Kappadu was founded by three monks – Frs Bede Maniyankary, Anselm Maniyakkupara and John Kurichianil – from the Benedictine Monastery of Asirvanam, Bangalore, which is a foundation of Sint Andriesabdij, Brugge, Belgium, and has a history of over 60 years. Both Asirvanam and Kappadu belong to the Benedictine Congregation of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Asirvanam is in the archdiocese of Bangalore and celebrates the liturgy in the Latin Rite. But some 30 years ago most of the community members were from Kerala and belonged originally to the Syro-Malabar Rite. It was the desire of many of us to found a monastery within the Syro-Malabar Rite in Kerala. But we had to wait for God’s own good time.
Why the New Foundation?
Kerala has always had a very strong catholic community. And the Syro-Malabar church has always been vibrant with life and abounded in vocations to consecrated life. But unfortunately real monastic life was something that the Indian church in general and the Kerala church in particular lacked. There have always been numerous religious Congregations who were involved in various apostolic activities. In such a situation we thought the Benedictine way of life could make its own contribution to the church in Kerala. The kind of life envisaged in the Rule of St. Benedict with its insistence on liturgical and personal prayer, serious manual labour, and “lectio divina” method of study can have a positive impact on the church and the society.
In 1985 we settled at Cherukarakkunnu in the archdiocese of Changanacherry, not far from the Archbishop’s House. A good Catholic family put at our disposal a rather spacious house with six acres of land around it. We could live there free of charge, cultivate the land and take the income. We were allowed to live there till we found and bought a permanent site for the monastery. The monastery was a “cella” and we were allowed to recruit candidates. We kept looking for a suitable site. Finally a site was found at Kappadu in the diocese of Kanjirapally consisting of ten acres of land and a good private house. We shifted to the new place in 1987. The monastery was canonically established as a Priory depending on the Abbot President and his Council on January 20, 1988. In November 2004 the monastery was raised to the status of a Conventual Priory and then to that of an abbey with hardly any interval. Prior John Kurichianil was consecrated its first Abbot on January 20, 2005, on the 17th anniversary of the founding of Kappadu.
Building the monastery was a slow process. At first we managed with the private house that was on the property we purchased. Then we built a few temporary sheds to serve as the chapel, the dining hall, the study hall and the dormitory for the Brothers. Finally we started building the permanent monastery. Dormitories for the students came up first. Then another building with single rooms for the professed monks, then a community room, the novitiate house, the reception building, the magnificent church, the guest house, and lastly the refectory with a hall above it which serves as a temporary library.
Since the vast majority of the population in the country depend on agriculture as the main source of their income, we wanted to put particular stress on agriculture, which is certainly in keeping with the Benedictine tradition the world over. In a country like India, especially in a State like Kerala, which is blessed with fertile soil, much rain and sunshine, it would be a crime to overlook agriculture. Unfortunately the present trend, especially among the younger generation, is to give up agriculture. In such a context we hope to be able to assert the value of manual labour, especially of agriculture.
It is with some misgiving that the term “foundations” is used here. We already have four other smaller houses in the different dioceses of Kerala. This has been made necessary by the young vocations we get – almost a dozen candidates every year. When they are admitted they are very young - between 16 to 18 years of age. The period of postulancy lasts for three years. Instead of keeping all the various groups in one place, we thought it wiser to have them trained in different places. So, we decided to establish smaller houses. We have the little monastery of St. Paul at Anakkara, which is up in the hills and is some 80 kilometres away from Kappadu in the diocese of Kanjirappally; a second monastery, the Monastery of the Mother of God, at Maryland some 25 kilometres from Kappadu in the diocese of Pala; a third monastery, St. John’s Monastery, at Karivedakam which is 450 kilometres from Kappadu, in the archdiocese of Thalasserry; and a fourth monastery, St. Basil’s Monastery, at Mandapam, which is 400 kilometres from Kappadu and is also in the archdiocese of Thalasserry. All these are houses of formation. That means in every one of those houses we have a group of young men under formation with some three monks to take care of them. We are presently building a fifth monastery at Elamdesam, 50 kilometres from Kappadu in the diocese of Kothamangalam. We are confident that all these houses will eventually become canonically established Priories.
Kappadu comes of age
On the 30th of October Fr. Bede, the senior most in the community, who was one of the founding fathers and served the community for many years as the cellarer and as the librarian died of cancer at the age of 79. Thus Kappadu has now one of its members in the “Father’s house” (Jn 14:2). That is certainly a sign that Kappadu has come of age.
On the 20th of January 2013, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of the monastery. The main event of the day was the Eucharistic celebration presided over by His Beatitude George Cardinal Alencheril, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar church in Kerala. Of the many concelebrants, 24 were members of the Kappadu community. We had with us our Abbot President Rt. Rev. Ansgar Schmidt of the Abbey of Trier in Germany as well as a number of great friends of the monastery.
Kappadu owes much to the late Abbot President Ambroise Watelet of Mardsous, who took the bold initiative in granting us the permission to start the new foundation; to Abbot President Emeritus Rt. Rev. Celestine Cullen of Glenstal Abbey, Ireland, who encouraged us all along giving us much freedom of initiative; and to the actual Abbot President Ansgar Schmidt, who keeps guiding us with much goodness, prudence and wisdom. It must be added that Kappadu would not be what it is today if not for the generous help received from many benefactors and friends.