Sunday, November 20, 2011

Life of Br. Joseph Thamby, Servant of God

Br. Joseph Thamby, a Perpetual Franciscan Tertiary (1882-1945) is a Holy Man of Pedavutapally in the Diocese of Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, South India.  He has done the work of evangelization in the states of Tamilnadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.  He made his home in Pedavutapally in 1939 and lived the rest of his life and died on 15 January 1945.  He is declared ''Servant of God'' on 24 June 2007 and thus began the process of his Beatification.

To honor and make known the Servant of God, we have  2 blogs dedicated to the life and spirituality of  Br. Joseph Thamby:

God in his infinite goodness and mercy intervenes in the lives of his people time and again in order to draw them closer to Himself. Besides his ordinary providential interventions, occasionally he enters into history of peoples by raising individuals with remarkable qualities to lead others to the true path of righteousness and devotion. Thus we see that in the twelth and thirteenth centuries, when the values of the Gospel were being forgotten by a large section of Christians and the leaders of the Church, God brought St. Francis of Assisi to give a new impetous to evangelical form of life.

The humble and poor life of Francis and his followers made such an impact on the lives of Christians of that time that there was an over all awakening to the Gospel way of life. Even if not with the same intensity of its initial period, the Franciscan Movement has been in the forefront of the renewal of Christian life until today.

Thus the life and ministry of ''The Holy Franciscan of Avutapally,'' Br. Joseph Thamby, is indeed a powerful sign of God's special intervention. During his life, he has lead many people to the ideal life of the Gospel, and even after his death he is continuing to draw thousands of people to the true God.

The information regarding his birth, childhood, ealry life and activity are scanty. Br. Joseph Thamby spent the last six years of his life at Pedavutapally, a small village in Vijayawada diocese. As in the case of many an extraordinary person, Br. Joseph Thamby too had often been misunderstood by many of his contemporaries especially those who were in authority. Neverthless the simple folk of the villages found in him a person who was keenly interested in their welfare, and who spoke to them about the Father in heaven. At times he came forward to help these unfortunate ones in their temporal needs.

The spiritual relationship with this wandering Franciscan has continued by the people even after his death by visiting his tomb and seeking his assistance. Thus the devotion to Br. Thamby spread in Avutapally and far beyond. Thereafter devotees began to flock to his tomb not only from nearby places but also from other regions of Andhra Pradesh. Today many pilgrims from the neighbouring states, especially from Tamil Nadu, visit his tomb and pray for his intercession.

The devotion to Br. Joseph Thamby grew steadily and extended beyond the boundaries of Vijayawada to the whole of Andrha Pradesh, and even to the adjoining states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala. A keen desire was expressed by many to have a historical and critical biography of this holy man focussed on the facts and circumstances of his life. As John Leoncini PIME says: ''The growing popular devotion, year after year, urges a new thorough study of the extraordinary virtues and attributions of Br. Thamby.''

Early life of Br. Joseph Thamby: Though Thamby means younger brother in Tamil, here it is exclusively used as a surname or rather as a family name. In fact, Thamby has been a well-known family at Karaikal in Pondicherry. Pondicherry was a French colony, and a few members of this family held government offices at home as well as abroad. Father P.S. Sebastian wrote, ''I would like to inform you that I am a relative of Brother Joseph Thamby working in the diocese of Kumbakonam. Before Joseph Thamby left our place for Pedda Avutapally, he was with me for some time. As there is no other priest related to Brother Joseph, I was invited to bless the marriage of his nephews, Victor Thamby and Robert Thamby at Pondicherry during the time of Archbishop Colas.'' The only sister, Gabrielle Marie Therese, O.C.D. ( Carmelite Order) was the daughter of his younger brother, Michael Dhayirian Thamby, and Victor Thamby and Robert Thamby were her brothers.

Joseph Thamby was born in September 1883 in Pondicherry. He had an younger brother and their mother Annamalle died when Joseph was seven years and his brother two years. Their father savarimuthu Thamby married a second time and he had one daughter by name Mary. When Thamby was twelve years old he joined the group of children being prepared for First Communion and Confirmation. But just before the Holy Eucharist in the Church during which the sacraments were to be administered, quite surprisingly, his stepmother forbade him to receive the sacraments. She conveyed her objection to the parish priest, but Thamby was administered both the Sacraments, which infuriated her all the more. When he returned home, his stepmother was indignant and as a punishment refused to give him meals. Since the stepmother was persecuting them, Joseph left the house stealthily, leaving his younger brother at home because he was too small to be taken along. Jospeh Thamby reached Kerala where he was taken care of and educated by a pious lady. After some years, Thamby came to his native place, where he begged for alms, but nobody could recognize him including his own father who gave him one anna (about 10 paise).

His younger brother Dhayirian Thamby in course of time went to Indo-China where he got a job, and married Mary Theresa by whom he had four children, three boys and one girl. Later he returned to India and the only girl joined the convent and took the religious name, Sr. Gabriele Thamby. One of her brothers, Albert, married and became bed-ridden on the day of marriage itself and died after 22 days. His wife Philomina went to her parental home and later joined the convent and received the name Sr. Angel Mary. Joseph Thamby was present for the wedding and he had objected to the marriage saying that some danger would take place; but his word was not heeded to. Later on, the other brothers Victor and Robert also got married.

Victor died after a few years. Robert took up his residence in France, and his wife, Martha, visited the tomb of Br. Joseph Thamby at Avutapally in 1984. Dhayirian Thamby who was employed in Indo-China (Saigon) lost his wife, Mary Theresa, and he himself went to his eternal aboard in 1935.

Though Joseph Thamby used to visit Pondicherry occasionally, he was not recognized by anyone untill 1928 when his grandmother identified him while attending a funeral service of a relative. He used to wear the Third Order habit, and on one of his visits he participated in the profession ceremony of his niece Sr. Gabrielle (October 14, 1932). He would never reveal to which monastery he belonged, but when asked he used to say that he had to return to his monastery at Quilon in Kerala. He used to collect money and clothes for the poor. On Fridays he was seen in agony by many, and at times in ecstasy, which means he might have been participating in the passion of Jesus Christ. He used to heal people of their various illness and perform the ministry of exorcism when called upon to do so.

It is reported that he visited Saigon in a miraculous manner. Within three days the family members in Pondicherry received a letter communicating the message that Thamby had visited them and conveyed their greetings. They wondered as how this could happen as the flights were not common in those days. This is considered to be a case of bilocation. He had a workable knowledge of Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, French and English. It is said that he was in the habit of reciting the Divine Office in Latin as it was the official language of the Church.

During the World War II, Aloysius Gonzaga Sisters from Burma came to Pondicherry in 1942 by trekking for more than 40 days. Br. Thamby seems to have accompanied them without their knowledge, and on reaching Pondicherry he showed the Mother House near the Cathedral. When asked who he was, he evaded the answer.

In the Footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi: Br. Thamby accepted Francis of Assisi as his model whose ideals guided his life. Francis was a challenge to him whom he followed relentlessly. He read: ''One day Francis was praying before the image of the crucifix in the abandoned chapel dedicated to St. Damian. God had already put His mighty hand on him. Francis had realized in a glimpse that the earth and all that it may yield was a mere trifle in comparison with the riches, which the Lord could offer him. Yet he did not know what the Lord expected of him, and before the crucifix he poured forth his prayer both of love and anguish.... 'Lord, what do you want me to do?'.... Then the crucified Lord became alive and spoke to him: 'Francis, go and repair my house'.''

On that day, Francis had found the way which he should follow until his death: the way of a boundless devotion to Jesus crucified, the way of close imitation of Jesus as he is seen in the holy Gospel. That was the way he followed, and that is the way he proposed to all those who wished to follow him; that was his way of life, the life of the Gospel understood as it stands to the letter and witho...ut gloss, that is, without extenuation. The stigmata were, perhaps, the fulfillment of his intense desire to be identified with Christ.

There lies the secret of the tremendous impact which Francis made on the people of his day: they saw in him the picture of Christ and a living fulfillment of the Gospel. Br. Thamby shared the same vision, and became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis most likely around the year 1930 and gradually he grew up into a committed Tertiary.

According to tradition, Joseph Thamby joined the Capuchin Order; but it is not certain when and where he joined them. People considered him to be a sannyasin because of his style of life, although he was in no way different from others in his dress. As mentioned earlier, in 1928 when he came to attend the funeral of one of his relatives he was in the Third Order habit and was recognized by his grand mother. The Capuchin presence in South India commenced only in 1932. However, the Capuchins were already working in the Northern Missions for quite some time and had their established their novitiate in Sardhana, U.P., which was shifted to Mangalore. Hence Thamby might have joined the Capuchins at Sardhana and later came down to Quilon.

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