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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

"Revere Christ as Lord

"(1 Pet 3:15

) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month


Saint Alphonsa
Feast Day - July 28

Saint Alphonsa (19 August 1910 – 28 July 1946) was a Syro-Malabar Catholic Franciscan nun who became the first native Indian saint to be canonised in 2008. She is the first woman of Indian origin to be canonised as a saint by the Catholic Church.

St Alphonsa was born as Anna Muttathupadathu in a Syro-Malabar Nasrani family to Cherian Ousep 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 Archdiocese of Changanacherry.
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. Annakutty had a vision of St. Little Therese of Lisieux who inspired her to become a religious. But contrary to her desire to become a religious, she was brought up by her aunt with a view to give her in marriage into a respectable family, as was the custom of the day. But Annakutty aspired to become a nun. Her aunt and other relatives strongly opposed her plan. Her aunt tried to fix up a respectable alliance for her. She implored her uncle not to force her into marriage and fainted while pleading with him, but nothing would induce her aunt to surrender her beautiful niece to a convent. The proposal for marriage disturbed Annakutty deeply.

Annakutty had chosen the Crucified Jesus Christ as her beloved Spouse. She refused point blank the marriage proposals her aunt wanted to impose upon her. She hatched a plan to burn her feet in the pit used for burning the chaff and the husk of grain after the rice harvest. In her attempt to burn her foot a little, she slipped and fell into the fire which resulted in very severe burns on both legs. The toes of her feet were so badly burned that they became one whole single mass. The doctor had to separate her toes to bandage each of them. It took almost one year to get healed. God Almighty bestowed abundance of grace and blessings on His chosen beloved who offered herself for Him. The burning of her feet and the subsequent suffering had the desired effect when Annakutty's aunt dropped all her ideas about marriage and permitted her to join a convent.

Annakutty preferred the poor Clarist convent to the prosperous ones. When Annakutty persisted in her absolute refusal to tie the knot, her aunt had to give in to the steely resolve of her niece to join a convent. This accident left her permanently disabled.

When it became possible, Anna joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, a religious congregation of the Third Order of St. Francis, and through them, completed her schooling. 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.

She died on 28 July 1946. She is buried at St. Mary's Catholic Church, Bharananganam, Travancore (present day Kottayam) in the Diocese of Palai.

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".

Venerable Sister Alphonsa was beatified along with Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara, T.O.C.D., at Kottayam, on 8 February 1986 by Pope John Paul II during his Apostolic Pilgrimage to India.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.

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

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.

 
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