Mar 25

Sr. Celine Kannanaikal UMI

WHEN GOD PLUCKED THE First INDIAN FLOWER from the Ursuline garden

— Sr. Rose Charles UMI

When God, in his love, plucked the first Ursuline flower from India, everyone wondered why he plucked this sr-celinebud not yet bloomed, when there were plenty of fully bloomed flowers in this garden. When God called her to heaven, Sr. Celine was only 26 years old, and just 35 days since she made her first Profession in the Congregation of the Ursulines of Mary Immaculate at Kannur in Kerala. When miracles started to take place through this young sister’s intercession, those who thought that Sr. Celine’s death was a pre-mature one realized that a person doesn’t have to live many years to reach that perfection required to fit into heaven. Today we have, along with Blessed Brigida Morello, our Foundress, another saintly Ursuline soul in heaven to speak for us and guide us in the person of Venerable Sr. Celine Kanannaikal UMI.

Celine’s parents Francis and Philomina Kannanaikkal, being poor farmers, couldn’t provide higher education to his children. Celine who was second among six in the family, was a very intelligent, smart, pious and prayerful child. With the help of her Uncles, she completed the Teacher’s training and taught in a school for a short time and in another for three years, and helped her financially struggling parents. Celine was an inspiration and a model not only to all in the family but to the neighbors, classmates, students and colleagues too, says her brother Jose. When Jose started to work she decided to leave home to join the convent, a desire she had cherished from childhood. Very soon Jose too left home to become a priest in North India. Being good Catholics deeply rooted in faith, the parents took this double loss to the family as God’s will and wish, and thanked God for blessing them with a holy priest and a nun to work in the vineyard of the Lord.

Celine grew in virtue and grace in the formation house of the Ursulines. Usually, life of a trainee in the novitiate is a peaceful, quiet and simple one, though strict and demanding. But, Celine had a life of turmoil and perplexity due to her holiness, white paper-like purity, perfect obedience and complete disregard for the things of this world, which the devil, the enemy of all goodness could not tolerate. He disturbed her day and night, placing so many obstacles on her way, making her trip and fall and inflicting hurts on her body, thus making it almost impossible for her to live in the convent following the rules and regulations. Mother Stephania, the Novice Mistress, was a witness to some of the sufferings the evil one caused to Celine, and wrote in her diary appreciating the openness, simplicity, faithfulness to duty, obedience and charity Celine practiced as an authentic novice, determined to defeat the Satan and become the bride of Jesus Christ. Her companions speak of her joyfulness and ready smile for everyone she met in spite of her constant and intense sufferings and pains.

. As she joined the Convent, Celine was given the job of teaching in a UMI school at Payyanoor for six months. After a year of novitiate, she was again sent to the Parish school to teach, and Celine gladly worked for those poor children with love and compassion, in spite of her sufferings. She always had some wounds in her body, and sometimes she even found it difficult to walk, sit or lie down. She had to walk a few miles to reach the school. But she was always cheerful, and willingly and without any complaint did all her duties assigned to her. The authorities were in a dilemma as to what to do with this seemingly holy yet disturbed novice. Celine suffered not only from the attacks of the evil one but also from peoples’ criticisms, comments, complaints, corrections, accusations and misunderstandings. Was Celine upset? The devil wanted her to be, but she remained calm, trusting in her Lord’s wisdom in allowing such situations in her life. After all, she was here to do the will of God, so anything and everything was welcome as far as she was concerned. She wrote in her diary, “Swimming in the ocean of humiliations and sorrows I will reach the ocean of love. Then I will be safe and serene with Jesus.”

Ursuline Convent, Kannur is situated on the cliff of a rocky terrain, with the vast Arabian Sea spread below. Celine would sit and enjoy the movements of the waves in the sea, the moving boats lashed by the waves, the beautiful sunrise and sunset, and the cool sea breeze, and prayed or meditated in solitude. When her life was in doldrums, Celine imagined that seashore to be the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and walked with Our Lord in contemplation. That sea-view had a great impact on Celine, since her Beloved Jesus walked and worked miracles in and around the Sea of Galilee. She once said, “The waves in the ocean of sorrow and pain may toss me up and down, but I will never drown because my Jesus is my helper and my Savior, and He knows me well.” What Confidence!

Through the intervention of his Excellency Bishop Aldo Maria Patroni, who was aware of her holiness, Celine was allowed to make her Profession on 20th June, 1957. It was the greatest day in the life of Celine. Her parents and some relatives came to join the celebrations. During the time of pronouncing the vows, Jesus appeared to her to accept her offering and told her that she would not be any more troubled by the devil’s attacks and she will experience peace and joy in the future, and in return He asked her to give Him her good health. He assured her that He would fulfill every request made by her on that day. He promised to come to her again to take her to heaven at her death. From that day she started to vomit while eating, and there was blood in it. The doctors could not find the reason for the vomiting, and couldn’t help her get well.

In spite of severe head ache, fever, cough and vomiting, Celine continued to go to school and teach her beloved children and meet their parents, and did all in her power to help them. On 24th July when she came back from school, Celine looked very sick. The next day morning she remained seriously ill and was taken to the Govt. hospital at Kannur. At four in the evening on 25th July, 1957 her beloved Lord and Spouse Jesus came with His Mother Mary and angels to take her to heaven. Jesus spoke to her something, and Celine clearly said, “Yes Jesus, yes, yes, as you say Jesus.” These were her last words. She opened her eyes and looked at Mother Stephania, and smiled. After gazing at everyone present there lovingly, Sr. Celine closed her eyes, entrusting her soul into the hands of her Bridegroom who stood waiting, arms outstretched to receive her. The sisters tearfully watched this holy scene.

Celine’s death was shocking and unbelievable news to all who knew her. The students, their parents, her colleagues, parishioners, well-wishers and relatives gathered in the Convent to pay her their last tribute. Her love and compassion was known to the neighbors and people around the school, irrespective of caste or religion. They all came not only to pray for her but also to receive blessings, for they considered her to be a saint who could get anything from the Lord on their behalf. From that day onwards people began to receive healings and other helps through her intercession. A man, who had heard of Celine’s goodness and holiness, came for the funeral. He was quite sick and could not go for his duty and the family was starving. He prayed to Celine for healing as he walked with the funeral procession. After the funeral he became fully well and was able to go for duty and take care of his family.

Sr. Celine’s body was buried in the cemetery of Holy Trinity Church, Kannur. On 30th November2001, after forty six years of her death, a very strange thing happened in that cemetery. Some outlaws or religious fundamentalists went and destroyed the crosses placed over the tombs. A Total of 23 crosses they broke. In the sisters’ cemetery, one cross stood straight in between eighteen broken ones, and it was Sr. Celine’s. The culprits were caught, and when asked why it was spared, one of them said, “Sir, we tried our best, but we could not. Someone was holding it, saving it from us”. The media was perplexed, and approached the sisters to know more about the sister whose cross no one could break.

The Ursuline authorities began to make more enquiries about the healings taking place in different places through the mediation of Sr. Celine. Many had stories of miracles to tell. Celine’s cousin Sebastian, who was a lame boy, got his leg made well after praying to Sr. Celine. Smt. Hazel who was suffering from a very serious illness during her pregnancy prayed to Sr. Celine for a safe delivery and a healthy child. In spite of remaining in unconscious state for five weeks, Hazel gave birth to a healthy baby, and she became fully well, to the surprise of the doctors. There are many such cases of cures and other helps received by many which were brought to the notice of the Enquiry Committee.

Sr. Celine is fulfilling her promises through these miracles. She once said to Mother Stephania, “When you call with broken heart and pray with tears in your eyes and pain in your heart, I will hold the wounded hands of Jesus and request Him to heal you and wipe your tears, and I will not leave His hands till He has answered my prayer.” She also said, “I will come with my beloved Jesus to console those who are in great difficulties.” For the Ursulines, Celine’s first gift came on the ninth day of her departure. Sitting close to her coffin, Mother Stephania prayed for help to get a teacher to replace Celine in the School within nine days. On the ninth day, a trained teacher came, asking for a post, and she took Sr. Celine’s place in the School. She later became an Ursuline sister.

Sr. Celine had the privilege of teaching in four schools. She is a model for all teachers and a guide and help for all students. A teacher can pray to her, ‘Dear, Sr. Celine, you were a great teacher. Help me in guiding my students.’ A student can pray, ‘Sr. Celine, in this modern world, life is not cool. I’m pulled from every side, I don’t know the right way. You were a wonderful teacher. Be my help and guide.’ The Christian parents can pray, ‘Dear Sr. Celine, when God calls a son or daughter from our family to serve Him, help us not to hold back wanting them to serve us.’

The first five Italian sisters’ missionary endeavors in India bore great fruit, we can say, as UMI’s are spread far and wide in different parts of India, and from here, we have missioned out to Brazil and Africa. And how happy we are to know that the first Indian UMI sister to die is on her way to sainthood! Most Rev. Dr. Varghese Chakkalakal, the then Bishop of Kannur, declared Sr. Celine UMI as the Servant of God on 29th July, 2007, initiating the Canonical process of her Beatification and Canonization. We hope to see her raised to the altar of saints soon.

“Jesus, please grant us the grace to live in a perfect, intense, uninterrupted, eternal act of love for you alone in time and in eternity.”      –Sr. Celine Kannanaikal.

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