The migration of Knanaya Catholics to the United States led to the establishment of organized religious and cultural programs. Since they missed the Malayalam Syro-Malabar liturgy, the Knanaya Catholic Associations had contacted His Excellency Mar Kuriakose Kunnacherry, the then bishop of Kottayam, to send priests to offer spiritual services for our people. As the Bishop of Kottayam lacks ecclesiastical jurisdiction in this area, he urged our community to reach out to the Latin bishops in the region and establish Knanaya Missions under the Latin dioceses, with the support of priests dispatched from the Diocese of Kottayam. A few of the Latin bishops graciously granted our request to begin Knanaya missions. The Archbishop of Chicago gave his permission, and on October 28, 1983, Fr. Jacob Chollampel arrived in Chicago to start the first Knanaya Catholic ministry in the United States. Likewise, several Latin bishops established Knanaya Catholic missions in their dioceses prior to the establishment of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago on March 13, 2001, which was ceremoniously inaugurated on July 1, 2001.
The following are the nine missions that were in existence prior to the establishment of the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, listed in chronological order:
Brooklyn, NY (1993)
Westchester and Bronx, NY (1993)
Newark, New Jersey (1996)
Rockland, NY (1996)
San Jose (2000)
The formation of the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago resulted in integrating all Knanaya Catholics and their respective missions in the U.S. under its jurisdiction. His Excellency Mar Jacob Angadiath appointed Fr. Abraham Mutholath as the Syncellus (Vicar General) of the Eparchy on October 3, 2001. The areas of responsibility assigned to him within the diocese were catechism, youth ministry, pious associations, promotion of vocations, family apostolate, and addressing the particular concerns of the Knanaya Catholic Community. The establishment of St. Pius X Knanaya Catholic Mission in Los Angeles on March 17, 2002, marked the first mission started by Mar Jacob Angadiath for the Knanaya Catholics. He appointed Vicar General Fr. Abraham Mutholath as its first director. Fr. Abraham Mutholath moved his residence from Los Angeles to Chicago on February 11, 2003, as requested by the bishop.
Mar Jacob Angadiath granted official recognition to 10 Knanaya Catholic Missions as missions of the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago in the USA on October 29, 2003. He requested that all directors serving in the respective missions continue their service there.
The first Pre-marriage Course was held from December 3 to 5, 2004, organized by the Chicago Knanaya Catholic Mission and led by Vicar General Fr. Abraham Mutholath and Tonny Pullappally. The number of participants in the course was nineteen. Subsequently, on February 12, 2006, the Vicar General established a Family Commission in Chicago, consisting of the following members: Tonny Pullappally (Coordinator), Benny Kanjirappara, Molamma Thottichira, and Jenny Thannikkary. They conducted pre-marriage courses quarterly in Chicago. It was subsequently organized with the patronage of the Knanaya Region. After assuming the position of Vicar General on February 8, 2014, Fr Thomas Mulavanal conducted courses in various cities across the United States, which were hosted by local Knanaya Catholic parishes. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, national and international courses were conducted via the Zoom platform.
Recognizing the growth and importance of the Chicago Knanaya Catholic Mission, Mar Mathew Moolakkatt urged the Knanaya Catholics in Chicago to establish their own church during his homily at IHM Church on May 22, 2005. We have started the planning to establish our own church. Despite objections from the local community, the first Knanaya Catholic church of the diaspora Knanaites was inaugurated in Maywood, Chicago on September 3, 2006. Vicar General Fr Abraham Mutholath and parish council members inaugurated the new church. This served as an encouragement for other Knanaya Missions in the U.S. to purchase their own churches.
One of the seven regions established by Mar Jacob Angadiath in the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago on April 28, 2006, was specifically designated for the Knanaya Catholics. The establishment of the Knanaya Catholic Region was formally announced by Mar Jacob Angadiath on April 30, 2006, at OLV Church in Chicago. Vicar General Rev. Fr. Abraham Mutholath was designated as its director. This region encompasses all Knanaya Catholic missions, parishes, and followers living within the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago’s limits, spanning the entire United States. Hence, the Vicar General for the Knanaya Catholics also took care of the pastoral needs and coordination of all the Knanaya Catholics in the pastoral jurisdiction of the diocese that do not belong to a Knanaya Catholic mission or parish. The pastoral activities of the Knanaya Catholics in the diocese are centrally coordinated by the region director and Vicar General appointed for the Knanaya Catholics. The Knanaya Catholics in Canada were part of the region under the authority of Mar Jacob Angadiath, the Apostolic Visitator of Canada, until the establishment of the Eparchy of Mississauga for the Syro-Malabar faithful on August 06, 2015, which was headed by Mar Jose Kalluvelil as its exarch.
Fr. Abraham Mutholath inspired Knanaya Catholics throughout the United States to establish new Knanaya missions and acquire churches for these missions, allowing them to flourish as parishes. He went to all the missions and Knanaya centers, where he clarified their concerns and motivated them to work together with the pastoral arrangements made by the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago that the Holy See established, inclusive of Knanaya Catholics. As a result, more Knanaya Catholic missions were established. Certain missions initiated the purchase of churches with the purpose of establishing them as parishes. In response to Mar Jacob Angadiath’s request, His Grace Mar Mathew Moolakkatt has graciously dispatched additional Knanaya priests from the Archeparchy of Kottayam to serve the Knanaya Missions in the United States.
The Knanaya Catholic parishes demonstrated a preference for Knanaya Catholic cemeteries and rectories. The first cemetery of this kind was purchased by Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Parish, led by Mar Jacob Angadiath, Fr. Abraham Mutholath, and Joy Vachachira, and was dedicated on June 1, 2007. In due course, other parishes established Knanaya Catholic Cemeteries close to their respective churches. Under the leadership of Vicar Fr. Saji Pinarkayil, Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Parish in Chicago purchased the rectory in Elmhurst on October 9, 2012.
The inaugural gathering of the Knanaya Region was convened at the Chicago Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Parish in Maywood, Illinois, on September 28, 2007. The event was attended by Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath, Vicar General and Region Director Rev. Fr. Abraham Mutholath, along with several priests and lay representatives from Knanaya Missions in the U.S. Following that, several meetings were held in Chicago and other parishes, such as Detroit, Los Angeles, and Miami, involving priests and lay representatives.
Under the guidance of Fr. Abraham Mutholath, the director of Knanaya Catholic Region, pilgrimages were arranged as part of the Year of Faith celebration to foster unity and faith among the community. The initial pilgrimage took place from June 25 to July 6, 2013 to the Holy Land. Another pilgrimage was undertaken by the region to Greece, Turkey, and Medjugorje (Bosnia) between September 21 and October 3, 2013.
The region also organized retreat on a national level. The initial event was held from July 18–21, 2013 at Westin Hotel in Chicago, at 601 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling. Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath and the priests of Knanaya Region officiated the liturgy. Shev. Benny Punnathura, Dr. John D., and Rev. Fr. Joseph Vayalil are the leaders of the retreat for adults in Malayalam. Shiju Philiph, Thara Devereaux and team lead the youth retreat in English. Tom and Annie were in charge of the English retreat for teenagers. With Fr. Thomas Mulavanal as the region director and vicar general, the region organized several national level retreats.
On February 8, 2014, Mar Jacob Angadiath appointed Fr. Thomas Mulavanal, who was then serving as the pastor of St Pope Pius X Knanaya Catholic Parish in Los Angeles, as the Vicar General and region director. Fr. Thomas Mulavanal moved from Los Angeles to Chicago on October 15, 2014, when he was appointed also as the pastor of St. Mary’s Knanaya Catholic Parish in Chicago.
On February 28, 2015, Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath raised five parishes of the Knanaya Catholic Region to the status of Forane Parishes. They are: Sacred Heart Church in Chicago, St. Mary’s Church in Houston, St. Stephen’s Church in New York, Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, and St. Mary’s Church in San Jose.
The region arranged an essay competition on family in July 2015. Subsequent competitions were held at the regional level. The region arranged a Bible Fest at the forane level in September 2015. San Jose Forane Bible Fest was held on September 5th at St. Mary’s Church, San Jose. Chicago Sacred Heart Forane Bible Fest was held on September 12th at St. Mary’s Church, Morton Grove. Tampa Forane Bible Fest held at St. Mary’s Church, Tampa on September 13th. New York Forane Bible Fest held at St. Stephen’s Church in New York on September 19. Houston Forane Bible Fest was held at St. Mary’s Church, Houston on September 20th. Archbishop Mar Mathew Moolakkatt was a chief guest in all the forane fests along with Fr. Thomas Mulavanal. Mar Jacob Angadiath was present for the Chicago forane fest.
The Oriental congregation officially informed Vicar General Fr. Thomas Mulavanal on November 27, 2015 on the appointment of Most Rev Michael Mulhall, the Bishop of Penbroke (Canada) as Visitator Delegate ad Referendum for questions related to the Knanaya community for a general study that includes Knanaya Region in USA. On February 25th, 2016, Bishop Michael Mulhall conducted interviews with representatives from the Knanaya Region, including priests and lay members, at the Syro-Malabar Bishop’s House in Chicago. He also attended the 10th anniversary celebration of the Knanaya Region on September 20, 2016 and of Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Parish on September 11, 2016.
On September 10, 2016, the Knanaya Catholic Region celebrated its 10th anniversary at St. Mary’s Knanaya Catholic Church in Morton Grove, Chicago. A congregation of over 200 regional representatives, including priests, religious members, and laypeople from 12 parishes and 9 missions of the Knanaya region, met to deliberate on the pastoral issues related to the Knanaya migration. The daylong celebration was graced by the presence of Major Archbishop George Cardinal Alancherry, Bishop Most Rev. Dr. Michael Mulhall of Penbrooke, Canada (delegate appointed by the Oriental Congregation for the Knanaya issues), Archbishop Mar Mathew Moolakatt, Mar Jacob Angadiath, and Mar Joy Alappatt.
Under the guidance of Vicar General Fr. Thomas Mulavanal, Knanaya Region arranged a number of spiritual programs. The Thapas Retreat, also known as the Region Cenacle Meet 2017, took place on January 28th and 29th of 2017 at St. Mary’s Knanaya Catholic Parish in Chicago. The event was led by the Bro Santhosh-Christeen Team. There were around one hundred participants from various missions and parishes in the region. The Knanaya Region Family Conference was convened at St. Mary’s Knanaya Catholic Parish in Chicago from June 30 to July 2, 2017. Bishops Mar Jacob Angadiath, Mar Joseph Pandarasseril, and Mar Joy Alappatt were the distinguished guests of honor. Rev. Dr. Joseph Pamplaniyil, Fr. Joseph Puthenpura, Regi Kottaram, Thomas Pulickal were speakers of the conference. The Knanaya Region Youth Conference took place concurrently at the Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Forane Church in Chicago. Bishops Mar Jacob Angadiath, Mar Joseph Jose Pandarasseril, and Mar Joy Alappatt were chief guests. Bro. Regi Kottaram, Fr. Thomas Loya, Mark Nemo, Dr. Alex Gotay, and others gave messages.
The Ezra School of Evangelization organized a leadership residential retreat for representatives from all missions and parishes of Knanaya Region in Chicago, which included a prayerful study. It was held from November 10-12, 2017 at Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles. Fr. Thomas Mulavanal, Fr. Sunil Inekattu, Bro. Santhosh T., Fr. Suni Padinjarekkara, Bro. Biju, Bibi Thekkanattu and others led the sessions. The Ezra Meet School of Evangelization held a residential retreat yet again, this time for 45 spiritual leaders from various parishes and missions from September 21-23, 2018.
On November 12, 2017, Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath designated Fr. Boby Vattampurath as the director of the Youth Apostolate of the Knanaya Region.
On September 28, 2018, a meeting of regional representatives was convened at St. Mary’s Knanaya Catholic Church in Chicago. The meeting was attended by 68 participants, which included priests, religious sisters, and lay representatives. Mar Jacob Angadiath was the distinguished chief guest at the last session. The meeting deliberated on the functioning of the current commissions and future undertakings of the region.
Currently, the region is served by 16 priests from the Archdiocese of Kottayam and two other Knanaya Catholic Priests, who oversee 15 parishes and 8 missions. We are establishing more missions and parishes.
VISION AND MISSION OF MISSIONS AND PARISHES
Since 345 A.D., the Knanaya Community has been a church-based community with local churches and a centralized church structure that coordinates pastoral activities under a Knanaya Vicar General or a Knanaya (Arch) diocese. This arrangement has helped to uphold the community’s faith, ethics, and solidarity. The community must preserve its church-based structure and ethnic identity, regardless of its migration location. The identity of being an Eastern ethnic church that possesses personal jurisdiction within the Syro-Malabar church allows for the possibility of Knanaites having their own Knanaya churches, which would be served by Knanaya priests. Communities across the globe must make use of this helpful situation to support and advance community development.
The aim of the Knanaya Catholic parishes and missions is to provide pastoral care to the community while simultaneously promoting the ethnicity and valuable traditions of the community. Our approach involves conducting regular Holy Mass, Religious Education Schools, and all possible liturgical and pastoral services. We must establish churches and other facilities in all areas where our people have migrated.
The Syro-Malabar church has translated its liturgy into multiple languages, including English and Hindi, to enable the upcoming generations and new converts to comprehend and take part in the liturgy. In the United States, a considerable number of our parishes and missions have started liturgical services in English, with the active participation of children and youth. The medium of Religious Education, Youth Retreat, and ministries intended for children and youth is English. It is necessary that we have more adaptations in the future.
THE FUTURE OF KNANAYA MISSIONS AND PARISHES
Unlike Latin Catholics who have migrated to the United States, the Catholics belonging to the Eastern churches have the right, privilege, and responsibility to establish their own churches and hierarchy to preserve their sui juris churches. The directives of the Catholic Church endorse this. Thus, the Syro-Malabar faithful in the United States have successfully established their own diocese, equipped with all requisite pastoral arrangements. The Knanaya Catholics who migrated from the Archdiocese of Kottayam have been granted permission from Rome to establish their own Knanaya Catholic missions and parishes with the services of Knanaya Catholic priests. This diocese of the Syro-Malabar church is the only one with this privilege. Our gratitude should be extended to the Lord and our church hierarchy for offering us this consideration. Let us seize this great opportunity to enhance our Knanaya Church infrastructure for the betterment of our community and the perpetuation of our ethnic group.
The Knanaya Missions must advance into full-fledged parishes by constructing churches and other infrastructure for pastoral activities, such as daily mass and Religious Education Schools. The primary focus of both missions and parishes should be directed towards fulfilling the pastoral requirements of the community, including but not limited to, Baptism, First Communion, wedding, funeral, memorial services, feasts of saints, retreats, prayer groups, Religious Education, and Pious Associations. Every weekend, the parishes will bring our people together for communal prayer and socializing. This will foster a sense of unity and intimacy within the community. The parishes will contribute towards the training of our children, teenagers, and youth in accordance with our liturgical and community traditions and culture. This will contribute to the development of the community’s ethnicity.
The establishment of the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago bears immense significance for the Syro-Malabar church and its committed followers in North America. Additionally, it fostered the ecclesiastical expansion of the Knanaya community in this region. Prior to the establishment of this diocese, our pastoral growth was restricted. The establishment of the Knanaya Region in the United States has contributed significantly to the development of Knanaya missions and parishes. In accordance with the vision of Bishop Mar Mathew Makil, it is imperative that we work towards the development of our Knanaya Region into a Knanaya Diocese within the United States. This will enhance the community’s growth in line with the Archeparchy of Kottayam model that has made significant contributions to the advancement of Knanaya Catholics. The establishment of our Knanaya diocese requires the establishment of the maximum number of Knanaya missions and the development of these missions into parishes. The accomplishment of this objective necessitates the backing of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy. Our developmental journey heavily relies on the cooperation between us and the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago.