Though unworthy I am, God the Father in His boundless mercy, called me to be a missionary priest of Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). Being a missionary was more important to me than an opportunity given to me to go abroad for studies. I volunteered to go to Pandravedu mission where other diocesan priests refused to go. “St. Joseph’s Mission” as it was called, was considered to be a punishment area.
The sufferings of people in this mission were manifold. In Pandravedu, most of the dalit women lived with just one sari that they could not change or have another dress even while they had bath. The dalit men had to fold their lungies up to their waist and carry their sandals in their hands when they walked through the streets of Konda Reddy. Almost every family lived on a single meal a day. Illiteracy, child mortality, and child marriages were considered absolutely a normal way of life. People had accepted all these things as fate.
I felt, God had given me a “mission” in my very hands. The Society of Daughters of Mary Immaculate and Collaborators (DMI) was started as a response to the various needs of the poor and dalits living in the mission of Pandravedu. The Society was declared and started on 28th January 1984 at about 8 pm in the evening, without any prior preparation.
On 29th January 1984, within just 10 hours of the declaration of the Society, I was shown a land at Keechalam after my Sunday mass at 6.30 in the morning. I was led to a huge mango tree found in the property. Even though it was not the season for mangoes, I prayed within my heart that God should give me a sign to confirm if it is His Will, by showing me a mango on the tree. Standing under the mango tree I found a huge mango. I brought it down with a stone in a single throw. Then and there, the property was bought, with no ready cash in hand but utter faith in the providence of God.
The initial three years were filled with struggles, pain and misery. Some persons who supported me in front, tried to choke the young Society by putting pressure on the Oblate Superiors and on the Archbishop. But, God in the person of the Archbishop stood strongly behind me.
DMIs initially lived under the mango tree at Keechalam. The foundation for the first house was laid on 11th March 1984. Ms. Brigitte Meuer, Aachen, Germany gave the first support to lay the foundation of Keechalam house. So, it is named after her as “Brigitta”.
The young recruits worked hard in the sugarcane fields and spent days and nights taking care of a few buffaloes, so that the few litres of milk, milked from them, could bring sustenance to their lives. I will never forget the moments when I had to mortgage my mother’s and sister’s Golden Thali in Arakkonam South Indian Bank to feed the young group.
Hardships helped them to grow spiritually. After various types and stages of formation, a group of 12 members made their first commitment on 12th May 1987. The late Archbishop Most Rev. Dr. Arulappa, before his bypass surgery, gave the first approval of the Society from his hospital bed at Apollo on 25.12.1985 as he wanted to acknowledge the missionary spirit and the growth of the Society.
The Charism of the society was “To Love God is to Serve the Poor to become fully human and fully alive” which was later on modified as “Loving God in Serving the Poor to be Fully Human and Fully Alive”. From the beginning, DMIs were trained to involve themselves in the upliftment of the poor, dalit and tribal people.
The contribution of the first group of sisters in building up the spirit of the community is to be thankfully acknowledged. They have become the backbone and models of the DMIs. Even though the second group sisters were small in number, their vitality in giving leadership to the Society cannot be forgotten. The third batch sisters followed the first two groups. I began to call them the FOUNDING GROUP MEMBERS. It is not that they were involved in the founding; but it is an honour bestowed on them for their faithfulness.
The stamina and the spirit of service they showed in serving God and the poor are the foundation for the Society of DMI and MMI. The DMIs involved initially in 10 villages in and around Keechalam, trying to answer the various needs of women and children in their struggle towards sustenance. Our first mission outside Madras Archdiocese was opened in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh; in the year 1988. A mission to help the tribals was started in Kodai Hills at the invitation of the Jesuit fathers, through Fr. C. Amal Raj SJ. Women Development programmes and Child missions were initiated in different places of Tamilnadu.
By this time, the phenomenon of globalization had entered strongly into the Indian continent. The need of the hour was to have technically qualified personnel. Taking the opportunity, many unethical elements were filling the country with higher level technical institutions. The Church did not have an immediate answer to this unexpected educational development. I felt that this was the need that God called DMI to answer and the time was ripe.
We felt that the need of the hour was to give technical education to the Christians and the poor. With support from various banks, we converted our non-formal technical institutions into formal Engineering colleges. However, our colleges are always for the poorest of the poor. The poor are helped through a scheme called “Study now; pay later”.
Looking back into the humble beginnings of the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, a priestly society founded by me, I would call DMI as the co-founding Society of MMI. The founding group members stood strongly behind me in founding the Society of MMI. Today, the MMIs have grown into a strong Society of 400 members and more.