India’s priest of “heroic virtue” has 1,500 nun followers
By Larry Peterson
On April 14, Pope Francis met with the Vatican official who heads up the saints congregation, and approved the continued progress of the canonization cause of Servant of God Father Varghese Payyapilly Palakkappilly.
Venerable Varghese was born in India’s Kerala state, on August 8, 1876. He attended St. Albert’s School in Ernakulam. From St. Albert’s he moved on to the Central Seminary in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), an island off the coast. From there he attended the Papal Seminary in Sri Lanka, where he was ordained a priest on December 21, 1907.
Father Varghese was assigned as a parish priest and served as such in various parishes from 1909 to 1922. While serving at the parish in Arakuzha, he began St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School. His presence and efforts at the school and church helped reunite many estranged families and succeeded in making the church self-sufficient through land purchases.
Father Varghese also managed to acquire land for the construction of St. Joseph’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. He remained there until 1929. During Father Varghese’s tenure there, vocations to the priesthood exploded.
Father Varghese’s’ reputation as a kind and loving priest continued to grow. He became a member of the Diocesan Council and the Director of Apostolic Union as well as the Priests’ Provident Fund. People from all over came to him because they wanted his counsel to help them with their problems. He managed to bring many families back together using the wisdom he received from the Holy Spirit.
The simple priest was held in high esteem both by church officials and government officers. His empathy for the poor and suffering and his reputation spread far and wide after he helped many victims of the great flood of 1924. He even turned St. Mary’s High School into a shelter and delivered food himself by boat.
On March 19, 1927, Father Varghese founded the Sisters of the Destitute. His intention was to continue what he saw as Christ’s saving message among the poor. He found abandoned people, brought them to the shelter of the Home for the Aged and nursed them to health.
Today the Order of the Sisters of the Destitute has more than 1,500 nuns and also includes among its ranks doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers. They are located in Asia, Europe, Africa and across the United States. They operate such institutions as homes for the sick and needy, health centers, libraries, nursing homes, schools, hospitals and cancer centers.
Father Varghese died from typhoid fever on October 5, 1929. He was buried at St John Nepomucene Syrian Catholic Church in Kornthurthy, India. On August 25, 2009, Father Varghese was declared a Servant of God by the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
When Pope Francis officially recognized that Father Varghese was shown to have “heroic virtue,” he and seven others were elevated to the rank of Venerable. A miracle attributed to Father Varghase is under review and if it is validated, Venerable Varghese Payyappilly may become beatified.