Founder and Revivers of Vincentian Congregation

Founder and Revivers of Vincentian Congregation

Origin and Revival of the Congregation

Mar Louis Pazheparambil, the vicar apostolic of Ernakulam, during his visit to Europe in 1895, happened to stay at the mother house of the Congregation of the Mission in Paris. He was deeply impressed and inspired by the life and activities of this religious community founded by St. Vincent de Paul, so much so that he desired to start a similar congregation in his own diocese. With this in mind, he took along with him the rules of the Congregation of the Mission and started the necessary steps to implement his desire. He sought the help of Rev. Fr. Nithirickal Mani Kathanar who himself had a desire to bring the priests of the Congregation of the Mission to the Malabar Church. Mani Kathanar told Rev. Fr. Joseph Kariyapurayidathil and Rev. Fr. Mani Paramkulangara about the desire of Mar Louis Pazheparambil and he intends to send them to Ernakulam for that purpose. Meanwhile, Fr. Joseph Kariyapurayidathil happened to meet Rev. Fr. Varkey Kattarath at Poonjar, who encouraged him and strongly supported the idea.

Being aware of this desire of the vicar apostolic, Fr. Varkey Kattarath, the then parish priest of Vaikom in the diocese of Ernakulam, burning with the zeal to serve the Lord more intimately, approached the bishop and he offered him his whole-hearted support. Along with his paternal blessings, the bishop gave him the copy of the Common Rules (Regulae Communis) drafted by St. Vincent de Paul for the Congregation of the Mission. Fr. Varkey, who was so much loved and respected by the people of Vaikom parish, had no difficulty in finding a place for realizing his long-cherished ideal. Some land was purchased for this purpose at Thottakom within the parish boundary of Vaikom and a new chapel along with a small residence for priests was constructed there. Bishop Mar Louis blessed the same on 20 November 1904. This event marks the foundation of the Vincentian Congregation.

Shortly afterwards being relieved from the parish responsibilities at Vaikom, Fr. Varkey, the founder of the Congregation along with the other two priests, started living there. He has defined the ends, the life style and the spirit of the congregation by accepting the rules of the Congregation of the Mission. However, the circumstances were not so favorable for them to lead a community life. There was also no possibility to take candidates and train them. Though the bishop officially allowed Fr. Varkey in 1912 to take necessary steps to recruit new members to this congregation and to live a life according to the rules of St. Vincent de Paul, still the pioneer fathers were not in a position to lead a stable community life there and were dispersed in 1913 with the permission of the bishop.

God’s providence works in ways that are inscrutable. In 1927, three young priests of diocese of Ernakulam, Fathers George Mannara, Antony Powathil and George Vattamkandathil, approached Bishop Mar Augustine Kandathil, the successor of Bishop Mar Louis and expressed their desire to strive for greater perfection by leading a consecrated life. He directed them to go to Thottakom and revive the community founded by Fr. Varkey in 1904. Accordingly these three priests, entrusting them to divine providence moved to Thottakom on 19 July 1927, revived the congregation after a period of 14 years of dormant life and began to lead a community life there. They also were given the same copy of the rules of the Congregation of the Mission. They visited Fr. Varkey Kattarath and requested his blessings. He blessed them and in his old age he came to Thottakam, joined the new community, took vows, and became its first member.

Fr. Varkey Kattarath

He was born at Poonjar on October 13, 1851. He had his seminary formation at Mannanam and Pala. Following his ordination he was entrusted with the pastoral responsibilities of different parishes including Edamattam, Thathampally, Kanjirapally, Vilakkumadam, Angamaly, Ollur, Ezhupunna and Vaikom. He also served as Chaplain to many convents. He took the initiative to start the Ashram at Thottakom during his long stint as the parish priest of Vaikom. He returned to the Diocese of Changanacherry on March 18, 1915. Eventually Fr. Kattarath was appointed on February 7, 1916, as the chaplain of the convent at Champakulam of the Sisters of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament founded by Bishop Kurialacherry. He took care of the Congregation still in its initial stage and guided the members with fatherly love. He personally took care of the sick people even during the time of contagious diseases. He himself became seriously ill in 1927 and was even administered the last sacrament. But he recovered from that illness miraculously. He set out for Thottakom on October 27, 1927 to spend the rest of his life as member of the Vincentian Congregation which was revived. He made the first profession in 1929 and the perpetual profession in 1931. He was called for his eternal reward on October 24, 1931 and his mortal remains lay buried in the Church at Thottakom.

Fr. George Mannara

He was born on July 20, 1891 at Thaikkattussery. He completed his school studies from St. Mary’s High School, Alwaye and joined the Minor Seminary at Ernakulam. He completed his Major Seminary formation at Puthenpally and was ordained priest in 1920. He worked as assistant parish priest at Njarackal and as parish priest at Kunnumpuram and Kavil. He actively took part in the missionary activities among the local people conducted under the leadership of Fr. Joseph Panjikkaran while he was the parish priest of the above Churches. His efforts to revive the Vincentian Congregation and becoming a member of it, provide further proof of his missionary zeal.

Fr. George Mannara was the leader of the revivers. He was a born leader and his personality and presence could earn respect and fear to some extent from anybody. At the same he was man of a loving heart and had a special soft corner for the poor. He stood tall in any gathering by physical appearance and by his ability to preach and sing liturgical and other devotional hymns. He was known as a good actor and able speaker even from his seminary days. He could make use of these abilities in his pastoral work and turned out to be a very effective preacher of the Word of God. He was always an optimist and proved to be a gentleman in the best sense of the word. His obedience and respect for the authorities was exemplary. He was a model for simple life, gentleness and prayerfulness. In devotion to the Holy Eucharist he excelled everybody. He successfully led the Congregation from the difficult days of childhood to adolescence as superior and the Superior General. Fr. George Mannara became familiar to the faithful of Kerala as a retreat preacher, organiser and social worker and as the spiritual advisor to Kerala Catholic Congress. His towering personality commanded respect from both the faithful and from the society at large. He suffered a heart attack and departed from this world on December 15, 1957

Fr. Antony Pauvathil

He hails from Thaikkattussery and was born on September 4, 1896. He had his school education at Mannanam, Pavaraty and Alwaye. He underwent priestly formation in Minor Seminary at Ernakulam and in the Major Seminary at Puthenpally. After the priestly ordination on the 20th of December, 1924 he worked as assistant parish priest at Njarackal and Muttam.

The personality traits of Fr. Antony Pavuathil were quite unique. He was known as a missionary of ‘interior life’. He used to go for retreat preaching and other pastoral works along with the other two fathers. Later due to ill health he could no more undertake pastoral work outside. He was respected as a scholar and his literary abilities were well known. His work “Divyakarunya Aaradhakan” is still a best seller. Eight editions of the book were published and is extensively used for adoration in almost every Church and religious community. His other woks include, St. Vincent De Paul, Isoyodukoode Veroru Manikkur, Ente Prarthana Pusthakam etc.There are a few works and devotional songs in his shelves which are not published. He was a man of orderly life and very strict in observing all the rules and regulations. After completing 12 years of service at Thottakom, Fr. Antony Pavuathil came to Angamaly as superior in 1939. He spent the rest of his life at Angamaly except for a three year period from 1963 when he served as the Rector of Vincentian Vidyabhavan, Aluva. He served as the superior of Vincentian Ashram Angamaly for many years, as novice master for 11 years till 1963. Incidentally he was the first novice master from among the members of the Congregation. He also worked as professor of the Minor Seminary, General Councillor and as the novice master of the Franciscan Clarist Sisters for many years. He was called for his eternal reward on April 20, 1980

Fr. George Vattamkandathil

He was born at Thalayolaparambu of the then Changanacherry Diocese in 1896. He completed his school education and the Minor Seminary formation at Changanacherry. In the Major Seminary at Puthenpally he was the class mate of Fr. Antony Pavuathil and was ordained priest on December 20, 1924. He worked as assistant parish priest at Thaikkattussery till 1927.

Fr. George Vattamkandathil was capable of attracting the attention of anybody by his gentle sweet behaviour and his extraordinary ability to strike a conversation with anyone. He was the embodiment of simplicity and humility. He was skilled in music and preaching like the other two. He was willing to work tirelessly and was in good health all the while. He was very strict to himself in observing all the rules of community life. He served as the director of the Franciscan Third Order for many years. He was a missionary among the untouchables of the time and had to face lot of difficulties to nurture their newly acquired faith. He worked at Thottakom for a long time and the last three years he served as the superior. He was then transferred to Pachalam as the superior of the Ashram following which he came to Angamaly as the spiritual director of the novices and the minor seminarians. While he was serving as the spiritual father of the seminarians at Vincentian Vidhyabhavan Alwaye he was called by the Lord for his heavenly reward on January 7, 1967.