The History of the Congregation of the Rosarians

It was a response to an invitation by the supreme head of the Church himself that the Congregation of the Rosarians came into being. Pope Pius XI in his encyclical, “Rerum Ecclesiae” written in the year 1926, emphasized the urgent need of the contemplative way of life for the Church, exhorting especially the Bishops of mission territories to promote indigenous forms of contemplative life as an efficacious means for the advancement of the faith. It may be recalled that what was then proclaimed by Pope Pius XI, known as the Pope of the Missions, was unanimously ratified four decades later by the world body of Bishops assembled in the council of Vatican II, when they declared in their decree on the Missions, “worthy of special mention are the various projects aimed at helping the contemplative life take root… For the contemplative life belongs to the fullness of the Church’s presence and should therefore be everywhere established.” (Vatican II, Missions, No. 18)

Providentially, the Pope’s message fell in one case at least on really fertile soil. Bishop J.A. Guyomar of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, while going through the Pope’s encyclical, thought immediately of his close friend Fr. B.A. Thomas O.M.I., a sickly but holy and zealous priest of his diocese, who he knew had been nurturing for years the idea of monasticism a much needed factor for the wellbeing and progress of the Church in India and Sri Lanka. The Bishop without hesitation asked Fr. Thomas to have the Holy Father’s wish realized in his diocese. An abandoned presbytery in the village of Tholagatty, not far from Jaffna was allotted to him for this purpose. There, on 2nd  February, 1928 together with six young men of the working class, Fr. Thomas started the congregation of the Rosarians.

Fr. Thomas had no pre-conceived ideas about the form of the congregation he was asked to found. It was indeed a journey into the unknown through darkness and uncertainties. At every step he relied on guidance and inspiration from above. Slowly, matters began to take shape. He derived inspiration from the apparitions of our Lady at Lourdes and Fatima. Indeed the maternal guidance and protection of our Blessed Mother have been felt all through the existence of this little congregation.

Fr. Thomas was a man of vast ambitions and far-sighted vision. He knew quite well, as is seen from history, that monasticism adapted to the native cultures and needs could be an effective means not only for evangelization, but also for eradicating many a spiritual, social and economic disorder that bothers mankind at all times. He set to work with determination and hope. But the odds seemed to go against him. He had to struggle almost single handedly against varied drawbacks and obstacles. His unwavering faith in Divine Providence and persistent trust in the maternal protection of our Blessed Mother kept him on. Eventually he had the happiness of seeing three foundation of the congregation established in India during his own life time.

Though the Congregation had its origin in Sri Lanka, it also spread more easily and rapidly in India. The corner stone of the Congregation in India was Fr. Antony Fernando (Fr. Susainather CR). After thirty years of very successful missionary work in the dioceses of Trichy and Tuticorin, he joined the Rosarian in 1939. He is considered a saint by his acquaintances and a number of miracles are attributed to him. Bishop Roche, the first Bishop of Tuticorin, was instrumental in establishing the first Rosarian House in India at Vadakangulam, in the year 1943. In 1950, Fr. B. A. Thomas OMI founded a congregation with the same ideals for women too.

Finally Fr. Thomas’ work was sealed visibly with the sign of God’s approval, the sign of the cross. Troubles from within and without seemed to hamper his work. Worn out physically and mentally by years of strenuous labour coupled with severe penance, when at last he was forced to retire against his own will, he felt his life’s work as if crumbling to ruin. And when by the death of Fr. Thomas in 1964, the sprawling little congregation, with no common head to guide its destiny was set adrift to an aimless course, many indeed felt the end of Fr. Thomas’ lifelong aspiration was near and inevitable.

But no; it was like the birth-pangs of a new beginning. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The sufferings and sacrifices of Fr. Thomas began to bear fruit. The Holy See itself took an earnest interest in this novel experiment. An able director in the person of Fr.Dominic OCD, was appointed to guide and help the congregation for its future development. For over six years he guided the congregation along the path traced by Fr. Thomas himself. New vocations began to come in. During the past fifteen years the congregation has more than doubled in the number of houses and members. Rev. Fr. Dominic OCD led the congregation from 1969 to 1976. After him Rev. Fr. Chacko Bernard CR was leading the congregation who was the first Rosarian Prior General from 1976- 1982. His successor was Rev. Fr. Packianather CR from 1982-1988. After him Rev. Fr. M.L. Aloysius CR become the Prior General of the Rosarian congregation from 1988-2000. then Rev. Fr. K.P. Xavier CR succeeded him as a Prior General from 2000- 2006. At present Rev. Fr. A.M. Stephen CR is leading the congregation as the Prior General faithfully and committedly.

When the founder had to retire, due to ill health and old age, the Congregation being diocesan, some of the Bishops favoured the idea of making each House autonomous. This step stopped all further progress for nearly a decade. Finally the Holy See intervened and appointed Fr. Dominic OCD, as the Prior General. The special General Chapter held in 1970, updated the constitution in the light of the directives of the Vatican Council. The first ordinary General Chapter took place at the end of April 1976, at which Fr. Chacko Bernard CR, was elected the first Rosarian Prior General.

“Who is like unto God?” is the Motto of the Congregation of the Rosarians. Their life is expected to be a practical demonstration of this motto. God is the source and end, the alpha and omega of all things: Without Him not even the least atom moves. God permits everything that happens, for His extrinsic glory and our own good. The charism of the Rosarian congregation is “Marian Contemplative Life of Love and Reparation Rooted in Humility.”

Humility and simplicity are the hallmarks of the Rosarian way of life. Their model is the silent, hidden, humble, laborious life of the Holy Family at Nazareth. All the members, irrespective of their social or educational back- grounds engage daily for long hours in ordinary household and other manual works. A spirit of habitual silence is maintained throughout, except for occasional common recreations on Sundays and feast days. Their meals consist of simple vegetarian diet.

Life in a Rosarian House is centred on the Eucharist. It begins with the conventual mass in the morning participated by all, followed by- an uninterrupted vigil before the Eucharistic Lord day and night by turn praying the Rosary slowly and meditatively. The entire Liturgy of the Hours is daily chanted in common by all the members together at fixed intervals. Ample time is allotted for personal prayer and spiritual reading. Although the Rosarian life is fully cenobitic in style those who wish to experience the hermitical life are given opportunities for it within the frame work of the community.

Although ministries or services outside the Ashram are not within the scope of the Rosarian life, yet all, especially the poor and afflicted are always welcome to the ashrams for the spiritual and even temporal needs. Those who wish to spend time in prayer or make a retreat alone or in small groups in the ashrams are given facilities for the same. Besides the regular members of the Ashram, elderly men free from other commitments in life, are admitted as associate members with a full share in the life and work of the community.

A life of prayer in silence and solitude, away from the hustle and bustle of the world may seem irrelevant, if not even useless, from a purely natural outlook. But the Church teaches in unambiguous terms the unique place and irreplaceable role the contemplative communities have in her life and mission, “Members of those communities which are totally dedicated to contemplation, give themselves to God alone in solitude and silence and through constant prayer and ready penance. No matter how urgent may be the needs of the active apostolate, such communities will always have ‘a distinguished part to play in Christ’s Mystical Body’ where all members have not the same function (Rom 12:4). For they offer God a choice sacrifice of praise. They brighten God’s people with the richest splendours of sanctity. By their example they motivate this people; by imparting a hidden, apostolic fruitfulness, they make this people grow. Thus they are the glory of the Church and an overflowing fountain of heavenly graces” (Vat II: Religious Life, no.7).

21st October 2002 was a joyful and memorable day for the congregation of the Rosarians, because on this special day we celebrated our congregation Platinum Jubilee in a grand and thankful manner to God under the protection of our Blessed Virgin Mary. And on this day another memorable event took place in the congregation of the Rosarians, the Holy Mother Church appreciated our indigenous contemplative character based on the Eastern Monasticism and conferred on us the unique privilege of Papal Right. We are ever grateful to the Holy Father Pope John Paul II and the Curia of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. We express our deep gratitude to the Most Rev. Dr. Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Apostolic Nuncio to India, the Most Rev. Dr. Ignatius Pinto, the Archbishop of Bangalore and the other Bishops of India and Sri Lanka in whose dioceses our Ashrams are functioning. They have helped and encouraged us in getting the Papal Right for our congregation. We feel elevated that our congregation came under the purview of the church this year in a special manner.

Our mission of prayer, penance and reparation is much needed and appreciated in the western country. So the congregation of the Rosarians has opened a new foundation of contemplative community in Canada on July 4th, 2010, upon the invitation of Bishop Rev. Dr. Ronald P. Fabbro CSB, the Bishop of London, Ontario, Canada, with the pioneer members, namely, Rev. Fr. A.F. Jayaseelan CR, Rev. Fr. Arulthas CR, Rev. Fr. Kamalathasan CR. This is our first ever foundation in the west.

Today there are twenty three Rosarian Houses for men spread all over the world. In India there are 17 houses, in Sri Lanka there are 5 houses and Canada one house. “We have miles to go and promises to keep”. Yes, we have the journey to Eternity and we do have the Rosarian Promises to keep. We pledge that with our limitations, we would be able to keep up to the Rosarian charism and live up to the contemplative character of our beloved Founder Rev. Fr. B. A. Thomas OMI, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the protection of the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.