CNEWA

90 Years, 90 Heroes:
Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam

To many of the faithful in India, he is a saint: Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam, known as the “father of the poor.”

We profiled him in ONE magazine two years ago:

Mar Joseph died in Kenya in 1998 visiting a newly established house of Nirmala Dasi Sisters, a community he helped found in 1971. Translated from the Malayalam, the local vernacular, as the “Servants of God,” the Nirmala Dasi Sisters often serve as the primary agents of Mar Joseph’s works to serve the poor, the marginalized or those too feeble to care for themselves.

The community felt orphaned after his death, Nirmala Dasi Superior General Rosily Pidiyath recalls from the community’s tiny parlor in their motherhouse in Mulayam, near Trichur. The sisters are not alone. People cared for by the archbishop echo these sentiments, and hundreds will tell you they are alive today because he came forward to help when others had abandoned them.

Sixteen years after he died, Mar Joseph Kundukulam has left behind a remarkable legacy — a testament to a man who, even in death, continues to touch hearts and change lives.

As a young priest, Joseph Kundukulam was no stranger to charitable work. But his outreach to the poorest of the poor began in earnest when he was appointed pastor of St. Anne’s Church in Padinjarekotta, a suburb of Trichur. One day, a young woman carrying an infant asked the young priest for a place to stay. She was single, abandoned after the father of her child learned she had become pregnant. Her family had disowned her for her indiscretion. Father Joseph had to break the news that he had no shelter to offer.

Hours later, he found the young woman and her child still waiting for him. When he asked her what else she needed, she requested a small sum of money — little more than pocket change — to buy poison so she could kill herself and her child. Her request shocked the priest, who immediately worked with the parish to find some way to accommodate her.

He began to search for a more permanent way to help the young mother and others in her situation. Before long, he found a priest in Germany who offered him funds to start a new facility, on the condition the center be named after the patron saint of his parish in the heart of Europe. Since its founding in 1967, St. Christina’s Home has sheltered some 4,000 single mothers and their children, says the vice superior of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, Chinnamma Kunnakatt, who has been working in the center for more than a decade.

And because St. Christina’s Home focused on the care of mothers and their toddlers only, the young pastor founded Savio Home, which cares for children 5 years of age and older.

These were only the beginning.

Read on to learn more about his extraordinary legacy. We’ve written often about his work in India, and the lives that have been changed because of this man who, as one priest put it, was “a shepherd who smelled like his sheep.” To read about the order he founded, check out ‘Slumdog’ Sisters from the July 2011 edition of the magazine; House of Blessings from March 2007; and God’s Servants of Action from July 1994.

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