Sr. Alphonsa Rejoiced in Her Suffering

Sr. Alphonsa Rejoiced in Her Suffering
Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ
Sr. Alphonsa is officially declared a Saint at
Rome by Pope Benedict XVI on October 12, 2008.
When a person is declared a Saint in the Catholic
Church a few things get special approval in the
entire Christian World. First, that the saint beco
mes a venerable and revered person in the entire
Church. Second, the Catholic believers around the wo
rld could build places of prayer, chapels or
other institutions in the saint’s name as their
patron. Third, people could pray to and worship the
Lord through the intercession of the saint withou
t any discriminations of creeds or religions.
We could say that a saint is recognized by her/
his life as a child from
the cradle. Sr. Alphonsa,
who died on July 29 1946, was already respected as
a saint by some of her companions in her
convent and also by the people who knew her cl
osely before her death. But the number of
visitors to her grave ha
s been constantly incr
easing after her death. T
oday not only from Kerala
and from the rest of India but lakhs of people
from all over the world visit her grave and offer
their devotions and make prayer
s of intercession at her tomb.
Sr. Alphonsa who has been declared a Saint on
October 12, 2008 has become the first female
saint of India and the second Indi
an saint after Gonsalo Gracia of
Vasai, Mumbai. Gracia born of
Indian mother and Portuguese father had been
martyred on a cross at Nagasaki in Japan in 1597
and was declared a saint by Pope Pius IX in
1862. Also Mother Teresa has been declared
‘Blessed’ on October 19, 2003 and
the procedure of declaring her
as a saint is still going on.
Sr. Alphonsa has not been a popular person in our
world for the services to the poor as was
Mother Teresa of Kolkata. Both were nuns of di
fferent religious Congrega
tions in the Catholic
Church. There is no resemblance or similarity of
their lives too. But sometimes Sr. Alphonsa is
compared with St. Therese de Lisieux of Fran
ce who is known in Gujarat as Pushpavati. Like
Saint Pushpavati, Sr. Alphonsa endured severe ill
ness and suffering and lived a unique life with
much sacrifice, patience and prayers. So some
people call Sr. Alphonsa “Kerela’s Saint Theresa
of Lisieux.”
Sr. Alphonsa was born on August 27, 1910 in a noble and rich family in Kudamaloor village in
Kerala. But she was brought up by a foster moth
er since she lost her
mother in her childhood.
She was given name ‘Annakutty’ at the time of
her baptism. Her foster mother was forcing
Annakutty to settle in a noble and rich family by
marriage as she was beautiful and attractive at
the age of thirteen. But it was Annakutty’s firm
believe that the religious life was the all-time
best for her and she would die than to get marrie
d. So she even tried to disfigure her face with
burning chaff of rice and thought that
her foster mother would leave her alone from the attempts
to get her married.
Annakutty wanted by all means to offer herself
entirely to Lord Jesus by joining one or other
religious congregations. There we
re many famous and not so fam
ous religious congregations in
Kerala. But Annakutty, in spite of many invitation
s to join many famous religious congregations
from her relatives, chose the religious congregati
on of Saint Clara (Clarist) for herself which was
not so famous at that time. She entered the cong
regation of Saint Clara at the age of 17 years in
1927.
Annakutty, who had accepted the sp
irituality of Saint Francis Assi
si, took the relig
ious name of
Sr. Alphonsa after her preliminary training in the
congregation of Saint Clara. For one year she
taught children in the Congregation’s primary
school, but due to the suffering from various
illness, she could not continue teaching. So most
of her life was confined to her convent and to
her small room itself.
Sr. Alphonsa suffered also from the mental tens
ion along with her physical illnesses. In the
beginning of her illness some Sisters of her convent
were accusing her of false pretence of illness
without understanding he
r real sickness.
Sr. Alphonsa used to willingly suffer her illness
and false accusations without any complaint.
She used to offer herself at the foot of Lord Je
sus along with all her sorrows and pains as well as
her happiness. She wrote once about
her sorrows, “The wheat beco
mes powder when we grind it
and we offer the bread made of it to Jesus in
the Holy Mass. The same
thing is done with the
grape. After putting the grapes into the machine,
we offer the grape-wine to Jesus. In the same
way, we become ever more better people when our
griefs crush us and we offer them to Jesus.”
Sr. Alphonsa embraced this doctrine of life during a
ll her illness and used to keep a smiling face
while welcoming the people who visited her.
Sr. Alphonsa was generous and patient even to
take upon herself other people’s sorrows amidst
her own illness and pains. There is one inci
dent narrated in her biography. The Bishop of
Changnachery was suffering from malaria and was not able to do his duties. With the humility of
heart Sr. Alphonsa prayed to God and said: “Let
your wish be fulfilled, Oh Lord. If it is your
will, give me the illness of th
e bishop and let him be cured.” As a result, Sr. Alphonsa got the
fever of malaria and on the same time, the malari
a fever left the bishop completely and he could
attend to his duties.
Sr. Alphonsa lived the religious life of a nun for
only 19 years and had to suffer various ailments
most of the time. Her best virtue was that
she could endure with mu
ch patience all her many
illness and sorrows. She could remain joyful all
time and in all circumstances. She could also
behave with love both with her critics and
with her admirers. She could remain calm and
transparent in spite of her su
ffering many painful illness.
Sr. Alphonsa has not left behind an
y significant achievement. She has
also not left any material
thing as her heritage after her death. But she
had submitted herself entirely into the hands of
God. The Sisters of her religious congregation an
d the people who come to visit her commenced
to think of her as a saintly person and were insp
ired by her transparent ho
liness and her spiritual
life. After her death first her school children bega
n to pray at her grave and their prayers were
fruitful with her intercession. The
number of all sorts of visitors
to her grave grew up steadily
over the years.
The fame of Sr. Alphonsa spread no
t only over the entire St
ate of Kerala and in India but also all
over the world. I have taken many friends who come
from Gujarat to my home in Kerala to the
grave of Sr. Alphonsa in Bharnangnam, Kottayam di
strict. One can see many pilgrims from all
over the world in the chapel which is built on her
grave. Many miracles were registered through