Rome: An Indian priest is among 17 people Pope Francis has advanced on the path to sainthood.
Father Joseph Vithayathi, one of the founders of the Sisters of the Holy Family congregation, has been declared a venerable, the second in the four-stage canonization process.
On December 14, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate decrees recognizing the heroic virtues of Father Vithayathil and 16 others from various parts of the world.
Thirteen of the new venerable are from Europe, three from Asia and one is from South America. They require a miracle for their beatification, the penultimate stage in the canonization process.
The Vatican congregation had declared Fr Vithayathil as a Servant of God, the first in the canonization process, on June 7, 2004
He was the spiritual director of Blessed Mariam Theresa, another founder of the Holy Family congregation.
He was born on July 23, 1865, as the second son of Joseph and Anna Vithayathil, a prominent family in Manambady parish, Puthempally, near Kochi in Kerala. He had two brothers, Varkey and Paily, and two sisters, Annam and Mariam.
He was ordained a priest on March 11, 1894, for Trichur archdiocese. He spent eight years in pastoral works in various parishes after ordination. He became the co-founder of the Holy Family congregation in 1914.
He was appointed chaplain for the congregation’s convent at Kuzhikattussery in 1922, where he stayed until his death on June 8, 1964.
He started perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the convent that continues. His contemporaries acknowledge his special gift for discernment to recognize the working of good and evils spirits.
The Holy Family nuns say the saintly priest had played “a unique and decisive role” in the life of Blessed Mariam Thresia and in the early years of the congregation. “Much of the evidence concerning the life and sanctity of Blessed Mariam Thresia is drawn from his writings,” notes the congregation’s website.
Blessed Thresia and Fr. Vithayathil worked together to nurture the new congregation with limited resources. After Thresia’s death on June 8, 1926, the priest continued to guide the congregation. He started new branches and projects and admitted new members and benefactors.
“When all were asleep he used to sneak away quietly to the chapel. 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 website says.
Directed by their bishop, Fr Vithayathil asked Blessed Mariam Thresia to write her life story from early childhood. The result was the Autobiographical Notes of Blessed Mariam Thresia which deals with her life experiences and events of life until 1905.
The other Asian venerable are Fr Ladislao Bukowiński, a diocesan priest from Kazakhstan, and Fr William Gagnon, a member of the Religious of the Hospitaller Order of St John.
Fr Gagnon was born in Dover, United states in 1905 and died in Hô Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam, in 1972. Fr Bukowinski was born in Berdyczów, Ukraine, in 1904, died in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, in 1974.
Italy accounted for six venerable, while Spain has 3. Brazil, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland each have one.