Fr. Varghese Payapilly was a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam. In
order to serve the poor, the destitute and the aged often forsaken by their dear
ones or driven out into the street, he started a religious congregation in 1927,
later called as the Sisters of the Destitute. Years after his rather premature death,
his memory lives on as a priest who led an ascetic, charitable and exemplary life
Varghese was born on 8th August 1876 in a noble, rather rich and ancient Syrian
Christian family of Payapilly Palakkappilly at Perumanoor in the Archdiocese of
Ernakulam. After attending the parish school at Perumanoor and St. Alberts School,
Ernakulam, he joined the seminary at Puthenpally near Alangad. After two years of
studies there, he was sent to the Papal Seminary at Kandy (Sri Lanka) for his priestly
formation. He was noted for punctuality, discipline, piety and fraternal charity.
He was ordained priest in 1907.
For his priestly ministry His Grace Mar Louis Pazheparambil, Archbishop of Ernakulam,
entrusted him with the parish of Kadamakudy (1909-1911) and then of Alangad (1911-1913).
In 1913 he was appointed Manager of St. Mary's School, Alwaye, the most important
high school of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, which at that time was in a critical
condition. With meekness, firmness and strong determination he faced the problems
and resolved them successfully.
In 1920 Fr. Varghese Payapilly was transferred to Arakkuzha as parish priest, where
he started a primary school and organized retreats, which were effective in the
reconciliation of families. In 1922 he was reappointed as the Manager of St. Mary's,
Alwaye. A former student of his, later Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, expressed in
his autobiography his admiration for Fr. Varghese as an impressive personality with
a strong will power. "The teachings he imparted on spiritual life deeply impressed
us and influenced our lives . I am saying nothing but the truth that my boarding
life is the main factor in my now being a bishop and a cardinal."
During the infamous flood of 1924, which caused vast destruction of lives and property,
Fr. Varghese turned St. Mary's High School into an asylum for the people who had
lost their houses and everything else. He organized relief bringing rice and tapioca
in a hired boat. He served as a member of the Diocesan Council, as Director of Apostolic
union as well as Priests' Provident Fund. When he was thinking of the need for a
religious congregation to serve the poor and the destitute, five pious and zealous
young women approached the new Archbishop of Ernakulam Mar Augustine Kandathil seeking
guidance. The archbishop directed them to Fr. Varghese, who gave shape to the congregation
of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor' in 1927. Since another congregation already
bore this name, a new name "Sisters of the Destitute" was adopted in 1933.
Fr.Varghese enlisted the cooperation of eminent persons like members of the Legislative
Council and advocates, who begged for alms along with the sisters in the market
place. Fr. Varghese taught them to accept joyfully anything they happened to receive.
He picked up those found lying abandoned on the wayside or in the market, brought
them to the shelter of the Home for the Aged and nursed them personally.
The holistic training he imparted to the pioneer sisters was exemplary. He taught
them to be human and holy. The people of the locality gradually started appreciating
the life style and spirit of service, in the new ashram. The dedicated and inspiring
lives of the early members drew many educated young ladies to the newly founded
congregation. Fr. Varghese transmitted to the pioneers his mystical experience of
contemplating the face of Jesus in the destitute and offer loving service to them.
On 9th September 1929 Fr. Varghese was laid up with typhoid and was admitted in
the hospital. His last words to the pioneer sisters were " whatever happens we have
to submit to the will of God. Do not pray for anything else. Pray that the will
of God be done". These words of unconditional surrender, still ring in the heart
of the congregation he founded and is a source of great inspiration and strength
for its members. His ardent love for the poor and the suffering was revealed even
in his death-bed. He heard a patient lying close to his bed desperately crying in
pain. Fr. Varghese expressed his desire to be taken to that person. He laid hands
upon him and prayed. The patient was comforted and remained quiet. The very same
day he had a peaceful death. On the next day, 5th October 1929 Fr. Varghese was
also called to his heavenly abode.
Fr. Varghese was buried in his own parish, St. John Nepumsian Church at Konthuruthy.
The funeral rite was administered by His Grace Mar Augustine Kandanthil as the main
celebrant in the presence of numerous priests and a huge gathering of people. The
eulogy was delivered by the Prior General V. Rev. Fr. Berchumans T.O.C.D. The holy
mortal remains are kept in the parish church.
The theological virtues faith, hope and charity were resplendent in him. He attuned
himself to listening to the inner voice of God's spirit from his child hood onwards.
This resulted in his challenging response to God's call of priesthood at an early
age itself. His great trust and hope is visible all through his life and specifically
seen at the time of founding the congregation and the opening of the 'Home for the
Aged' . He was humble enough to beg alms for the maintenance of the destitute with
the pioneer sisters and leading men of the locality.
He was a man of prayer. He used to be awake at dawn to be with Christ in deep prayer
and communion. The Holy Eucharist was the fountain which provided him the courage
to submit to the will of God and face the challenging situations in his life. He
strongly believed that service to the poor is service to Jesus Christ. He was remarkably
humble and seriously committed to the poor, and worked hard to improve their situation.
He had a profound sense of justice and peace. He was a good mediator and people
approached him seeking solution for their problems. His role in solving political
rivalry regarding the Municipal Chairmanship is worth mentioning. His Eminence Cardinal
Parekkattil had admired the strong will power of Fr. Varghese which was a blend
of foresight and unenduring trust in God.
Fr. Varghese was a dynamic person to discover new spheres , reading the signs and
needs of the time with great prudence and to respond promptly to the new challenges
with fortitude. The powerful inspiration received from the founder, Fr. Varghese:
"our devotion shall be devotion to the poor, our service to the destitute shall
be constant God-experience" strongly urges the members to serve the poor with great
zeal contemplating Jesus in the poor.
Fr. Varghese Payapilly is undoubtedly a beacon of compassion and love which will
remain as an eternal source of inspiration for everyone.