A CHURCH THAT GREW STRONG AMIDST MANY HURDLES
Here is the history of the emergence of the first Knanaya Catholic Parish outside the ecclesiastical boundary of the Archeparchy of Kottayam. There have been unusual hurdles in its birth and early growth. However, in God’s providence the final output is a very strong and vibrant parish.
The first difficulty to start a Knanaya parish in North America was the lack of Syro-Malabar church jurisdiction in North America. Knanaya Catholics began to migrate from Kerala to the United States from early 1950s. Many came for education and job opportunities. However, most of them settled down in this land of opportunities.
ISSUES UNDER LATIN HIERARCHY
The Knanaya Catholics who settled in Chicago missed the liturgical service in the Syro-Malabar Rite in their own language, Malayalam. They found the arranging of Holy Mass as an opportunity for social get together along with meeting their pastoral needs. They got organized and requested His Excellency Mar Kuriakose Kunnacherry, then Bishop of Kottayam on January 17, 1981, to provide the service of a priest. Since Bishop Kunnacherry had no ecclesiastical jurisdiction here, he could not establish a Knanaya Syro-Malabar Mission in Chicago. So he wrote a letter to His Eminence John Cardinal Cody, the Archbishop of Chicago on March 18, 1981, to meet the pastoral needs of his people in Chicago by establishing a special ministry for the Knanaya Catholic Community here.
Cardinal Cody readily agreed to the recommendation of Mar Kuriakose Kunnacherry and requested him to advise the name of a priest from Kottayam for this ministry. Mar Kunnacherry proposed the name of Rev. Fr. Jacob Chollampel, some other Kerala Catholics intervened and asked for a Malayalee priest common for Knanaya and non-Knanaya faithful irrespective of liturgical rites. This caused confusion for the Archdiocese and they postponed their decision in accepting Fr. Chollampel.
When Most Rev. Joseph Bernardin became the new Archbishop of Chicago, Mar Kunnacherry wrote to him to reconsider sending Fr. Chollampel from Kottayam. Because of different petitions from various Kerala Catholic associations, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago convened a meeting of representatives of these associations on September 27, 1983 and decided to accept Fr. Chollampel as a priest to serve all Kerala Catholics living in Chicago and suburbs.
After Fr. Jacob Chollampel came to Chicago in October 1983, he had problems in dealing with various factions of Knanaya and non-Knanaya people. Ad Hoc Committee for Syro-Malabar Catholic Association, in consultation with the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, requested to the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference on November 13, 1984 to provide a priest to serve the needs of the non-Knanaya Syro-Malabar community in Chicago. The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference held on December 3 and 4, 1984, authorized His Excellency Mar Joseph Pallikaparambil, Bishop of Palai to correspond with the Archdiocese of Chicago to appoint a priest for the non-Knanaya Syro-Malabarians in Chicago, in addition to Rev. Fr. Jacob Chollampel who was serving Knanaya Community. Thus Fr. Chollampel was assigned to serve only the Knanaya Catholics while another priest was assigned later for the non-Knanaya Catholics in Chicago area.
Though Rev. Fr. Chollampel was relieved from serving the non-Knanaya Catholics, he still had problems on the membership issue of Knanaya mission in Chicago. Some of those who had left the Diocese of Kottayam and joined non-Knanaya Syro-Malabar diocese in India when they got married to non-Knanaya spouses began to demand membership in the Knanaya Catholic Mission in Chicago. They petitioned to the Archbishop of Chicago and to the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches in Rome and got favorable reply from them. However, those who came from the Diocese of Kottayam strongly opposed this and wanted to continue the membership of the Knanaya Catholic Mission as it has been practiced in the Diocese of Kottayam.
The membership issue of Knanaya mission continued during the service periods of the mission directors Fr. Cyriac Manthuruthil, Fr. Simon Edathiparambil, and Fr. Philip Thodukayil who succeeded Fr. Chollampel. Because of constant conflict on this issue in the community, these mission directors could not concentrate on developing better pastoral programs for the community. Even their position as mission directors was under constant threat when the Knanaya Mission in Chicago was under the Archdiocese of Chicago.
ISSUES WITH SYRO-MALABAR DIOCESE
When the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago was established in 2001, the pastoral care of the Knanaya Catholics came under this diocese. Bishop Mar Kuriakose Kunnacherry and Knanaya Catholics welcomed it under the expectation that this would solve their issues and that they can practice as they do in the Diocese of Kottayam. However, the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches gave special instruction to Mar Jacob Angadiath, the Bishop of the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago with regard to the pastoral care of the Knanaya faithful in his diocese. The Congregation acknowledged the special cultural background of the Knanaya Catholics and instructed Mar Angadiath that he shall establish Knanaya missions and parishes with Knanaya priests as their pastors. However, the Congregation made it clear that such pastoral care shall not make any allowance for endogamy to play a role in defining the membership of faithful in any mission or parish. This caused disappointment among Knanaya Catholics.
Though there were dialogues between Mar Angadiath and Knanaya Catholic Congress of North America (KCCNA) representatives, there could not be any mutual understanding. Bishop had to hold on to the instructions of the Oriental Congregation and KCCNA had to stick on to the endogamous nature of the community as it has been practiced in the Diocese of Kottayam. This resulted in non-cooperation of the Knanaya Community with the diocese under the leadership of KCCNA and its local units. Though Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath reestablished 10 Knanaya Missions in the diocese, most people did not want to cooperate with these missions and prevented the development of these missions. The Knanaya mission directors have been in a conflicting situation. So they could not function well except taking care of the minimum pastoral needs of the people.
KCCNA representatives and Knanaya Mission directors sent a petition with the endorsement of Mar Jacob Angadiath to the Oriental Congregation to reconsider the instruction to resolve this issue. The congregation did not make any further step. The issue is still unresolved. So the Knanaya Catholics in the USA have been against establishing further Knanaya missions or building churches for the existing Knanaya missions. Most of them go to the local Latin Churches or some to the local Syro-Malabar churches.
ISSUES ON KNANAYA CHURCH IN CHICAGO
During the visit of Mar Mathew Moolakkattu, then Auxiliary Bishop of Kottayam in May 2005 for the feast of St. Michael organized by the Knanaya Catholic Mission of Chicago, he was impressed with the outcome of the religious education schools and pastoral activities of the mission under the new pastoral leadership of Vicar General Fr. Abraham Mutholath. Having convinced the great role the Knanaya mission or parish can have on the total development of the Knanaya Community in North America, Bishop Moolakkattu advised the Knanaya Catholics in Chicago to establish a church of their own during his homily at IHM Church during Sunday Mass on May 22, 2005. The mission director Fr. Abraham Mutholath during his announcement at the end of the Holy Mass declared that, considering the large number of Knanaya Catholics widespread in Chicago and suburbs, he would try to establish two churches for the mission here. Many questioned the idea of having a Knanaya Church while the membership issue of the mission or parish is unresolved.
Fr. Mutholath formed a fund raising committee with Mr. Mathachan Chemmachel as the general convener. Balance amount from the celebration of feasts of saints were set apart as the seed money for the proposed new church. The fundraising committee worked hard to raise fund for the proposed church.
Many factors favored to facilitate the desire of the Knanaya Catholics in Chicago to buy a church. Fr. Mutholath introduced a prayer for the church to be said daily at homes and at the end of liturgy. He wrote on the relevance of having our own church in the Sunday bulletin of the mission. Fr. Mutholath had reestablished the Religious Education School at Community Center with two schools with more students at IHM School and North Lake Church. The property owners used to complain on the inappropriate use of the property. This favored the desire to buy own property. Because of increase in attendance of Religious Education schools every year, the participants of Sunday Mass also increased. The setup for Mass at North Lake Church and later at basement of Addison School was hard for the volunteers of the mission. They desired for a Knanaya Church. Mission introduced many other pastoral activities that showed the need of own building for the smooth functioning of such programs. Gradually many people began to think in favor of establishing a church of our own.
A few leaders of the community met with Bishop Thomas Paprocki, the Auxiliary bishop of Chicago requesting his help to purchase a church from the Archdiocese of Chicago for Knanaya Catholic Society (KCS). Bishop clarified that an association cannot own a church for Catholics. Since the Archdiocese of Chicago can sell a church only to another diocese, he offered them help to get a church for the Knanaya Mission, if they approach through the mission director and Bishop Angadiath.
Fr. Abraham Mutholath, the mission director, Mr. Joy Vachachira, the team leader of the group that met Bishop Paprocki, and Mar Jacob Angadiath approached Bishop Thomas Paprocki to discuss on the possibility of buying a church for the Knanaya Mission in Chicago. Bishop Paprocki gave the options to buy a church in Chicago that has no parking lot, to lease St. Eulelia Church, or to buy St. James Church in Maywood. Because of low revenue and comparatively high expense of three nearby parishes in Maywood and Melrose Park, the Archdiocese of Chicago was considering closing down one parish and merging the parishioners with the other two. The team declined the offer of the church without any parking facility. The team members went with Bishop Paprocki to see St. Eulelia and St. James churches and to discuss with their pastors.
Since St. Eulelia and St. James were active parishes in Maywood, there was chance of protest from either parish when they come to know of closing down their church. So Bishop Paprocki requested Bishop Angadiath, Fr. Mutholath, and Mr. Joy to keep the discussions and decisions strictly confidential until discussions and decisions are made in parish and archdiocesan bodies and Cardinal’s decree was released.
Cardinal Francis George proposed through Bishop Paprocki to lease St. Eulelia Church and its facilities for 30 years with opportunity of renewal for more terms so that the Archdiocese won’t lose the ownership of the church and it can reestablish its parish in case the situation might change. Bishop Paprocki held a general body meeting of St. Eulelia parish to discuss the matter. There were objections on closing that parish. A few who do not know the Knanaya Community made accusations of the membership issue of Knanaya Mission. So Bishop Paprocki proposed some conditions in the lease agreement of the church that the search team could not accept. So the only alternative was to request the purchase of St. James Church.
Bishop Paprocki held a general body meeting of St. James Parish. Many parishioners objected to the sale of their church. Report of the meeting along with the proposal for sale of St. James Church was presented in the Pastoral Council of Archdiocese of Chicago for approval. Cardinal Francis George presided over the meeting. The council postponed the decision asking for more details of the Knanaya Catholic Mission and St. James parishioners. Pastoral Council wanted another meeting of St. James Parishioners to find out their choice of joining nearby parishes so that the council can decide to which parish the money from sale of the church property might go. Most of the parishioners were Spanish speaking and their decision were to join two parishes. The pastoral council in its next meeting decided to sell St. James church to Knanaya Mission and to divide the money from sales to those two parishes.
Prior to the purchase of the church and announcement of which church we were going to buy, Knanaya Catholic Mission had the solemn feast celebration of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus from May 25 to 28, 2006 sponsored by the immigrants from the Sacred Heart Parish in Kottayam. Archbishop Emeritus of Kottayam, Mar Kuriakose Kunnacherry was the chief guest. At the request of the office bearers of the Knanaya Mission, Mar Jacob Angadiath announced at KCS Community Center on May 25, 2006 that Sacred Heart of Jesus will be the patron of the new church to be bought and the proposed parish will be named as “Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Parish of Chicago.”
Though collection for the purchase of the church was going on, no one else was aware of the church to be bought because of the restriction given by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Cardinal Francis George signed the decree closing St. James Church and selling the property to Knanaya Catholic Mission. However, Knanaya Catholic Mission had to wait until Cardinal’s decree was revealed to St. James parishioners on June 18, 2006. That was heartbreaking news for the pastor and parishioners of St. James. Many of them were crying at the loss of their church that was 98 years old and the first church of the Archdiocese of Chicago in Maywood. However, the church and school building were only 48 years old.
The originally planned date to hand over St. James Church to Knanaya Catholic Mission was on July 1, 2006 and the inauguration of the new church and parish was scheduled to be held on July 15, 2006. Because of the delay in the decision of the Archdiocese of Chicago, it was agreed to share the church between St. James and Sacred Heart parishioners until September 1, 2006.
According to this plan Knanaya Catholic Mission had invited Archbishop Mar Mathew Moolakkattu and Archbishop Emeritus Mar Kuriakose Kunnacherry from Kottayam for the inauguration along with Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath. Both the archbishops came to Chicago for this function.
While preparations were on the way, Archdiocese of Chicago allowed us to announce the name of the church to be bought from them to Knanaya Catholic Community. Mission Director Rev. Fr. Abraham Mutholath revealed the location of the proposed church to be bought on Saturday, June 24, 2006 at Thaft High School Auditorium after the Music Concert by Rev. Paul Poovathumkal and fundraising program for the church by women’s ministry. He also made a power point presentation of St. James Church and distributed a printed leaflet of the church. The members of the mission received this announcement with joy. The next day was an open house. Many mission members came to see their future church after 5:30 P.M. Holy Mass at OLV Church. Those who came were happy about what they got. We had a thanksgiving prayer service in the church under the leadership of Rev. Fr. Thomas Tharayil who was in Chicago for a visit.
Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath offered a dinner at his bishop’s house in Cicero in honor of Cardinal Francis George on Tuesday, June 27th 2006 in appreciation for providing St. James Church for the Knanaya Mission. At the same time fundraising committee of the mission met at KCS Community Center to raise the balance fund for the purchase of St. James Church and rectory. That meeting was well attended. Some people distributed an internet printout stating that the crime rate in the City of Maywood was high. They argued that it was not appropriate to buy the church for this reason. They demanded the purchase of any other church. The majority of those who attended the meeting favored this proposal.
The fund raised at that time was $500,000 and the money required to buy St. James Church and rectory was $975,000. It was impossible to buy a church in a better area with such a low amount available.
An open discussion was held on next Thursday June 29th after liturgical services at the Community Center. That meeting was also well attended. Some people who had opposed the purchase of St. James church earlier and some who were volunteers for the Mass of the Mission at Addison favored the purchase of St. James Church at that meeting. But majority who attended the meeting spoke strongly against the purchase of this church. Fr. Mutholath informed the assembly that he will inform the concerns of the people to the bishops and let them decide whatever is best for the community.
Those who oppose the purchase of St. James Church approached Mar Jacob Angadiath and requested him not to allow the purchase of the church. Those who favored the purchase of the church also met with the bishop to present their request. Because of the strong opposition and divided views, Mar Jacob Angadiath suspended the decision on the purchase of St. James Church. So the inauguration of the church and parish could not take place on July 15, 2006 as scheduled.
Archbishops Mar Mathew Moolakkatt and Mar Kuriakose Kunnacherry came to Chicago as scheduled for the inaugural function of the church. Those who favor and those who oppose the purchase of the church met with both archbishops and presented their concerns. Those who favored the purchase argued that if we do not buy this church there is less chance to have a church of our own in Chicago in the near future.
Though the inaugural mass on the evening of Saturday, July 15, 2006 at Maywood was cancelled, both Archbishops and Mar Jacob Angadiath agreed to have a concelebrated mass by them at the basement of St. Joseph’s Church in Addison at the same time and at OLV church on the next day at 5:30 P.M. Before the Mass at Addison on July 15th, Archbishops Mar Mathew Moolakkatt and Mar Kuriakose Kunnacherry, along with Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Fr. Abraham Mutholath and some lay representatives met with Mar Jacob Angadiath at the Cathedral Church of the diocese recommending him to decide in favor of the purchase of the church and to announce that during the Holy Mass at Addison on that day. Mar Jacob Angadiath said he wanted written assurance from more that half of the families of the mission, that is 400 families stating that they will support this church if it is bought. So the announcement could not be made during that Holy Mass. The people who attended the Holy Mass in Addison were grieving during that Mass when they were supposed to have the inaugural Mass at Maywood. Some priests and laypeople from out of state who were invited for the church inauguration were also present for this Mass.
Respecting the decision of Mar Angadiath, some volunteers of the Knanaya Mission volunteered the signature campaign immediately after the Mass in favor of the purchase of Maywood church. Parish Inauguration Banquet was scheduled at Crown Jewel Banquet Hall in Des Plaines on the evening of July 16th 2006. Only those who favored the purchase of the parish came for this banquet that could not be cancelled because of the arrangements already made. Both archbishops and Mar Jacob Angadiath came for the banquet. The laypeople who did the signature campaign in support of the purchase of the church presented to Mar Jacob Angadiath the packet that contained the agreement of more than 400 families assuring their willingness to support the proposed church. So Mar Jacob Angadiath announced that he is allowing the purchase of St. James Church for Knanaya Catholic Mission. That was a joyful occasion for the people who were gathered there.
Because of this serious division in the community on the purchase of St. James Church, many declined to support financially for the purchase of the church. So we could not raise the full amount on time. The Archdiocese of Chicago allowed us to complete the purchase in two phases. We bought the Church and School for $800,000 by giving full payment and took possession of the property with effect from September 1, 2006. Archdiocese of Chicago allowed us six months to raise the balance 175,000 to purchase the rectory. During this time we were renting the rectory for $1,500 per month that was credited to the purchase value. We raised that amount in three months after six months we purchased the rectory also.
The first Mass of the Knanaya Mission at St. James Church was held on Friday September 1, 2006 at 7:00 P.M. The inauguration of the parish was held on Sunday September 3, 2006 at 10:00 A.M. by Mission Director Fr. Abraham Mutholath and parish council members by lighting nilavilakku that has 72 flames. Archbishops and Bishop Jacob Angadiath were in India for Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod in Kerala. After the return of Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath to the U.S., he elevated the Knanaya Mission as Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Parish on Sunday, September 24th at 10:00 A.M. and appointed Rev. Fr. Abraham Mutholath as its first pastor. Since then the parish got great support from the parishioners and it is functioning with maximum involvement of the people.
DEVOTION TO OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
Since the starting of Holy Mass in North Lake on Saturdays, we were having novena of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. We continue that devotion in Maywood. However, it happened that we also started devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe because of a special reason.
The majority of attendees of St. James Church before we bought the church was people of Hispanic background. They had special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. They had a wooden statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe that they had bought from Guadalupe where Our Blessed Mother appeared to Blessed Juan Diego in 1531. Hispanic people in and around Chicago considered St. James Church as their pilgrim place to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. So they used to come to pay special homage to this statue. When they heard their sad news that this church was going to be sold to Knanaya Community, their humble request was to let them take that statue to their next church. So we allowed them to do so.
The parish committee decided that a pilgrimage shall go to Guadalupe and buy another statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe from this miraculous place. So, 51 parishioners went to Mexico under the leadership of Fr. Abraham Mutholath and Joy Chemmachel from September 14 to 16, 2006. Besides the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, they also bought many other statues and church materials to furnish Sacred Heart Church. The pilgrims sponsored all such materials. Since the erection of the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our church in a special place set apart, many people pray at that shrine and witness that they also get many miraculous blessings through the intercession of our Blessed Mother.
FORMATION OF ST. MARY’S UNIT
Though the Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Parish was inaugurated with regular mass on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, we continued Holy Mass on Thursdays with novena of St. Jude at Community Center and Sunday 5:30 P.M. Mass at OLV Church in Chicago. This arrangement was continued respecting the views of those who opposed the purchase of St. James Church in Maywood and to meet their pastoral needs because they have been reluctant to come to Maywood Church.
The Knanaya Mission always had Christmas and Holy Week services together. Considering this and also the difficulty to get a church at our convenience, the Christmas mass was arranged for all at Maywood church. Those who had declined to come to Maywood opposed this and complained to Mar Angadiath. Considering their strong request, Mar Angadiath allowed to organize separate pastoral programs for them at OLV church or other convenient churches. So a separate Christmas Mass was arranged also at Cathedral Church on December 25, 2006.
Considering this unwillingness of many to compromise with the parish church in Maywood, Fr. Abraham Mutholath sent a circular to all the parishioners informing that he would consider those who do not come to Maywood as St. Mary’s Unit and will continue pastoral service for them at convenient churches until a second church is established for the Knanaya Community in Chicago in honor of Our Blessed Mother. Thus St. Mary’s Unit was formed under the parish with effect from January 1, 2007. Separate Sunday Mass, Religious Education School, accounts, committee, and pastoral programs are organized now for St. Mary’s Unit. Since the formation of St. Mary’s Unit, prayer for the second church has started at homes and after liturgy in the parish church and in St. Mary’s Unit. We are hoping and praying for the St. Mary’s Church in Chicago in the near future.
PRESENT STATUS OF SACRED HEART CHURCH IN MAYWOOD
In spite of all the negative rumors on the Maywood Church, many people came to the church on a regular basis and felt comfortable participating in the liturgy there. Children and youth feel it as their “second home.” During 2007-’08 academic year, we had 305 students and 80 young teachers in the Sacred Heart Religious Education School besides 130 students 40 young teachers at St. Mary’s Unit. Since the number of Sunday Mass attendees rose to an average of 1,500, we started Syro-Malabar Mass in English for Children and youth at 11:30 A.M. after their catechism class that is conducted during Malayalam Mass for adults. The parish has pious associations and ministries for parishioners of all ages. We also have koodarayogams (ward prayer meetings) for the parishioners. Many people do voluntary service for the church. Those who visit from outside the parish praise the activities of the church saying that they have never seen such a vibrant parish elsewhere. They began to recommend such churches for the community all over the United States. The City of Maywood and neighbors of the church are very receptive to our community. The parishioners are grateful to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and His blessed Mother for all the blessings we receive through this church.
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