Poothathil Thommiachan I Fr Thomas Poothathil I poothathilthommiachan.org

 

 

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Servant of God Thomas Poothathil: Life History

Father Thomas Poothathil was an eparchial priest who lived and died like a saint on 4th December 1943. He was well known not only as the founder of St. Thomas Asylum, Kaipuzha and the St.Joseph’s Congregation but also in his personal holiness. the holiness of the founder has been officially proclaimed by the Church with his beatification, it seems fitting that the cause of the founder be initiated , so that his holiness and exmple be duly known for the glory of God and the benefit of the Church. He was a priest of deep faith, Knowledge, spiritual vision, and deep compassion for the physically and mentally disabled womesn, a man of integrity and honesty, respect for authority, pastoral commitment, and above all a man of prayer. 

Thomas was born on 24th October 1871 as the second son of Ittykunj and Naithy Poothathil, an educated, rich and a prominent family in the parish of Neendoor. He had five brothers, namely, Kochocken (Luka), Kunjepu (Joseph), Mathai, Ittykuruvilla, Pachi (Joseph) and one sister Kochiriyam (Aeli). His youngest brother Pachi (Father Joseph) also became a priest and worked as parish priest in different parishes in the Archeparchy of Kottayam. 

Thomas was very intelligent and good in studies. He did his higher studies in Thrissanappallil, in a school managed by Jesuit Fathers. Quite early in his life, he showed an ardent desire to devote himself to the service of God. It had been strengthened due to the presence and contact with the Jesuit Priests. He joined in the Varapuzha Puthenpally Seminary on 21st September 1887. There he studied for one year and shifted to the Brammamangalam Minor Seminary and again joined at Puthenpally Seminary on 9th October 1889. Father Bonifacius OCD from Germany was the Rector at Puthenpally Seminary during his seminary formation. Monsignor Bernard OCD was his spiritual father for the first and second year and later he became the Archbishop of Varapuzha in 1890. Later on, his spirtual fathers were Luis Bensigner OCD who became the bishop of Kollam and Fr. Ludovicus Gasper OCD. All these Fathers also taught him philosophy and theology. The other professors were Fr. Jereon OCD, Fr. George Valliyavettil, Fr. Thomas Purackal and Fr. Andrews Kalappura, and so on. 

After his philosophical studies he received the order of lector on 23rd December 1893 and the order of acolyte on 22nd December1894 and sub-diaconate on 8th September 1895. He received diaconate from Varappuzha Archbishop Monsignor Barnnardinos on 24th January 1897 and he was ordained to priesthood by Mar Mathew Makil, the Vicar Apostolate of Changanacherry on 28th December 1897. Since he was intelligent and good for studies he was appointed as a professor in Puthenpally Seminary soon after his ordination and took charge the professorship on the feast of Pentecost in 1898. In those days the academic year begins in the seminary on the feast of Pentecost and ends on Palm Sunday. He taught for three years, the subjects, such as, Syriac, Music and Latin. The spiritual, intellectual, literal experiences and the vision which he got from the seminary had influenced his later life and pastoral activities. During the life in seminary he also had well versed in languages, such as, Syriac, Latin, English, and Malayalam etc. 

He was relieved from the seminary in 1900 and got involved in the parish ministry as parish priest in Kumarakom (1900-1904), Uzhavoor (1904-1908), chaplain of Visitation Convent, Kaipuzha and the manager of St. Margaret School (1908-1915), Kidangoor (1921-1923), Kurumulloor (1923-1930, 1933-1938) Neendoor (1930-1932), Chamakkala (1932-1933), etc. From 1915-1921 Father Thomas did not take up any pastoral ministry with due permission from the Bishop because of his sickness and for the treatment and above all to set apart time for finding out finance for completing the work of Asylum. Without having any special ministry, he stayed in Kaipuzha parish presbytery still 1921. Father Thomas stayed at Kaipuzha parish presbytery after retiring from Kurumulloor Parish on 1938 till his death in 1943. So he could concentrate more up on the activities of Asylum and for the spiritual enrichment of the Congregation founded by him. 

The immediate reason for estblishing an institute for the physically disabled women took place when he was the chaplain of visitation convent at Kaipuzha and the manager of Saint Margaret School. A noble man from Kumarakom came there to enquire and secure an admission in the convent to her physically disabled daughter. He spoke with Father Thomas Poothathil and came to know that they will not admit physically disabled women there . He could not arrange marriage for her and she will not be admitted in the convent due to her physical disability . On hering that the disabled women will not be admitted there, he cried and went out sadly. This was the immediate inspiration for him to start an institute for physically disabled wome. He also had spoken his desire to Bishop Mar Mathew Makil. The Bishop was impressed with his idea and encouraged him wholeheartedly. Thus he started to collect funds from 1908 for the establishment of the above said institution. He collected funds locally and also from abroad (Burmma, Singapur, Malaya, etc) with the permission of authorities. Many people contributed generously to this purpose. He started his work with the help of people and above all trusting in the providence of God.Meantime, he tired to get land from Kaipuzha parish and the parish general body meeting decided to give land for the Asylum and requested the Bishop allow them to give land from the parish for this pourpose on 4th November 1909. The Bishop permitted to construct a building on the plot but said that the plot could not be given without the permission frome Rome. Since Father Thomas was not interested with decision of the Bishop, he bought a piece of land there and startd to construct a building. The foundation stone was laid by the Bishop. In an unexpected time Bishop Mar Mathew Makil deid on 26th January 1914.

After the death of Mar Mathew Makil, there were many ups and downs with regard to the construction of the Asylum. He slowly and gradually constructed the building and on 16th Kumpham 1919 and submitted the application for permission to Bishop Mar Alexander Chulaparambil to begin the Asylum. In the application he had clarified all the terms and conditions for the Asylum and submitted the necessary documents. But there is no proof that the Bishop had accepted the application and granted the permision. Again on 24th April 1924 he submitted an application for permission in the second time with further modifications. On accepting this application the Bishop gave a letter to the Kaipuzha parish priest on 29th August 1924 to make an enquiry with the other priests from the parish whether it was possible to begin this institute without any burden to the eparchy, or was it possible to attach with the Kaipuzha parish or with Visitation Convent, Kaipuzha. The parish priest with the four the native priestsand with Father Thomas seriousy discussed about the Asylum and scrutinized all the documents. They informed their findings to the Bishop in a formal was on 15th September 1924 that there would not be any burden to the eparchy because Father Thomas had collected the necessary funds for this purpose and it would not be worked properly if it was entrusted to Kaipuzha parish or Visitation Convent Kaipuzha. So there should be a special convent for this purpose. On accepting the repot, the bishop gave permission to begin the Asylum and tacitly permitted the request for convent on 19th September 1924. On 3rd May 1925, on the feasf of St. Joseph, Mar Alexander Chulaparambil, the Bishop of Kottayam, blessed the building for the Asylum and officially declared the inauguration. The physically disabled women came from Kottayam, Changanacherry, Thiruvalla, and Kochi, etc. He started the Kurumulloor School for the benefit of the Asylum on 21st June1927. There were thirteen women in 1928 having physical disability and without having disability and among them five joined the congregation when it was lawfully erected as the St. Joseph’s congregation. 

It was his vision that there should be certain women for the care of the physically disabled women and management of the Asylum and they should fully dedicate themselves for this purpose and later they should live like a congregation and they should be different from that of the congregation in Kaipuzha. Around 1927, there was a small community that lived like a congregation in the Asylum.So Father Thomas submitted application for approval for the establishment of a congregation on 14th May 1927 to Mar Alexander Chulaparambil. In the letter he stated that there were many women who wished to join the convent but they hesitate as it lacks an official name and approval of the ecclesiastical authority. He further stated that “I have reverence to the saints but I have more reverence to Saint Joseph.” (Pithrupadham, P. 106). So he requested the Bishop to give the name St. Joseph to the new congregation. The interested women who wished to join in the convent also requested to the Bishop and they also wished that their community to be elevated and erected as Congregation. One year later the request of Father Thomas, with the approval of the Bishop, two sisters come from the Visitation congregation to the Asylum 3rd April 1928 to give formation and training to the aspirants. They were Sister Katrina and Sister Johanna. With this the Bishop issued a letter on 15th June 1928 to begin a congregation in the name of St. Joseph on an experimental basis. On 3rd July 1928, after eight days of retreat, five members received vestition from Mar Alexander Chulaparambil. They were sisters: Josepine, Thomassia, Ignatia, Kochuthressia and Magdelena. 

It was his last desire that his body must be buried in the convent chapel at Kaipuzha. Since the work of the chapel not complete, the bishop did not give permission to bury his body there. At his funeral service more then twenty- five priests and a notable number of Sisters and a large crowd tood part. Father Malayil Chackochen, the best friend of Father Thomas Poothathil gave the funeral oration. His body was buried at Kaipuzha Church, southerm side of the altar. Later, Mar Kuriakose Kunnacherry, the Bishop of Kottayam permitted to transfer what remains from the tomb from the Church to the convent chapel at Kaipuzha on 4th December 1983 on his fortieth death anniversary. On the same day, his remains was officially placed in a copper box and again buried in a special tomb made in the convent chapel at Kaipuzha in the presence of the members from the congregation and of his family relatives by Father Jacob Kottarathil,the then Vicar of Kaipuzha Church. 

Indced, his memory is held in hely veneration not only in the congregation of St. Joseph but also outside among large number of faithful. Quite a large number of faithful believe that the person in question had achieved a high degree of sanctity (fama sanctitatis) and intercedes for them in God’s presence. Many faithfu come to his tomb to pary to him in their various and interceds in their personal or family life; in their various needs and necessities. It is the firm faith that he is actually in heaven and now enjoys the beatific vision of God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit or in other words he has joined with the heavenly communion of saints and can intercede for us before the Father. In the houses and institutions of the congregation, his picture is regularly exhibied as the founder. Many narrate stories of miraclous healimg obtained through his intercession; some sick persons tell of their healimg through his mediation. 

The time has come to collect and submit “the testimony of othere of different walks of life,” to the official judgment of the Church. Indeed, further delay may end in the loss of valuable testimony of living witnesses, whose number is fast decreasing while their age is steadily advancing. Since it is a little bit older cause, we do not have much eye witnesses.Nearly sixty-four years have passed after his death; this delay is not due to “fraud or deceit on the part of the petitioner” (Normae Servandae, 8 b).

Positively, there are chiefty there foci of interest on the cause of the Servant of God Father Thomas Poothathil. First of all, there is the St. Joseph’s congregation, of which he is the foundly. Secondly, there is the St. Thomas Asylum, of which he is the founder; the idea of Asylum in Kerala for the fist time originated through him. Thirdly, the Archeparchy of Kottayam, of which he was a priest cumulatively for forty-six years. 

With the beaification of Father Thomas Poothathil the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church as a whole and the Archeparchy of Kottayam in particular will be able to propose especially to its eparchial priests an inspiring example of a holy priest fully dedicated to God and the service of others especially of handicapped women. His life of prayer can remind priests of the source of priestly spirituality, which is personal union with Christ through prayer. His obedience and submission to Church authorites, espe cially his bishop, can recall priests to the promise they made at their priestly ordination. As a saintly and a man who felt compassion on the pitiable condition of others, he is an example to those eparchial priests, who are engaged in pastoral ministry. Finally, it will be a matter of great satisfaction and joy for the St.Joseph’s Congregation to see their founder raised to the honours of altar. His life and works will thus be deservedly better known in the wider Catholic Church to the greater glory of God.S.H.Mount.