Jessy Joppy, who has made Blessed Mariam Thresia her patron, sits outside a pilgrim center for the saintly Kerala nun, who is to be canonized at the Vatican on Oct. 13. Joppy expects to see her son walk miraculously on the day. (Photo by Thomas Christopher)
Jessy Joppy expects to see the miracle of her 5-year-old son walking on Oct. 13, the day when Pope Francis is to declare an Indian nun, Blessed Mariam Thresia, a saint.
The boy, Ebin Joppy, has been unable to sit or walk since birth and medical treatments have failed to correct his condition. However, the intercession of the nun will work a miracle on the day canonization, his mother believes.
“I expect a miracle,” she said as she lifted her son onto her lap as she sat on the veranda of the Mariam Thresia Pilgrim Center in Kuzhikattussery village in Thrissur district of Kerala state.
The mortal remains of the nun are entombed in the pilgrim center, attracting hundreds to seek the blessing and intercession of the nun, who lived and worked in nearby villages.
The flow of pilgrims has increased considerably ever since the Vatican announced on July 1 that the canonization would be in October, said Sister Jisha Joseph of the Holy Family Congregation that the nun started in 1914.
Sister Joseph, who has worked in the mission areas of northern India, now helps to coordinate the activities of the pilgrim center and several family-renewal programs conducted by the nuns.
Blessed Mariam Thresia founded the congregation at the age of 37 after working several years with families in her parish in Punthenchira village, where her ancestral house is based.
“She joined two convents but never felt called to them,” said Sister Giselda, a senior nun who lives in a convent adjacent to their founder’s family home. “She had visions from Jesus and the Blessed Mother to found the congregation after the name of the Holy Family.”
Her special gift was to reconcile members of broken families and work to foster peace and a prayerful atmosphere in them, the elderly nun said.
“She prayed for families, especially for the conversion of sinners. She fasted for them and visited them and exhorted them to repentance. Several miraculous conversions happened,” said Sister Giselda.
Her once-rich joint family became poor after her grandfather sold off valuable properties to arrange the expensive marriages of his seven daughters. Her family suffered further when her father and her brothers became alcoholics.
Her mother was her father’s second wife and she had two brothers and two sisters. Her mother died in 1888 when she was barely 12 years old, at which point she was forced to drop out of school, according to her biography, which has been accepted by the Vatican.
Thresia and three friends began to spend most of their time in the parish church cleaning and decorating it, apart from praying. She also made a private vow of chastity.
The friendship of the four grew and became a group for prayer and family apostolate. They invited criticism for challenging the local customs of the time by moving around in public without being accompanied by male members of their families.
“She used to pray and seek the help of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. She saw them in visions and received help for the apostolate, especially for the conversion of sinners,” Sister Giselda said.
Levitation and frequent ecstasies
In 1913, 10 years after she requested permission to start the congregation, Bishop John Menachery of Trichur permitted her to build a prayer house for her and her three companions. On May 14, 1914, he canonically established it as the Congregation of the Holy Family.
Thresia became its first superior and her three companions were enrolled as postulants.
She said to have received several gifts, such as prophecy and healing, and to have had levitation and frequent ecstasies. On Fridays people used to gather to see Thresia lifted high and hanging in the form of a crucifix on the wall of her room, said a Vatican document about her.
“The education of girls was Mariam Thresia’s liberation theology in action without the slogan. Several young girls were attracted to her by her simplicity, humility and shining sanctity,” the document said.
The first girls’ school in the village was started by her one year after the congregation was formed. “Education of girls was her priority,” Sister Giselda said.
The congregation, with more than 1,900 professed nuns in 175 houses, is active in most Indian states as well as in countries including Germany, Italy and Ghana.
The process of her canonization began in 1971 and in 1999 the first step was completed when she was called a venerable, or servant of God.
She was beatified in 2000 after the Vatican recognized that her intercession in 1970 had helped to miraculously cure 14-year-old Mathew Pellissery, who had congenital cleft feet and could not walk properly. Both legs were cured within a year.
In February this year, the Vatican accepted another miracle, clearing her name for canonization. It recognized that the nun’s intercession had miraculously cured a prematurely born baby boy on April 7, 2009, after doctors expressed they were helpless to save the child.
“We are thankful to the prayers and work of everyone that helped us here,” said Sister Punneliparambil Udaya, superior general of the congregation.
She said some 200 nuns and all 52 bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, based in Kerala, would be attending the canonization ceremony at the Vatican.
“The Syro-Malabar bishops will already be there for their ad limina visits. We are not sure how many other bishops will be there, but surely there will be others from where our nuns are working,” she said.
The programs at the Vatican include a night vigil on the eve of the ceremony, the canonization ceremony and a thanksgiving Mass on Oct. 14.
Convents will hold special prayers on the day and a national celebration is planned for Nov. 16 near the pilgrim center. Political and leaders of other religions are also expected to attend it, the nun said.
The celebration will be bigger for Joppy if the miracle she expects indeed takes place.