After a life dedicated to the apostolate, on March 3, 2020, the late Mother Tekla Famiglietti (1935-2020), abbess emerita of the Bridgettine Order, passed away in Rome.
Several years ago, the general chapter of 2016 elected Mother M. Fabia Kattakayam to succeed Mother Tekla; now more than ever Mother Fabia bears the responsibility to continue and further develop the work of the previous abbess. Today the Bridgettines include about 600 nuns in 57 convents in 19 countries around the world.
Mother M. Fabia Kattakayam was born in Angadikadavu, Kerala, India, on May 31, 1962, to a Catholic family. She joined the Bridgettine Order in its convent in Marikunnu (India) in 1982. In 1991 she made her perpetual vows in Rome, as part of the celebrations of the sixth centenary of the canonization of St. Brigid. After her theological studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University from 1993 to 1997, in 1998 she was elected General Councilor and appointed Mistress of Novices, first at the Mother House in Rome and then at the house at the Hermitage of Naples, where the headquarters of the Novitiate had been transferred. From 2006 to 2016 she led the Community of the Bridgettine Convent of Naples as its superior, while still holding the position of General Councilor for another six-year period. She was elected abbess general of the Order in the General Chapter of 2016.
I recently spoke with Mother Fabia, who elaborates on how the Order is handling the passing of the abbess emerita, as well as the new situation created by the coronavirus pandemic.
CWR: How are you coping with the loss of the late Mother Tekla?
Mother M. Fabia Kattakayam: The passing of our dearest Mother was a very great loss for us, for the Church, and for all those who knew her. I can’t find suitable words to describe the greatness of the personality of our dearest Mother Tekla. In addition to being a caring and affectionate mother towards her spiritual daughters, she was an affable and cheerful person, who knew how to relate to the young and old, the learned and the simple, the rich and the poor, inspiring confidence and friendship in everyone. There are so many who have known and admired her great qualities, from popes, bishops, heads of state, and the important personalities of society, to the simplest and smallest. She also managed to bring the royals of Sweden to the pope and in particular Queen Silvia, who supported various activities of the Holy See.
Mother Tekla worked hard to increase the fame of our Holy Mother Bridget; her untiring work and her courage contributed to the proclamation of St. Bridget as co-patron of Europe. The filial devotion and love for the Holy Mother Elizabeth were reflected in her constant work to promote her beatification and canonization. Under the competent and wise guidance of our dearest Mother Tekla, our Order has achieved worldwide fame. In mid-January she was hospitalized for bronchopneumonia, a harbinger of more serious consequences. Even when she was discharged from the hospital, her condition did not improve. Doctors and nurses were always available, but everyone advised against a second hospitalization due to coronavirus. Subsequently, a kidney failure unexpectedly occurred, which eventually led her to the end. We are sure that now from her joy up there she will pray and continue her mission in favor of all of us and the causes she promoted on earth.
CWR: How are you experiencing this emergency situation?
Mother Fabia: We are experiencing anguished moments due to the sad situation of contagion and death that COVID-19 is causing almost all over the world. For the first time in our life we happen to find ourselves in a state of emergency, and not only here in Italy, but in several different countries. Suddenly silence fell on our cities and our activities. The invisibility of the virus opponent also deprives us of the opportunity for a possible defense. We follow the news about the situation around the world, not only because our monasteries are located in many countries, but also to be in solidarity with all those who are heavily enduring this calamity and to recommend them to God. In some parts of the world some of our sisters have also been infected, and we all don’t know for how long we will be spared from the infection. Thanks to the possibility of communication, we can be in contact with everyone, with words of encouragement and promising our prayers and closeness.
CWR: How is monastic life going on in your religious house now?
Mother Fabia: The monastic life, carried out between prayer and work within the community, does not make us resent much a state of emergency, also because in general we did not go out except out of necessity. This is how our type of life is outlined, such as that of the house of Nazareth, which the Holy Mother Elizabeth Hesselblad wanted to give us as a model of our daily life: “prayer, work, and sacrifice.” Our Bridgettine community in Piazza Farnese is made up of 32 members, including professed and aspirant nuns. Our way of life allows us to live together the liturgical hours of the Church, distributed throughout the day in addition to Eucharistic celebration, adoration, and meditation; the sisters are therefore in prayer for about five hours a day. We are aware of the immense value of prayer to implore the help of the Lord and the salvation of souls. We are praying for the Holy Father, who carries many intentions and concerns in his heart in favor of the underprivileged and marginalized. Now we are praying more than ever for the whole world, especially for believers who do not have the chance to live liturgical celebrations and the sacraments in the church, where the Lord is present in the tabernacle.
CWR: Can you tell us about how your Bridgettine vocation matured in your native India?
Mother M. Fabia Kattakayam: I was born in Kerala, India, in a practicing Catholic family for many generations, in an area where Christianity and the teachings of Christian values are strongly present. Faith is passed on to children from an early age. Many Christians in Kerala, as well as my ancestors, are proud to have received the Christian faith from the apostle St. Thomas himself, who arrived in those areas of southern India, where a group of diaspora Jews was already present at that time. So, although Indian culture has its due relevance, the Christian faith has been rooted in those areas for millennia.
Having been attracted by the monastic life of the Bridgettine Sisters and feeling the call to that type of life, I entered their convent in Marikunnu (India) in 1982. And from there it all started.
CWR: How long has your Order been present in India?
Mother Fabia: Our Order has been present in India since 1937, when Mother Elizabeth [Hesselblad] sent the first group of sisters, who settled in Kerala, right in Marikunnu. The initiative was from Father Edoardo Beretta, one of the Jesuit Fathers responsible for the mission in the diocese of Calicut (Kozhikode), Kerala, who wished to bring a group of monastic religious to India. As a child I had known the sisters of my area—the Carmelites, the Poor Clares, and other religious institutes that were serving Church and society in the educational, charitable, and health sectors. But what fascinated me about the Bridgettine nuns was the monastic and community life, lived between prayer and work, in the silence and recollection of the monastery.
CWR: Are there plans and developments for the future of the Bridgettines, perhaps with the opening of new houses?
Mother Fabia: At the beginning of my election as abbess, I thought I would deal with the consolidation of the many existing and operating houses. But new possibilities and opportunities have materialized, and therefore, in a spirit of faith and trusting in the will of God, I have dedicated myself, together with the General Council, to a work of discernment to meet the various requests. Earlier this year we opened a new home in the United States, in the state of Ohio, in Columbus, and another in India, in Kerala. The monastery in the USA is the second house—after that founded by St. Mother Elizabeth in 1957—in the state of Connecticut. In Columbus, the sisters are engaged in liturgical prayer, particularly in daily Eucharistic Adoration, prolonged throughout the day and sometimes even during the night; in addition, the sisters help to prepare food for the poor on some days of the week; when the section of the house destined for hospitality is ready, we will also accommodate visiting guests.
In addition, a project is underway in Spain, where we are working on the reopening of one of the Spanish Bridgettine monasteries founded in 1600 by the Venerable Marina of Escobar, closed a few years ago due to the lack of members. This monastery of Azkòitia, also visited by St. Mother Elizabeth in 1909 during her travels to familiarize with the Bridgettine spirituality, kept the Bridgettine life and tradition for 32l years; it is located in the Basque region, near Loyola. Finally, we also have another project in India, in the state of Karnataka. We entrust these expansions of the Order to the Lord and pray that they become more and more centers of spirituality and prayer, together with the active part of our charism.
CWR: What about the various causes for beatification of the members of the Order?
Mother Fabia: The dearest Mother Tekla had worked a lot for the cause of beatification and canonization of Mother Elizabeth, and was able to see our foundress proclaimed a saint. In 2008 she had already pleaded for the causes of beatification and canonization of our other sisters, Mother M. Riccarda Beauchamp Hambrough (+1966), Mother M. Katherine Flanagan (+1941), and Sister Maria Maddalena Moccia (+1922), which were officially introduced at the Vicariate of Rome in 2010. The diocesan process of the three Servants of God was concluded on October 21, 2011, with the delivery of the results to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. These were followed by the study for the historical report and collection of documents. In 2017 the Supervisor of the Causes was appointed for the preparation of the positio. The postulator, our Sister Paola Barriga, is working diligently on the documents necessary for the positio and follows the procedure of the causes. Meanwhile, we continue to pray, asking for graces from the Lord through the intercession of the Servants of God and for their reputation for holiness to be increased.
CWR: In a world that seems to be moving towards a growing secularization at least so far, what is your situation in terms of vocations?
Mother Fabia: Thank God, we cannot complain, because there are many souls who are eager to serve God and who knock on our doors. This is a great grace in our century and therefore we are encouraged to live our life of prayer and mission with greater commitment. The charism of unity has its importance in daily prayer and in the witness of life. The Order also pledges to impart adequate formation to its new members, organizing training courses for a harmonious and exemplary life in the service of God and our neighbor.
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