Anthony Madassery FMJ and MJ
Date: January 25, 2022 02:33PM
Among the various controversies dogging the Bishop of Jalandhar Diocese, Franco Mulakkal, is the formation of a new congregation by him — Franciscan Missionaries of Jesus (FMJ). Many priests within the diocese are objecting to the structure and speed with which the new congregation is coming up, besides the seemingly ‘luxurious’ life its members are leading.
Priests have not been very forthcoming in discussing matters of the diocese since the rape charge surfaced against the Bishop, and later the mysterious death of a witness against him, Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, at Dasuya. However, in confidence they express concern over the lifestyle that priests under training are being allowed. They say it is at odds with the modest Franciscan ways of the priesthood.
The priests-to-be studying at a regional seminary for this new congregation are housed in a palatial building on a huge property that the church bought for several crores at Malupota village on the Phagwara-Nawanshahr highway near Banga. It is a fully air-conditioned building, in which earlier Sanskar International School set up by a Delhi-based group was running.
Currently, there are also some 80 students from Kerala living in the building who are being taught at the seminary, which plans to set up a regular school also on the premises.
Two priests — Father Augustine (Agin) Edakalathur (Rector), and Antony Irudayaraj — also live on the seminary premises. However, the Director of the FMJ, Father Anthony Madasserry, has the privilege of residing at the FMJ Generalate in Partappura village on the Jalandhar-Nakodar road. It is a plush farmhouse that also has about 80 dairy animals and horses. The horses are being reared for starting a riding course at an international school proposed to be set up by the diocese in Ludhiana.
The Generalate also houses a shelter for the disabled, Dayasagar, being managed by another congregation, Friends of the Birds of the Air (FBA).
Notably, Father Anthony Madasserry is closely associated with Bishop Franco. He remained in Kerala for nearly three weeks when the Bishop was in judicial custody there, and returned to Jalandhar with him. The Bishop thanked him profusely during the first mass he held after his return. Father Anthony is also managing a few enterprises — Navjeevan Charitable Society and Sahodaya (that run a private security firm; school contracts for buses, uniforms and books; stitching centres, etc) and Shine Coachings.
Another concern of diocese priests is that among the trainee priests of the FMJ are eight Brothers who had earlier been rejected at the Holy Trinity Regional Major Seminary for higher studies. Yet they were taken in for training at the FMJ seminary by Bishop Franco, who is its patron.
The matter has been raised formally in internal communications of the diocese. Father Mathew Palachuvittal, Executive Director (Education and Culture) of the diocese, had sent out a circular to the nearly 120 priests of the diocese last year, expressing his dissent at the composition of the FMJ.
“There is recruitment going on on a war-footing to strengthen the FMJ. I appreciate your enthusiasm and the business acumen of Father General. Normally, no congregation or diocese will ask a promising candidate to discontinue their studies for priesthood at the stage of second year of theology or higher, except for grave reasons. A decision in their favour can be seen as a decision against the collective decision of the superiors of the seminary. Collecting eight such persons for the congregation with a promise to ordain them within two or three years is not right. In what way will they be Franciscan or Missionary?” the circular read.
Father Mathew — who has remained a close aide of Mulakkal’s predecessor the late Bishop Symphorian Keeprath — has also objected to the name FMJ. He has noted that it “makes use of the short form MJ that stands for the congregation founded by Bishop Keeprath — Missionaries of Jesus (of which the nun who has lodged the case against Mulakkal is a part). Will it not be a matter of respecting the wishes of the late Bishop to leave aside the short form MJ for the congregation started by him and coin some new name for the new entity?”
However, Father Anthony disagrees: “All those priests who are saying things against the FMJ are from the traditional set-up. I am from a different mindset and I am taking up things with a futuristic plan. Bishop Franco has complete faith in me and has, therefore, assigned me all new and big projects. Also, my view is that by giving more luxury to the students, such as air-conditioning or air travel, we improve their efficiency.”
On the students at the Banga facility, he says their stage is “minus-seminary”; they are plus-one or plus-two students who will go to the seminary at the college level.
Spokesperson of the Diocese Father Peter Kavumpuram, when asked about the concerns expressed by certain priests, said: “The FMJ is still in the making. The charisms [power, role or functions] of the congregation are yet to be charted. All those who are levelling allegations against it are those who either have vested interests or inquiries by the church pending against them.”