St. Alphonsa, An icon for Indian Catholics

Growing up in Kerala, I used to see her pictures all around mine and my relatives houses. I was told that she was a great lady who led a pious life serving the poor and the destitute. According to one story, she led such a divine life, that for her first confession she had nothing to confess to the priest. It will be a proud moment tomorrow for Catholics around India, especially Keralites when Alphonsa Muttapadathu will be venerated as a saint by His Holiness Benedict XVI. Alphonsamma to the faithful, she will be the first Indian woman to be canonized. She will also be the first Catholic saint from among the Syrian Christian community.  

Alphonsamma’s life was one full of hardships. Born in Kudumaloor near Kottayam, Kerala as Annakutty in 1910, she lost her mother at an early age. She was since raised by her aunt. Her great-uncle Father Muttathupadathu took interest in her and  taught her to lead a life serving Lord Jesus. She grew up setting her mind to be a nun and serve God. Her father opposed her decison to follow the religious order. When he forced her to marry, she jumped into a burning chaff  which left her permanently disabled. She later achieved her goal of servitude when received the postulant’s veil at Bharananganam in 1928. Although she used to teach at the local schools, she was largely unable to do so because of a decline in her health. She was reportedly cured from her ailments through the intervention of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara. But later her health continued to deterioate because of illnesses like pneumonia and amnesia. Although she managed to regain her memory, her health was still a concern. She later developed stomach ailments and finally left for her heavenly abode in 1946.

After her death, her tomb at Bharananganam became a pilgrimage center and is still thronged by millions of devotees. It is believed that many have got cured thorough her intervention. In 1999 a handicapped boy was cured of his club foot after offering prayers at her tomb. This miracle led to her canonization. She had in 1986 become Blessed Alphonsa. St. Alphonsa as she will be known from tomorrow, is patron saint for the sick, orphans and people suffering from illnesses.


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