New home is blessed for Syro-Malabar parish
By Enedelia J. Obregón
Parishioners at St. Alphonsa Syro-Malabar Catholic Church now have a home.
Their church in Manor was consecrated Nov. 8 by Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath and Auxiliary Bishop Mar Joy Alappatt of the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago. St. Alphonsa began as a mission of that diocese.
The celebration brought Syro-Malabar priests from Dallas, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley. Representing the Diocese of Austin were Father Harry Dean, vicar for priests; Deacon Ron Walker, diocesan chancellor; and Msgr. Donald J. Sawyer, pastor of Our Lady’s Maronite Catholic Church.
The first Syro-Malabar Mass was celebrated on Dec. 29, 2001, by Father Paul Pudussery in the home of Joseph Varghese and his wife, Lizamma. Through the years the faithful have gathered at various churches.
“We started with 15 families,” said George Thomas, who with his wife Maya was one of those originals. The families had met through a couple of Indian associations and thus the idea of starting a Syro-Malabar church was born.
Thomas, former church board president and leader for the consecration program, said they started celebrating Mass once a month in 2002 at Dolores Parish, where Pudussery was serving. After 10 years there, they gathered at Our Lady’s Maronite Catholic Church until this May, when they started meeting at St. Elizabeth Parish in Pflugerville. In August, they purchased the Manor site from Mercy of God Prayer Center.
“Most families live in North Austin, but this place already had a church building,” Thomas said. “Because the facilities were here, we went with it.”
For parishioners it is a welcome gift as they prepare for Advent and Christmas.
“I’m excited that there is a venue for our community to gather,” said Hilda Olekangal, a newcomer to Austin who has young children. “It’s really nice to have our own place.”
Joseph Padickaparambil, recently moved from Chicago with his family and has two children.
“It’s also about culture,” he said. “Our children can grow up knowing our culture.”
Thomas said it’s a very different experience attending Mass and hearing prayers in the language he heard growing up and within the Indian culture.
“For the children born here, it’s different,” he said. “There is a Mass in English for children once a month.”
After 11 a.m. Mass, most people stay to share lunch and socialize.
“It’s a real social gathering,” he said. “Our children can make new friends.”
Father Dominic Perunilam was installed as pastor at the consecration. He said St. Alphonsa has about 80 families, about 50 of them active. There are 75 children in religious education classes, but he expects more as the Indian community continues to grow.
Father Perunilam said the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is the second largest of the 22 Eastern Rite Churches that are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church and recognize the pope as their spiritual leader. There are 4.2 million Syro-Malabar faithful worldwide, mostly in India.
“We believe St. Thomas came to South India in 52 A.D. and was martyred in 72 A.D.,” Father Perunilam said. “He was martyred and buried in India.”
This makes the Syro-Malabar Church older than many Latin Rite churches. St. Thomas is believed to have founded seven Christian communities in what is now Kerala on the Southeast coast of India. Therefore, early Christians in India were known as St. Thomas Christians. They were also called Nazranis, meaning those who follow the path of Jesus of Nazareth.
From the fourth century until the end of the 16th century, St. Thomas Christians were governed by bishops appointed and sent by the Patriarch of the East Syrian Church. With the arrival of the Roman Catholic Portuguese in the 16th century, East Syrian bishops stopped coming to India and the Latin Church exercised full authority for almost three centuries. The Thomas Christians later got divided into several groups, and the group that remained faithful to Rome became known as the Syro-Malabar Church. Syro-Malabar literally means Syrian Christians of the Malabar Coast (which is now the Indian State of Kerala).
Father Perunilam said the Syro-Malabar Church closely follows the Latin Rite liturgical calendar. The same colorful vestments, however, are worn year-round.
While the Roman Church has seven seasons, the Syro-Malabar Church has nine: Annunciation, which centers around the Nativity; Epiphany, public life; Great Feast, the Paschal Mysteries; Resurrection, the Resurrection; Apostles, Pentecost; summer, growth of Church; Elijah-Cross, Transfiguration; Moses, Glorification of Cross; and Dedication of the Church, Parousia.
Because Parousia falls in November, St. Alphonsa Church was not consecrated until Nov. 8 even though the feast day for the patron saint is July 28.
Mass is said in Malayalam, an Indian dialect, although it is also offered it English. It lasts about an hour and 15 minutes and there is much singing.
Just as in the Latin Rite, men and women in consecrated life do not marry.
Father Perunilam said that St. Alphonsa is the 34th Syro-Malabar parish in the U.S. There are 36 missions, all which fall under the jurisdiction of the Chicago diocese, which oversees the U.S. and Canada. The diocese is also relatively new, having just been established in 2001.
Parishioners chose St. Alphonsa as their patron saint because she was the first native-born Indian saint. She was born Anna Muttathupadathu on Aug. 19, 1910, to a wealthy family of Syro-Malabar Christians. Her mother died soon after giving birth to her prematurely and she was raised by a maternal aunt.
Annakutty –– meaning little Anna –– as she was affectionately called, wanted to enter convent at an early age, but her aunt insisted in finding a suitable husband. To make herself unattractive, Annakutty sought to burn her feet, but instead fell in the fire and severely burned her legs. Her aunt gave in and allowed her to enter the convent of the Congregation of the Franciscan Clarists on Aug. 2, 1928.
She took the name Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception upon making her final vows on May 19, 1930. She suffered from several illnesses throughout her short life. She died on July 28, 1946. She is the patron saint against illnesses. She was canonized on Oct. 12, 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI.
St. Alphonsa Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is located at 8701 Burleson Rd. in Manor. For more information, visit www.st-alphonsa.org or call (512) 272-4005.