The congregation of the Snehagiri Missionary Sisters (SMS), founded at Palai, Kerala, India on May 24, 1969, by Rev. Fr. Abraham Kaippanplackal, constituted of Sisters.
Fr. Abraham Kaippanplackal (1914–2014): Avirachan (as he was called at home) was born on 16 April 1914, as the youngest of the six children of Joseph and Thresia in the Kaippanplackal family at Kozhuvanal, in the diocese of Palai. He was baptized and named Abraham. Being the youngest, he was the predilected child of his parents. His mother, who was very devout and exemplary, and who was very fond of him brought him up in deep faith and in love of God. He passed the matriculation in 1930 at the age of 16. His desire to dedicate his life to God as a priest made him very fervent in spiritual practices as well as in church related activities and pious organizations. At the completion of his matriculation studies, he joined the St. Thomas minor seminary at Kottayam. After the first two years in the St. Thomas minor seminary at Kottayam, he was one among the first batch of seminarians to study philosophy and theology courses at St. Joseph pontifical Institute, Mangalappuazha, Aluva. Abraham was ordained priest on 21 December 1939, at Mangalappuzha Seminary by Bishop Mar James Kalassery and celebrated his first holy mass on 22 December 1939, in the seminary chapel.
He was really a Good Shepherd taking care of the poor and the abandoned. He was very much influenced by the good example of elders and he learnt from them several lessons in life which he would later emulate in his life. One of the key persons who taught him such lessons was his own mother, who had a very sympathetic attitude towards people who suffer. When poor people knocked at the door, she would send Abraham to attend to them for giving them alms. This way, she taught him to be kind to the poor and the underprivileged. He learnt not only to love the poor, but to express that love in action (cf.1Jn 3:18), doing whatever he could.
When he was the pastor at Athirampuzha parish, he observed that the ‘Dalit Christians’ were discriminated as they could not enter the main church. Instead, they were put up in a separate small church called ‘pulapalli’. As a result, a number of Dalit Christians hardly participated in the church functions. He was determined to bridge this gap among the people of God. The first step was to organize a retreat for them. To encourage them to participate in the retreat, he distributed food grains to them with the help of the parishioners themselves. The response was overwhelming. Step by step, he prepared them for the reception of sacraments, like the first holy Communion, for those who had not received those sacraments. Once they reached a certain level of spiritual maturity, he tried to bring the whole parish together under one roof. He dedicated himself totally for the welfare of the underprivileged and those exploited in the society. He himself realized that the cost of of liberation was very high but it could bring about a radical change in the life of the exploited. These experience gave him great joy and he felt called by the spirit “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk4:18).
While serving as the pastor at Vilakkumadam Parish, he established a unit of the St. Vincent De Paul Society with the support of the parishioners, and constructed several houses for the poor people in the parish. During his visit to the families with sick people, he would wash the sores of sickly children, He cared for an old man lying sick on the road and nursed women who were dying of hunger. He was a strong, wilful person, known for his patience, piety, asceticism, faith and resolve. On 14 June 1958, Fr. Abraham was appointed the parish priest of St. Mary’s Old Church, Lalam, Palai. While concentrating on the Social and economic well-being of the people, he gave prime importance to their spiritual wellbeing. For a spiritual renewal of the parish, he began a weekend novena which he introduced in honour of Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help.
The life that Fr. Abraham spent among the poor, and his self – identification with their sufferings impelled him to live their life – style. His life was marked by a simple and ascetic style. This is visibly substantiated by the frugality of the facilities he possessed in his room – a mere wooden coat with sack spread on it as mattress. His asceticism was also evident in the fact that he always walked barefooted. Yet another mark of his life-style is his simplicity and approachability. Fr. Abraham was known as a person who welcomed all categories of people to his company. He found time for all people, listening to them with empathy and sharing in their anxieties and problems. He was a pious priest who rose very early and began his day with prayers. He had a special devotion to Mary Help of Christians.
God gifted Fr. Abraham with a long life. To continue his ministry towards the poor and to carry on his vision and mission, he instituted the Congregation of Snehagiri Missionary Sisters (SMS). He has constructively contributed to the life of the society both by the messages of his life and the activities he initiated. He had a long stint as a priest and minister of the Word and completed 100 years of his life on 16 April 2014 and passed into eternity a few weeks later on 4 May 2014.
Charism, Apostolate, and Spirituality: The Charism of Snehagiri Missionary Sisters is to manifest the compassionate love of Jesus among the poor and abandoned, deriving spiritual power and strength from the Holy Eucharist. The actual witnessing of the apostolic activities of Snehagiri Missionary Sisters is to serve the poor and sick. The Holy Eucharist is the centre of the religious life and the source of SMS spirituality.
Foundation and Growth of the Congregation: Rev. Fr. Abraham Kaippanplackal was the vicar of St. Mary’s Church Lalam Palai. During his evening walks, he would come across orphaned children on the street, fighting among themselves because they lacked the care of a father and the loving touch of a mother. This pathetic scene of suffering children disturbed the peaceful sleep of Fr Abraham. A voice within him prompted him to find a shelter for these suffering children. As a good shepherd, Fr Abraham sought out the lost sheep and tried to restore them. In this process, he took into confidence his entire parish community, the local police and the government administration and discussed with them the pathetic situation of the poor children. With the generous help of some of his parishioners who supported his plan to rehabilitate the lost children of the streets, Fr Abraham opened the first Boys Town on 5th April 1959. Eventually a similar home was started for the wandering girls in his own parish, Kozhuvanal on 15th August 1963. It was around this time, he received a special inspiration from the Holy Spirit to start a new Congregation to continue his ministry for the care of the abandoned people. A few years later, on 2 May 1967, he founded the pious union of ‘Snehagiri Missionary Brothers’, primarily to take care of children at the Boys Town. The rules of this union insisted that the brothers live the Indian style of ‘Sanyasa’. The constitution of the pious union was approved by the local bishop and the union was formally inaugurated on 2 June 1967.
Meanwhile he was inspired to begin a congregation with a similar spirituality for women. Inspired by the words of Jesus Christ, “Whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Mt. 25:40), the pious union of ‘Snehagiri Missionary Sisters’ was founded in the diocese of Palai on 24 May 1969 with the blessings and patronage of Bishop of Palai, late Mar Sebastian Vayalil. The first batch of candidates were admitted in 1969 and made their first Profession on 11 May 1971. On 24 November 1994 it was constituted as a Congregation of Eparchial Right by Mar Joseph Pallikaparampil, the Bishop of the Eparchy of Palai. The Silver Jubilee of this Congregation was celebrated in the year 1993-94. The revised constitution and statutes were approved by the Diocesan curia on 20 October 1994. Subsequently, on 24 November 1994, the Snehagiri Missionary Sisters were raised to the status of an Eparchial Congregation in the Syro-Malabar Church. Mar Joseph Kallarangatt, the Bishop of Palai on 1 March 2006 graciously permitted the Snehagiri Missionary Sisters to initiate the process of raising the Congregation to the Major Archiepiscopal Status. The revised Statutes and Directives were approved by the Major Archiepiscopal curia on 15 August 2006. On 3September 2006, the Snehagiri Missionary Sisters were raised to the Status of Major Archiepiscopal Congregation by His Beatitude Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, then Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Church.
The Growth and Spread of the SMS: To date (November, 2017), SMS is spread out in 2 continents, 3 countries, in 3 provinces, and one Region, with a total number of 499 sisters, out of which 417 are perpetually professed members. The following were the Superiors General: Rev. Sr. Arpitha (1976-1981); Rev. Sr. Carmala (1984-1993) and (2002-2008); Rev. Sr. Vimala (1987-1990) and (2008-2014); Rev. Sr. Reji (1993-1999) and Rev. Sr. Sobha (2014- till date). The headquarters of SMS is situated at Palai, Kerala, India.
The entire congregation was directly under the supervision of the Mother General until 2007. During the Extra Ordinary Synaxis which took place in 2007, the congregation was structurally divided into three Regions, namely St. Thomas Region, Palai, St. Mary’s Region, Kothamangalam and St. Joseph’s Region, Malabar. The General Council nominated the Regional Superiors. One year later, on 3 March 2008 these regions were raised to the status of provinces. They are:
St. Thomas Province, Palai: erected in 2008 with Rev. Sr. Saumiatha as its first provincial.
St. Mary’s Province, Kothamangalam: was established in 2008. Rev. Sr. Sobha was the first provincial.
St. Joseph’s Province, Malabar: instituted in 2008, with Rev. Sr. Pushpa as its first provincial.
Snehatma Region, Jagdalpur: was set up in 2014 which consists of the five dioceses of Ujjain, Jagdalpur, Chandha, Jhabua and Gorakpur. Rev. Sr. Jessy was the first Regional Superior.
SMS congregation is engaged in humanitarian activities and services. The sisters are rendering services in different charitable institutions such as Bala Bhavans, Old age homes, homes for physically handicapped and mentally challenged people. Besides, the sisters conduct Training Centres of various kinds like, Tailoring, Embroidery work, Host Making, Printing etc. The sisters also actively engage in Pastoral ministry in parishes by way of teaching Catechism, house visiting, conducting Bible classes and organizing Prayer services. Family apostolate is also given importance taking into account the numerous problems faced by many modern families, In the rural areas, sisters engage themselves in providing primary education to poor children.
The growth and development of Snehagiri Missionary Sisters have been phenomenal and praiseworthy. There are already 108 houses in India and abroad. The diocese-wise distribution of these houses are as follows: Palai: 23; Ernakulam: 3; Trivandrum: 3; Mavelikkara: 2; Pathanamthitta:2; Thalassery: 8; Changancherry: 4; Idukki: 3; Palakkadu: 2: Kanjirappally: 5; Kothamangalam: 5; Ujjain: 7; Jagadalpur: 7; Chanda: 2; , Mandya: 4; Mananthavady: 1; Gorakpur:2; Faridabad:1; Jhabua:1; Sangli Region under Kalyan Diocese: 4. There are also sisters working in the Pastoral Institute of Palai.
Global Presence of the SMS: Going further in the line of the spread of the pious union into new areas, the missionary spirit took them from the home town and home country to the rest of the world. On 7 May 1992, three sisters were sent to serve at Casa Damiani at Castanasso, in the diocese of Bologna, Italy. This institute, meant to look after the elderly originally belonged to the Government of Italy. Now there are six houses in Italy, four in Germany and one in Portugal. In all, about 50 sisters are either working or studying abroad.