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WELCOME TO THE INDIAN SERVITE WORLD!

 Journey to the East
 Adventure in the planting
 Growing Up

JOURNEY TO THE EAST



In the year 1964 while The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican or otherwise known as Vatican II was still in session, Fr. Stani (Stanislaus) Santhu Manickam, the would be First Indian Servite found himself in Gallarate VA, Italy. He was a Jesuit scholastic at that time. He had been sent there by the Madurai Jesuit Province, to study philosophy at the International Jesuit Faculty of Philosophy. While a student of philosophy in the years 1964-67, he was passionately involved and seriously engaged in the spirit of renewal and ecumenism that swept the landscape of the Catholic Church like a wild fire within and without.

It was in the summer of 1965, that he heard about the Ecumenical Center (Centro Ecumenico ad Abbazzia di Sant'Egidio, Fontanella ) near Sotto il Monte CO, the birth place of Pope John XXIII. Fr. Davide Maria Turoldo OSM of happy memory (a member of the Venetian Servite Province), was the founder and leader of that center. From reliable sources, Stani had learnt that Fr. Turodo was an eminent preacher, writer, poet and a Theologian. Instead of joining the other Jesuit students for holidays at the Summer Villa near Sondrio, he sought permission from his Rector to spend the summer at the above mentioned Ecumenical Center. The Rector made an exception and granted permission. Together with another Jesuit student, he contacted Fr. Turoldo. Fr. Turoldo welcomed the two Jesuit students generously. In retrospect, Stani realized in later years, that the preparation of the terrain for the future seeding of the Servite Order in India began already then, through the influence of Fr. Turoldo and the Servite community at Fontanella .

Besides Fr.Turoldo and the servite community at Fontanella, other important protagonists of this adventure were Signora Anna Maria Rocco and her husband of happy memory, Giuseppe Rocco. They were long term friends of Fr. Turoldo, going way back to their University days. The Roccos have three lovely daughters. Anna Maria Rocco took a great liking to Stani at the very outset, and included him as a son in her family. Stani would visit the Roccos frequently during the reminder of his stay in Italy and kept corresponding with them even after returning to India at the conclusion of his philosophical studies at Gallarate. Thus started a life long close family relationship between Stani, the Rocco family and the Servite family.

In 1968, after a successful year of regency at St. Mary's Dindigul, he was assigned to go to Kurseong in the Himalayas to do Theology. It was at that juncture, to the consternation of his Jesuit superiors and peers that he asked permission to leave the Jesuit Order. He had been in deep spiritual crisis for a couple of years for various reasons including the departure of some of his companions and professors from the Jesuit Order in Italy.

He sought help and did everything he could to recover from this spiritual crisis, while teaching as a B.T. Assistant at St. Joseph's High school at Chingulpet. Rev G.Casimir S.J. was Rector of St. Joseph's College who later became the Arch Bishop of Chennai. On his counsel and advice, Stani started his post graduate studies at St. Joseph's Tiruchi in 1969. During this period of general recuperation and improvement of his over all health, stani was supported and sustained by the timely encouragements of Anna Maria Rocco. In one of those correspondences with Anna Maria, stani had wondered if he should resume his studies of Theology in order for him to be able to discern how he could continue his vocation within the Church!

Giuseppe Rocco was a financial consultant to Fr. Giulio Signori, the provincial of the Venetian Province. In one of the dinner table conversations, Anna Maria and Giuseppe Rocco talked about Stani with Fr. Giulio. Shortly after, Fr. Giulio made the generous offer to invite Stani to come to Milano with no string attached. These were his words, "Stani could choose to stay with the Rocco Family and attend 'Universita Catholica' or if he preferred, he could stay with the three servite students at San Carlo who also were attending 'Universita Catholica'." One September morning 1969, Stani received a letter from Anna Maria Rocco, encouraging him to think about the option of doing theology in Milano and about the offer of Fr. Giulio signori the Provincial of Servite Venetian Province.

On receipt of this letter, Stani made a three days retreat seeking guidance from Mary, the Mother of God. At the end of that retreat he knew what he needed to do. Without much ado, he booked his ticket to Milano in two weeks and left Tiruchi promptly with no fan fare. On arrival in Milano, he found a real warm family in the community of San Carlo in the company Fra. Ermanno Barnardi and Fra.Cristiano Cavadon. He enjoyed the community life at San Carlo and the company of other Servite Friars including the lay friends of servite communities. It felt as though he had finally arrived home after long peregrination. He felt very much at home with every one in the Servite Family. He was taking a great liking to the Servite community life and their Marian Mission.

On receipt of this letter, Stani made a three days retreat seeking guidance from Mary, the Mother of God. At the end of that retreat he knew what he needed to do. Without much ado, he booked his ticket to Milano in two weeks and left Tiruchi promptly with no fan fare. On arrival in Milano, he found a real warm family in the community of San Carlo in the company Fra. Ermanno Barnardi and Fra.Cristiano Cavadon. He enjoyed the community life at San Carlo and the company of other Servite Friars including the lay friends of servite communities. It felt as though he had finally arrived home after long peregrination. He felt very much at home with every one in the Servite Family. He was taking a great liking to the Servite community life and their Marian Mission.

Decisions were promptly made for stani to transfer to Rome. Canonical exemption was obtained for him to continue his theological studies in Rome while doing his canonical year of Novitiate at Rovato with the other novices. Fra. Mariano Martinelli was a student of theology at Sant'Alessio when stani joined the College. The two developed a cordial and fraternal relationship not knowing at that time, that they will be breaking grounds together, at a later date, to start the first Servite Community in India.

He made his Religious Profession OSM at the conclusion of his theological studies at Sant'Alessio. On November 1st, 1973, stani was ordained Priest at the Basilica of Monte Berico. The same day he celebrated his First Mass with Fr. Davide Turoldo OSM at Fontanella. Undoubtedly Fr. Turoldo had been the primary instrument in attracting Stani to the Servite Order and continued to be his mentor in his servite vocation. Fr. Turoldo and his community of friars and friends followed Fr. Stani with great interest offering him great emotional support and encouragement, in the early days of the foundation.

The start of a Great Adventure in the planting:

Fr. Luigi Sabbadin OSM, then Provincial gave Fr. Stani the faculty to exercise his priestly ministry in India and sent him on his way to explore the possibility of starting a Servite Mission. Fr. Stani arrived in Chennai in December of 1973. He met with the Archbishop of Chennai, the Most Rev. Arulappa D.D. He disclosed to the Archbishop his intention of starting a Servite Mission in the vicinity of Chennai while working in a parish community in the outskirts of Chennai. The archbishop welcomed his idea. He directed Fr.stani to go around the Arch Diocese and look for a suitable place for what he intended to do. After three months of prayerful search, seeking guidance from Mary the Mother of God for such a place, Fr. Stani felt led to the Holy Family Parish at Mahabalipuram for the following reasons: Mahabalipuram is a historic place on the map of Tamil Nadu with cultural interests. The little fledgling community of Christians of the Holy Family Parish could definitely benefit by the presence of a Servite community. Besides it offered with its rural environ at that time, the quiet solitude conducive to the Servite contemplative life. He also envisioned it to become eventually a place of pilgrimage for many from the big city (Chennai) to the shrine of Mamallai Matha Koil ( a vision which never got materialized for lack of persuasion on his part).

Archbishop was delighted to hear Fr. Stani's interest in Mahabalipuram Mission Parish. With no second thought, right then and there, he said, "It is yours take it father. I have been praying for such a thing for a long time. My prayers have been heard." The community of servite sisters at Rayapettah convent were extremely generous with their time and means to see Fr. Stani settle in Mahabalipuram. Fr. Turoldo felt strongly that a community of servite sisters in Mahabalipuram will be of great help for the new foundation. He traveled to India the summer of 1974 with some friends of the Servite Community at Fontanella, met with the Mother General and persuaded the servite sisters to establish a servite convent in Mahabalipuram.

Following the convincing report given by Fr. Turoldo to the Provincial consult relating to how the Servite mission was rapidly taking shape in India, Fr. Sabbadin (the Provincial) and Giuseppe Rocco (the financial consultant) made their official fact gathering visit to India which led to the commitment of the Venetian province to the Indian Servite Mission. In the meanwhile Fr. Stani started recruiting the first group of bright, generous and talented candidates who, thanks to their extraordinary works have made possible a vibrant and growing Servite vicariate in India. Now that there was this first group of Servite candidates Fr. Stani needed some one who could exclusively devote his time for the formation of the students while he busied himself with recruiting students and attending to other needs of the developing mission. Hearing this Fr. Mariano Martinelli generously volunteered to join the Indian Servite Mission. Now we had two full fledged professed Servite Friars, who jointly began to dream and plan for the future of servites in India. This generated a great interest in the international communities of the Servite Order. Fr. Nicholas Martin OSM of English Province and Fr. Martin Jenco of the American Western Province also volunteered their time to teach English to the Servite Students and offer them the experience of servite community life.

The Growing Up

Every year new students were being added to the growing body of servite students in formation. When Fr. Aldo Lazzarin was elected Provincial of Venetian Province, even more care and attention was given to the fledgling Indian Servite Foundation. With the arrival of Fr. Giuseppe Bernardi who had good entrepreneurial skills and talents, the foundations for Jegan Matha Priory and that of Jyothi Matha Alayam were laid.

To be continued...

Source: Stani Santhu Manickam



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