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Alphonsa’s friend feels blessed to witness her canonisation

When Sister Alphonsa will be canonised on Sunday at Vatican as the first Indian-born Catholic saint, her only living colleague, Sister Mary...

Shaju Philipkozhikode |
October 12, 2008 1:02:13 am

When Sister Alphonsa will be canonised on Sunday at Vatican as the first Indian-born Catholic saint, her only living colleague, Sister Mary, will be standing in front of the statue of the blessed nun at a convent chapel at Kodanchery in this north Kerala district.

It is a rare moment for Sister Mary, 91, to see her friend being elevated as a saint. From 1936 to 1946, Mary prayed, dined and lived with Alphonsa at the Clarist convent at Bharananganam in central Kerala. Finally, she was lucky to witness the sainthood of her friend — a rare feat in the long process of canonisation.

Far away from the ceremonies and celebrations, this retired school teacher cherishes fond memories of her days with Alphonsa. “When Alphonsa breathed her last, I was standing at her bedside along with a couple of nuns. She died after traversing through severe pain. The day before her death, Alphonsa had told us death would visit her next day,” Sister Mary told The Indian Express.

“Alphonsa had very few relatives. They could not turn up at the time of funeral. Hence, the inmates of the convent carried her body to the nearby church. I was one of the pallbearers,” she recollected.

In those days, photographing the funeral ceremony was not a practice in convents. But the priest at Bharananganam church insisted on photographing the last journey, said Sister Mary.

Sister Mary said from the very next day after the burial, Alphonsa’s tomb became a pilgrim centre. It was students at the local school who, in their prayers, sought Alphonsa’s intercession. Then adults also kneeled down in front of her tomb with bundles of supplications. Later, several stories of miracles trickled in.

In 1956, Sister Mary witnessed Alphonsa’s tomb being opened for collecting mortal remains, as part of the canonisation process. “The church tribunal had recorded my statements about Alphonsa’s life. When I reached the Bharananganam convent in 1936, senior nuns asked me to sing a devotional song. As I stood worried, Alphonsa came running to help me sing,” recalled Mary. She said even at this age she sing those lines. Even during those days, local people used to come to visit Alphonsa, seeking her prayers.

Though Mary is the only living colleague of the saint, she has not come to media limelight. “Many nuns of the younger generation do not know me,” she said with a pinch of pain.

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