Saint Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1877-1952)
“A Spouse to the Divine and a Mother to All Humans”
April 3, 2014 was a day cherished by all Indians. On that significant day, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to proceed with the decrees concerning the miracles attributed to Blessed Euphrasia of the Blessed Heart. This confirmed his approval of her canonization . The ceremony of canonization took place on 23 November, 2014 and the simple nun (Evuprasiamma, C.M.C) from Ollur in Thrissur diocese was officially elevated to sainthood. The required second miracle had already taken place. Through her intercession, a seven-year old boy, Master Jewel Jenson from Kallettumkara, in Irinjalakuda (Kerala), was miraculously cured of a thyroglossal cyst in 2006. Jewel was present at the official ceremony in Vatican.
A life filled with simple acts of kindness and a life fired by the intense love of God! Here we have, in a nutshell, the three quarters of a century that Blessed Euphrasia breathed and walked the earth. She is honored with so many nomenclatures that we see the diverse impressions she made on the people who were fortunate enough to have known her during her temporal residence in the then Thrissur diocese of the Syro-Malabar Church in India. To some, she was the “Praying Mother”, to others she was the “Mobile Tabernacle”, yet to some others she was the symbol of complete obedience to the divine will, and to a large number of people, she was someone “who did not forget even after death”, the ultimate refuge and problem solver in all their times of worry and trouble. This woman of low stature and lack of ambitions stands tall today as one of the acknowledged members of the Church Triumphant and as the Bloom in the Carmel courtyard. Her memorable words,”Even after death, I will not forget!” still resound in the minds of many.
From the seventy-nine letters to her spiritual director, seventy-four complete and five incomplete, the letter to her niece at the time of her wedding, letter to Sr. Angela from her own postulant group, and the letter to Blessed Mariam Thresia, all written in Blessed Euphrasia’s own neat hand, her handwritten prayers, and from the numerous eyewitnesses of her life, emerges a picture of a woman of sanctity, a woman who consecrated her life to the sole purpose of atoning for the sins of humanity. In the process, the same woman, in humility, obedience, and purity, extends her love to the whole humanity, from the lowliest maid to the high prelates of the Church. Her love of God enabled her to care deeply about her faith and her Church, caring fervently about everyone around her, regardless of their apparent importance in the social and cultural structure of society.
Blessed Euphrasia was born on October 17, 1877 to Anthony and Kuññethy of the Eluvathingal Cherpukaran family in the village of Kattoor, in the parish of Edathuruthy, in the Diocese of Thrissur (in today’s diocese of Irinjālakuda). She was baptized, according to local customs, on the eighth day after her birth, on October 25. She was named Rosa after St. Rose of Lima, whose virtues set a standard for young Rosa and which set her on a road of holiness. She had three brothers and a younger sister who did not live to see maturity. Her family was devout and her mother, by her example, instilled in her daughter the special devotion to the Virgin Mary. She inherited from her mother the calm, unassuming manner while she inherited from her father the firm determination to stay the course until her destination was reached. To her dismay, she also found that she matched him in hot temper and, throughout her life, she fought to control that temper.
From a very young age, Rosa found that the vain fineries and their pomp and displaywere not for her. When she was nine years old, she was blessed with a vision of a beautiful woman (Virgin Mary) who instructed her in an itinerary of prayers of adoration of Our Lord at every hour (letter, Feb. 18, 1904). At the same age, she espoused herself to the crucified Lord and wanted to share in His suffering.
Rosa’s family wished for her to marry, but, she was steadfast in her espousal to Jesus and was adamant in following the life of a Religious. She prayed fervently and the parents bent to God’s will. After the death of her younger sister, on October 24, 1888 her father personally took Rosa to the St. Anne’s boarding school of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel at Koonammāvu near Palai, where those who aspire to a Religious life were trained. This was the first indigenous convent of the Syro-Malabar Church and it was established by Blessed Chavara Kuriakose and Leopold Beccaro, the Italian Carmelite Missionary. Rosa spent nine years in this school and the monastic, well-disciplined, and prayerful life of the boarding school suited Rosa perfectly.
Rosa had some rudimentary education at Kattoor and a little more at Aranattukara. At Koonammāvu, the academic curriculum included Malayalam, Tamil, English, Mathematics, and Music. Needlework, drawing, and some handicrafts like making rosaries were also added to the academic syllabus. Rosa excelled in needlework and drawing and had beautiful penmanship, but she was backward in her academic studies.
Rosa’s path was not easy. Her health was fragile and she was afflicted with various illnesses that caused great suffering. The Sisters felt that Rosa did not have the physical stamina for a Religious life and wanted to send her back home for treatment. She feared that she would not be allowed to return. She placed her trust in the Blessed Mother and prayed hard. In September 1889, she was struck by rheumatism and all medical treatments were futile. The Sisters arranged for the “viaticum” to be brought to her and everyone readied themselves for the imminent departure of the frail girl. Suddenly, the emaciated face glowed with a new light and she reached her arms to someone no one else could see. She sat up fully recovered. She had a visitation from the Holy Family who promised her a long life as a Religious. Mother Agnes of Koonammāvu enquired Rosa about what transpired in the sick room and she made a note of the miraculous healing. Later, when it was time for Rosa to become a postulant, she sent the note to the Bishop of Thrissur with an added comment that the vision had changed her decision to send the girl back to her home.
This was a time of great upheavals in the ecclesiastical administration of the Syrian Church in Kerala. Till this time, the Vatican appointed only European vicargenerals and bishops in Kerala. The Syrian Christians were unhappy about this and made many appeals to the Holy See. As a result, in 1887, two vicariates, Thrissur and Kōttayam, were formed from the diocese of Varāppally, Thrissur under an English Bishop and Kōttayam under a French Bishop. The situation was not completely satisfactory. After repeated requests for local Bishops, a different division was made in 1896, creating the Vicariates of Thrissur, Ernākulam, and Changanāssèry (eliminating Kōttayam), all three governed by local Bishops. Mar John Mènachèry became the first Malayālee Bishop of Thrissur and assumed his charge on October 25, 1896. He established the St. Joseph’s Convent of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel at Ambazhakkādu (in today’s diocese of Irinjālakuda) on May 9, 1897. He transferred the Sisters and aspirants belonging to Thrissur diocese from the Koonammāvu convent to Ambazhakkādu. Rosa of the Eluvathingal family was one of them.
On May 10, 1897, along with nine companions, Rosa became a postulant in the Carmelite Congregation adopting the name of Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart. The Greek name meant “joy” or “delight” and it was appropriate. Sr. Euphrasia experienced another miraculous healing when she was three months into her postulant stage. Her frail health always left her on the tenterhooks of anxiety over her future as the Religious. She experienced many dark hours of the soul. But, for all her grave illnesses and trials of the dark dominions, she was often rewarded with intense ecstasies.
Sr. Euphrasia received the habit of the novice in the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel on May 10, 1898 and her Vestition marked a milestone in her path of humility, holiness, and extreme fortitude and renunciation, a path to perfect oblation.
Sr. Euphrasia’s life as a novice passed through a period of some vibrant changes in the history of the diocese, especially in that of the Carmelite Order. People of Ollur, a nearby parish of Thrissur, wished for a convent and home for widows and their children. The newly ordained bishop had some plans of his own, which coincided with the wish of the people to some extent. He made arrangements for a convent, a school, and a boarding house and the people were willing to go along with a convent of Sisters instead of a convent of widows. In the name of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, a convent rose from its foundation. Sr. Euphrasia completed her ten day retreat prior to her Profession of the permanent vows and came to Ollur for the momentous day in her life. On the Feast of Ascension, on May 24, 1900, the St. Mary’s Convent of Ollur was blessed. On the same day, Sr. Euphrasia professed her permanent vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and the Church officially accepted the avowal of her self-offering. From that day, her focus never shifted from the Love residing in the tabernacle and for long hours, she kept vigil in front of the tabernacle throughout her life.
From the time that Sr. Euphrasia was a novice, Mar John Mènachèry, the Bishop of Thrissur, was her Confessor and Spiritual Director. This connection continued for nearly twenty years until the demise of the Bishop on December 19, 1919. He directed her to write everything down when she did not have occasions to speak to him directly and she obeyed. He treasured her letters, eight written from Ambazhakkādu and all the others written from Ollur.
From 1904 to 1913, Sr. Euphrasia was appointed the first Novice Mistress of the Order and the novices. She was attentive to every novice and noticed every detail of their physical and spiritual well being. Even without being told, she knew when help was needed. She was an avid advocate of her novices.
While Sr. Euphrasia served as the Novice Mistress, a momentous encounter took place. Mar John Mènachèry sent Mariam Thresia of Puthenchira to Ollur for a period of discernment. Although they were contemporaries, Mariam Thresia was placed under the then Novice Mistress for the period starting from November 26, 1912 to January 27, 1913. This was the first time that Mariam Thresia had an occasion to compare notes with someone who also experienced heavenly visits, diabolical attacks, and spiritual ecstasies.
In 1913, another change took place in the life of Sr. Euphrasia. She was promoted to the position of the Mother Superior. From the depth of her soul, she felt that she was not up to the onerous task. But, she solved the difficulty by entrusting all the responsibilities to the Sacred Heard of Jesus.
After her term as the Mother Superior, Mother Euphrasia was transferred to Manalur on April 14, 1916. She served as the Assistant Mother Superior. After six months, she had to return to Ollur because of the return of her companion, the rheumatism, and the addition of high fever and sputum stained in blood. The damp climate did not suit her health and the treatment she needed was not available at Manalur. The only other time she was away from Ollur was in 1928. For two years, she was at Ambazhakkādu. When the contagious cholera was contracted by one of the novices, only Mother Euphrasia had the courage and willingness to minister to the patient, performing even the lowest tasks. On many other occasions, she was the willing nurse at the side of anyone who was ill or at verge of death.
Meanwhile, Mother Euphrasia was undergoing personal sorrows and losses. Her father passed away in 1913 and her mother left this world ten years later. Her family’s circumstances changed to poverty and some of her family members fell into drunkenness. . It only added to the crosses she chose to bear and added to the humiliations she chose to accept.
Mother Euphrasia was an illustration of the conventual rules. She practiced solitude, silence, prayer, eye control, penance, and poverty. But, she always obeyed the rules and was stringent and open in criticizing if there were any infractions, even if it made her unpopular. To her, obedience was equal to a submission to the Divine Will. The rheumatism, which she contracted when she was young, never left her and was a boon companion. She was always in pain. She was frail from her illnesses, fasting, and abstinences. She could not undertake any heavy physical labors. She abstained from meat, fish, and eggs on four days of the week in addition to her fasting. She who liked delicious foods very much denied herself that pleasure. She chose the most tasteless foods or added more salt or other items to make the food lose its good taste. She did not possess much and gave away even the daily necessities even if she could barely spare it. She often wore an old brown habit. All her clothing items were old and darned many times for longer wear. The curtains in her cell were also worn and displayed many patchworks.
Mother Euphrasia’s letters speak of a woman who wished to lead an anonymous, unremarkable life filled with penance and abject lowliness, Many times she repeated that anything she wrote was for the Bishop’s eyes only. She wanted her experiences kept as a secret. Written in black ink, on 21cmx29cm paper folded in half, often decorated with floral designs in her own hand, these letters reveal a soul’s journey to salvation. Mother Euphrasia had uncanny premonitions and visitations about the future. Letter 37 is a clear indication of the divine sharing of what was to come. Blessed Mother had already indicated to her that the legal battle between the Roman Catholics and Chaldean Syrian group for the ownership of the old church of our Lady of Dolours would be a losing battle for Bishop John Mènachèry (Letter 53). But the Blessed Virgin explained that the loss is for a good reason. The building for a new church started in 1925 when the Maharaja of Kochi granted the deed , urging them to build the largest church in Asia. Today, the Basilica of Our Lady of Dolours proudly stands at the downtown area of Thrissur, the tallest and largest church in Asia.
Above all, Mother Euphrasia was a mother to all. She always looked after the comfort of others while neglecting her own. She willingly worked in the kitchens, in the infirmary, and at the construction sites. When everyone left for the day, she would collect a bucket and water and do the meanest of jobs, including cleaning the bathrooms.
Evening was silently sliding into night. The chapter of Mother Euphrasia was also coming to a close. The year 1950 was the Golden Jubilee year for her and it was celebrated along with the Jubilee of the convent. At seventy-two years of age, she was feeling weariness and started to hint at her departure from this world. Memory losses started to plague her. On August 26, 1952, she went for her Sacrament of Reconciliation. After finishing it, she got up, but knelt down and started all over again. Father Luis CMI who was her Confessor realized that something was wrong and asked another Sister to help her. Mother, with the help of her stick and the Sister on the other side, barely made it to her room. She had already paralyzed on one side and her memory loss was heightening. Her speech was strained and garbled. She tried very hard to make herself understood. Finally, she asked for paper and pen and made her request for the Last Sacraments. Fr. Luis administered them realizing that her end was near. This news spread fast and the sisters and local people came running to get a last glimpse of her. She smiled and blessed them all. On Friday, August 29, 1952 she went to her eternal sleep after receiving the last blessing from the Convent Chaplain, Father Joseph Chittilappilly. She was buried in a tomb in the shadow of the statue of the Blessed Mother. Her physical remains stayed there for thirty-seven years.
Mother Euphrasia did not forget even after death. She who did not travel far from the four walls of the convent was sought by people from far and wide and they received many favors. Thrissur Bishop George Alapatt published the Prayer for Canonization on August 29, 1963. He had come upon her letters. When he retired, he entrusted them to the Superior of the Carmelites of Thrissur. His successor, Bishop Joseph Kundukulam, instituted the Docessan Tribunal in 1988. The tomb of Mother Euphrasia was identified and opened and her remains were reinterred in 1990. Nine years later, the Congregation for the Cause of Saints in Rome received the Positio on the virtues of the Servant of God. In the fiftieth anniversary year of her passage, Pope John Paul II declared her “Venerable”. On Sunday, December 3, 2006, she was beatified and became the fifth Keralite to become a “Blessed”.
The definitive miracle that was accepted officially to elevate the Servant of God to the beatified state occurred to T. P. Thomas. He was a furniture polisher and he was diagnosed with bone cancer. Surgery and radiation were prescribed by the medical experts. His sister Rosy fervently believed in the mediation of Mother Euphrasia and prayed intermittently, begging for a miracle because she believed that a miracle was the only solution to her brother’s problem. When the doctors repeated the scanning, they found that the abnormal growth had disappeared and he was completely cured of cancer, without any surgery and/or radiation.
Blessed Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart did not build edifices, did not establish institutions, did not lead social movements, and did not aspire to heights of leadership in her congregation. Leading an apparently insignificant life, shrinking her self into the lowest tasks, and seeking refuge in her Heavenly Mother and love in her Divine Spouse, the little nun spread the largesse of her love to all around her. Her love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus burned in such intensity that she was willing to immolate herself in it. Her faith and dependence in her Mother was so steadfast that she forged ahead with childlike confidence. But, to all around her, she was the “mother” who watched over them with her keen eyes and extended her hand any time there was a need, whether physical or spiritual, whether it was due to physical hunger and hard labor or the spiritual hunger of indecision over the future of one’s vocation or some emotional storms raging inside destroying all peace of mind. She was the “mother” who did not forget even after death. This diminutive figure of a woman, with no heights of learning or other pedantic achievements or elevated ideologies that would thrill the theologians, nurtured a life filled with prayer, suffering, and compassion. Here, in Blessed Euphrasia, we have the true handmaiden of the Lord.
- Euphrasiammayudé Likhithangal. Fr. A. Matthias Mundadan CMI, Euphrasia Publications, Ollur, 2001
- Blessed Euphrasia, Beatification Souvenir. Ed. Sr. Cleopatra CMC, St. Mary’s Offset Press, Thrissur, 2006.
- The Rose of Carmel. Sr. Cleopatra CMC, St. Mary’s Covent, Ollur, June 2008
- Fr. J. Ephrem, C.R. The Praying Mother. Trans. C. A. Regina, Neethiman Press, Choondal, 1999.
- Pastor CMC. Thirsting for God. Trans. Sr. Bianca CMC, CMC Publications, Thaikkattukara, Aluva, 2002.