jesus the project for the next day. As a result of his activities hundreds of neophyte received baptism. He used to visit his people frequently. Thus he could understand personally the hardships and miseries of the poor people. He used to attend the sick, give medicine, teach catechism and help them financially as far as possible. He persuaded them to send their children to school, supplying them with dress and food. He started a small saving scheme for them. He began a Co-operative society to bring about unity and charity among them. Kunjachan organized study classes in the different parts of the parish to sensitize them of the need to liberate themselves from their old practices of superstitions and sorcery and to send their children to schools. He also made use of such platforms to sort out their domestic problems such as marital infidelity and problems related to drug addiction. He made use of the services of the priests and sisters of the locality to train them and to introduce various entertainment programmes at their meetings.
For their spiritual upliftment he conducted annual retreats and at the end of the retreat he took note of their annual confession and marked it in ‘Almasthithi’ which he was keeping for every family from the very beginning of his apostolate in 1926. As a result of such intimate personal contacts he could call each one by his name. He called them ‘My children’ and they in their turn said of him as ‘Our Father.’
Admitted in the Hospital
Gradually, owing to his hard work and the meager intake of food, Kunjachan became sick. He was compelled to be confined to bed on account of a fever he contracted in 1959. Though he was cured of this illness gradually, never did he regain complete health.
Even after becoming sick, he was very careful to make his daily morning Meditation and the other traditional prayers. He was in the habit of reading the lives of saints and the gospel passage for meditation from early times. When he became too ill to read by himself, he heard them read by others.
Golden Jubilee Celebrations
On December 17, 1971, Kunjachan completed 50 years of his priesthood. He did not like to celebrate his golden jubilee in a solemn manner, as was customary with the elder priests. Still, at last he had to yield to the compulsion of the fellow priests of Ramapuram parish, to have some celebrations. For the sake of convenience it was conducted on December 22, 1972. As he was too weak to concelebrate, with the other priests, he could only be present at the sanctuary sitting on a chair. The Holy Mass being over, a congratulatory meeting followed, presided over by Msgr. Jacob Vellaringatt. The president and the other speakers spoke elaborately about the selfless apostolic activities of Kunjachan. But he did not like those laudatory speeches. Becoming restless, he wanted to go back to his bed. He could not speak a single word. It was another priest who on behalf of Kunajchan thanked all the people gathered there.
The unregistered will
Kunjachan understood that he was approaching the end of his life. On a sheet of paper he wrote his last wishes. As he had nothing in his possession, there was no need of registering any ‘Will.’ In that document we read;
I do not possess anything either as land property or as cash accounts. Neither do I owe to anybody anything. The pieces of furniture in the room belong to the senior priests of the Kolath family. After my death, the funeral must be conducted in the simplest way. Ever since 1926, I had been staying with the Dalit Christians. Even after death, I would like to be with them. Therefore my dead body should be buried, where the Dalit Christians were buried. The news of my death should not be published in newspapers. You need inform only the fellow priests of this parish, and the priests of the neighbouring parishes. The coffin should not cost more than twenty five rupees.
I have to get Rs.464, Annas 6 and paise 3 from the Church, which amount I had spent as salary to the Catechist. To that amount, should be added Rs.35, Annas 9 and paise 9, which if I find difficult to realise, Ouseph Mathai, my eldest brother’s son, should entrust to the Church, thus making the amount to be Rs.500/-. The interest of this amount should be spent to celebrate a Holy Mass and an office for the dead, on the day of my death anniversary.
Don’t celebrate the ‘Sradham’ with a ceremonial meal. Instead, it is enough that the prayers for the dead be done at the sepulchre. It is requested that on that occasion, the
members of the family and the Dalit Christians should make their confession, receive Holy Communion and pray for the souls in Purgatory.
Back to his House
When Kunjachan became more and more sick and had to depend on others for every personal need, he was advised to stay at his house for better treatment. In the first few days after reaching home, he was found to be somewhat restless. He was really sad at having left the premises of the Church, where he was staying for about half a century. Yet, gradually he got himself accustomed to the new surroundings of the family. Many people, including his beloved fold, relatives and friends visited him regularly. Though in short words, he enquired about the whereabouts of each and every one of his flock.
The Last Moments
Kunjachan’s health gradually deteriorated; respiration was difficult and he lay in bed always.
The saintly priest suffered all his pain silently. He limited his speech to only a few words. On October 16, 1973, two of his seminary mates, Fr. Sebastian Mattam, and Fr. Abraham Moongamackal reached Thevarparampil House quite accidentally, to visit their ailing old friend. Though he saw them standing beside the bed, he could not talk anything distinctly. A sudden change was noticed in his facial expression. Understanding the gravity of the situation, the Reverend priests gave him the last blessing. The holy soul of Kunjachan flew into Heaven peacefully.
Not long after the bells of the parish church tolled announcing his death. People from all over the parish and the neighbouring places rushed to Thevarparampil House, to catch a last glimpse of the deceased Kunjachan.
On 17th morning, the dead body was taken to St. Augustine’s Church Ramapuram for the last services and burial. On that very day itself many people approached the coffin imploring the intercession of the holy priest who had just passed away. Some of them even touched their rosary, pen and other things on the bier and prayed.
One more Mediator in Heaven
At the end of the concelebrated Mass in the afternoon, it was Fr. Valerian C.M.I., who spoke the panegyric. He spoke well of Kunjachan’s holiness in life, apostolic zeal, kindness of heart, love for the poor and other virtues. And towards the end he told quite unexpectedly, “We are participating in the funeral of a saint. We have one more mediator in heaven”.
Mar Joseph Pallikaparampil, the Auxiliary Bishop of Palai, officiated at the ceremonies, in the absence of Bishop Mar Sebastian Vayalil, who had been away on a mission tour to the dioceses in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.
Kunjachan was buried in a new tomb constructed in front of the altar of St. Augustine in the old church, where he had been celebrating the Holy Mass for years. Even though he proposed in his will that he should be buried in the cemetery among the poor Dalit Christians, no one was willing to accede to that pious desire.
The Day after the Burial
People were convinced of the sanctity of the life of the Kunjachan even while he was alive. They strongly believed that he would be a powerful intercessor for them before the Almighty. So they began to come to his tomb to pray for his intercession. Protection of crops from destructive insects, curing of domestic animals, success in examinations, employment to the unemployed and similar items were the subjects of their prayer. As a memento of their gratitude, his photo was published in the daily newspapers. They felt that Kunjachan was still staying with them granting all kinds of wonderful favours.
Marble Slab over the Tomb
Some pilgrims, who approached the tomb, knelt there and prayed for his intercession. While returning, they took home a little soil from that tomb. They experienced that, the soil had some miraculous power. When their number increased, it was necessitated that the sepulchre be kept safe, neat and tidy. Therefore the relatives of Kunjachan decided to install a marble slab over the tomb. On May 4, 1974 Mar Sebastian Vayalil, Bishop of Palai, blessed the slab and installed it.
Celebration of the Death Anniversary
The first death anniversary of Kunjachan was duly celebrated on Oct 16, 1974, jointly by his relatives, the neophytes and the parishioners. With the passing of years the number of participants at the death anniversary increased to several thousands. Bishops, priests and people from far and wide reached Ramapuram, making the place a renowned pilgrim centre. They all took part in the Sraddham, and ate the ceremonial meal with due devotion.
Steps towards Canonization
The news about the holiness and the intercessory power of Kunjachan reached even far off places. Pilgrims began to flock to his sepulchre. Many responsible persons opined that his cause might be considered for canonization. It was Mar Sebastian Vayalil, the first Bishop of Palai, who took the primary initiative in this line. Based on a request made by the retired Bishop, Mar Joseph Pallikaparampil placed a petition before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome to start the process of canonization of Fr. Augustine Thevarparampil. After a preliminary investigation, the Congregation issued the ‘Nihil Obstat’ (no objection) to start the process.
Bishop Mar Joseph Pallikaparampil appointed Fr. Antony Cairoli, OFM, the Postulator General of the Congregation of Franciscan Minors, Rome, the Postulator for the Cause of Kunjachan.
Inauguration of the Diocesan Tribunal
Cardinal Simon Lourdusamy, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, during his official visit to Kerala, reached Ramapuram, on August 11, 1987. In a public session held inside St. Augustine’s Church Ramapuram, in the presence of the Cardinal, the diocesan Tribunal was formally inaugurated. Rev Fr. Joseph James C M I - Chief Judge & Bishop’s Delegate, Rev. Fr Joseph Kariyapuram - Promoter of Justice , Rev. Fr Sebastian Thayil - Promoter of Justice, Rev. Fr. Zacharias Madhurapuza - Notary, Rev Sr. Eymard C M C - Notary , Rev. Sr. Paul Mariah – Cursor.
In that august assembly, participated by many of the bishops of the Syro Malabar Church, and attended by priests, religious and thousands of lay people, Mar Joseph Pallikaparampil the local ordinary, at first took the oath of secrecy. He was followed by the presiding judge, promoter of justice, notary, and cursor. Thence forth Kunjachan began to be called, “Servant of God.” Fr. Kurian Mathothu, a priest of the eparchy of Palai, was appointed Vice-postulator of the cause. A list of witnesses, numbering 121 had been prepared and was presented before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. A circular letter was published in the diocesan bulletins of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches, requesting the faithful to entrust the Vice-Postulator, with any record or matter that might be of help to the diocesan tribunal in its investigation. The registers and diaries written by the Servant of God, the letters he wrote, received or kept by him, etc were scrupulously collected and examined. The vice-postulator took care to meet as many people as possible personally who might have had contact with the revered priest, from among whom a few were chosen to be additional witnesses.
The Diocesan Tribunal in Sitting
Completing the preliminary preparations, the Tribunal began its sitting to examine the witnesses on 15th June 1989. It was quite accidental that, the sessions of the Tribunal were conducted in the very same room in the presbytery, where Kunjachan was staying for more than three decades!
Altogether 129 witnesses were examined in 205 sessions. They included Bishop-1; Priests-30; Rev. Sisters-12; Laymen-73; Laywomen-12; Religious brother-1. On completion of the examination of the witnesses, their testimonies had been translated from the vernacular Malayalam to English.
The final (public) session of the Diocesan Tribunal was conducted at St. Augustine’s Church Ramapuram on June 6, 1992, presided over by bishop Mar Joseph Pallikkaparampil. The bishop put his signature officially on the packets containing the findings of the tribunal. Along with these documents, the letters of the Servant of God, his pocket diary, different registers written by him and kept in the Church, biographies in different languages, paper cuttings, articles in magazines, reports of favours received, etc also have been packed, sealed and sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. The original copies of the documents were kept in the archives of the Bishop’s house.
On demand from the part of the Postulator, a Historical Commission consisting of three members was constituted on June 6, 1993. The Commission made a detailed enquiry about everything that might be found about Kunjachan, in the Major Seminary at Alwaye, (The Puthenpally Seminary, where Kunjachan had his priestly studies was later shifted to Mangalapuzha Seminary, Alwaye), Archives of the Bishop’s houses at Changanacherry and Palai, and other places related to the saintly priest. The report prepared based on the findings of the enquiry was sent to Card. Anjelo Felici, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Rome, on September 15, 1993.
Diocesan Process Approved
The findings and the reports sent to Rome, weighed all together 62 kgs. The papers arranged in a number of files, were submitted to the Congregation by Fr. Giovanni Folguera OFM, the Postulator.
As a first step, the documents were bound in 36 volumes. Then the Congregation made a detailed study to see whether the proceedings of the Diocesan Tribunal were conducted according to the prescribed regulations. Finding them to be in the proper order, the Congregation issued a decree approving the validity of the documents on November 26, 1993. Again on December 10, 1993, Msgr. Jose Louis Gutierezz was appointed ‘Relatore’ for conducting the cause of Kunjachan.
The Tomb Opened
It was on October 17, 1973 that the body of Kunjachan was interred in a new sepulchre in the old church at Ramapuram. Investigation of the mortal remains being a part of the diocesan process, the Vice postulator presented the matter before the bishop and requested him formally to grant permission to open the tomb according to the prescribed norms, that were to be followed in the cause of the canonization of saints. Mar Joseph Pallickaparampil, Bishop of Palai granted the permission to open the tomb on March 10, 1990.
The Church was fully packed with devotees. The bishop, the members of the Tribunal, doctors, and other assistants standing before the altar, took the solemn oath, after the initial prayers. Engineer Mr. Jesudas, together with his work assistants, at first carefully removed the Marble slab and the soil underneath. Then Dr. (Professor) George Paul from the Medical College, Kottayam, descended into the tomb and carefully picked up the mortal remains one after another. First they were examined by the bishop and the promoters of justice of the Tribunal. Then the mortal remains were placed into a stainless steel casket which had three separate compartments. The casket was kept safely in the locked room of the presbytery for a few days, for a new tomb had to be constructed at the same site. On August 24, 1990 the casket containing the moral remains were officially taken out of the locked room by the bishop. It was taken to the church and placed on a raised platform, which could be seen by all the devotees thickly packed there. Then the casket was placed in a box made of fibre-glass, closed and sealed. Then the box was taken to the newly built tomb for interment.
Kunjachan, the Servant of God Declared Venerable
The process of Beatification and Canonization started on August 11, 1987 at Ramapuram, bestowing upon him the title, ‘Servant of God.’ The ‘Positio super vita et virtutibus’ was completed after ten years and was submitted at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on February 12, 1997. The ‘Positio’ on the heroic practice of virtues of the saintly priest was approved by Pope John Paul II on June 22, 2004 and he was declared ‘Venerable.’
The Process of Beatification
Gilson, son of Varghese and Elsy of Kalathil family, Adimaly, Kerala, was born on August 8, 1981. He had a serious deformity on his right foot when he was born. Not being able to lay his foot on the ground, he used to walk with the upper part of his foot. The doctor had told that his right leg needed operation. Due to financial problems his family didn’t dare to perform the operation. It was Fr. Abraham Panamkatt, the parish priest at Adimaly who brought Gilson to Kunjachan’s tomb at Ramapuram. He prayed at the Tomb. After returning from Ramapuram, Gilson, together with the other members of the family prayed together to Kunjachan for the recovery of the clubfoot, after the daily evening prayer. Two or three days after his return from Ramapuram Gilson was completely made well on June 25, 1991. He could walk without any problem.
Within a few days after the recovery, Gilson went to Ramapuram and reported the matter to the Vice-Postulator, Fr. Kurian Mathothu. He interviewed several persons, including the members of his family, his teachers, neighbours, doctors, parish priest and so on. After collecting first hand testimonies from the respective persons, the matter was presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in Rome. Satisfied with the documents presented, the Congregation authorized the Vice-Postulator to conduct the diocesan process regarding the miraculous cure.
Since Gilson was a member of the diocese of Vijayapuram, the Diocesan Tribunal had to be set up by the Bishop of Vijayapuram. The Tribunal examined 18 persons including 6 doctors and registered their testimonies. The reports were sent to Rome in 1998.
The documents were thoroughly studied and evaluated by a group of seven doctors authorized by the Congregation. They gave their approval unanimously. Again it came before a Commission of seven Theologians. They also approved the miraculous cure. Finally a commission of Cardinals and Bishops examined the matter. The final approval had to be made by the Pope himself.
On Monday, December 19, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI authorized the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, to promulgate the decree on the miracle attributed to Venerable Servant of God Augustine Thevarparampil (Kunjachan), thus opening the way to beatification.
Venerable Kunjachan was beatified by His Eminence Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, the Major Arch Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Church on April 30, 2006 at the very same village Ramapuram, where he was born, worked, died and was buried.
The feast of blessed Kunjachan is celebrated on October 16 every year.