Thatipathri Gnanamma, a maker of history!
Thatipathri Gnanamma, a young widow, founded the Congregation of Sisters of St.Anne – Madras for the empowerment of women. Gnanamma was born to devout parents in Guntur in Andhra, South India, in 1822. In 1837, young Gnanamma was given in marriage to Innaiah, the catechist of Phirangipuram. This pious couple was blessed with five sons. Innaiah always accompanied the parish priest on his pastoral visits. Soon after the birth of his last son, he went along with his parish priest to Chennai. On his way, he succumbed to an attack of cholera. Left all alone with five boys to bring up, Gnanamma, a widow of 37 years, put her entire trust in Divine Providence and raised her children strong in Christian faith. Her four sons joined religious life. The second son, Peter, settled in family life.
Freed from all family commitments, Gnanamma moved to a village called Eraiyur, 40 kms from Chennai since she had some relatives there. After six months, she settled down in Kilacheri, though she had no relatives there, to avoid travelling 25 kms every Sunday to attend Mass. During her time, education to young girls was an unimaginable dream. Though she herself was uneducated, she understood the value of education especially for women. Fr.Arokianathar, parish priest of Kilacheri, helped her to reflect effectively and to go ahead with starting a school for girls in Kilacheri. She went to her native place Phirangipuram and sold off all her properties and to invest in her school the proceeds.
On 3rd May 1863, a girls’ school at Kilacheri became a reality! Gnanamma’s commitment to the cause of women inspired Arulamma and Agathamma to join the school as hostellers. They both decided to dedicate themselves fully to the work started by Gnanamma. In 1871, they requested Gnanamma to let them help her in her great work and expressed their desire to do so as nuns. Gnanamma who was anxious to ensure that her work should continue, accepted their request.
At that time, Fr.Arokia Nathar, who was Gnanamma’s great support, was transferred from Kilacheri to Bellary as parish priest. He invited Gnanamma to send the two young women to be formed at St.Anne’s Novitiate of Good Shepherd Congregation in Bellary. After their initial formation, Arulamma and Agathamma became Sr.Angela and Sr.Philomena respectively on 04.10.1874. Gnanamma’s unstinted hard work, chronic asthma, her long and tedious journeys and her sacrifices took a toll on her health. She died on 21st December 1874, having received the last sacrament.
The spirit of Mother Gnanamma is vibrant that she captures the hearts of the people all over the world. Her daring step to abandon her own people and possession in order to empower the women through education enables us to explore new avenues to reach out to the marginalized. The grace of the Lord led us to obtain the title “Servant of God” for our Mother Gnanamma in February’ 2013. It is a great privilege for us to make her name known to the world. The continuous stream of people visiting her tomb at Kilacheri and the graces and favours received through her intercession has given us the impetus to desire to see her be raised to the altar of the Lord for the greater glory of God and the enhancement of faith and holiness of His people.Thanks be to God the time has ripened to approach the portals of the Church to request to initiate the process for the cause of Beatification and Canonization of our Foundress Mother Thatipathri Gnanamma.
Her parting message to her beloved followers
“My beloved Children! Be obedient to those who are responsible for you! Listen to your spiritual guides! Along with academic and religious education to girls, be the protection and solace of women! Learn to live as women for others in your effort to translate love of God into love of fellow human beings! Do not be dependent on the Government or others financially! May your hard work be your protection and strength!”