Conventuals India

After his re-election as Minister General of the Order in 1978, Fr.Vitale Bommarco included India in his plan. He felt that the 50th Anniversary of Blessed Maximilian`s arrival in the Far East could not be celebrated ina better way than by espousing his idea and realizing his India "dream".

The Minister General had authorized Fr. Sebald Reil, General Secretary for the Missions to start preparatory work and eventually to visit India to study the possibility of establishing the Order in the sub-continent. The other two branches of the Franciscan First Order were already established in India.

Before Fr. Sebald embarked on his journey in India he had two important contacts, one at Rome with Bishop Jacob Thoomkuzhy, then bishop of Manathavady and through correspondence, with then Bishop Joseph Powathil of Kanjirappally who expressed his willingness to have a house of the Order in their respective dioceses.

In the General Definitory held on October 18, 1979, Fr. Sebald spoke about the work done so far. The Definitory unanimously decided to continue with the task to establish the Order in India and urged Fr. Sebald to undertake the journey to India to study about the possibility of our presence in that country. Fr. Reil was in India from November 16 through December 15, 1979. He had various meetings with different bishops, especially with Mar Pawathil of Kanjirappally who was very much interested that our Order establish in his diocese.

On His return to Rome, a full report was given to the General Definitory and a decision was taken to go forward with the first foundation of the Order in the diocese of Kanjirappally. On 15 December 1979, Bishop Joseph Pawathil invited the Order officially to establish itself in his diocese. The first period of the Order`s presence was to be primarily of a vocational nature.

The project to establish the Order in Kanjirappally diocese was presented to the Maltese Province during the General Canonical Visitation by Fr. Vitale Bommarco, Minister General in February 1980. Fr. General agreed with Fr. Elias Vella, Minister Provincial to present the matter in the Ordinary Provincial Chapter. On 12 July 1980, the Minister General proposed to the Chapter that the Maltese Province should undertake the task to open a new mission in the state of Kerala by establishing a seminary for the formation of young people in the religious Franciscan life.

The Provincial Chapter unanimously accepted the proposal of the General. Father General informed the Chapter that the first two friars who agreed to embark on this missionary experience were Fr. Albert Sammut and Fr. Samuel Chetcuti. In the month of November 1980, a Convention was signed between the General Curia and the Province of Malta regarding the Indian Mission. The General Definitory approved this on 05 November, while the Provincial Definitory gave its approval on 19 November. It was signed by Fr. Vitale Bommarco, Minister General and by Fr. Ferdinand Mercieca, Minister Provincial of Malta.The General Directives of the said Convention states that the Province of Malta had accepted the Indian Mission to commemorate the 75th anniversary of its erection as Province.

On 07 November, Fr. Samuel Chetcuti arrived in India for two and a half months stay. He also had all the necessary permissions to search and to find a suitable land for the construction of the Franciscan Centre. During his stay in Kerala, Fr. Samuel was the guest of Bishop Powathil at the Bishop`s House in Kanjirappally. He reached an agreement on 23 December 1980 for the acquirement of four and a half acres of land at Chotty, 6 km away from Kanjirappally and 4 km away from Mundakayam towns in the district of Kottayam. Plans were also prepared for the building of the Franciscan Centre. This he could do with the help of Bishop Powathil, Fr. John Thommitazhathu, the Procurator of the diocese and Fr. George Paruvanany, the Parish Priest of Velichiyani.

Mar Joseph Powathil, Bishop of Kanjirappally, established the Franciscan Centre at Chotty on 24 January 1981. He erected the Centre as a moral person with rights to acquire and administer property. According to this document, the Centre had to provide general education as well as deep formation in Franciscan spirituality to the young people. It was also envisioned that the Centre would help in the mass media apostolate of the diocese.

On 05 February, Fr. Samuel Chetcuti participated in the Definitory Meeting of the Maltese Province where he gave a detailed report about his visit to India. The Definitory approved the policy for the new Mission as suggested by Fr. Samuel and approved him as the first Superior for the new friary to be established. The Definitory also agreed to make a petition to the General Definitory for the establishment of a religious house and a Minor Seminary at Chotty. On 12 February, Fr. Samuel presented a brief report to the General Definitory in Rome about the situation. The General Definitory approved the establishment of a religious house and a Minor Seminary at Chotty, under the title of Nirmalaram, which means the Garden of the Immaculate. Finally, the time arrived for the coming and permanent staying of two Maltese friars in Kerala. On 15 February, Fr. Samuel Chetcuti and Fr. Albert Sammut left Rome on their way to India.

The first missionaries arrived in Kerala on 16 February and stayed at the Priest`s Home, Koovappally, until they took possession of the property at Chotty on 30 March. They began to live in the small house from 03 April onwards. On 10 May, Mar Joseph Powathil blessed the new Franciscan friary and presented the Order to the people of the locality. The Maltese Province issued the document of the establishment of Nirmalaram as a religious house and Minor Seminary on 15 March 1981. On 08 December, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Queen of the Franciscan Order, a feast so dear to all the sons and daughters of St. Francis, Fr. Ferdinand Mercieca laid the foundation stone of the new construction, together with a statue of the Immaculate Conception was blessed by Bishop Joseph Powathil of Kanjirappally. During his visit, Fr. Provincial announced the coming of Fr. Joseph Celia by the end of March 1982 to substitute Fr. Albert Sammut who was being recalled to Malta.