Sisters of the Destitute (SD)
1. The Congregation of the Sisters of the Destitute (SD) is a religious institute of pontifical status founded in Chunangamvely, Kerala, India in 1927. The motto of the Congregation is “the compassionate love of Christ urges us”.
2. Patron of SD is St Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ while its guiding lights are St Basil and St Vincent de Paul. Venerable Fr Varghese Payapilly founded the Congregation on March 27, 1927 and dedicated all its undertakings under the patronage of St Joseph and named the place St Joseph’s mount at Chunangamvely, Aluva, Kerala, India. The founder promoted the first seven aspirants to the next stage of formation on May 8, 1927, the feast day of the ‘intercession of St Joseph’ in the Church and the religious vestition of the first batch on March 19, 1929. The founder and later Msgr George Valliarumpeth, the director of SD deeply inculcated in the pioneer members of the Congregation a strong sense of devotion to the Saint, the patron of laborers and happy death. The chit fund organized in support of the ‘Home for the Aged’ was named after St Joseph. In the same way it was customary to feed three persons on March 19 who were to represent St Joseph, Mother Mary and the Boy Jesus.
St Basil (330 AD - 379 AD), a saint of the Oriental Churches is a guiding lamp for SD. He lights up our path with an ardent love for the poor and destitute, a sense of social justice for the poor, inspiration for organised charitable works and special emphasis on community life. St Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil, the Great, was the Greek bishop of Caesarea Mazanca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (Turkey). He was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies (Arianism) of the early Christian Church. In addition to his work as a theologian St Basil was known for his care of the poor and under privileged people. He says: “The bread you keep belongs to the hungry, the cloak you store in your chest belongs to the naked man, the shoes rotting in your house belongs to the needy. Thus you are committing as much injustice as there are people whom you can give”. He was the first bishop who established orphanages, hospitals, and old age homes. He was called "Great" because he conquered the hearts and souls of people for Jesus Christ.
St Basil felt drawn toward religious life and by 358 AD he gathered around him a group of like-minded disciples, including his brother Peter, his widowed mother Emmelia, sister Macrina and several other women and they devoted themselves to pious lives of prayer and charitable works. Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer, and manual labour. Together with Pachomius, he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity. SD as a Congregation for active life, St Basil is an inspiration in harmonizing the active and contemplative dimension of religious life and developing a sense of mysticism that sprouts from this harmony in our life.
St Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) is another guiding light in the path of SD towards its life commitment of compassion to the poor and destitute. The saint was a French Catholic priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor. He was renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity and is known as the “Great Apostle of Trumpets”. He was born in 1581 in the village of Pouy in Gascony in the Province of Guyenne in the Kingdom of France.
He joined seminary at the age of 15 and was ordained a priest on September 23, 1600 at the age of 19. Vincent had been taken captive by Barbary pirates in 1605 and was auctioned off as a slave to the highest bidder and spent two years in bondage. After returning to France he went to Rome and continued his studies until 1609. He was appointed to serve as a chaplain and tutor to the Gondi family in 1612. Preaching of a mission to the peasants on the Gondi estates persuaded him to direct his efforts to the poor. St Vincent contacted the daughters of charity in 1617 and they introduced him to poor families. He brought them food and comfort and made sure that they were well cared for. He established hospitals, organized wealthy women of Paris to collect funds for missionary projects and relief for the victims of war and to ransom 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa. From this participation of women and with the help of St Louise de Marillac would eventually come into existence, the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, a Society of Apostolic Life for women.
St Vincent de Paul, as the patron of all works of charity is a guiding light for SD in its charitable life and work. SD draws inspiration from his life, accepts him as the model of its apostolic activities and lives our spirituality that germinates from the contemplation of the suffering face of Jesus on the suffering faces of the destitute.
4. Founder: Venerable Fr Varghese Payapilly (1876-1929) was a priest of the Diocese of Ernakulum in Kerala. He was born on August 8, 1876 at Perumanoor, Konthuruthy a typical village in Kerala, India. He was ordained on December 21, 1907 at the age of 31 at Papal Seminary Chapel, Kandy by the Bishop of Kandy, Msgr Clemens Pagnani OSB.
After completing fruitfully his Syriac study at Chengal, Kerala in 1908, Fr Varghese was assigned to pastoral ministry at St Augustine’s Church, Kadamakudy as the parish priest. Later, he served also as the vicar of St Mary’s Church, Alangad (1910-1913 and 1916-1920), Manager of St Mary’s High School, Aluva (1913-1918 and 1922-1929) and vicar of St Mary’s Forane Church Arakuzha (1920-1922). It is during his ministry at Arakuzha that he founded St Joseph’s parish at Meenkunnam as a token of his compassion on the people who had to walk a long distance to reach the Church at Arakuzha to attend Holy Mass. During this period of his ministry in these parishes for 10 years he lived with his fellow priests in fraternal love and communion sharing all resources as in the proto Christian Community of Jerusalem. He was also a member of the diocesan council, director of the provident fund for priests, director of apostolic union and consultant of the Archbishop Mar Augustine Kandathil.
His zeal and love for the Kingdom of God had prepared him to begin the parish activities as a committed pastor. He led an exemplary priestly life and exercised his priestly duties with great zeal and piety. His unconditional obedience to the ecclesiastical authority, consulting nature and submissiveness are very evident in his letters and petitions to the bishop on all matters regarding the parish. He was a good organizer, always involving people in every undertaking.
His compassion extended to all creatures. He had a universal outlook which enabled him to accept everybody beyond the barriers of any discrimination. His appointment as the Manager of St Mary’s High School, Aluva was itself a recognition by ecclesiastical authorities of his wisdom and skills to deal with state officials. He had great love and affection towards the students, staff and parents of the School. He was a man of courage and principles, compassion and merciful love and a true friend of the underprivileged people. He was an able educator, exemplary administrator and manager and a role model for teachers. He was a man of good will and mercy and an excellent formator for students and boarders. He uplifted the untouchables and his relief work in the monster flood of 1924 was an expression of his generous and compassionate heart. Venerable Fr Varghese Payapilly died of typhoid unexpectedly on October 5, 1929.
5. Charism, Apostolate and Spirituality: The charism of SD is “to carry on the mission of Christ by becoming a channel of compassionate love and by personalizing the inner attitudes of Christ who revealed the infinite compassion and love of the Father to the poor who are destitute and oppressed” (SDC 6). Apostolate: SD has the apostolate to become Good News to the poor and destitute through the ministries of compassion. It chooses a ministry according to the need of the destitute of the locality. Evangelization is the primary goal of all the apostolic activities of our Congregation at all times (SDC 75). Spirituality: The inspiration we received from our founder father that our devotion shall be devotion to the poor and our service to the destitute shall be a constant experience of God for us enlightens us to deepen a spirituality proper to SD. In order that the service to the destitute be an experience of deep union with God we are to be filled with compassionate love, humility of heart (spirit of destituteness) and meekness (spirit of obedience). The experience of Christ’s presence that urges us from within to impart Christ’s salvific and healing compassion to the people who are His living images makes our life service a mystical experience (cf. SDC 58).
6. Founding and Growth of the Congregation: The life of venerable Fr Varghese Payapilly was a tireless run to wherever there was a cry for help. His strength derived from his contemplation that necessarily merged into apostolic action. At the aftermath of the tragic flood of 1924, he was increasingly convinced of the need of starting a home for the aged destitute. The social situation of that time in Kerala was such that there was no organized form of charitable services to care for the aged poor. He was deeply moved by the deplorable condition of those poor people and got inspiration and enlightenment from the Words “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt.25:40). It prompted him to found a Congregation that can care for the destitute. He prayed and discerned the will of God and consulted the hierarchy, His Grace Mar Augustine Kandathil, the late Archbishop of Ernakulum and asked for suggestions, looked for possibilities and waited patiently till the will of God was revealed.
At this point a providential coincidence took place. Five young women (Kalamparambil Thresia, Kizhakambalam, Kuppiyil Idakala Ouseph Thresia, Kizhakambalam (Sr Josephina), Madathiparambil Antony Eliswa, Pazhanganad (Sr Cicily), Mazhuvancherry Antony Rosa, Kizhakambalam (Sr Gertrude) and Ootancherry Antony Thresia, Chunangamvely (Sr Kochuthresia) happened to meet together and shared their ardent desire to serve the poor and destitute in a new Congregation. They expressed their desire to the Archbishop Mar Augustine Kandathil. But they too had to wait for discernment of the will of God. Finally, convinced of their interior call, the Archbishop directed them to Fr Payapilly. This providential encounter was a significant event. It is with these young women as pioneers that Fr Payapilly founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Destitute on March 27, 1927. A new chapter began in the social and religious history of Kerala when a ‘Home for Aged and Infirm’ for the poor and destitute was inaugurated on the same day of the foundation of SD.
After the death of the founder on October 5, 1929 the responsibility of the Congregation was entrusted to Msgr George Valliarumpeth as its director on 28 October 1929. He was endowed with the spirit and magnanimity of its founder Fr Varghese Payapilly and could assimilate the same charism and internal attitude that prompted the founder to found and nurture the Congregation. He was a person of deep faith, discipline and asceticism with an ardent devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He directed the Congregation in its original charism for 41 years till his death on May 11, 1970. In 1985 the Congregation was bifurcated into three provinces: Ernakulam, Chaganassery and Kothamangalam. The Holy See raised the Congregation to the rank of Pontifical state on May 22, 1989. The Congregation was further bifurcated into three North Indian provinces: Gaziabad, Delhi and Wardha in 2000. On August 25, 2009 the cause of the canonization of the founder began and on April 14, 2018 he was raised by Pope Francis to the rank of ‘venerable’. The Tamilnadu Region was established in 2010.
Main Activities of SD are: Destitute Homes for the aged and infirm; Rehabilitation Centers for physically and mentally challenged; Terminal Care Centers for those who are suffering with incurable diseases such as cancer, HIV/ AIDS; Care Centers for dementia and wandering ladies; Palliative Care Centers for the aged and sick; Healing ministry in both Govt. and private hospitals; Imparting education in schools; Providing moral education and counseling; Non-formal education in slums and villages; Family welfare services including de-addiction in slums and villages; Prison ministry; Women empowerment Programs; Pastoral ministry and Legal Aid & Human resource law network.
SD as of 2019: As of 2019 SD is spread out in 4 continents, 11 countries with a total number of 1297 perpetually professed and 150 temporarily professed sisters. Superior general is the highest authority of the Congregation. Functioning of the Generalate continued in the Mother house at Chunangamvely till the Congregation was divided into provinces. When the division took place, the mother house was given to the Ernakulam province and the Generalate was shifted to Thottumugham, Aluva on January 24, 1984. The superiors general of SD are: Sr Rose Mary Manjooran (1940-1943; 1949-1955; 1958-1961; 1964-1967); Sr Agnes Neerackal (1943-1946; 1961-1964); Sr Catherine Perumalil (1946-1949); (1955-1958); Sr Savio Neerackal (1967-1976); Sr. Stella Vettickapilly (1976-1982); Sr James Pulickal (1982-1985); Sr Amabilis Puduserry (1985-1991); Sr Benedict Pittapillil (1991-1997); Sr Bastin Puthenangady (1997-2003); Sr Judit Murickan (2003-2009); Sr Smitha Vembilly (2009-2015):and Sr RaisyThalian (2015-…).
Growth and Spread of SD: SD is branched out to 12 dioceses in Kerala in 176 communities consisting of 1006 sisters. The first mission outside Kerala was in Delhi. In 1958 at the invitation of Most Rev. Dr Joseph Angelo Fernandez, the then Archbishop of Delhi, SD took up the care of the aged in ‘Osana home’ run by the Society of St Vincent de Paul. SD started its healing ministry in the clinic in Model Town in 1966. Later we obtained land at Ashok Vihar, Delhi and built the hospital ‘Jivodaya’ there. The mission activities of SD flourished from there to 42 mission dioceses of India. There are 91 communities with 441 sisters in the mission stations of SD.
The Congregation extended its presence beyond India in 1964. Communities were established in Velletri, (1981) and Colli Albani (2013) in Italy; in Düsseldorf (1964), München (1993), Regensburg (2001) and Wuppertal (2012) in Germany; in Lopagno(1992) in Switzerland; at Sovania (1994) and Ambohimena (2001) in Madagascar; in Shrevport (2001) and Beaumont (2009) in USA; at Pucalpa (2013) in Peru; at Kibiko (2014) and Ngunga (2016) in Kenya; at Tribhuvan Basti (2014) in Nepal; at Babiche (2017) in Ethiopia and at Milola (2017) in Tanzania. There are 18 communities with 87 sisters abroad. In all, SD has 285 communities and 1534 members in the world.