Monday, July 28, 2014

St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception: First Woman Saint of India

Today, July 27th, the Church celebrates St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, the first woman saint of India.

Annakkutty (little Anna) was born on August 19, 1910, in Kudamaloor, a village in Kerala, India, to Joseph and Mary Muttathupadathu, the youngest of five children. She was baptized eight days later at Saint Mary's Church in Kudamaloor.  Her mother died while Annakutty was still an infant. She was raised by her maternal aunt, and educated by her great-uncle Father Joseph Muttathupadathu.
Annakutty made her first Communion on November 27, 1917. In a letter to her Spiritual Father in November, 1943, she wrote: "Already from the age of seven I was no longer mine. I was totally dedicated to my Divine Spouse.”

At the age of 13, Anna was badly burned on her feet when she fell into a pit of burning chaff. This accident left her permanently disabled.

At the age of 20, Anna joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation.  During this time, she worked as a temporary teacher at a primary school, where the children loved her for her gentleness and joyfulness. One year later, she received the postulant's veil and took the name Alphonsa in in honor of St. Alphonsus Liguori.  Sister Alphonsa made her permanent vows on the feast of St. Clare on August 12, 1936.

Sister Alphonsa suffered from typhoid fever and numerous health problems. In December 1936, she was reportedly cured from her ailments through the intervention of Saint Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, and enjoyed some improvement for a few years, but in 1939, she was struck by a severe attack of pneumonia, which left her weakened.  In 1940, a thief entered her room in the middle of the night. This traumatic event caused her to suffer amnesia and enfeebled her again. Her state of mental incapacity lasted for approximately one year, during which time, she was unable to read or write.  In 1945 she had a violent outbreak of illness. A tumor, which had spread throughout her organs, transformed her final year of life into a continuous agony. Gastroenteritis and liver problems caused violent convulsions and vomiting up to forty times a day. She stated: "I feel that the Lord has destined me to be an oblation, a sacrifice of suffering... I consider a day in which I have not suffered as a day lost to me".

Joyful until the last moment, Sister Alphonsa quietly brought her earthly journey to a close in the convent of the Franciscan Clarists at Bharananganam on July 28, 1946 at the age of 35. She was proclaimed Blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1986 and was elevated to sainthood on October 12, 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Incidents of her intervention began almost immediately upon her death, and often involved the children in the convent school.  Hundreds of miraculous cures have been reported through her intercession, many involving straightening of clubbed-feet, perhaps because of her having lived with deformed feet herself.

Patronage: against bodily ills, against illness, against sickness, against the death of parents, sick people

Saint Quote:  “Grains of wheat, when ground in the mill, turn in to flour. With this flour we make the wafer of the holy Eucharist. Grapes, when crushed in the wine press, yield their juice. This juice turns into wine. Similarly, suffering so crushes us that we turn into better human beings.”  -- St. Alphonsa

Pope Benedict XVI on St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception

In the homily for her canonization, Pope Benedict recalled Saint Alphonsa's life as one of "extreme physical and spiritual suffering."

"This exceptional woman ... was convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father", the pope stated. "By accepting the invitation to the wedding feast, and by adorning herself with the garment of God's grace through prayer and penance, she conformed her life to Christ's and now delights in the 'rich fare and choice wines' of the heavenly kingdom."

"(Her) heroic virtues of patience, fortitude and perseverance in the midst of deep suffering remind us that God always provides the strength we need to overcome every trial", the pope stated before the ceremony ended.

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