SD at a glance
SD at a Glance
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” (SDC 1).
2. The Patron of SD: St. Joseph
From the very inception of SD, the members have experience the powerful mediation of St. Joseph. Saint surrendered himself to the will of God and played an important role in the life of Jesus. St. Joseph was a just man. But mercy exceeded his sense of justice. When he knew that Mary had conceived before they lived together, he did not want to defame her. He was really a foster father to Jesus and accepted all his experiences of destituteness inherent in it as the holy will of God. When he was asked to migrate to Egypt, he faced all the insecurities with a balanced mind. He discharged all the responsibilities of the holy family with fidelity and responsibility and united them prayer.
It is at this point that our founder father, servant of God Fr. Varghese Payapilly accepted St. Joseph as the patron of his new foundation – SD along with the first home for the aged destitute and made it take place on 19 March, the feast of St. Joseph. He dedicated both new establishments under the patronage of St. Joseph and named the place St. Joseph’s mount at Chunangamvely, Aluva, Kerala, India.
Similarly, the Church observed 8 May as the feast day of the ‘intercession of the St. Joseph’ in the early days. Keeping this in mind our founder promoted the first seven aspirants on 8 May 1927 to the next stage of formation. The religious vestition of the first batch took place on 19 March 1929. Likewise, when it was time to retire from various activities of the convent and enter into silence with visit to the Blessed Sacrament they used to gather first before St. Joseph and pray to him. The founder 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 sisters in their needs used to put his statue in the sun and pray to him till their intention is granted. 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 19 March who were to represent St. Joseph, Mother Mary and the Boy Jesus and gift them food items and dress for one year.
Also Msgr. George Valliarumpeth, the then director of SD cherished a great devotion to St. Joseph and led the sisters into the spirituality of St. Joseph. He would guide meditation highlighting St. Joseph’s prompt submission to the will of God in his quick response to God’s order to flee to Egypt with the Baby and Mother Mary. He would inspire the sisters to celebrate the feast of St. Joseph in very suitable manner. St. Joseph who surrendered himself in faith to the mysterious plan of God is our succor and refuge in moments of crisis.
The Guiding Light: St. Basil (330 AD - 379 AD)
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 of the early Christian church (Arianism). In addition to his work as a theologian St. Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. 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 "Grate" because he conquered the hearts and souls of people for Jesus Christ.
St. Basil felt drawn toward communal religious life and by 358 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.
St. Basil is a guiding lamp for SD who 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. 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 (1581-1660)
St. Vincent de Paul 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 Roman 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 and Gascony the Kingdom of France.
The saint joined seminary at the age of 15 to become a priest. He was ordained on 23 September 1600 at the age of 19. St. Vincent had been taken captive by Barbary pirates in 1605. He 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 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 care 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 within the Catholic Church.
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 living our spirituality that germinates from the ability to contemplate the suffering face of Jesus on the suffering faces of the destitute.
4. Founder: Servant of God, Fr. Varghese Payapilly (1876-1929)
Servant of God Fr. Varghese Payapilly was a priest of the Diocese of Ernakulum in Kerala. He was born on August 8, 1876 at Konthuruthy a typical village in Kerala in the Diocese of Ernakulum. He was ordained on Saturday 21 December 1907 at the age of 31 at Papel Seminary Chapel, Kandy by the then Bishop of Kandy, Msgr. Clemens Pagnani OSB. After completing fruitfully his syriac study, Fr. Varghese was assigned to pastoral ministry at Kadamakudy as the parish priest.
Later, he served also as the vicar of Alangad (1910-1913 and 1916-1920), manager of St. Mary’s School, Aluva (1913-1918 and 1922-1929) and vicar of Arakuzha (1920-1922). It is during his ministry at Arakuzha that he founded the 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, and served as director of the provident fund for priests and director of apostolic union.
His zeal and love of for the kingdom of God had prepared him to begin the parish activities as a committed pastor. According to the heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd 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 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.
The Servant of God 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 of 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.
Fr. Varghese Payapilly’s transformed personality-more divine and humane, transparent and attractive- made his relationships all the more personal, cordial and enjoyable. His deep faith, radiating compassion, caring love, clear cut vision, strong sense of value and self determination, generosity and lowliness of heart, boundless reserve of courage and strength of obedience helped him to commit himself unambiguously to compassionate Jesus by serving the poor and destitute.
Fr. Varghese Payapilly died of typhoid unexpectedly on 5 October 1929 and the responsibility of the Congregation was entrusted to Msgr. George Valliarumpeth who was appointed as its director and the spiritual director of the sisters. He took charge of the newly assigned responsibility 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 11 May 1970. The Congregation is highly indebted to Msgr. Valliarumpeth for its spiritual and material growth.
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. 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 father founder that our devotion shall be devotion to the poor, that our service to the destitute shall be constant God experience for us, enlighten us to deepen a spirituality proper to the SD charism. In order that the service to the destitute be an experience of deep union with God, we must be filled with compassionate love, humility of heart (spirit of destituteness) and meekness (spirit of obedience). Then we shall be able to meet Jesus (cf. Mt 25:40) in the poor and the distressed, with whom we come in to touch. 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 (SDC 58).
6. Founding and Growth of the Congregation
The life of 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 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. 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.
Remarkable events in the Growth of SD
27 March 1977: the Congregation completed the fiftieth year of its existence.
1985: the Congregation was divided into three provinces namely, Ernakulam, Chaganassery and Kothamangalam.
22 May 1989: the Holy See raised the Congregation to the rank of Pontifical state.
2000: as a memorial of the Great Jubilee three mission provinces were erected from the three regions of three Kerala provinces.
2002: SD celebrated its Platinum Jubilee.
25 August 2009: the cause of the canonization of the Founder began
2010: Establishment of Tamilnadu Region
Main Activities of SD
Destitute Homes for the aged and infirm; Rehabilitation to the physically challenged; Rehabilitation to the mentally challenged; Terminal Care centers for those 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 Programmes; Pastoral ministry and Legal Aid & Human resource law network
Presence of SD today
As of 2017 SD is spread out in 4 continents, 11 countries in six provinces and one region with a total number of 1305 perpetually professed and 142 temporarily professed sisters. The superior general is the highest authority within the Congregation and she carries out her duties assisted by her council. The 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 24 January1984. SD was under the leadership of Msgr. George Valliarumpeth till 1940. The superiors general since then in SD are: Sr. Rose Mary Manjooran (1940-1943); Sr. Agnes Neerackal (1943-1946); Sr. Catherin Perumalil (1946-1949); Sr. Rose Mary Manjooran (1949-1952); Sr. Rose Mary Manjooran (1952-1955); Sr. Catherin Perumalil (1955-1958); Sr. Rose Mary Manjooran (1958-1961); Sr. Agnes Neerackal (1961-1964); Sr. Rose Mary Manjooran (1964-1967); Sr. Savio Neerackal (1967-1970); Sr. Savio Neerackal (1970-1973); Sr. Savio Neerackal (1973-1976); Sr. Stella Vettickapilly (1976-1979); Sr. Stella Vettickapilly (1979-1982); Sr. James Pulickal (1982-1985); Amabilis Puduserry (1985-1991); Sr. Benedict Pittapillil (1991-1997); Sr. Bastin Puthenangady (1997-2003); Sr. Judit Murickan (2003-2009); Sr. Smitha Vembilly (2009-2015) Sr. Raisy Thalian (2015-).
Growth and Spread of SD in India
In Kerala: SD is branched out today throughout Kerala namely, in 12 dioceses with various activities. There are 176 communities with 1006 sisters in Kerala
Missionary Presence in India: SD’s missionary presence was realized in 1958 with the invitation of His grace Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Angelo Fernandez, the Archbishop of Delhi to take 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 the 42 mission dioceses of India. There are 91 communities with 441 sisters in the mission stations of SD.
SD in Abroad: The Congregation extended its apostolate beyond the territories of India in 1964. A community is established in Velletri, Italy in 1981 to care for the aged people whereas the community in Colli Albani, Italy established in 2013 is for caring for the aged priests. Sisters are also giving care for aged people in Düsseldorf, Germany established in 1964. The community, established in München in 1993 and that in Regensburg established in 2001 take care of people in hospices. A community is established in Wuppertal, Germany in 2012 to care for aged people and in Lopagno, Switzerland, established in 1992 for caring the mentally challenged children. There is a community at Sovania in Madagascar established in 1994 and at Ambohimena established in 2001 in Madagascar. The ministry there is for education. The sisters in the communities in Shrevport in USA, established in 2001 and in Beaumont, USA, established in 2009 are working in hospitals. The communities at Pucalpa in Peru, established in 2013, at Kibiko in Kenya established in 2014, and at Ngunga in Kenya established in 2016, in Ethiopia established in 2017 and in Tanzania established 2017 are engaged with various activities according to the needs of the locality. There are 18 communities with 87 sisters in abroad for SD.
Constitution of the Sisters of the Destitute, Aluva, SD Generalate, 2004.
Kidagan R. – C. Madathil, Streams of Compassion, Aluva, SD Generalate, 2014.
Koovayil G., Servant of God Varghese Payapilly: An apostle of Compassionate love, Aluva, SD Generalate, 2017.
Kuzhuppil T., Sabhapithakkanmar, Kannur, Good shepherded Books, 2012.