FOUNDER: SERVANT OF GOD, BISHOP JEROME MARY FERNANDEZ(1901-1992)
Servant of God, Bishop Jerome M Fernandez, was born on September 8, 1901 on the feast of Mother Mary, at Koivila in the diocese of Kollam. He joined the St.Raphel’s Minor Seminary in 1915. He was ordained a Priest on March24, 1928. Immediately after his ordination, he joined the Major Seminary as a Professor. From 1935, he was the secretary to the Bishop of Kollam, Bishop Aloysius Maria Bensigar, the Servant of God. On December 12, 1937, he was chosen to be the Bishop of Kollam, the first Indian Bishop of the Diocese.
Bishop Jerome M Fernandez was a great devotee of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a strong promoter of Marian devotion. When Fr. Jerome M Fernandez was made, the first indigenous Bishop of Quilon, the Catholic community of the Diocese, by and large, was the most neglected, backward and downtrodden. Hunger, diseases, poverty, lack of education, unemployment, dearth of proper houses and social backwardness were some of the main issues the diocese had to address. His love was for all: the needy, the poor, the orphans, and the underprivileged. He carried out everything without any distinction and discrimination, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. It was really an exceptional mission and daring venture during that period to undertake. His great and tremendous trust and confidence in God enabled him to pursue and achieve what was normally thought impossible. He was a man of farsightedness and a visionary. Neither prosperity nor adversity could ever disturb the equanimity of his soul.
He was a man of integrity, simplicity and humility His far sighted vision for the good of the diocese forced him to make efforts to uplift the community by creating educational institutions, technical training centres, and higher educational institutions to train persons for higher positions, social service society and Programs for building houses. A man of undaunted courage he gave the leadership to other Bishops of Kerala to stand firm against, whenever a
Government tried to infringe on the rights of minorities.
His ardent love for the integral growth and development of the underprivileged he invited many congregations to the Diocese to serve the people irrespective of caste and creed. Though there were many Congregations to the service of the Diocese, it was his earnest longing to found a Congregation in the heart of the Church with the missionary torment and zeal of Little Flower to assist priests in the pastoral ministry and to render service to the poor in the society. On 27th Januray 1959, Most Rev. Dr. Jerome M. Fernandez, Canonically erected the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of St. Therese of Infant Jesus, Quilon.
After his retirement, he handed over the responsibility of the Diocese to the new successor Bishop Joseph G Fernandez in 1978. He devoted his remaining life totally to charismatic movement and the proclamation of the Gospel. He used to wear not any official dress of a Bishop but ordinary saffron cassock and a saffron shawl. People used to see him walking along the road, travelling in trains, buses or auto-rickshaws with a small bag on his shoulder. This life of simplicity and humility which led him to a saintly way of life was his style of living for the rest of his active life in the world. On 26th February 1992, Most Rev. Jerome M Fernandez was called to his eternal abode. Many people started to visit his tomb and began to receive favours as a result of praying for his intercession. As a first step towards glorification on 24th February 2019 he was declared SERVANT OF GOD by the Holy Mother Church.
The Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St.Therese of Infant Jesus (MSST), founded in Kollam, Kerala on January 27, 1959, by Servant of God Bishop Jerome M Fernandez, the indigenous Bishop of Kollam, under the patronage of St.Therese of Infant Jesus, constituted of sisters.
A pious association of women under the patronage of St. Therese of Infant Jesus was started on April 1, 1941 in the Diocese of Trichur by Rev. Fr. Vigilus (T.O.C.D.) CMI, assisted by Miss Kochuthresia. For twelve years they lived in the territory of the Diocese of Trichur. Having received no support from the Bishop of Trichur, they sought shelter from Most Rev. Jerome M Fernandez, the Bishop of Quilon, who welcomed them warmly on April 25, 1953 and gave them a house in a small town close to Mavelikkara, called Kunnam. There it started as a ‘Pious Union of the Little Flower’s Missionary Sisters. On January 27th 1959 this pious association of women was approved as a Religious Congregation by the Holy See, and was given permission to open a Novitiate at Kunnam. On February 5,1959, the Novitiate was Canonically erected and six postulants were vested with Religious Habit. In the year 1972 by Order No 2672/72 on Decenber 2, 1972 His Excellency Bishop Jerome M Fernandez granted permission to shift the Mother House along with the Novitiate from Kunnam to Umayanalloor for easier administration and to care the spiritual needs of the members. His Excellency renamed the Convent as Cherupushpa Nivas and the new Novitiate, Cherupushpa Novitiate
It was God’s Plan that the Congregation had to be bifurcated on the basis of Rite as per the decree of Pope John Paul 2nd in 1992 and the sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide in Rome. The Syro-Malabar members of the MSST left for the Archdiocese of Changanacherry taking a new name. The MSST founded by Bishop Jerome continued to exist in the diocese of Kollam and in the Latin Rite dioceses of Kerala and other states of India.
By capturing the simplicity and freshness of the Gospel in the spirit of St. Therese and the vision of the founder, MSST imparted the spiritual radiance among the poor and the underprivileged. The charism of the congregation trengthened to be opted for the poor and opted to be poor. Since love was the emerging force of the spirituality of St. Therese, a missionary zeal born out of love and readiness for sacrifice manifested the apostolate and mission. “Love in
action in favor of the poor” disclosed to the inexhaustible depths of the common place, where each choice to love was that point of intersection of the timeless with time, where the impossible union, the mystery of incarnation took place the missionaries lives.