La Sallette Church, Kodaikanal
Kodaikanal is a hill station memorable for its attractive and antique churches. Its affluent Christian conventions and culture, still stands distinct. One of the first churches is the "Mother Sallette" church, which ages close to 133 years. An extraordinary celebration takes place at La Sallete church every year on the 14th and 15th of august. This brings about the conclusion of a Nine-day festival. This celebration attracts worshippers from entire south India, irrespective of religion, creed or faith. The festival is distinct by means of extraordinary services and a special procession. The spiritual grace of the churches in Kodaikanal adds more value to the natural beauty of the surroundings and provides not just inner but artistic fulfillment as well. Father Louis Saint Ceer holds the fame of being the first catholic priest of Sallete Mada church.
It was said that a missionary saint – father Saint Ceer was responsible for building this church, as he got cured of an illness, by praying to Mother Sallette. It was believed that the foundation for this church was laid in August, 1865 and the church was completed in the year 1883. Statue of Our Lady of La Sallette stands supreme inside this beautiful church, blessing pilgrims with a serene composure.
The La Sallette Shrine was the first Catholic Church in Kodaikanal and was funded by a generous donation of a Belgian woman who wanted to thank Our Lady of La Sallette for the cure of her daughter. The cornerstone for this shrine was laid by a French missionary, Fr. Louis St. Cyr, S.J., in 1863 and the shrine was dedicated on Easter Sunday of 1866. The shrine stands as a wonderful example of Tamil French architectural excellence.
The interior of the shrine is quite attractive. It is decorated with graceful statues of Our Lady of La Sallette above the altar as well as the statue of St. Joseph. These statues were given by the Bishop of the Grenoble Diocese in France. The noteworthy and the decorative paintings on the windows inside the church were drawn by a French noblewoman named Madame Coile.
The first church built in Kodaikanal was the church of Our Lady of La Sallette, built by Fr. Saint Cyr S.J. in 1866 by the donation of a Belgian lady who wanted to thank Our Lady of La Sallette for the cure of her daughter. As the Catholic population in Kodaikanal was growing apace, the need of a parish church was felt. Fr. Sabatier S.J. bought in 1909 a site in Munjikkal where a large portion of those Indian Catholics who had come up as butlers or watchmen or peons of Westerners had settled down. The church was completed in 1910.
Foundation stone was laid on 15th May, 1910 for parish church by the Bishop Barthe S.J. and the artistic and exquisite present parish Church was consecrated on October 4, 1911 by the same Bishop. In 1983 the Diamond Jubilee of the Church was celebrated. Feast of Sacred Heart of Jesus, the titular feast of the parish, is celebrated in the month of June every year. The feast of our Lady of La Saleth is celebrated on a very grant scale every August 15. On 15.08.2007, Kodaikanal parishes were carved out of Batlakundu Vicariate to form a new vicariate having Munjikkal as its centre.
In the beginning, the fathers and scholastics of Sacred Heart College, Shenbaganur went to minister to the needs of the parish. The first parish priest was Fr. Jolly S.J. Fr. Bonhoure S.J., who a great devotion to the Sacred Heart had created the monument of the Sacred Heart appearing to Margaret Mary in 1947 – 1949. Fr. D. Kulandairaj S.J. who was friendly with all, particularly to Fr. R. Croegeart and with their help built in 1973 the spacious and stately building called ‘Natpaham’.
According to the wish of the donors the ground floor was meant to be a recreation hall for the youth, for which Fr. D. Kulandairaj S.J. managed to get from the Jesuit provincial a big Billiard Table – and the top floor to be a training centre for girls to learn stitching, embroidery and fiber work.
Fr. Arul Joseph started a charismatic group which is active still. Fr. A. Vedamanickam renovated the church, changed the wooden altar into a store altar, had it consecrated and celebrated fittingly the platinum jubilee of the church.
Fr. Susai Michaelraj moved by the pitiable condition of Christians formed the Indian Christian Association. He formed Korshak. This aims at raising funds in order to facilitate mother-child welfare care, social welfare literary programme; education, marriage and burial assistance.
It was during the time of Fr. L. Anandam (1995- 1999), the parish saw a socio-political and religious awakening. He formed Kodai Pastors’ Fellowship (KPF), Kodaikanal Minority Forum (KMF) and Kodaikanal Christian Schools’ Correspondents’ Forum (KCSC). It was not only the parishners of Munjikkal, the Christian population of the Hills at large gained self-respect and self-dignity. Fr. L. Anandam upgraded R.C. Middle School into R.C. High School and brought it from Bliss Villa to parish campus.
Due to his strenuous efforts, the Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies’ Go Down was vacated and High School could function from Natpagam building. The Hill in-front of the parish church was leveled and it became assembly Ground for the School. Fr. L. Anandam took also initiatives to start Higher Secondary School. As he had promised, he built the Higher Secondary building even after he was transferred to Poonamallee Seminary as Professor of theology.
La Saleth Shrine as well saw new growth during the time of Fr. L. Anandam. La Saleth Pilgrim’s Hall was built and Extension of La Saleth Church was completed by him. To foster the devotion to Our Lady of La Saleth, he released two Cassettes. He also built St. Antony’s church at Kurinji Nagar, Our Lady of Vailankanni Church at Pambarpuram and he renovated St. Antony’s Church at Anthoniar Street, St. Michael’s Chapel at M.M. Street.
Fr. S. Xavier Raj was involved importantly in the economic welfare of the people by starting self-help groups in all the areas of the parish. This has visibly improved the living standard of the people. He also built Our Lady of Vailankanni Church at Utcot. Fr. M. Appolin Claret Raj who also became the first V.F. of Kodaikanal Vicariate built the way of the cross, set up a huge Grotto of La Saleth on the right side of the Shrine and a pilgrim office. It was in his time that the centenary of the parish church was celebrated during which the Archbishop, Peter Fernando announced La Saleth as Archdiocesan Shrine. Fr. Appolin built the centenary Arch too at the entrance of the parish campus.
The following are the areas covered by the parish: Mannavanur, Gundupatti, Kavunji, La Saleth Church, Call Seal Club Road, Sebastiar’s Church, St. Mary’s Road, Anandagiri 6 streets, Anna Nagar, Indira Nagar, Turnerpuram, Fernhill Road, Somasundaram Colony, Sivanadi Road, Kurinji Nagar, Keell Bhumi, M.M. Street, Observatory, Fatima Malai, Pamparpuram, Annai Teresa Nagar, Vattakanal, Thanthi Medu, Pudukkadu, Bliss villa, Antonyar’s street etc.
La Sallette Centenary in 1947:
In honor of the centenary of the shrine, the shrine church was expanded and La Sallette Pilgrim Hall was built. In addition, the outside Way of the Cross was constructed, a large La Sallette Grotto on the right side of the Shrine was completed and a pilgrim office was added. For the anniversary celebration, a Centenary Arch was built at the entrance of the shrine grounds.
The shrine is a gathering place for the poor, weary or needy people. Our Lady of La Sallette is seen as a universal mother giving solace and comfort to all pilgrims of all religions. It is a Shrine of blessing that offers on its holy ground a remedy for the many ills of its fervent pilgrims. It is visited by countless tourists and offers peace and solace for all.
The Feast of Our Lady of La Sallette is celebrated on a very grant scale every August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary with an evening service including lights of the Shrine Church and surroundings.
Feast of Our Lady of La Sallette
The event begins with special masses being held in the church and they continue for nine days. People visit and offer their prayers every day. Many visitors flock from far and wide to Kodaikanal during that time. On the last day, the statue of our lady is taken in a huge procession through the streets of Kodaikanal and people actively take part in this procession. It stops at many points where scaffold structures of Mother Mary are constructed by devotees.
Elders offer their children to the priests for blessings and they get seated next to the ‘icon’ (statue of goddess) for some time. Huge bands of western and Indian instruments accompany the procession and several songs are played. Dazzling lights, gala music, cheering crowd and the joy in every attendee’s face makes this carnival absolutely stunning.
The entire town of Kodaikanal has a festive feel this time of the year and all the residents participate in this carnival with excitement. Though it is a Christian festival, the most pleasant aspect is every person irrespective of caste and creed takes part in this celebration.