A Brief History of the Founder
The last decades of the 19th Century witnessed the dawn of a new luminary in the history of the Kerala Church. Our dearest founder, Rev. Fr. John Kizhakoodan was born in 1883 on the Christmas Day, as the second son of Mr. Joseph Kannoth Kizhakoodan at Pariyaram Village near Chalakudy. He had his primary education in Pariyaram and High school in St. Thomas High School, Thrissur. While studying in the High School, he responded to the Masters call and joined Papal Seminary, Kandy in Srilanka.
In Kandy, he acquired proficiency in English and Latin besides Philosophy and Theology. He was very docile and obedient. During the seminary days itself his innate desire for acts of charity and altruism were remarkable. During these days Fr. John found a reliable friend in Fr. Kurian Pandiamakkal of Palai and used to share their insights and profound thoughts.
Fr. John Kizhakoodan was ordained on 21st December 1907 at Kandy. After the ordination he returned to Kerala. His beloved father was no more when he came back to Kerala. On the way back, he providently happened to visit a Home for the Aged at Colombo. Probably, it might have inspired him to devote his ministry for the cause of the orphans and the poor.
In January 1908 Fr. John was appointed as a teacher of St. Thomas School for 2 years and also had the Assistant Rector post of the St. Thomas College Boarding . From 1911 onwards he was in-charge of two or three parishes and had to walk many kilometers per day to fulfill his Pastoral Ministry. In 1922, Fr. John was appointed as the Vicar of St. Ann’s Parish, West Fort, Thrissur and there he started a primary school and an orphanage for the girls. By 1928, his dream of starting a Home for the Aged was accomplished in St. Ann’s itself.
Fr John’s numerous duties did not curtail his spiritual life. Holy and saintly life of their pastor influenced the parishioners and even Hindus flocked around him. His activities spread to the surrounding villages and persons especially to the farmers, plantation labourers and settlers. None was rejected by him. He never blamed his co-workers even when they did not co-operate. He was fortunate to be near his beloved mother when she was taken for eternal bliss in 1944.
The Dawn of a New Congregation
After a long gap, one day, Fr John happened to meet Fr Kurian Pandiamakkal at Palai which is marked as a turning-point in his life. Some of the girls of the Association of the Legion of Mary in Palai had decided to become nuns and they communicated it to Fr Kurian. It was then Fr John disclosed to him his aim to start a new Congregation for the indigenous women which would best suit the requirements of local Church. With great enthusiasm Fr. John approached Rt. Rev. Dr. George Alapatt, the Bishop of Thrissur and requested permission to start a new congregation and on 20th April 1948 the permission was granted to begin a community called "Martha Bhavan" and Fr. John was appointed as the director of the same. In that year itself twelve candidates from Palai and Thrissur joined and the new Congregation was inaugurated on the feast of the Assumption of our Lady on 15th August 1948 at Ponnukkara, Thrissur.
The Motto of the Congregation is prayer and service and Fr John joined with the nuns in the manual works and was a model for all. After few months he was convinced of the need of more apostolic work and hence he sent his candidates to teach catechism and to visit the houses especially that of the poor and the marginalized. He also sent them for tailoring, painting and for developing other technical skills. Thus, he tried to meet even the smallest needs of his daughters.
In February 1949, the Aspirancy was entrusted to two venerable nuns of the Congregation of Charity. Eleven more aspirants joined the Congregation in 1949 and Fr John had to find a new place to accommodate them all.
He used to tell his daughters that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Having a deep insight into the Psychology of the feminine community he asked them to substitute such idle hours with reading, writing, handy-craft works, charitable services and prayers. He also taught them to find out the positive aspect of others. Ignoring his diminishing health Fr. John tried his best to get ecclesiastical approval for the new Congregation. He had to face many objections from his fellow priests in starting a new congregation. Furthermore, many candidates and their parents were anxious about the approval of this new Congregation and ten of the aspirants left because of the same reason. Fr John’s heart could have broken, but he took everything as the providence of God.
Only in 1958 Fr John could get the permission for having a Canonic Novitiate for his daughters and the same was started at Ponnukkara. His health was so weak and had to undergo a surgery in CMC Hospital, Vellur. Just after it he started his pastoral work at Elanjipra by his own interest and wanted to empty himself as per the words of our Lord. Unable to take care of his daughters properly due to his illness there arouse the need of a new director for the congregation. Msgr. Antony Maliekkal was appointed as the first director in 1959 and Fr. John was relieved. He suffered both physically and mentally. But his trust in God led him to serenity. He found intimacy with God in prayer and all his difficulties and problems disappeared. He was a great devotee of our Mother Mary.
Due to ill health Fr. John was admitted in Jubilee Mission Hospital Thrissur and later was shifted to the Priest Home nearby. On 8th November, 1960 he received the sacrament of the Anointment of the Sick from Bishop Mar George Alapatt. After that he told Martha Sisters who were around him that he is going but they need not worry because he has entrusted them to the special care of the Bl. V. Mary. The next day he wanted to go to St. Ann’s Church by walking but the attender fetched him a riksha and took him there. When the Sisters complained of this Fr. John said: “I wanted to give out my soul here in this chapel of St. Joesph’s”. On 15th November, 1960 he rose up at 02 am and stepped in to the chapel knowing that he has only few more hours left in this earth. By hearing the noise, the attenders got up and saw him saying the Holy Mass. By 02 p.m. his condition worsend and at 05 p.m. his spirit flew up to receive the Eternal Gift.