St Alphonsa is the newest saint of India. She was born in 1910 to Joseph and Mary Muttathupadathu, a Syro-Malabar Catholic family in Kerala, baptized as Anna, but known as Annakutty (little Anna). Her birth was difficult and her mother was to die three months later, and Annakutty was entrusted to the loving and faithful care of her mother’s sister Annamma Muricken. In 1923 Annakutty was badly burned on her feet when she fell into a pit of burning chaff. This accident left her permanently disabled.
Annakutty developed a personal devotion and love for Christ, who became a concrete personal relational reality for her. It is because of this relational realization of God’s love and knowledge of Jesus Christ that Annakutty began to yearn for sanctity. In recalling her first confession she later wrote: “I loved God more ardently. I took great care to avoid all faults. I had nothing special to mention in my First Confession. I zealously aspired to become a saint. I felt that desire while I was reading the biography of St. Therese of Lisieux.
When she was 17 years old, Anna joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation at Bharananganam on Pentecost 1927. She received the postulant’s veil on in 1928 and took the name Alphonsa, she then spent some time in high school studies before joining the novitiate in 1931 and then taking her permanent vows in 1936. During this time she served as a teacher in primary classes, but was often sick and unable to teach.
Her life was confined within the four walls of the Clarist Convent at Bharananganam. It was at the same time a tale of docility to God, to her fellow sisters, to her spiritual master, to her relatives and to the children around in the school. Although confined externally, it is this child like docility which helped others feel and discover the mystery of the grace of sanctity at work in her.
She became widely known for her acceptance of suffering, even asking for it. She wrote: “Since only grief and suffering have fallen to the lot of my Spouse, I too lovingly embrace them, and my soul is at peace, though my body continues to be tormented. For the last seven years I have ceased to be my own, being given over entirely to my Divine Spouse. You know all that; and now let the Lord do as He will with me. It is not a cure I am anxious for, but only that His Holy Will be fulfilled in me.”
After many years of illness, Sr Alphonsa died in 1946 at the age of 35. Her tomb in Bharananganam has become a pilgrimage site as miracles have been reported by some faithful. The miracle attributed to her intercession and approved by the Vatican for the canonization was the healing of the club foot of an infant in 1999. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. He observed, “This exceptional woman … was convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father…. By accepting the invitation to the wedding feast, and by adorning herself with the garment of God’s grace through prayer and penance, she conformed her life to Christ’s and now delights in the ‘rich fare and choice wines’ of the heavenly kingdom.”