St. Therese of Infant Jesus Church, Kandanvilai, Kanyakumari
St. Therese of Infant Jesus Church is located at Kandanvilai in Kanyakumari District of Tamilnadu. The St.Therese of Infant Jesus Church, Kandanvilai is the first Church which is dedicated to St.Therese after her Beatification and blessed on April 7, 1924. It is located on the Nagercoil – Monday Nager Highway.
In 1904, the coadjutor Bishop of Quilon, Aloysius Maria Benzigar sent a proposal to Rome for dividing the Kollam metropolis into three new dioceses as Trivandrum, Quilon and Kottar. Gregory XVI the Pope of Rome agreed to the separation of the vicariate of Verapoly into three divisions for administrative convenience. Bishop of Quilon the Most Rev. Aloysius Maria Benzigar was invited to Rome for participating St. Therese`s Beatification ceremony on April 29, 1923; during the ceremony, there were a Bishop`s council meeting was conducted.
In the meeting, Quilon Bishop was declared that, I dedicate the Kandanvilai Church which is under Quilon Diocese (previously it was under Quilon Diocese) to St. Therese and which will be the first Church to St. Therese after her Beatification. Based on that, a Chapel was blessed by him on April 7, 1924. In 1935, Kandanvilai was attached to the Karankadu parish under the Diocese of Quilon. During this time, Mr. Packianathan donated his land to a Diocese and requested that a church be built in Kandanvilai. The Bishop of the Diocese of Quilon, Most Rev Fr. Aloysius Maria Benzigar OCD consented and together with the parish priest of Karankadu came down to Kandanvilai to select a site. The bishop, the priest and the people were overjoyed and confirmed the site for the Church.
In Tamil, the vision was interpreted as “Kanavil Kanda Vilai.” The name of the place was, “Mukattu Kathirvilai". Bifurcation of the diocese of Kottar had been a long-standing demand of the people of the region. 100 Parishes from Thiruthuvapuram and Mulagumoodu vicariates of Kottar diocese were put under the administrative control of Kuzhithurai diocese. Prior to this bifurcation, Kottar diocese had been one of the largest in India with over 500000 Catholics. St. Therese of Infant Jesus Church, Kandanvilai was merged under Kuzhithurai Diocese, India on 22 December 2014.
The Church construction was initiated in the year 1927, under the leadership of Rev. Fr. Ignatius Maria. To begin with a basement of 6 feets length and 3 feets breadth was laid. The mason Aloysius was essentially instrumental in the construction. A beam of 27 feet of single Palmyra tree was cut from Kalldithattuvillai which was donated by Mr. Gnana Prakasam was used for the roof. In memory of him, his initials D. G was inscribed on it. The stucco used for the walls were a mixture of limestone and Palmyra juice which is considered to the strongest combination for construction. Mr. Gabriel of Pandaravillai contributed for the pillars in the altar.
Mason Alangar used his technical prowess for the construction of the Church. Mr. Masilamani of Chthanthopue, Varuvel, Gabriel of Pandaravillai and Maria Gnanam collected donations from Pondicherry, nearby villages and people gave in plenty and the construction work progressed. People of different castes participated in the construction in a time different castes was considered a taboo. Mr. Magieswaran who belonged to Krishan Vaha donated many Palmyra trees. The fisher folk donated in joy and called St. Therese the "Queen of the Seas". The coolies gave in their mite too as they presented a car used for the procession at the time of the feast.
The timber workers of Chithanthopue and many others who were involved gave a Big car to the church. The people of Chithanthopue and Pandarvilai gave with thankful hearts towards the construction of the Church. The construction was completed after a period of 18 months and the owners of 8 tiles factories donated tile for the floor and the roof. People of Kandanvilai took care of the artistic stone work. In 1929, the first phase of the construction work came to end. In the same year, the new Church was blessed and the Feast was also celebrated. Thus, the first Church ever built in the world was at Kandanvilai in the name of St Therese of Infant Jesus, and it was made a substation of Karankadu Parish.
From 1929 to 1944, Rev. Fr. Ignatius Maria, Varghese, D.C. Anthony put in position served the spiritual welfare of the parish meticulously. In the year 1944 on November 5th, the Kandanvilai substation became a separate parish and Rev. Fr. V.J. Stephen took charge as the parish priest. As this was the first church in tribute of St. Therese after she Beatified, the sisters from Carmelite who served with St. Therese were donated two bells to the church and people from the birth place of St. Therese, Lisieux also contributed bell.
The following words are inscribed on the bells:
Michiels A. Tournai 1931 My name is Therese of the Infant Jesus and I will call all Indians to Kandanvilai to honour the little flower.
Michiels A. Tournai Fondeur. My name is John of the Cross and I will ring in honour of my sister in heaven saint Therese of the Infant Jesus.
It is located at the left side in the belfry, the bells ring and echo the message that the "St. Therese invites all the Indians to Kandanvilai and to make them aware of the holy virgin life of St. Therese of Infant Jesus". In the northern side of the Church, a grotto of Mother Mary was established in memory of the appearance of Mother Mary to Bernadette at Lourdes. The grotto was blessed on 5th November 1944 and resembles the grotto at Lourdes. Special masses are held on the Feast of Our Lady of Immaculate Heart and on the Feast of Lady of Immaculate Conception.
An indicative part of the Church is the Flagpole which is cut out from a long, single piece of rock. Artisans of Paruthivilai carved the flagpole. The flagpole was put in position for use on 24th September 1948 during the period of Rev. Fr. V J Stephen. In 1949, the then parish priest Rev Fr. Pius Morris acquired land on the southern side and called it Rosary Mount. Later, Rev. Fr. Hillarious erected a "Stupa". In 2000, during the celebration of the Great Jubilee, Rev. Fr. Yesuratnam expunged the "Stupa" and started the construction of a chapel. The construction work continued during the period of Rev. Fr. Maria Michael and Rev. Fr Vincent Raj. With the contributions of the parish people the Rosary Mount was completed. From the mount one can get a brilliant view of the mountain ranges nearby, the coconut groves, the Arabian Sea at Muttom etc.
Along the way to the mount from the Church there are 14 stations to denote the Way of the Cross, which have been splendidly embellished. On the southern side of the Church, near the road a steeple has been constructed for worship and when people sought intercession of St. Therese. It was established by Rev. Fr B J R Alexander in the year 1967. In 1968, Rev. Fr. Gregory extended the front portion of the Church by installing a basement and stone pillars. In 1972, he left due to certain infirmities. His task was undertaken by the priest’s N J George, C N Venseslas who took charge of the parish.
In 1976, Rev. Fr. T Yesudasan Thomas became the parish priest and by whose hard work and dedication the steeple was constructed and on 5th October 1979, the second phase of the Church came to completion. During the period of Rev. Fr. Arul, the parish pastorate council and the catholic society of Kandanvilai took efforts to build an auditorium, at the east end of the campus. It was completed in the year of 1991 and is used for special occasions, festivals, prayer meets etc. It also serves as an arena for people of Kandanvilai to showcase their talents on various occasions. In 1992 Rev. Fr. Solomon who took over as parish priest motivated the parish to renovate the interior and exterior of the Church. The munificent people came forth to put in their all for renovation. The stately newly completed Church was completed on 23rd September 1999. The Bishop of Kottar, the Most Rev A Leon Tharmaraj blessed it.
In the year 1996, the general body of Kandanvilai parish harmoniously decided to construct a Community Hall for public functions, retreat, wedding functions, etc. And Rev Fr. Russal Raj laid foundation. In 1997 the first phase was completed in the period of Fr. Yesiu Ratnam. The second phase was completed by Fr. Maria Michael and it stands for the eminence of St. Therese. There are two cars at present in the Church that bears the icons of Jesus, Mother Mary and the Holy Cross. On the 9th day of the Feast, these Cars are decorated and eliminated with superb tapestries, light and are taken in procession around the Church at night and it is continued the 10th day of the feast.
People believe that if they attend devotionally in this procession, some miracle may happen in their life. To witness this procession people from various place of Kanyakumari arrive at Kandanvilai at the time of feast. And, special transport specialties are being arranged for the feast. The need for a public cemetery was thought of, as people buried the dead in their own lands. Hence, with the donation of the trust a 1.5 acres of lands was purchased and since then has been used as Public Cemetery. And masses are held on All Souls Day.
During the period of Rev. Fr. Yesudhasan Thomas, the region beyond Pandaravillai which had 250 families separated and started functioning as a substation. It has five Christian communities. The patron saint is, Our Lady of Ransom. Every Sunday holy mass is conducted at 5:30 am and on Mondays at 6:00 pm. The feast of this Church is celebrated in the month of August. The parish council takes care of the parish efficiently.
Eraniel substation came into function at the same time when the Kandanvilai parish was started. The patron saint is, St. Thomas. The holy mass is held at 9:00 am on every Sunday and at 6:00 pm on every Tuesday as well. The feast is celebrated for ten days. There are three basic communities. The parish council administers the Church.
In the period of Rev. Fr. J.R. Patrick Xavier (2012 - 2015), Pandaravillai parish formed as a new substation of Kandanvilai. On May 15, 2015, Kottar Bishop Peter Remigius dedicated the new church to Our Lady of Health Vailankanni. Holy Rosary held at 6:00 am every day. Weekly holy mass is conducted at 6:30 pm on every Wednesday. Sunday holy mass is conducted at, 6:30 am. There are three Anbiyams are being functioning by the parishioners.
Mass, Prayers & Festivals
Holy Mass is held on every day at 6:15 am in the parish church except on Thursdays and Sundays. People come to the church to participate in the litany services or whenever they are free to offer prayers.
Holy Mass on Sundays held at 7:00 am in the church and it is spiritual duty of the members of the parish to attend the mass. Prayer meeting held at 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm on Mondays. St. Antony's Novena celebrations held at 2:30 pm on Tuesdays. On Thursdays, 6:30 pm there is rosary prayer, adoration for St. Therese, followed by special prayers. There is a special Holy Mass is held at 11:00 am followed by Holy Rosary in Rosary Mount Chapel. Parish members take joy in beautifying the altar, preparing the lectern, the theme of the mass etc. Prayers are often offered for the unity of the whole human race, the salvation of the souls irrespective of religion, cast and race.
The 1st Saturday of every month, there is a Holy Mass held in Rosary Mount Chapel at 6:15 am. 2nd Saturday, there is a Baptism Holy Mass held in Parish Church at 6:15 am and there is a Good News meeting held at 10:00 to 1:00 pm. Friday of every month, there is a Holy Communion adoration at 6:00 pm and the last Sunday of every month there is a evangelical convention at 6.00pm.
Worships of Liturgical Year:
New Year brings with it new hopes and dreams to be fulfilled. People throng the church to seek Christ's blessing on New Year's Day at the 7:00pm Mass and along with it there are various celebrations which people rejoice as a church. January 14th is celebrated as the harvest festival called "Pongal" by the people of Tamil Nadu. The church also joins in the celebration as a thanksgiving to the almighty for making the land yield its fruits for man. January 26th the Republic Day of India is celebrated with national fervor.
On second of every February the presentation of Jesus Christ Special Mass is performed by the people and the "Palar Sabai", which means, the congregation of children. February 11th is observed as remarkable day in memory of Mother Mary of Lourdes. The mass and the celebrations are performed at the grotto. The parish members observe the Ash Wednesday the commencement of Lent. During the Holy week people confirm themselves to fasting, special abstinence etc.
On Good Friday, special prayers are offered and significant events are the adoration of Holy Eucharist, Veneration of Crucifix etc. Easter Sunday is celebrated with jubilation as the Lord is raised. The first of May is observed day of labors and as the feast of Joseph. August 15th is celebrated, one to remember the Independence Day of India and another, the day of Assumption of Mary. The last week of September is glorious as the Feast of St. Therese begins by people thronging in great numbers for the hoisting of the Holy flag and the grand finale of celebrations of the feast is commemorated on October 1st.
The day of evangelism is observed on 18th October and the offerings collected are used for the cause of evangelism. All Saints is observed on 1st November when special prayers are offered and the saintly lives of the saints are remembered as holy ensamples to be followed in the world today. All Souls day on 2nd November recall to all, not of the inevitability of death in man's life but of the hope of resurrection on the day of Christ's coming. The tombs are blessed and special masses are conducted.
December 8th is celebrated as the day of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and a splendid mass is organized at the grotto. People join in the celebration of the birth of Christ on 25th December. Impressive cribs and colorful decorations adorn the houses and the spirit of joy; peace and love reverberate across the church and its people.
The Church is located at about 12 Kms from Nagercoil, 2 Kms from Eraniel, 19 Kms from Suchindrum, 34 Kms from Kanyakumari, 6 Kms from Thuckalay,9 Kms from Colachel and 67 Kms from Thiruvananthapuram. Nearest Railway Station is located at Eraniel and Nearest Airport is located at Thiruvananthapuram.