The Self-Martified Holy Priest And Co-Founder(1900—1911)
We have seen earlier that our sanyasi did not see his life and mission in terms of becoming an ordained Priest out of humility and based on other considerations as well. But finally he yielded to the decision of the higher ups. Fr.Larmey his mentor on the other hand, sensing his inner life of piety, simplicity, humility, missionary zeal and also after seeing the beneficial results out of his hard and sustained labour, had already started preparing him step by step, perhaps even without the explicit knowledge of our sanyasi towards the process of getting ordination as a Priest.
Since in those days Latin was the official language of the Catholic Church even in the liturgical services, Fr.Larmey started teaching Latin to our sanyasi and would ask him to read news in Latin during the rest hours. Our sanyasi on the other hand would teach the colloquial Tamil spoken by the ordinary villagers to Fr. Larmey so as to enable him to communicate with them at ease and at their wave length and thus each would become a language teacher to the other.
When Fr. Larmey saw that our sanyasi was sufficiently proficient in the study of Latin,then he slowly introduced him to the realm of theology, which of course was a bit difficult for our sanyasi in view of his age. However this process went on and on by the grace of the good Lord rather slowly but steadily, however without any perceptible change in the negative disposition of our sanyasi towards becoming an ordained Priest, until the visit of Fr. Scorrelles.j, the Provincial of the Toulouse Province who came as a Visitor to the Jesuit Madurai Mission (18-11-1897 to 25-3-1988).
After hearing about the personal life of our sanyasi and his wonderful committed service for a long period of about 23 years, he wanted to pay a visit to Panjampatty to see him there. The Provincial must have been taken up with him so much that he took the initiative of recommending our sanyasi to be ordained as a Priest after getting due exemption from the canonical regulations.
This matter was referred to the then Bishop of Trichy who summoned Fr.Larmey to meet him personally. Accordingly Fr. Larmey went along with two other priests, Fr.Savariar and Fr. Gnanapragasiar to the Bishop’s house on 9th October, 1899 and returned to Panjampatty in a few days time on 14th, with the specific order from the Bishop that soon our sanyasi would be ordained as a Priest. And then only our sanyasi submitted himself fully to become an ordained Priest.
Then the followindg day, namely on the 15th, October, Fr. Larmey took our sanyasi to the Bishop’s house at Trichy in order to meet the Bishop and to express his readiness to get the ordination. Our sanyasi stayed there for fifteen days, might be to prepare himself for receiving all the six orders including the Diaconate prior to the Priesthood. Our sanyasi who went to Trichy on the 15thwearing dhoti and shirt, the ordinary dress of a lay man came back to Panjampatty after fifteen days, dressed in cassock much to the delight of the village people who by then could have understood the extraordinary event that would take place soon.
Yes, once again he went to the Bishop’s house at Trichy and two other fathers, Fr. Hereaudeaus.j, and Fr.Billards.j, from St. Joseph’s College, Trichy also joined him for the lunch there .Then two more fathers Fr.Besses.j, and Fr.Faselulles.j, came to the Bishop’ house and for the next half an hour from 2.30 to 3.00 p.m. all the four fathers were questioning him on Moral Theology, and he must have passed the test successfully.
He came back again, made his retreat and on 14th, January, 1990, on a Sunday when the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was celebrated with due solemnity, he was ordained as a Priest by Msgr. Barthes.j, the Bishop of Trichy , at Tuticorin , all for the ever greater glory of God, to the immense satisfaction of Fr.Larmeys.j, his mentor, to the over flowing joy and happiness of his family members and the fisher folk community of Tuticorin \as its second Priest, and above all to the people of Panjampatty among whom he worked very tirelessly as a lay missionary for about 23 years in the company of Fr. Larmeys.j, (and still more later to the would be sisters of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception to be founded by him as one of its three Co-Founders).
Yes, mysterious, surprising and wonderful are the ways of God ! And one more example to testify to this unassailable fact is how the good Lord destined the very process of ordaining our sanyasi Augustine Pereira as a Priest at an advanced age of 46 and that too without the usual course of a formal training process but by an extraordinary method of fostering interior piety, simplicity, humility, poverty, purity of mind and heart, self denial in a mortifying spirit, fiery missionary zeal for souls, self sacrificing will to undertake painful and hazardous journeys and to put up with hard and sustained labour for a long period of about 23 years among the poor, illiterate, common and rustic people who were with two minds in practicing the Catholic Fait and known for laxity in moral life.
His sanctity based on his most intense personal love and devotion to the Eucharistic Lord and to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus were very much evident and in full bloom and could be seen in his pastoral ministries tohis flock. For example, even though suffering from ill health, he would sit for hours together in the confessional box on the eve of the First Friday of every month to hear the confessions of people standing in long queues.
And in the next day morning he would celebrate the Holy Mass and then give the Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. After that instead of taking rest, he would go to attend a meeting for about fifty teachers gathered there, give them a spiritual exhortation, look into their registers and accounts and would give them proper guide lines to do their teaching job dutifully for the good of the students.
During the month of June specially dedicated to the Devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, he would instruct them to beat the drums in the evening in all the streets and even in the fields where people would be working, so that they would all assemble in the Church. Then he would preach a fitting sermon on the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, ask them to recite the Novena prayers and to take out a devotional procession with the Statue of our Lord and finally conclude the day with the Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
His immense love for our Mother Mary was also another anchoring element both in his personal life and in his parish ministry. During the month of May which is devoted to our Blessed Mother and as a special act of gratitude for all the graces that they received and he in particular from our Lord through her intercession, he would ask them to beat the drums in the streets and in the fields so that the faithful would all assemble in the Church, He would then preach a fitting sermon on our Mother, ask them to recite the Rosary and to take out a procession with the Statue of our Mother and finally conclude the day with asimple benediction with her Statue.
His fatherly care and concern for those afflicted with very contagious and dangerous diseases like cholera and diarrhoea was heroically manifested when he would boldly and courageously visit such sick persons one after the other in their own houses, distribute medicines and administer the sacraments both for their spiritual and bodily good health. In his letter to his niece addressed later, he would mention that the occurrence of these severe and contagious diseases and the services to be rendered to them immediately were the sole cause for his delay in writing a letter to her.
Besides these spiritual, pastoral and apostolic services, his important preoccupation was with the formation of a Religious Congregation for women, a desire based on his childhood experience of visiting the sisters, Dame Repatrice along with his mother and much later when Fr. Larmeys.j, his mentor entrusted the first four girls to his spiritual care at Panjampatty. and they were called locally by the name of the Beates( lay) Sisters whom Fr. Larmeys.j, saw in his native country, France.
By and by the number of the local Beates sisters at Panjampatty began to increase to 16 and later to 23 (and very much later in 1909 according to a note of Fr. Nespoulouss.j, the then Parish Priest, the number rose to 130 at 15 mission centres). Fr. Augustine was paying special attention to their formation with the following time-table
|5.00 a.m||The Holy Mass, followed by Meditation for half an hour and Spiritual Reading for 15 minutes and Spiritual Exhortation by the Father.|
|7.00 a.m||Breakfast, followed by visits to the villages with lunch packets and medicine boxes.|
|6.00 p.m||Return to the house, followed by rest, Meditation and Prayer, supper and recreation.|
|8.00 p.m||Examination of Conscience, Night Prayer.|
Even then it would be a very difficult task to get admitted them in the then existing Congregations for women, in view of the dowry to be paid for each of them at the time of admission. Also these Beates sisters were not so much educated and sometimes very difficult to deal with them in ordinary matters. Hence our Fr. Augustine used to flog himself as a penitential act in order to correct them. In view of this kind of practical difficulties there was a consideration going on as to why not, start altogether a new Religious Congregation for these Beates sisters at Panjampatty.
Meanwhile the good Lord took Fr. Larmey to the Heavenly Abode on 30th January, 1901, and thehumility of our Fr.Augustine did not allow himself to take up the office of a Parish Priest but only that of an Assistant. Hence Fr. Visuvasam was appointed as the Parish Priest, later to be replaced by Fr. Nespoulouss.j, as the Parish Priest in 1904 at Panjampatty.
But it was not an easy thing to start a new religious congregation especially in those days. First of all the prior approval of the Bishop of Trichy Diocese must be obtained. Then the financial resources must be taken care of for the stability and growth. And new rules must be framed for their interior, spiritual formation and training pedagogy in order to conform to the spirit of a Religious Congregation.
However by the grace of God, the visit of Fr. Joseph Clove s.j,, the then Provincial of the Toulouse Provinceon 20th , September,1907 as the Visitor of the Jesuit Madurai Mission, paved the way for such a new undertaking .Based on his recommendations, Msgr. Barthes.j, the Bishop of Trichy also gave his formal approval. But the burden of preparing such an initial document of Rules and Regulations and the process of an On-going formation fell on the shoulders of our Fr. Augustine.
He took from the Jesuit sources such spiritual principles for their basic interior formation and also such other rules and guidelines of the Congregation of St. Ursuline Sisters for their training process and combined these two sources as to form the way of life for the proposed new Religious Congregation. The ultimate result of such a combination of these rules and guidelines was to make the proposed Congregation, not as a copy of the existing ones, but as something new that rested on the pillars of a deep prayer and simplicity of life, a selfless and compassionate love in service on the model of our Immaculate Mother Mary and that would also be the name of the proposed Congregation, namely C.I.C. And the Rule Book which he formulated would become the guiding source for the next 11 years.
It was also decided that new novices of this proposed Congregation would first be trained by the Sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph of Lyons, France which had its own houses in Madurai ,Fr.Augustine in his letter to his nephew wrote that he along with Fr. Nespoulouss.j, the then Parish Priest took the (first seven) novices to Madurai on 2nd July, 1911 and therefore please pray for them.
However he was worried at the same time as to how these village girls untrained in modernity would be looked after by the sisters of a foreign Congregation. Adding fuel to the fire, something also happened to him. A few days later our Fr. Augustine before leaving for Panjampatty wanted to see those novices, not minding the heat of the day. But Sr. Radegonde, the then Novice Mistress denied permission to him, saying that it was the time for the novices to do their Examination of Conscience. Without showing any trace of anger or resentment, pride or arrogance our Father left for Madurai with a heavy heart but placing all his faith, trust and hope in the Lord..