The Vincentian Congregation is a clerical society in the Syro-Malabar Church with its Generalate at Edappally in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly. It comes under the category of the Societies of Common Life according to the manner of religious. It is of Pontifical Right.
The Congregation was founded on 20 November 1904 as a Koventha at Thottakom by Fr. Varkey Kattarath with three diocesan priests, with the approval and encouragement of Mar Louis Pazheparampil, the first Vicar Apostolic of Ernakulam. The Koventha was based on the Common Rules of St. Vincent de Paul and on the model of the Congregation of the Mission, founded by him in 1625. However, due to various reasons beyond their control, all of them, including the founder Fr. Kattarath, were forced to disperse by 1915.
After some years, Rev. Frs. George Mannara, Antony Pauvathil and George Vattamkandathil expressed their desire to lead a religious life to Mar Augustine Kandathil, the then Archbishop of Ernakulam who directed them to revive the religious community once founded at Thottakom. Accordingly they revived it and began the community life at Thottakom on 19 July 1927. Fr. Varkey Kattarath joined them at Thottakom in October 1927. The Koventha at Thottakom was officially called the Vincentian Congregation in 1938.
Spirit and Charism
The spirit of the Congregation is the participation in the spirit of Chirst, ever active in the church, lived and recommended by St. Vincent – an intimate, personal love of the Father, docility to the divine providence and an ardent, compassionate love of the poor. The Congregation draws its spirit and distinctive character from the life and works, and the Common Rules of St. Vincent de Paul who is chosen as the Father and Patron of the Vincentian Congregation. “To preach the Good News to the poor” (Lk.4: 18) is the motto of the Congregation. As visualized by St. Vincent, we strive to give expression to the spirit of Christ, resplendent in the five virtues of simplicity, humility, meekness, mortification and zeal for the salvation of souls. The ardent and compassionate love of the poor inspires the Vincentians to work hard and to do their best to improve the conditions of the poor, and to share their lot by adopting a humble and simple life style. A whole-hearted commitment to the evangelization of the poor and their human and Christian advancement is the identifying mark and charism of the congregation.
The charism of the Congregation is realized by the preaching of the Word of God, missionary works among non-Christians as well as in the educational, social and charitable apostolate in order to help the poor in their integral development.
1. Popular Mission is the specific form of preaching the Word of God undertaken by the Vincentians. It is a special type of retreat aimed at the thorough renewal of parishes. Such parish retreats are appreciated and welcomed by the bishops, parish priests and faithful. For this retreat, we have two teams of preachers for Kerala, one for Tamil Nadu, one for Andhra Pradesh and another team for the Hindi speaking area. In addition to Popular Missions and as a follow-up for this, the Vincentian priests organize other forms of preaching such as Bible conventions, residential retreats etc. We have 51 prayer and retreat centers, including the well-known Potta-Divine Retreat Center. We are expanding such programs to foreign countries also, including some African countries.
2. In places where the Gospel has not yet been preached or the Church is not yet well established, the Vincentians share the missionary responsibility to preach the message of Christ and to implant the seeds of faith. We engage in two-fold mission work: namely mission ‘ad gentes’ and re-evangelization. The Congregation began its ministries outside Kerala first in Tamil Nadu. Gradually it was extended to most of the other states in India. At present Vincentian Missionaries are active also in Africa and South America. All the three provinces of the Congregation undertake mission work in these places.
3. Upholding the charism of St. Vincent, the Congregation is organizing several programs and institutions for the benefit of the most abandoned. The fundamental principle of our social and charitable activities is the social message of Jesus revealed in the sacred scriptures and following the example of our heavenly patron St. Vincent de Paul. The words of our Lord in the description of the last judgment, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me” (Mt.25:40), inspires each Vincentian in this regard. As part of our social and charitable activities, we run three De Paul care centers to accommodate the poor cancer patients, one center (SSSMILE Village) to rehabilitate the akasaparavakal, another one for the poor and chronically mentally ill, one for the aids patients and several houses for the aged as well as poor children.
4. The educational institutions run by the Congregation maintain a Vincentian touch, making them affordable for the poor and ordinary people. Through this, we are fulfilling the duty of forming worthy children for the church and responsible citizens for the country. Therefore, our educational institutions distinguish themselves by their spiritual, intellectual and cultural excellence. The Congregation is running many schools and educational institutions all over India both in rural as well as urban areas and one in Africa. These institutions give special attention to the character formation of the new generation, by inculcating in them the spirit of love, service and fraternity.
5. Another important ministry that comes from the Vincentian charism is helping the diocesan clergy. This is actualized by conducting renewal programs, ongoing formation for the diocesan clergy as well as by assisting in the parishes where there is shortage of priests. Some of our priests are rendering service in different parishes in India as well as in Europe, Africa, America and Australia.
Fr. George Mannara, Msgr. Thomas Nedumkallel, Fr. Jacob Kallarackal, Fr. George Kammattil, Fr. George Manalel, Fr. Paul Kariamadam, Fr. Antony Plackal, Fr. George Arackal, Fr. Varghese Puthussery and Fr. Varghese Parappuram served as Superiors General of the Congregation for different periods of time. At present the Congregation is led by Fr. Sebastian Thundathikunnel, elected Superior General on 21 April 2009.
Active in His Service
At present the Congregation has three provinces, three dependent regions and two missions and altogether there are 2 bishops, 535 priests, 1 brother and 165 professed seminarians.
The three provinces are the following:
1. Marymatha Province, Provincial House, Angamaly, 683573, Kerala
2. St. Joseph Province, Provincial House, Kottayam, 686006, Kerala
3. St. Thomas Province, Provincial House, Ujwa, 110073, New Delhi
The dependent Regions are:
1. Good Shepherd Region, Andhra Pradesh
2. Sacred Heart Region, East Africa
3. St. Xavier’s Region, Tamil Nadu
The Missions are:
1. St. Paul Mission, Maharashtra
2. Christu Jyothi Mission, Uttar Pradesh
The members of the Congregation are serving today in India in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Goa, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Seemandhara, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, and Uttar Pradesh. The members are active abroad also; Vincentians are working in Australia, Austria, Canada, England, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Peru, Scotland, Switzerland, Tanzania, Uganda and United States of America.
HISTORY AND PRESENT ACTIVITIES
The provincial Council decided to buy some land in Chennai to start a retreat centre for the people of Tamil Nadu. After a long search the council decided to buy 36 acres of land in Elavur, Gummudipoondi, about 50 km from Chennai. When we brought the land it was with Teak wood and Eucalypts trees. Then we cleared about 6 acres and the foundation stone was laid on 27 April 2005 by Very Rev. Fr. Varghese Puthussery, the Superior General and blessed by Rt. Rev. Lawrence Pius, the Administrator, Madras-Mylapoor Arch Diocese and opened by Rev. Fr. Jose Vettiyankal, the Provincial Superior on 20 May 2005. Temporary rooms and huts were built for the retreat centre and started the retreats. The blessing of the renovated chapel took place on 30th September 2006. By the Mercy of God and from the support of many we conduct all the retreats free of cost from 2007 onwards. A magazine titled, ‘Divine Mercy Magazine’ was published from this centre and later due to some legal problems it was stopped. This was also the centre of the popular mission retreats till 2012.
The Vincentian Minor Seminary for the St. Xavier’s Region was started on 24 June 2015. In the first batch there were 16 seminarians. One block of the retreat centre was renovated for this purpose and we started the seminary. A beautiful adoration chapel was completed by the end of March 2016 and blessed by Arch bishop George Antonysamy and opened by Rev. Fr. George Arackal, the Provincial Superior on 01 April 2016.
At present we have residential retreats and one day programmes. In the first and the second week there are Tamil residential retreats and in the third week there is weekend retreat. There are English residential retreats in alternative months. On the first Saturday there is night vigil and on the third Sunday there is one day programme. Every year there is a Divine Mercy Convention along with the feast of the Divine Mercy.