A Brief Account of the Beginnings and Development of the Rosarians
Rev. Fr. B. A. Thomas, O.M.I.
A Brief Account of the Beginnings and Development
of the Rosarian Congregation until February 1946
Shortly after the publication of the Encyclical “Rerum Ecclesiae” in 1926, Mgr. Guyomar, O. M. I., Bishop of Jaffna, sent for Father Thomas O. M. I., and told him to make an attempt to carry out the wish of the Sovereign Pontiff in regard to Contemplative Life in Mission lands.
Long before, Fr. Thomas got together some seven young men, members of a Confraternity under the management of Brother Groussault, an Oblate Lay-Brother who has been for many years working with considerable success for the reformation of the life of Catholic young men of the working classes.
The first batch of aspirants began earnestly to prepare for their work of which they as well as Fr. Thomas had only a vague idea.
In the meantime, the Bishop of Jaffna went to Rome in 1927 for his “ad limina” visit. On his return the same year, he told Fr. Thomas to go and live with his aspirants in an old Mission House at Tholagatty, a hamlet about 10 miles from the town of Jaffna.
On the 2nd of February, 1928, the Bishop of Jaffna celebrated Mass at Tholagatty and installed six young men there, as postulants under the care of Fr. Thomas. It is impossible to describe in this place adequately how these postulants and their Spiritual Director struggled through the first years at Tholagatty and how the Rosarian Congregation gradually took a definite shape.
The would-be monks had only one thing quite clear and definite in their minds: they must live a penitential life of prayer for their own sanctification and for the conversion of the world, particularly their own country. As for the rest, things were quite nebulous. In their first fervour, they began to observe a rigorous fast and abstinence every day including Sundays and Feast days. They spent an hour in the Church one by one, by turns almost continuously’ day and night, performing their spiritual exercises, and saying the beads as frequently as possible. They observed silence continually without a recreation even on great Feasts. They tried to maintain themselves by manual labour; but could not manage it without an occasional help from some benefactors particularly from Belgium.
The Encyclical “Miserentissimus Redemptor” of May 1928, came in time to steady their faltering steps.
In 1929, our Bishop obtained permission from the Holy See to start the first Novitiate. Accordingly, seven candidates began their Novitiate on the 18th February, 1929. But the Congregation was Canonically erected on the 15th August, 1931, soon after our Bishop’s second visit to Rome. In 1935, the Congregation had 11 professed members, 8 novices and some 30 postulants.
In 1935, a foundation of the Congregation was started at Madhu, close to the Shrine of our Lady of Madhu, with a first batch of ten Brothers. Ten more Brothers were sent there a few months later.
It must be noted here that the majority of the members of the Congregation have always been from India from the Dioceses of Tirichy, Madurai, Tuticorin and from Travancore. No one from Brother Groussault’s Confraternities followed the example of the first batch of aspirants. None came at any rate, to stay long from the predominantly Catholic villages from which Fr. Thomas expected a good number of vocations. So, some people as an Indian Colony regarded the Congregation. There was another circumstance that militated against the new Congregation: its uncompromising attitude towards caste distinctions. No candidate is accepted as a postulant, if he does not declare in writing at present that he renounces all caste distinctions and that he is prepared to put his hand to any kind of manual labour: whether in the field, or the workshop, or the kitchen, or the laundry, or the lavatory.
In 1937, the late Superior General of the Oblates, the Most Rev. Father Theodore Laboure, and O. M. I. happened to spend a few months in Ceylon. He visited the Monastery three times. At the instance of the Superior General, the House at Madhu was closed and all the members of the Congregation were asked to live together in the same House at Tholagatty under one and the same Spiritual Director for a few years, at least.
In 1938 Fr. Thomas was invited to Rome by the Superior General of the Oblates to attend the General Chapter held in September, 1938, and was given the required permission and facilities to visit some Monasteries in France and Belgium.
On 18th February, 1939, the Bishop of Jaffna approved the Constitution of the Rosarian Congregation.
A couple of months after, Rev. Fr. Anthony Fernando joined us. He had been working as a successful Missionary for 30 years. It was not a distaste for active life nor a feeling of depression caused by failure or disappointment, but the realization of the urgent need of a penitential life of prayer for the conversion of the world in general; in particular for the conversion of India and Ceylon and for the sanctification of Priests that prompted him to take such a step at the age of 58.
The Bishop of Tuticorin visited the Monastery at Tholagatty in 1943, and signified his wish to establish a House of the Rosarians in his Diocese. Long before, he wrote to our Bishop and arranged for a foundation of the Rosarians at Vadakangulam. Accordingly, Fr. Anthony Fernando, now known as Fr. Susainather, was sent to Vadakangulam with 3 Brothers on the 27th October, 1943 to establish a House there. This foundation is making steady progress.
There are at present 30 members of the Congregation who have made their perpetual profession:
At Tholagatty : 2 Scholastic Fathers
6 Scholastic Brothers
16 Lay Brothers
At Vadakangulam : Fr. Susainather and
and 3 Brothers with temporary vows
The number of novices were 7 in all. They are all at Tholagatty, as there is only one Novitiate for both Houses. Tholagatty can count only one postulant at present: but Vadakangulam is more fortunate in having some 7 postulants.
Experience and mature consideration have led the Rosarians to adopt a more mitigated form of penitential life. They fast every day, except on Sundays and on first-class Feasts of the Congregation. On fast-days, they take one full meal at noon; but they are allowed to take some food in the morning and at night, provided these two meals together do not amount to a full meal. Milk and milk- products are not excluded from any of the meals, except during Lent and Advent when their fast is more rigorous. They abstain from flesh meat, fish, eggs, tobacco and alcoholic drinks except in case of illness when ordered by competent authorities to do otherwise for a time. The Superiors are given ample powers to regulate the fast and abstinence of their subjects according to Christian discretion. The Rosarians have recreation only on Sundays for about l1/2 hours and on first-class Feasts for about 21/2 hours.
The most important of their various minor practices of penance is that of reciting a decade of the Rosary slowly and meditatively with the arms out-stretched.
During the months of May, June and October, they recite the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament exposed every day for about an hour; each of the five decades is said with the arms out-stretched (at present) for the intentions of the Holy Father: for the establishment of the peace of Christ. At other times, they do this only on certain days.
Ever since 1943 when they heard of the Holy Father’s consecration of the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1942, they have been practicing in a special manner devotion to the Immaculate Heart; and now they say “Cor Mariae Immaculatum, Rafugium peccatorum, ora pro nobis” three times at the beginning of each chaplet of the practically uninterrupted series of chaplets day and night, particularly for the conversion of the rulers of the world and leaders of people.
The clerics recite a chaplet meditatively before each of the three parts of the Divine Office which they chant to a simple tune; before Matins and Lauds, before Little Hours and before Vespers and Complines.
The question of the maintenance of the Congregation has given the Rosarians much trouble. They put their hands to agriculture and various industries such as carpentry, smithy, weaving, manufacture of fruit-wines, soap, candles etc. But they are occupied with these things more like a hobby than a business concern; these occupations are subordinated scrupulously to the exigencies of the uninterrupted prayer before the Tabernacle day and night. The Rosarians are not allowed (a) to take part in Public Exhibitions of Agricultural and Industrial products, (b) to enter into business contract with traders or (c) to compete with the markets of the world.
It is one of their secondary objects; to leave no man unemployed in the neighborhood of a Rosarian Monastery; if he is willing to work; and to apply to labour under their control, Christian principles of Social Justice in all their rigour according to the mind of the Church. The Rosarians began to exert themselves in this direction only a couple of years ago, as they found they could now, under the merciful Providence of God, with the aid of benefactors make both ends meet. There are at present some 100 labourers employed on their farm and in their workshops.
They believe that our Lady of the Holy Rosary has helped them in a singular manner these 17 years of, their existence to surmount all their difficulties. Belying on Her Maternal Protection they face the future with confidence.
Rev. Fr. B. A. Thomas, O.M.I.
The Monastery, Tholagatty,