SINGAPORE – The church in Kerala is as old as the universal church. According to tradition, St. Thomas the Apostle came to Kerala in A.D. 52. He preached the Gospel in many places in Kerala and established churches. Later, he went to Tamil Nadu to preach and there he was martyred at Mylapore, near Chennai.

The church in Kerala is a thriving community of 6 million, about 20 percent of the total population of Kerala. Missionaries from this state work all over India and in many parts of the world. Even though the church in Kerala can be proud of its 20-century-old tradition, this is the first time that a person belonging to the Kerala church is raised to the status of a saint.

Alphonsa was born in Kudamaloor, near Kottayam, on Aug 19, 1910. Her parents were Joseph and Mary Muttathupadath; they called her Annakkutty. Three months after her birth her mother died. Thereafter her mother’s sister became her foster mother and she grew up in Muttuchira.

As she reached the threshold of youth, marriage proposals came one after another. But she rejectd all of them saying, "my whole life has been totally dedicated to the Lord". Finally, in 1927 when she was 17, her father gave her permission to join the Clarist convent in Bharananganam.

On Aug 2, 1928 she received the religious veil and took the name Alphonsa. After undergoing training as a teacher, she served as a teacher in 1932. In 1935, she started her novitiate and, one year later, made her profession. By this time she was ill with many diseases. In a small room in Bharanganam convent the Lord had prepared for her a bed of suffering. Her suffering continued throughout the rest of her life.

On Jul 27, 1946 Alphonsa the docile dove started her heavenward journey to meet her bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Although unknown during her lifetime, she became famous after her death. The fragrance of her sanctity spread far and wide. People of diverse castes and creeds thronged to her tomb with petitions; later they covered her tomb with bouquets of gratitude for the miraculous healings and extraordinary blessings.

During his pastoral visit to India in 1986, Pope John Paul II declared Alphonsa and Carmelite priest Chavara Kuriakose Elias (also from Kerala) "Blessed". -  by Rev Fr Joseph Kanappilly

(Father Joseph Kanappilly is Assistant Priest at Church of St. Stephen and Chaplain for Malyalee Catholic Community in Singapore.)

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