Ranchi: The first tribal from India on August 7 entered the first stage in the lengthy canonization process in the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo, the Archbishop of Ranchi, named Mother Mary Bernadette Prasad Kispotta a Servant of God.
This was done after the Vatican in July issued the ‘nothing stands in the way’ certificate for a thorough probe into the life of the founder of the Daughters of St Anne, an indigenous congregation based at Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state.
“It is a rare honor for a tribal woman to be declared a Servant of God. Today, she became the first tribal nun in India to start her journey towards a possible sainthood. It is all God’s mercy,” Cardinal Toppo told a ceremony at St Mary’s Cathedral, Ranchi, the nerve center of India’s tribal Church.
The prelate is the first tribal cardinal from Asia.
Mother Bernadette, as she was popularly know, was born on June 16,1878. She founded the congregation along with three Cecilia, Veronica and Mary on July 26,1897. All her life as a nun, Mother Mary Bernadette worked extensively for education and travelled across forested hinterland without roads to reach and teach villagers.
During the turn of the 20th century and the early decades, when cholera struck large parts of Chhotanagpur, Sister Mary and Sister Veronica died in the epidemic. Undeterred by tragedies and dangers, Mother Mary Bernadette and her congregation went on with their work in the region and started branching out across India, reports The Telegraph of Kolkata.
Mother Bernadette died of tuberculosis on April 16, 1961, at St Anne’s Convent, Ranchi.
“Mother Mary Bernadette’s bravery came from her unshakable faith in Jesus. The Mother and Sisters of the congregation defied all odds to spread faith and education in the region. They are heroines of the Catholic church,” Cardinal Toppo said soon after leading the Mass.
Sister Linda Mary Vaughan, superior general, Daughters of St Anne, said they had moved a formal petition last November to Cardinal Toppo for the initiation of the process to declare their founder Mother Mary Bernadette a Saint.
“Beginning from four in 1897, today the Congregation of the Daughters of St Anne has 1,040 sisters spread over 142 convents in India and abroad,” Sister Vaughan said.
The Cardinal’s decree also asks the faithful and people at large to submit documents, photographs and other material evidence relating to Mother Mary Bernadette that they may possess, to the church, which a tribunal to be formed by him would examine and send its report to the Vatican.
Giving details of the rigorous process, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary to Cardinal Toppo and secretary-general of Catholic Bishops Conference of India, the highest policy making body of the Roman Catholic Church in India, said after the Cardinal received the petition, he formed a committee to go into the merits of the case.
“All 9 Bishops of Jharkhand and the Andamans, two auxiliary Bishops to Cardinal Toppo and one Bishop Emeritus were consulted. All available documents and photographs, including a memoir written by Mother Mary Bernadette, were examined. It was unanimously concluded that Mother had led a holy life and that a recommendation should be sent to the Vatican for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints of the Holy See. The Vatican concurred Mother Mary Bernadette led a heroically virtuous life and issued the nihil obstat in July. Today, the Cardinal issued a decree naming the Mother a Servant of God,” said Mascarenhas.
Once the tribunal sends its report to the Vatican, another long step-by-step process of screening for canonisation will start, criteria for which includes two posthumous miracles.
Accompanied by two auxiliary bishops Mascarenhas and Telesphore Bilung, Cardinal Toppo later today went to Mother House, headquarters of the Daughters of St Anne on Purulia Road, to lay wreaths at the statue of Mother Mary Bernadette.
The day coincided with Cardinal Toppo’s completion of 31 years as Ranchi Archbishop. “It’s been a long pilgrimage,” smiled Cardinal Toppo who would be 77 years old this October 15.