The Birth of The Congregation of the Immaculate Conception (CIC)
The Congregation of the Immaculate Conception was founded by Fr.Augustine Pereira on February 2, 1899, with four young women at Pajampatty, southern part of Tamil Nadu. Magr. Barthe SJ, the Bishop of Trichy requested the sisters of St.Joseph of Lyon to give training to the novices of the Congregation of Immaculate Conception. The Superior General, Mother Hernri Xavier granted this request. Sr. Radegonde Cirardeau was specially chosen by the Superior General for this great responsibility and appointed to be Novice Mistress in 1908. She took her mission seriously and learnt Tamil promptly.
The exploration of the new sea voyage of the explorer Vasco- Da Gama in the year 1498 became the foundation for the countries of Europe and Asia to have a relationship with other countries. After the revolution of the 16th Century the European countries started their marketing in India. By this experience they came to know the rich resources of India. To own the resources they desired to establish their rule over India. By this the European customs, education systems, governance and life style mingled with the people of India. By and by India became like a slave under the governance of European countries.
In the 17th Century Goa Dieu, Damen and Kochin became the marketing place for Porticoes. They brought the Capuchin missionaries together with them to India for their spiritual wellbeing. They are called Goa priests and they built Churches and spread the devotion of St. Antony. The English established the markets in Delhi, Culcutta and Chennai and they brought along the other religious denominations too.
As that age was corrupted with slavery of women and the restriction of cast, these uncultured practices in society had to be changed, and the needs of our country to be fulfilled by ourselves. They have to be ever ready to render their service to the parish ministries. They have to serve the diocese in a simple way.
Their mission should not be the same as other Congregations, those who were already rooted in the diocese, but in their vision and lifestyle they have to render service in a unique manner. In these ways the Bishop made the rules for the Congregation.
The branching of another convent
In the school of Panjampatti the number of the students was increased. On seeing the development happening in Panjampatti, because of the school, Fr.Augustine started another school in Silukuvarpatti.
On 27.05.1909 he established a convent at Silukuvarpatti. To work in this school he sent as head Annamal, as well as Veronickam and Susaimariammal.
The representative of the Pope at AmalorpaviyinVeedu
When Fr.Joseph Clove SJ was the Provincial of Tulous in 1907, as the representative of Pope Pius X he visited the Madurai Mission. The Beates wanted to meet this Fr.Joseph Clove. The Parish priest took him to their Chapel. As he was entering in to the low- roofed small house, he hit his forehead against the lintel and it was cut and started bleeding. On seeing this everybody felt very sad. But the Pope’s representative said “It was good I got wounded. This scar will introduce you to the Pope. Before I introduce about this House of Nazareth and you who are living here, this scar on my forehead will advertise you.” After hearing the history of the Beates he encouraged and blessed them by saying “May your group multiply, I give you the blessing of the Pope.”
After a few days he reached Rome. The Pope, knowing about the Beates, felt very happy and sent His Papal blessing and along with it a letter with His signature and seal. Rt.Rev. Bishop Barthe together with his consulters discussed about the inception of a separate Congregation.
Following the footsteps of his predecessors, Fr.Nespoulous was keen on education and particularly the education of women. Hence wherever Beates went, their first initiative was to start a school and run the dispensary. They moved around with the illiterate people, talked to them and rendered service to them.
In the newsletter called ‘Letter de Vales (Page75) in1935 the following details about Beates are given; “According to the records of the parish written in 1909, they were women dressed in sarees like any village woman. They served the people in 15 centres. 130 Beates were involved in the apostolate.”
Visiting the Bishop and the inception of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception
A dire need arose to make a decision on the status of Beates women of Panjampatti. So Fr.Augustine went to Trichy to meet the Bishop of Trichy, Rt.Rev.Augustine Fesanthiar. He pleaded with the bishop not to leave these Beates group as they were about to raise their status to that of a Congregation.
So the Bishop discussed the matter with his councilors and came up with the following
The French established their markets in Puducherry and Karaikal. At this time this Society of Jesus made Puducherry their Indian headquarters and started doing missionary work.
The birth of old Madurai Mission
The first missionary to India was St. Thomas, the Apostle. With his coming India came to know about Jesus and Christianity for the first time. St.Francis Xavier who came to India in the year 1541 did missionary work in Goa, Kannayakumari, Tuticorin and Manapadu. The coming of the Jesuit missionaries in the 17th and 18th Centuries (St. Robert de Nobili, St John de Britto and Veeramamunivar Beschi) to India laid the foundation for the inception of the old Madurai Mission.
The New Madurai Mission
Because of Pope Pius the 10th and Pope Gregory the 16th, the Jesuits re-established the Madurai Mission in Pondicherry. The Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. John Roothan, asked the French Jesuits to send priests. By that the Madurai Mission came under the care of the Toulouse Province of the Jesuits in France. In 1842 the Madurai Mission Jesuit Priests were working in the centers-Tirchy, Madurai and Palayamkottai.
Panjampatti becomes a Parish
When in the year 1886 Pope Gregory the 16th established the diocese of Trichy, it was given to the Jesuits. There, parishes were established. At that time Panjampatti, which was under Dindukul, Metupatti became a Parish. Those who had converted to Christianity from Karnataka came to Panjampatti and stayed there. In Panjampatti there were many Hindus. To carry out an evangelization ministry for them, serious steps were taken.
Missionary work in Panjampatti
When the time of Jesuit missionary ministry was abandoned (1773-1814) the Goa Priests did the missionary work. The other denominations of Christians from Goa also were preaching at that time by building the Churches. Because of that, there were struggles between them and the people were in confusion.
Panjampatti the promised Holy land
Panjampatti is 8 Km. from Dindukal. As Bethlehem in Judea was chosen as The Holy birth place of Our Lord Jesus, Panjampatti, a small village, was chosen by God as the promised Holy Land for the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception – Madurai. Countless missionaries rendered service in this place.
In the streets of Panjampatti – Boundaries of Panjampatti
Dindukal is at the northern side, Madurai to the south, Sirumalai to the east and the river Kudagan to the west. It is a fertile area with fields, flowers and fruit bearing trees and also with cattle.
With the guidance of Fr.Augustine and Fr.Nespoulous the Beates were deeply involved in parish activities. Under the guardianship of Fr.Augustine and Fr.Nespoulous the Beates made remarkable strides in their spiritual and social work.
The Beates were good natured, innocent women. But they lacked even a basic education. Naturally they suffered from an inferiority complex. Together with Fr.Augustine, Fr.Nespoulous made great efforts to improve their education. They sent a few to Dindikul for studies. Those who passed were sent to Trichy to a Primary Education Teacher Training school run by the Seven Dolours Sisters. On observing the piety and regularity of the Beates, the Servite Sisters were impressed and invited them to their Congregation. The Beates expressed their desire to the Fathers. They started thinking about this. When Fr.Augustine pointed out about the Beates joining the other Congregation to Fr.Nespoulous, he told them that they had to wait for some time. But he said that if they wanted to join with another Congregation, let them join. They could live fine. He too was ready to send them with his blessings. But he expressed his dream about their future….
“As a prophet, Fr.Nespoulous while agreeing with Fr.Augustine, said whatever might happen, our Sisters should imitate the simple life of the Holy Family. Jesus did not make any exception and lived among us. He was at the service of everyone. Jesus should be our Sisters’ model. Moreover like our Mother Mary, who took an arduous journey across the desert to do the will of God, these sisters also should follow her footsteps without murmuring. In all humility, our Sisters should follow the example of Jesus who was obedient to Joseph and Mary for 30 years.
Our founder Fathers sincerely felt that was the providence of God and Fr.Nespoulous insisted that these’ Beates’ Sisters should form and function as a separate religious Congregation.
For the Beates, Fr.Augustine brought out the first book of rules and regulations for the new Congregation. For their spiritual life, rules were taken from the Jesuit rules and for their ministries it was taken from the rules of St.Ursuline’s Congregation. These rules and regulations were followed by the novices and professed Sisters from 1911 to 1922, it was also decided that for those who wanted to join the Congregation, a Teacher Training Certificate was necessary.
Fr Eugine Nespoulous, SJ
Fr.Nespoulous, SJ was born on 13th July 1863 at St.Jean de Marcel in France. When quite young, he learnt Greek and Latin with enthusiasm staying at a seminary. This eagerness to learn languages throughout his lifetime was very praiseworthy.
In the year 1885 at the age of 22 he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Victoria, Spain. He passed with flying colours in philosophy in 1889 in the city of vales. He taught history for two years at Sarlat.
He was an expert in Dogmatic Theology. After his ordination as a priest, his option for missionary endeavor was approved. In May 1900, he reached the shores of India. In 1901 he was sent to Tuticorin as assistant to Fr.Alexander Martin and equipped himself for missionary activities. He was sent to Trichy Holy Redeemer’s Parish as assistant to Fr.Gloris, SJ. His influence in language and acquaintance with the culture of the people helped him to relate to them. In 1903 he was appointed Parish Priest of Silukuvarpatti. In 1904 he became the Parish Priest of Panjampatti since Fr.Visuvasam had been transferred from there.
Fr.Nespoulous’ ministry with Fr.Augustine Pereira
When Fr.Nespoulous took up his ministry, Panjampatti was a big Parish with 90 sub- stations and 12,000 Catholics. With the efficient assistance of Fr.Augustine Pereira he was able to manage the parish for seven years. After taking charge of the parish the first time, Fr.Nespoulous visited the Beates, they expressed their joy as they grew from four in number to twelve. On hearing this Fr.Nespoulous blessed them with the following words
“You have to grow from four into forty, forty into four hundred, four hundred into four thousand, So that the vine yard of the Church may flourish”
The life of the people
Due to the war of Karnataka between the years 1746 to 1754, many people migrated to various places. Many people also came and found shelter in Panjampatti and the surrounding places. They belonged to the Rajput tribes.
God’s Ambassador of peace
Fr. Julius Larmey SJ, one of the first founders of CIC was born on 9th April 1836 in Montauban, France. As Moses was called to liberate the people of Israel, God called Fr. Larmey SJ, a diocesan Priest, to religious life, to be a missionary to India. Fr. Larmey completed his theology and was ordained Priest. His first assignment was as Assistant Priest in Montauban, France. During his seminary days he was touched and was impressed
by the lectures of his professors who spoke in glowing terms about religious life. Particularly, the good example of the religious made an indelible impact on him.
While he was serving as a diocesan Priest, the spark lit in the seminary, that he should become a religious, was fanned into flame. With the approval of the Ordinary of the place, he entered the Society of Jesus on 1st July 1865.
Imprints in Tamil Nadu
“One who listens to the word of God is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock… It had been well built”. (Lk:6/48)
Fr. Larmey was called to go to distant countries to take up the mission of evangelization. He responded positively to God’s call and headed for Madurai Mission. Fr. Larmey landed on 30th November 1869 at Pondicherry. He learned Tamil and English in order to give retreats. He trained himself in all areas so that he could discharge the delicate tasks that would be entrusted to him in the future.
Golden Dream and origin of CIC
In the eighteenth century, during the time of Fr.Larmey, women were confined to the household duties of cooking and labouring in the fields. They were just treated as slaves. Young girls were not permitted to go out. They had no chance of learning. In such circumstances, three young women, inspired by God’s grace, decided among themselves to take the vow of chastity in 1899. They sowed the seeds for the birth of the Congregation. One of them died because of the ill treatment received from her parents. And the other two joined with them and they approached Fr.Larmey and asked him to take them in to his Parish ministry.
The approval of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception under the bishop of Trichy Diocese
The Congregation of Immaculate Conception was approved and confirmed as a Religious Congregation under the Bishop of Trichy on 03/02/1913.
The rule book of Sisters of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception which was written by Fr.Augustine Pereira was rewritten as a corrected version by Fr.Blanchard SJ. This second rule book was sent to Rome for approval through the diocese of Trichy .
FIRST BATCH OF CIC SISTERS – THE FIRST SUPERIOR GENERAL
“For his faithfulness and meekness he consecrated him, choosing
him out of all humankind” -(Sir. 45/4)
In the year 1912 Rev.Fr.Blanchard SJ was appointed as the Spiritual Director of CIC by the bishop of Trichy.
Five of those who received novitiate formation at Madurai took their first vows on 08.09.1913 at St Xavier Chapel (now the chapel of the Generelate) belonged to the Congregation of the Lyons Sisters. Among the five religious Sisters was one of the first four mothers, co-founders Sr.Catherine (Visuvasam) only received novitiate formation and became religious Sister. The day they received the first vows they were the first batch of Sisters who went to Panjampatti with Mother Patrice.
On 08.12.1921 the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception was recognized as the diocesan religious Congregation of Trichy Diocese and the new rule book was printed.
THE FIRST SUPERIOR GENERAL, MOTHER AUGUSTINE
MARY (1914 -1917, 1924 – 1940)
Mother Augustine belonged to Susaipatti near Panjampatti which is under the Parish of Anumanthrayankottai. In the year 1904 she joined the Beates women group and gave her service. On 08/09/1914 Fr.Blanchard, Fr.Nespoulpous and Mother Patrice together appointed Sr.Augustine Mary as the first Superior General of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception after changing Viagammal the head of the Beates women group. She belonged to the first batch of Sisters who took vows in the year 1913.
The first Generalate of CIC
Through Fr. Gabriel Gomas SJ, Mother Augustine Mary received the following words of praise “Your humility is the Congregation’s governance”. From Fr.Turlan one who was director of the Congregation from the year 1920 to 1963, Mother Augustine received this praise “Mother Augustine is a Holy nun.” She was the privileged one who started her ministry of administration and office work for the first time at Panjampatti the first (Headquarters) Generalate House of CIC. For her governance Mother Patrice and Fr. Blanchard helped a lot with their concerns. She did not receive any higher education but had deep spiritual experience. Through humility, true love towards the Sisters, concern and hard work she laid the foundation for the beginnings of the Congregation.
THE SECOND SUPERIOR GENERAL– MOTHER BERNADET MARY
(1917 – 1923)
Mother Bernadet Mary was born in Panjampatti in the year 1880.She received her first vows in the second batch on 15th December1914. At the age of 34 she became a religious. She was grown up both in age and wisdom.
THE FOURTH SUPERIOR GENERAL, MOTHER SOPHIA
MARY (1940 -1952)
On 18.12.1940 Mother Sophia Mary was elected as the fourth Superior General of CIC. Though she had not reached the age (40 years) that a Superior General should have, through receiving permission from Rome she was elected as Superior General. As she was the Assistant Superior General (1934 – 1940) before, with all that experience she could do the administration ministry in an effective manner.
THE FIFTH SUPERIOR GENERAL, MOTHER JOSEPH HELENA
(1953 – 1965)
Mother Joseph Helena helped Mother Patric, in her formation of the CIC novices for three years. After the death of Mother Patrice
she was Novice Mistress for a time and Assistant General for 12 years. Under the leadership of Bishop Rt. Rev. Peter Leonard SJ, on 10/12/1952 in the General Chapter, Mother Joseph Helena was elected as the fifth Superior General of CIC. Director Blanchard SJ also participated in this chapter. Four Sisters were elected as the General Councilors. In Mother Joseph Helena’s, time CIC enter a new dawn, because of her firm heart in the ministry.
The Golden Jubilee remembrance
In the year 1961 in the month of May, the Golden Jubilee of CIC was celebrated in a grand manner. The Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee also was released. The Catechism Exhibition which was exhibited on this day was praised very much by religious and lay people. In the celebrations on the stage, Bishop Rt.Rev.Peter Leonard SJ announced with joy that “The CIC is his two eyes”.
SECOND TERM OF ELECTION
In the year 1983 at the 10th General Chapter, Mother Mary Josefa was elected again as the Superior General of the Congregation. The numbers of the Councilors were reduced by four. To make the governance of the Congregation better, to help the Sisters to meet the Superiors easily, it was decided in this Chapter that there were to be three regions in the Congregation.
THE SEVENTH SUPERIOR GENERAL MOTHER MARY JOSEPHA:
(1977 – 1989)
Mother Mary Josepha was Novice Mistress from 1968 – 1971 and the Superior of the Theresa Convent from 1971 – 1977.
THE SIXTH SUPERIOR GENERAL, MOTHER ERNESTINE MARY
In the seventh general chapter in the year 1965 Mother Ernestine Mary was elected as the sixth Superior General. The number of the General councilors was raised from five to six. She is the sister of Mother Sophia Mary the fourth Superior General. She is the first one who completed a degree course (in B.A. in English Literature) before joining the Congregation. Before her
election as Superior General she rendered her services as headmistress for 12 years in St.Joseph’s high School and 18 years in St.Theresa’s teacher training School at Madurai. From the year 1946 she helped as the first councilor of the Congregation for 18 years.
THE SEVENTH SUPERIOR GENERAL MOTHER MARY JOSEPHA:(1977 – 1989)
Mother Mary Josepha was Novice Mistress from 1968 – 1971 and the Superior of the Theresa Convent from 1971 – 1977.
She performed her ministry in a very excellent manner. In the year 1977, on May 3rd she was elected as the seventh Superior General in the 9th General Chapter of the Immaculate Conception with the theme “To live is to pray”. Six councilors were elected in this Chapter. In this Chapter by the guidance of Fr.P.C.Thomas, the Constitution, Rules and Directory were renewed with a few changes.
In the year 1978 on 17th June, the Congregation accepted the call from the Bishop of Palayamkottai and sent the Sisters to run the Girigini School at Kuruvikulam which prepares and empowers women before Marriage. On the first of September 1978, Rt.Rev.Thomas Fernando, the Bishop of Trichy, gave generously the ownership of the seven schools which were under the diocese, where the CIC Sisters were rendering education ministry. The same year three CIC Sisters were sent to give their services in the Pastoral Centre of Madurai Archdiocese. On 15th July in Diraviyanagar Nilakottai for the people of that area, the Sophia Hospital was established.
The Eighth Superior General, Mother Josephine Alphonsa (1989 – 2001)
Sr.Josephine Alphonsa studied theology in Dindivanam and Goa. She was novice mistress for five years and one year Regional Superior of Palayamkottai Region of CIC.
In the eleventh General Chapter in the year 1989 May on 2nd she was elected as the eighth Superior General of CIC. With the motto of “Blossoming the life of the poor”, she started her ministry. In this Chapter the recommendations from the Holy See were discussed and changes were made in the Constitution and Directory of CIC. The corrected Constitution and Directory were translated into English with the help of Rev.Fr.P.C.Thomas and Rev.Fr.Arul Joseph.
Since Sr.Josephine Alphonsa was elected as Superior General, Sr.Josephine Berna was elected as the Regional Superior of the Region of Palayamkottai for two years.
In the year 1991 there were Regional Chapters. In those Chapters for Madurai, Sr. Christopher, for Sivagangai Sr.Ignatius Flowrence and for Palayamottai Sr.Josephine Berna were elected as Regional Superiors.
CIC – the Papal Congregation
To raise the Congregation from a Diocesan one to being one with a Papal Order, the initial procedures were taken by the previous Superior General Mother Mary Josepha. A continuation of that was made by the Superior General Josephine Alphonsa, with the guidance of Rev.Fr. P. C.Thomas, Rev.Fr.Amaladoss, SJ and the Archbishop of Madurai Most
Rev.Marianus Arockia Samy, above all by the grace of God almighty took much effort for the Papal Order. Due to that effort on 19/01/1993 the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception was raised into the status of a Papal Order under the Holy See.
This message reached the Generalate on 6th February. The celebration was held on 24th and 25th of March 1993 at St.Theresa’s campus with all the Sisters of the Congregation
NINTH SUPERIOR GENERAL MOTHER ANTONY XAVIER
Sr. Antony Xavier, while she was teaching at St.Theresa’s Teacher Training Institute, was sent to study theology at Pune for six years. She was the Novice Mistress for 5 years. Then she rendered her services at Theresa’s Convent as Superior for 4 years. In the 13th General Chapter in May 2001 she was elected as the 9th Superior General with the motto “To give life for the oppressed” to start her new administration.
THE TENTH SUPERIOR GENERAL MOTHER AGNES XAVIER
In the year 1979 with the theme of “Let the weak get cured” Sr.Agnes Xavier the first Medical Doctor of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception started her ministry at Diraviya Nagar Nillakottai in Damian Leprosy Control Centre. In the year 1983 she took the responsibility of Superior of the convent and Administrator of the above mentioned Centre. She showed great interest for the spiritual, physical and psychological well-being of the people of the Nillakottai area. She made a lot of effort
through her hardship for the people’s social uplifting and self – sustainability. She is a good administrator.
SUPERIOR GENERAL MOTHER ANTONY XAVIER –
(2013 – 2019)
SECOND TERM OF ELECTION
In the 15th General Chapter of the Congregation which was held on 2nd May 2013, Mother Antony Xavier was elected as Superior General of the Congregation for the second time and Sr. Thanaseeli Solomon, as Asst. Superior General. In the 6th Province Chapter, Sr.Maria Arockiam, Sr.Alphonse Fatima and Sr.Y.Margaret Mary were elected Provincials of Madurai, Sivagangai and Palayamkottai respectively.