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Thomas Poothathil

With immense joy, we extend our profound gratitude to the Almighty God for having elevated Rev. Fr. Thomas Poothathil, an eparchial priest of the Archeparchy of Kottayam, Kerala, India, as the Servant of God on January 26, 2009. Turning the pages of history, we recall the selfless service of Rev. Fr Thomas as the founder of the first asylum in the history of the Kerala Church and also as the founder of St. Joseph’s Congregation. The commitment and conviction in the person of Jesus made his vision creative and constructive. The source of his energy and vigor always rested upon the compassionate heart of Jesus. Contemplating on the Divine presence in and around the realities, he motivated himself to work hard for the downtrodden and the marginalized. Whoever had the great opportunity to meet Rev. Fr. Thomas would unanimously affirm the statement that he is a person adorned with integrity, sincerity and maturity.

Thomas was born on October 24, 1871, in a noble family of Poothathil as the second son of Ittikunj and Naithy at Neendoor in Kottayam District of Kerala. As he grew he inherited the noble characteristics – social consciousness, intellectual equipment and eloquence, unfailing piety and generosity of Poothathil family. After the primary schooling at his home town, he was sent to a school in Thrissanappally, run by the Jesuit fathers. His hard work and perseverance always witnessed very good results in the examinations. The life amidst the Jesuit fathers and the inspirations he derived from them caused a remarkable change in his life career. He expressed his YES to Jesus and began his journey to embrace the order of Priesthood. He joined the Seminary in Puthenpally near Varapuzha on September 21, 1887. Enriching himself in the philosophical and theological studies he was ordained priest by Mar Mathew Makil, the vicar Apostolic of Changanacherry on December 28, 1897

His linguistic proficiency deserves words of appraisal for he was fluent in Syriac, English and also Malayalam. Taking this into consideration, he was appointed as a professor in Puthenpally Seminary in 1898 very soon after his ordination. Having completed his teaching profession in three years in Seminary, he had been sent to different parishes of the eparchy for pastoral work viz., Kumarakom (1900-1904), Uzhavoor (1904-1908). He served as chaplain of Visitation Convent, Kaipuzha and the Manager of St. Margaret School (1908-1915). Due to ill-health he could not take up pastoral ministry during 1915-1921. Residing at Kaipuzha parish, he began his efforts in view of founding St. Thomas Asylum and St. Joseph’s Congregation (SJC). Later he was appointed parish priest at Kidangoor (1921-1923), Kurumulloor (1923-1930), Neendoor (1930-1932), Chamakkala (1932-1933), Kurumulloor (1933-1938). After the retirement, he stayed at Kaipuzha parish presbytery from 1938 till his death (December 4, 1943).

He was a shepherd of love to his parish folk. Following the example of Jesus, the good shepherd, he loved and served people with selflessness. He used to train faithful to recite all the prayers clear and distinct. Quite often he reminded them to attend mass with great devotion. He was always interested in visiting sick people. He derived satisfaction in spending time with people who are at the death bed and prepared them for death. He was ever willing to administer the sacraments of confession and the anointing of the sick at any time. His meditative way of offering mass, singing songs were really touching. People liked to listen to his meaningful homily. So they always liked to come to the church to pray with him. He always instructed people to spend at least 10 minutes in the church after mass for thanksgiving.

He was a good preacher and was well accepted by the parish community in all parishes where he had served. He also started catechism classes without interruption. His pastoral commitment and zeal for souls were well known. He was a famous retreat preacher. He had conducted retreat in many parishes in and out side the eparchy. He trained the people to show reverence and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. One could see him kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament for hours as if he were casting all his burdens on the Lord and drawing power and strength from Him. The visit to the Blessed Sacrament for him was an art and science of relationship between God and his people.

He was also known as a good social worker and his social activities are well known, such as making new road, involvement in road maintenance, starting new schools etc. He considered education as an effective means of social upliftment of the people. Under his leadership many new roads were opened and it helped people in many ways. He did everything with the wholehearted support and co-operation of the people around. He was interested in organizing different programmes for the benefit of the poor, the down trodden, the handicapped, the people who live in misery, etc. He had great interest in planning and implementing programmes for the integral development of the poor and the marginalized. He was always ready to extend all possible help to the needy and willing to give any help, as he could to the people who would come to him. He always said to such people “now this; I shall try to give later.” He also instructed his spiritual daughters that “do not send any poor who come to them without giving anything.”


His most important and remarkable work in the pastoral field was the establishment of St. Thomas Asylum at Kaipuzha. The basic reason for the establishment of such an institution was his devotion to God and love for men. He always tried to uplift the living condition of the disabled people. He offered himself for this purpose and fully involved in it. He suffered many hardships and he was even misunderstood by many. The idea to establish an institution for the physically disabled people especially for the physically disabled women in the early 1900s was unimaginable. In those days the handicapped and the mentally challenged were discarded both at home and in the society. Therefore Fr. Thomas decided to give shelter to the physically handicapped women. As he was short of finance, he raised funds through local collection and from abroad. With this money he purchased a plot of land at the side of St. George Forane Church, Kaipuzha and constructed a house. This was the beginning of St. Thomas Asylum, which was inaugurated on 3rd May 1925, with the permission and blessing of Bishop Mar Alexander Choolaparambil, the then Bishop of Kottayam.

With the opening of St. Thomas Asylum there was a rush of the disabled, seeking admission and thus arose the need of committed women to take care of the disabled. After two years of the beginning of Asylum, Fr. Thomas Poothathil wrote a letter to Mar Alexander Choolaparambil, asking permission to start a religious Congregation for women in the name of St. Joseph. He received the necessary permission from the Bishop and started the congregation on 3rd July 1928 with its first five members.

Fr. Thomas Poothathil was a man of heroic virtues. Favours are received through his intercession. His life of sacrifices, deep faith, compassion for the physically and mentally disabled women, respects for authority, pastoral commitment, and life of prayer made him a man of God. All these heroic virtues make the church worthy of proclaiming him a SERVANT OF GOD. With the initiative of Sisters of St. Joseph’s Congregation, the process of his canonization began and on 26th January 2009 Rev. Fr.Thomas Poothathil was declared Servant of God by His Grace Mar Mathew Moolakkatt, Metropolitan Archbishop of Kottayam after the solemn Mass at Christ the King Cathedral, Kottayam

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, southern 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.

Indeed, his memory is held in holy 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 faithful come to his tomb to parry to him in their various and intercedes 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 exhibited as the founder. Many narrate stories of miraculous healing obtained through his intercession; some sick persons tell of their healing through his mediation.

The time has come to collect and submit “the testimony of others 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 beatification 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 authorities, especially 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.

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