Welcome to Hospitaller Order of St. John of God St. Thomas Province, India

Hospitaller Order of
St. John of God

MY EXPERIENCES IN INDIA  Br. Alfons M. Höring OH

My Early Years in the Order:When I joined our Order at the fairly young age of 17 in 1960, I had informed Br. Fortunatus Thanhäuser, who was General Delegate and Novice Master of the Rhine General Delegation at that time, that I would like to work in the missions of our Order, if possible. But the Rhine General Delegation did not have any mission in those days. The Delegation had been founded only after World War II by Brothers of the Silesian Province. They had to serve in the German army during the War and were not permitted by the communists to return to Silesia after the War, or had been expelled from Silesia by the communist government (like, for example, Br. Fortunatus Thanhäuser), when Silesia came under Polish Administration in 1945. The Rhine General Delegation had three works in West Germany in the mid sixties, a fairly good number of Brothers and a good number of new vocations.

The Door to India Opens: After contacts with the Archbishop of Changanacherry, Mar Mathew Kavukatt, a decision was taken to start a foundation of our Order in his diocese in Kerala, South India. Mar Mathew Kavukatt had visited our ‘Isola Tiberina Hospital’, as one of his predecessors mar Thomas Kurialacherry had died in that hospital during an ‘ad limina visit’ on 2nd March 1925. Archbishop Mar Mathew Kavukatt was very much impressed by the services of our Order and planned to invite our Brothers into his Archdiocese. That plan became a reality through his contacts with Br. Fortunatus Thanhäuser. So, it was agreed that the Order would start a hospital in the Archdiocese and that the Archbishop would select ‘suitable boys’, who seemed to have a vocation to become ‘John of God Brothers’, and would send them to Frankfurt for novitiate and professional training. Br. Savio Padinjarekutte was the first ‘suitable boy’ sent by the Archbishop. Three more candidates followed. One, Br. Prakash Madappally, joined the Order, the two others left the Order.

Preparations for the Indian Mission: At that time Br. Fortunatus Thanhäuser asked me, whether I was ready to join him, Br. Savio Padinjarekutte, Br. Prakash Madappally and Br. Werenfried Diel to start the first Indian foundation. I agreed, as could be expected. I had just completed my training in General Nursing. For further preparation for my services in India, I took part in a one year theology course at the ‘Brothers Institute’ in Cologne, did a ‘course in tropical medicine’ at the ‘Institute of Tropical Medicine’ in Hamburg and spent three months in Ireland to refresh my knowledge of English and gain more practical experience in that language. The Irish Brothers provided us with a lot of spiritual books, bibles, breviaries as well as medical books for the new foundation. Talks with Br. Timothy Deane, one of the Irish founding Brothers of the Korean mission, were very helpful and enlightening for me personally, as well as talks with Br. Raphael Smyth.

The Indian Mission: At Kattappana Kattappana in the High Ranges of Kerala had been selected for the first Indian foundation. Poor and landless people from the planes had encroached the forest illegally. Through hard labour they were able to sustain themselves and their families and later the government granted them property rights over the encroached government land. One of the main problems was the lack of medical facilities. Prior to our arrival the next hospital could be reached only after five hours of Jeep ride on ‘roads’, which were no roads at all! Br. Fortunatus and Br. Prakash had arrived in Kattappana on 19th November 1969. I followed with Br. Werenfried Diel in April 1970, after waiting for residential visas for almost two years. In 1957 the fundamentalistic and nationalistic ‘Jana Sang Party’, predecessor of the fundamentalistic and nationalistic BJP, which ruled India in recent years, had introduced a law, which prevented entry into India for priests, religious and missionaries. Therefore, previous to our arrival, a small and primitive hospital had been started at Kattappana by the parish priest and it was financed by our General Delegation. It was staffed by the Sisters of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) and an Indian Doctor. We had applied for residential visas as male nurses to develop the existing small hospital in Kattappana into a modern General Hospital and finally we got the visas after a long period of waiting. Br. Fortunatus and Br. Prakash had arrived at Kattappana on 19th November 1969 and they stayed in the residence of the parish priest while a simple community building was under construction. I followed with Br. Werenfried Diel in April 1970, after waiting for residential visas for almost two years. On our arrival, we all, including some postulants, shifted to the newly built community building. The Initial Years From the very beginning of his arrival Br. Fortunatus had adapted a simple Indian lifestyle. I tried to follow his example as far as possible. Br. Prakash was very helpful by introducing us into the Indian lifestyle, Indian mentality and Indian culture. We had an Indian cook and took only Indian meals. As a result, I lost 20 kgs during the first six months, but became a lover of Indian food afterwards. We accepted the oriental ‘Syro Malabar Rite’ of the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala, following the recommendations of the ‘Decree on the Eastern Churches’ of Vatican II: “It is commended strongly to religious orders and associations of Latin rite, which are working in Eastern countries or among Eastern faithful, that they should set up, so far as possible, houses or even provinces of the Eastern rite to make their apostolic work more effective ...” (O.E. Art. 6). All these helped and we were accepted very much by the local population. We almost became Indians amongst Indians, save our white skin. I was never good in Malayalam or Tamil, but better in English.

Team Work:I feel that it was a great blessing for me and for the new foundation that Br. Fortunatus was already 51 years old when we came to India. He had great experience in our Hospitaller apostolate as well as in leadership as General Delegate, Vice Provincial, Councillor, Prior, Administrator and Formator. Br. Fortunatus, on the other hand, valued very much my services, as a young male nurse, in the various departments of the hospital and also as a novice master from 1971. We were really a good team, with the experienced Br. Fortunatus, Br. Prakash, the ‘Indian Specialist’, me, the inexperienced, young Brother, just 26 years old and Br. Savio who joined us in 1972 immediately after completing his nursing training from Germany. An Ever-Growing & Modern Hospital We had been asked by the Archbishop Mar Mathew Kavukatt to start a modern hospital at Kattappana and the local population had the same expectation. This we did. The new hospital with 60 beds was opened in February 1971. It was very successful from the very first day. Extensions, expansions, new departments etc. followed and this continues now for more than 35 years. Other Social Projects Besides the hospital, many projects, not at all planned, came into existence, just out of necessity and need:  Poor feeding: meals for children and the poor.  House construction programme.  Assistance for poor school going children.  Home for the aged and destitute (long-term hospital for the chronically sick.)  Mother and child health programme.  Financial assistance to poor and old people, etc. My Responsibilities I was in charge of the operation theatre and anaesthesia from February 1971 onwards and I also assisted in the laboratory. From 1971 onwards I was also novice master and master of postulants and scholastics. Br. Savio became the master of postulants, when he returned to India in 1972 after his training in Germany. We always had a good number of vocations, but we were not able to concentrate sufficiently on formation, due to the great demands of the hospital and the big number of social projects and services. A New Mission I was appointed in 1980 to start a ‘House of Formation’ at Poonamallee as our second foundation in India. We had selected Poonamallee because the Salesians and the professors of the nearby ‘Sacred Heart Seminary’ had agreed to assist us in our formation programmes. A small home for old and destitute men was also started to enable the pre-postulants, postulants and novices to get a first-hand experience of their future Hospitaller apostolate. From 1977 onwards, starting with Br. Savio, Indian Brothers had taken up leadership responsibilities. When I was called back to Germany in 1986, as novice master of the Rhine Province, all leadership responsibilities had been put into the hands of the Indian Brothers. So, in the light of my experience I feel that I learned the following about inculturation of Hospitality in an Asia Pacific country: It was very helpful that we had started our first Indian foundation in the well established Syro-Malabar Church, an ancient, indigenous and inculturated Church which had experienced great problems in the past with the Latin Church and with european missionaries. We did not have to repeat the mistakes of the past, but could learn from the past history. Br. Fortunatus was and is for me and for all of us a living example of adaptation and inculturation. Due to this we had the support of the bishops, priests, government officials and the whole population: Christian, Hindu and Muslim. We had come to India with a fairly narrow understanding of our charism of Hospitality. We were, due to our own experience and practice in Germany, more or less concentrated only on the care of sick people in our hospitals and institutions. The needs of the Indian people helped us to understand the ‘richness of our charism of Hospitality better and that it can be expressed in different forms according to the specific circumstances of time and place’ and expanded the expressions, as already mentioned before. So Br. Fortunatus was looking out for extensions of the services of the Delegation to countries were the services of the Order were urgently needed.

 

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