Ministry of Joseph Thamby in Kerala
After leaving the Capuchin Order, Thamby left for Tamil Nadu and remained a Franciscan Tertiary. Urged on by the missionary zeal he began his apostolate in native place, Pondicherry. However, he extended his ministry to other areas like Kumbakonam and Tanjavur. He was eager to visit Kerala and experience for himself the Christian faith and life over there. Thamby knew Malayalam pretty well and was acquainted with certain priests and bishops of the area. He went to Kerala and for some time his activities were centered in and around Ernakulam.
While exercising his ministry he had to face certain problems. For instance, the police in Ernakulam were suspicious of Thamby because the money he begged there was being sent to places outside Kerala. They referred the matter to Archbishop Joseph Attipetty because Thamby was staying for some time with Theresian Brothers, an archdiocesan Congregation started by the archbishop. This social and humanitarian dimension of Thamby’s apostolate should always be borne in mind. He would work in the field as a daily wage earner or beg in streets and share what he earned with the poor.
Archbishop Attipetty was impressed with the attire and attitude of Thamby. He himself was a devotee of Francis of Assisi, to whom the Cathedral at Ernakulam is dedicated. He felt Thamby was the right person to give formation to the Theresian Brothers, the congregation he had started for taking care of the institutions and to render services in the parishes. They were very few and lacked pro per formation. Hence in 1939, the Archbishop sent Thamby to Nadathara church at Thrissur, where Fr. Mathew Muringathery was the parish priest. Fr. Joseph Chungath was the assistant chaplain of Nadathara convent and parish priest of Puthur. There was a Church of the Verapoly archdiocese in the vicinity. Two Theresian Brothers were engaged in mission work under the direction of the Archbishop Joseph Thamby was asked to give them formation. He would often stay with them whenever he returned after his apostolate in different parts of Malabar.
Archbishop Attipetty asked Thamby to go to Puthur mission since the police were harassing him too much. Thamby became too conspicuous going round begging with his beard an brown habit and the strange Malayalam accent. To make matters worse, Thamby was scolded by the bishop of Vijayawada, because the amount collected by him for Vijayawada mission was not reaching him.It was on 28th January 1939, Thamby attended the Holy Eucharist offered by Fr. Joseph Chungath (Senior) with whom he had come into contact, and gradually grew in friendship. It is likely that the availability and guidance of a competent director was necessary at this stage of Thamby’s life. Thanks to this spiritual relationship we get a good amount of information about Thamby’s inner life and extraordinary powers. He revealed to Fr. Chungath that he was urged by the spirit of God during his ecstasy to come to Nadathara, which helped him to meet Fr. Joseph Chungath.
The following day, Thamby went to Ponnukara after requesting Fr. Chungath to get some money for his trip to Vijayawada. After a few days, Thamby returned to Nadathara and narrated his missionary experiences to Fr. Chungath. Thamby enquired whether he could give some amount for his travel to Vijayawada, and Fr. Chungath told him that as he could not get any Mass stipend, no money was available. Thamby requested him to accompany him to visit a few families for alms. Fr. Chungath most willingly agreed, and both went to the northern side of the parish, and approached a rich man. But Thamby was strangely insisting not to enter the house as if there was some serious problem and suggested that they would better go elsewhere. Nevertheless Fr. Chungath entered the house and received one rupee from there and on his return, Thamby remarked: “That house does not deserve our visit.” Thamby could read the heart of people.
Thamby earnestly prayed for this man, and spoke to him a few words in Tamil and Malayalam. These words touched his heart and forthwith he was willing to make his confession. Thamby reminded him that he had not fulfilled certain responsibilities incumbent on him. This shows that Thamby had the capacity to read the hearts of others. Then they began to visit the stern side of the parish and came to a house and the owner of that house was sick. His daughter, Annamma, a widow, was planning to join a congregation, which would accept her. Fr. Chungath entered the house and visited the sick man and also requested some help from him for the poor. But the sick man was not responsive to the priest's advice and was unwilling to make his confession.
On their way to Kozhukillikara from Nadathara a few people from the remote areas were waiting to ask alms from Thamby, who gave them money and spoke to them in Telugu. On their return to Nadathara, Fr. Chungath and Thamby went to the cemetery to say prayers for the dead. They sat down on the step of the , cemetery altar and Thamby narrated an incident, which had taken place just a little time back. In a certain place he met some converts who used to attend his preaching and prayer service especially on Sundays. Once when he went there, nobody was present, as it was harvest season. Nevertheless Thamby was dramatic in going to the cemetery and preaching to the people buried over there: “My dear souls in Purgatory, you come and hear my words, as my people have refused to hear me.” There seems to have appeared a few people dressed in white, and as Thamby thanked them, they vanished.
Fr. Chungath told Thamby that he would send him to Fr. Paul Chazhoor who would help him financially. Perhaps, it was providential Fr. Chungath had to visit Fr. Chazhoor to receive the remuneration for his ministry at Nadathara . As Fr. Chungath l1ad some work in the morning, he asked Joseph Thamby to go to Ampazhakad alone to meet Fr. Chazhoor, and he agreed to reach there in the evening.
Thamby and Fr. Chungath started from Ampazhakad at 6.00 a.m. to Pudukad via Puliyilakunnu. After Mass in the convent chapel at Pudukad while Fr. Chungath was hearing the confessions of the sisters, Thamby was taking rest on a bench in the school. At that time an young man, by name P.N. James, came to see Fr. Chungath and afterwards he met Brother Thamby, who revealed to him the sins which he had not confessed though he was waiting to receive Confirmation. James became contrite and made sincere confession and thanked Thamby for this favour.
Early morning, Fr. Chungath wanted a rickshaw and asked the help of Mr. Pylee, his friend who told him that it would be very difficult to get it at 4.00 a.m. and suggested that they all walk to Thrissur. They went to the Latin church at Trichur at 6.00 a.m., where Thamby was introduced to Pylee. Thamby stayed with Fr. Chungath at Nadathara one day more, and before parting Thamby strongly advised him to undergo treatment for the paralysis of his hand, on account of which Thamby had to help him to dose the tabernacle at least three times.
While Thamby was having stigmata and mystical experience, Fr. Chungath prayed to God, and consequently he was convinced of genuineness of the stigmata. And after the vision, Thamby encouraged him saying that he would be bold enough to administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation irrespective of the persons. Fr. Chungath was always mindful of the words of Thamby.
Fr. Chungath narrates another interesting incident, which took place in Madras in 1941. He went to Madras to take back his mother from the hospital at 9.30 a.m., and being rather late, he was unwilling to ask the help of sisters at the general hospital to celebrate the Eucharist, he preferred to go to Royapuram to celebrate Mass there. As soon as he reached the church, quite surprisingly, Brother Thamby came out of the church greeting him and told him that they did not have Mass that day as the parish priest had gone for a retreat. Thamby made his confession and during the holy Eucharist a few people including Thamby received Holy Communion. After the Mass Thamby accompanied Fr. Joseph Chungath to the general hospital, to pay a visit to Chungath’s mother. Thamby exclaimed, “The sorrowful mother is in bed beholding her son.” Thamby assured her of his prayers and went to the corridor of the hospital and sat there. Fr. Chungath assured his mother that the same day evening they would return to Thrissur, and he went to the Park Town church.
When he went to the church, Thamby was praying in the first row of the church. Mr. Lonappan P.D., a medical student from Thrissur, wanted to make his confession. Fr. Chungath looked at Brother Thamby who gave him a sign that he could hear the confession of Mr. Lonappan. He had a problem, which required the assistance of Fr. Chungath. The advice given by Chungath changed his life for the better. He had fallen in love with a Hindu girl, a classmate of his. But Lonappan gave up the affair and returned to his native place without completing the course. Lonappan took Thamby to the Medical College Hostel. Afterwards, Lonappan told Fr. Chungath that he had the misfortune of seeing Thamby being mocked by the medical students on account of his appearance and piety. Lonappan told him that he felt extremely sorry for having given the occasion for this unpleasant incident and wanted to make amends. Lonappan had become almost mentally deranged and it took a few month’s treatment for him to be cured. Later, he became a high school teacher and married a girl from his own community and settled in his native place.