Brief history of La Salette Matha Province, India
February 1978 was a time in the history of the congregation of the missionaries of our lady of La Salette. Rev. Fr. Efren Musngi, MS, then Provincial Superior of the Ina ng pag-Asa, the vice-province, Philippines, made a decision to participate in the conference of the Major Superiors of the Religious congregations of Asia which was held in Bangalore. The key note speaker of the conference was Rt. Rev. Dr. Antony Padiyara then Arch-Bishop of Changanaserry who became the Major Arch-Bishop and the second Cardinal of Kerala. Cardinal Padiyara was a devotee of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The encounter between (Fr. Musngi and the Cardinal) the two sons of Mary should naturally bear some fruit. The Arch- Bishop invited Fr. Musngi to spend few days with him in the diocese which he gladly accepted. The Prelate promised him all the assistance in recruiting candidates to our congregation and thus making La Salette presence in India, especially, in the Syro-Malabar Chruch that has centuries old Christian tradition even before the arrival of missionaries from Europe. Fr. Musngi was thrilled with the response of the Bishop and went back to the Philippines. Few months later he went to Switzerland to participate in the Council of the congregation and presented his encounter with the Bishop and the council accepted the proposal of Fr. Musngi and promised their blessings and support. They entrusted the duty of recruiting the candidates to the Philippines Province. As soon as Fr. Musngi returned to the Philippines he started preparations and send Fr Orlando Sapuay, MS, and Fr. William Slight, MS, to India and with the assistance of the Bishop and the priests of the diocese they made their first recruitment from India. The first batch of Indian candidates, Mathew Manjaly, Augustine Cheerakathil, and Deacon Philip Pazhayachira reached the Philippines in 1979 and began their formation. Then the following year Fr. Rutillo Mallillin was sent to India and recruited Jose Kuzhinjalil, Joseph Punnakunnel, Deacon Andrews Kollannoor, Chukkanaickal Joy and Job Callarackal.
On the 1st of May, 1981 Jose Kuzhinjalil and Joseph Punnakunnel became the first Indian la Salettes to make their religious profession. On the 5th of December 1985 Andrews Kollannoor, the first priest from India, was ordained to the priesthood. Meanwhile the recruitment was continued through Rev. Frs. Efren Tomas MS, and Manuel Medina MS. In 1988 Fr. Jose Kuzhinjalil, MS came back to India and he was welcomed by the Diocese of Trivandrum to a small parish, St. Joseph's Church, Vamanapurm. Thus, the active presence of the La Salette missionaries began in India.
The same year Fr. Joseph Punnakunnel joined Fr. Jose K. and together they began recruiting candidates to the minor seminary. The first group of minor seminarians was accommodated in the diocesan centre called Better Life Movement, Aloor, Irinjalakuda, while the candidates who had finished their philosophical studies were send to the Philippines. Then the following year Fr. Andrews came back to India and with the help of his brother Fr. John Kollannor, CMI, the community purchased an old hospital of the Carmelite sisters in Parakkadavu. After due modifications and renovations this house was officially blessed on the 17th August 1990 and was named La Salette Bhavan, the first house and the minor seminary in the sub-continent of India. Then on the community began to experience a real growth in the number of the membership and the ministerial presence. In 1997 we began our second house, La Salette Sadhan, in Bangalore and in 1998 the third house, La Salette Nikethan at Hunsur, Mysore as the formation houses.
During these years the Superior General together with his council and the whole congregation encouraged and helped the young Indian mission to strive together to envision the dream of the mission. All the Provinces and Regions together with our Mother Province and the North American province extended their generous hands in our needs.
In 2001 India became a Region and Fr. Mathew Manjaly, MS, was elected as the first Regional Superior. In 2003 we began the school ministry, La Salette Vidyanikethan, at Hunsur, Mysore, for the poor village children. In 2005 we started our mission in North Kerala by opening a centre for family counseling and retreat, La Salette Ashram, Mananthavady. Through the great support and inspiration of the Generalate, especially Rev. Fr. Isidro Perin and the congregation at large India became a Province in 2007 and Fr. Andrews Kollannoor, MS, was elected as the Provincial Superior of the newly erected La Salette Matha Province. In 2010 we blessed our mission house, La Salette Nilayam, in Andhra Pradesh.
Today the Province is blessed with 36 Priests, 21 scholastics, 56 seminarians and 5 houses in three States of India ministering to the people of God through our School, retreats, counseling centers and parish ministries. We add life to the provinces of the Philippines, America, France, Italy, Argentina-Bolivia and the Generalate through our sharing of membership. The new presence of the province in the dioceses of Parramatta and Canberra in Australia is well appreciated by the bishops and the Christian communities. The community today under the leadership of Fr. Jojohn Chettiyakunnel, MS, the present Provincial superior, is trying to realize the vision and mission of the province.
As we start the preparations for the Silver Jubilee of our presence in India, we express our heart-felt gratitude to God the Almighty and to all the General administrations of the past and the present, the Provincials, the Regional Superiors, the members of different provinces and all those who helped us to become what we are today.