Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception
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|Born||19 August 1910|
|Died||28 July 1946(aged 35)|
|Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Catholic Churches
|Canonized||12 October 2008, Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI|
|Major shrine||Saint Alphonsama Church, Bharananganam, Kerala, India.|
|Feast||28 July (Roman Catholic)|
Saint Alphonsa is the first native saint from India. Saint Alphonsa Muttathupadathu, F.C.C., or Saint Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception (19 August 1910 to 28 July 1946) was a Syro-Malabar Catholic Franciscan Religious Sister who is now honoured as a saint. She is the first woman of Indian origin to be canonised as a saint by the Catholic Church and the first canonised saint of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church of the Saint Thomas Christian community.
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She was born Anna Muttathupadathu, the fourth child of Cherian Ouseph and Mary Muttathupadathu, in Kudamalloor, near Kottayam, on 19 August 1910. She was baptised on 26 August. Alphonsamma, as she was locally known, was born in Arpookara, a village in the princely state of Travancore within Kerala, India. This lies within the Archdiocese of Changanassery.
Her parents nicknamed her Annakkutty (little Anna). She had a difficult childhood and experienced loss and suffering early on in life. Anna's mother died when she was young, so her maternal aunt raised her. Hagiographies describe her early life as one of suffering at the hands of her stern foster mother and the teasing of schoolchildren. Anna was educated by her great-uncle, Father Joseph Muttathupadathu. When Anna was three-years-old, she contracted eczema and suffered for over a year.
In 1916 Anna started school in Arpookara. She received her First Communion on 27 November 1917. In 1918, she was transferred to a school in Muttuchira. Anna was from a rich family and because of that she got a lot of marriage proposals from reputed families. Her foster mother wanted her to become a perfect housewife in a rich household. However, Anna sacrificed all this material fortune and wanted to dedicate her life to Jesus Christ. In 1923, Anna's feet were burnt when she fell into a pit of burning chaff; local hagiographies describe this as a self-inflicted injury in order to avoid her foster mother's attempt to arrange a marriage for her and thereby to fulfill her desire for becoming a Religious Sister instead. This accident left her permanently disabled.
Anna arrived at the Clarist convent at Bharananganam, Kottayam district, on Pentecost Sunday 1927. She received the postulant's veil on 2 August 1928 and took the name Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception in honour of St. Alphonsus Ligouri, whose feast day it was. In May 1929 Sister Alphonsa was assigned to teach at Malayalam High School at Vazhappally. Her foster mother died in 1930. Three days later she resumed her studies at Changanacherry, while working as a temporary teacher at a school at Vakakkad. On 19 May 1930 Alphonsa entered the novitiate of the congregation at Bharananganam. On 11 August 1931, she completed the novitiate and took her first vows.
The period 1930–1935 was characterised by grave illness. Sister Alphonsa took her permanent vows on 12 August 1936. Two days later she returned to Bharananganam from Changanacherry. Sister Alphonsa then taught high school at St. Alphonsa Girl's High School, but was often sick and unable to teach. For most of her years as a Clarist Sister she endured serious illness.
In December 1936, it is claimed that she was cured from her ailments through the intervention of the Kuriakose Elias Chavara (who was beatified at the same ceremony as she), but on 14 June 1939 she was struck by a severe attack of pneumonia, which left her weakened. On 18 October 1940, a thief entered her room in the middle of the night. This traumatic event caused her to suffer amnesia and weakened her again.
Her health continued to deteriorate over a period of months. She received extreme unction on 29 September 1941. The next day it is believed that she regained her memory, though not complete health. Her health improved over the next few years, until in July 1945 she developed gastroenteritis and liver problems caused violent convulsions and vomiting. During the last year of her life she came to know Father Sebastian Valopilly, (later Bishop of Kerala), who frequently brought her communion. This bishop became famous in Kerala for championing the cause of poor people from all religious backgrounds who had come to live Thalassery as a result of shortages elsewhere.
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Claims of her miraculous intervention began almost immediately upon her death and often involved the children of the convent school where she used to teach. On 2 December 1953, Cardinal Tisserant inaugurated the diocesan process for her beatification and Alphonsa was declared a Servant of God.
In 1985, Pope John Paul II formally approved a miracle attributed to her intercession and on 9 July she became "Venerable Sr. Alphonsa".
During his speech at Nehru Stadium, the Pope said that:
"From early in her life, Sister Alphonsa experienced great suffering. With the passing of the years, the heavenly Father gave her an ever fuller share in the Passion of his beloved Son. We recall how she experienced not only physical pain of great intensity, but also the spiritual suffering of being misunderstood and misjudged by others. But she constantly accepted all her sufferings with serenity and trust in God, … She wrote to her spiritual director: "Dear Father, as my good Lord Jesus loves me so very much, I sincerely desire to remain on this sick bed and suffer not only this, but anything else besides, even to the end of the world. I feel now that God has intended my life to be an oblation, a sacrifice of suffering" (20 November 1944). She came to love suffering because she loved the suffering Christ. She learned to love the Cross through her love of the crucified Lord."
Hundreds of miraculous cures are claimed for her intervention, many of them involving straightening of clubbed feet, possibly because of her having lived with deformed feet herself. Two of these cases were submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints as proof of her miraculous intervention. The continuing cures are chronicled in the magazine PassionFlower.
Bishop Sebastian reported:
About ten years ago, when I was in a small village in Wayanad outside Manatavady, I saw a boy walking with some difficulty, using a stick. As he approached me I noted that both of his feet were turned upside down. I had a stack of holy cards in my pocket with Alphonsa's picture on them, so I pulled one of them out and gave it to the boy. When I told the boy that he should pray to this woman for the cure of his feet, the boy-he was quite smart for a ten-year-old boy-replied, "But I'm a Muslim, and, besides, I was born this way." I replied that God is very powerful, so let's pray. A few months later,a boy and a gentleman appeared at the house here.I didn't recognize them at first but soon learned that it was the Muslim boy with his father, here to tell me that his feet had been cured through their prayers to Sister Alphonsa. They showed me the calluses on the tops of his feet, and you could see the marks which had been made from the years of his walking with his feet turned under. Before they left, the three of us had our pictures taken.
The boy had reportedly taken Alphonsa's picture card and asked Alphonsa to help fix his feet. Several days afterwards one of his feet supposedly turned around. He and the other members of his family then prayed for the cure of the second foot, which also supposedly turned around later.
On Sunday, 12 October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI announced her canonisation at a ceremony at Saint Peter's Square. Indians from across the world, especially people from Kerala, gathered at the ceremony in Rome. Among them was a 10-year-old Kerala boy Jinil Joseph whose clubfoot – a birth defect – was, in the judgment of Vatican officials, miraculously healed after prayers to Alphonsa in 1999.
The final ceremony for the canonisation began with the holy relics of Alphonsa being presented to the Pope by Sister Celia, Mother General of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, the congregation to which Sister Alphonsa belonged. Sister Celia was accompanied by Vice Postulator Father Francis Vadakkel and former Kerala minister K. M. Mani, all holding lit candles. Speaking in English, the Pope declared Sister Alphonsa a saint, after reading excerpts from the Bible. The Pope himself read out the biography of Alphonsa after the ceremony.
In the homily, Pope Benedict XVI recalled Saint Alphonsa's life as one of "extreme physical and spiritual suffering."
"This exceptional woman … was convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father", the pope stated. "By accepting the invitation to the wedding feast, and by adorning herself with the garment of God's grace through prayer and penance, she conformed her life to Christ's and now delights in the 'rich fare and choice wines' of the heavenly kingdom."
"(Her) heroic virtues of patience, fortitude and perseverance in the midst of deep suffering remind us that God always provides the strength we need to overcome every trial", the pope stated before the ceremony ended.
The canonisation was greeted with the bursting of firecrackers and the toll of church bells. St Mary’s Forane church at Kudmaloor, her home parish, also celebrated a special Mass. The grave at St Mary’s Forane Church in Bharananganam where the Franciscan Clarist Sister was buried had a chapel built there, which houses her mortal remains.
Her tomb at St. Mary's Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Bharananganam has become a pilgrimage site as miracles have been reported by some of the faithful.
Thousands of people converge on the small town of Bharananganam when they celebrate the feast of Saint Alphonsa from 19 to 28 July each year; her tomb has been designated as a pilgrimage site with numerous miracles being reported by pious devotees.
- Blessed Chavara
- Carmelites of Mary Immaculate
- Saint Thomas Christians
- Cyril Bernard Papali
- Catholic Bishops Conference of India
- Roman Catholicism in India
- "St. Alphonsa – Our Patroness" St. Alphonsa Church, Bangalore
- Corinne G. Dempsey. Lessons in Miracles from Kerala, South India: Stories of Three "Christian" Saints. History of Religions, Vol. 39, No. 2, Christianity in India (Nov., 1999), pp. 150-176
- "Patron Saints Index". SQPN.
- "Beatification of Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Alfonsa Muttathupandathu". Vatican. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
- "Saint Alphonsa – History", Syro-Malabar Catholic Mission
- "Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception (1910-1946)", Vatican News service
- "St. Alphonsa", Kerala Catholic Times
- "St. Alphonsa", St. Alphonsa Syro Malabar Catholic Church, Los Angeles, California
- "Beatification speech of Pope John Paul II". Alphonsa site. Archived from the original on 12 November 2013. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
- Indian Catholics cheer their first woman saint
- "Catholic Church celebrates Alphonsa’s canonisation". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 13 October 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
- "Sister Alphonsa's canonisation date to be decided on March 1". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 26 February 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
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