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Sister Alphonsa smiled even on her deathbed

George Joseph | October 10, 2008 21:45 IST

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When sister Alphonsa died in 1946, around two dozen people attended her funeral. In her 36-year lifespan, she did not do anything big and very few people knew her too. Not many noticed anything special about her.

She was the opposite of Mother Teresa, who was known all over the world and was beatified, a step below the sainthood, soon after her death.

She is the first person to be conferred sainthood from the Kerala [Images] Church which traces its origins to St Thomas the Apostle, who was believed to have arrived in Kerala in AD 52. She is also the first Indian woman to become a saint of the Catholic Church.

In her life, Sr. Alphonsa had seen only suffering and pain. Most of her life she was confined to a room at the Franciscan Clarist Congregation in Bharnaganam, Kerala.

Soon after her death, the children at the nearby school, who were fond of her, would go to her grave to pay homage. The children found that their wishes, small as they were, fulfilled soon after praying there. The news spread all over Kerala.

 Many others certified that through her "godly intervention", many ailments were cured.

The veneration of Sr. Alphonsa continued and in 1986, on a visit to Kerala, Pope John Paul II, declared her 'Blessed' along with Fr Chavara Kuriakose Elias, who lived a hundred years before her. Sr. Alphonsa was a devotee of Blessed Chavara.

Beatification is a recognition by the Church of a dead person's accession to heaven. With the sainthood, Sister Alphonsa's portrait will be placed at the altar of Catholic churches all over the world and will be venerated. Churches and Catholic institutions can be named after her.

At the beatification ceremony, the Pope noted her letter to her spiritual director: "Dear Father, as my good Lord Jesus loves me so very much, I sincerely desire to remain on this sick bed and suffer not only this, but anything else besides, even to the end of the world. I feel now that God has intended my life to be an oblation, a sacrifice of suffering.' (November 1944).

'The weight of human suffering, even the misunderstanding or jealousy of others, could not extinguish the joy of the Lord which filled her heart,' the Pope noted.

The church needed major miracles, verified by several people including doctors, before declaring a person a saint. A physically challenged boy's family claimed he was cured of deformity after praying to Alphonsa. This was accepted by the church as true.
Believers say numerous other miracles occurred after praying to Sister Alphonsa.

Born Anna Muttathupadathu on August 2, 1910, in Kudamaloor, a village near Kottayam, to Muttathupadathu Ouseph and Mariam in the Archdiocese of Changanacherry, Kerala, she lost her mother in a month. She was brought up by her maternal aunt. As a child, Anna was inspired by St Therese of Lisieux; she wanted to follow the religious path and resisted her family's wish that she get married.

To avoid getting married, she even burnt and disfigured her feet herself. In 1925, she joined the convent and was ordained in 1927.

She bacame a nun on the day of the feast of St. Alphonse Ligori. The name Anna was forgotten and she became Alphonsa.

She continued her school education even after joining the convent. She also taught elementary school children for some time.

But most of the time she was ailing. Yet, she did not show the pain to anyone and suffered everything with a smile and prayer. Many people, who met her, said about the pleasant behaviour of her even on her deathbed.

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