St. Francis of Assisi bearing witness to the poor, humble, Christ, laid the foundation of a new form of life based on the Gospel. He renounced totally and happily all worldly goods and its pleasures, so that he was able to proclaim, My God My All in all sincerity. His poor humble life, his fraternity and zealous apostolic activity could really effect a renewal of Christian life in his time. St. Clare was the first woman who followed crucified Lord in the footprints of Francis and the Franciscan II Order (Cloistered) was established for women.
The Franciscan spirit which diffused its fragrance in the surroundings of Assisi in the thirteenth century, spread to Kerala also towards the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the year 1865 the Secular Franciscan Third Order was founded in the Veropoly Archdiocese and Puthenparampil Thommachan, a zealous layman from the Parish of Edathua born in 1836 took the leadership of the movement. He literally imitated St. Francis and led a life of utter poverty, prayer and penance. He started different types of humanitarian services including serving the orphans and destitute, the sick, lepers and all kinds of unwanted people in the society. Many zealous people followed him and 50 units were founded under his leadership. In the year 1875 a unit of SFO was started in the Parish of Pala and certain pious ladies belonging to the SFO started community living under the guidance of Puthenparampil Thommachan at Pala and moved to Kannadiurumpu in 1883. They wanted to lead a genuine full Franciscan Way of Life. They got fundamental training for the Franciscan Life.
Divine Providence was paving the way from other direction. In the year 1887 Kottayam Vicariate was established and Rt. Rev. Dr. Charles Lavigne SJ from France was appointed the Vicar Apostolic of Kottayam. During his Pastoral journey over the Vicariate he was moved by the plight of the unwanted, the sick and destitute of the Vicariate. He expressed his desire to his Secretary Rev. Fr. Louis Pazheparampil, about establishing a women Congregation to look after the unwanted people of the society and he appointed him the director of the already existing CMC Congregation and the Congregation to be established. This Fr. Louis Pazheparampil later became the first Bishop of the Diocese of Ernakulam. There occurred a happy coincidence of the Divine Providence. Bishop Charles Lavigne visited the Parish of Pala on 20th June 1888 and the pious Ladies met him in the CMI Kovenda at Mutholi and expressed their long cherished wish and requested to establish for them Congregation of St. Clara. His first question to them was whether they were ready to take care of the orphans and the unwanted. The Bishop visited the pious ladies on 4th July 1888 at their residence at Kannadiurumpu. Same question was repeated and they said a firm YES. Overcoming a series of obstacles, he founded a new offshoot of the Franciscan Family in Kerala. Thus was founded the Franciscan Clarist Congregation on 14th December 1888 at Changanassery by Bishop Charles Lavigne SJ and the eight founding mothers namely Sr. Mariam Clara of Jesus, Sr. Coletta of Jesus Sr. Agnes of Jesus, Sr. Mariam Thresia of Jesus, Sr. Mariam Magdaline of Jesus, Sr. Margareetha of Jesus, Sr. Mariam of Jesus, Sr. Anna of Jesus. Bishop Lavigne provided them the Primary Rules and Directives to follow a new way of life based on the charism.
The Congregation grew fast attracting many young women who wished to lead a dedicated life and gradually independent units sprang up in dioceses. Responding to the call of Vatican II, renewal and adaptation was effected and unification of the different units took place. It is a Pontifical Congregation in Syro-Malabar Church. Now FCC has grown into an International Congregation having 24 Provinces 2 Regions in India and many houses under different Provinces in countries like Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, U.S.A, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Malawi and Papua New Guinea. They render their service in Old age homes, Orphanages, Hospitals, Educational institutions, Boarding houses etc. There are 23 sisters from Kenya.
God has specially blessed FCC with the gift of St. Alphonsa the first woman saint of India. She was a great missionary who proclaimed silently to the world the love of Jesus through her witnessing life. She offered her suffering for the salvation of souls. She prayed ardently for missionaries in the forefront and inspired the sisters and the children to pray and offer sacrifices for mission. St. Alphonsa continues to inspire people of all walks of life to walk in the path of the crucified Lord.
The martyrdom of Sr. Rani Maria, the servant of God on 25th February 1995 at Udayanagar, Indore is another momentous event in the history of FCC. The great love which enabled her to lay down her life for Jesus and his poor is a great source of inspiration to all, especially the missionaries. FCC is proud of her daughters who serve the Lord in the challenging mission areas spreading the message of Gospel.
It is our firm conviction that in the world of human need, it is God who willed the Franciscan Clarist Congregation to take care of the poor, the marginalized and the unorganized in society. The fundamental mission of FCC is to liberate and empower such people to rediscover their dignity by taking control over their own lives. In doing so, the religious order envisions a new social order for a much more economically developed India of this 21st century, based on justice and equal opportunities for all to live in peace and dignity. It is our belief and prayer that in future a spirituality renewed and a theologically updated Franciscan Clarist Congregation will bring about this social reality.
Responding to the exhortation of the Vatican Council II the different units were unified under one Superior General in 1970. Rev. Mother Maurus (Mother General Changanassery) was elected the 1st Superior General of the Unified Franciscan Clarist Congregation on 10th October 1970. The General Curia was formed with the Major Superiors of the other units as Councillors. The different Diocesan Units became Provinces. At that time there were five Provinces namely Changanassery, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Pala, Kothamangalam and one Region namely Malabar.
The members were following the constitution framed after the constitution of the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana, U.S.A. with certain adaptations made by different units. Even before the unification, a commission was appointed to frame a common constitution and a directory in the light of Vatican II.
The new constitution was formulated by the commission under the leadership of Mother Maurus and the guidance of Rev. Fr. Hippolytus (later Bishop of Jammu- Srinagar) of happy memory. It got approved by the Apostolic See in 1973.
The Congregation was raised to the status of Pontifical Right on 1st March 1973. The unified Franciscan Clarist Congregation has been making large strides in the path of progress. The Congregation grew in strength of members and apostolic activities. Several creative programmes were taken up for the spiritual renewal of the members and a return to the original charism.
Growth of FCC
New provinces were established in Kerala either at the erection of the new dioceses or at the increase in the number of members. Thus Kanjirappally Province came into existence, in 1978 at the erection of Kanjirappally diocese, comprising the convents of Changanassery Province which came under the jurisdiction of the new diocese. Changanassery Province started mission outside Kerala in 1968 and it grew into two mission Provinces outside Kerala namely Hazaribagh and Thuckalay in 1990 and 2011 respectively. The Eluru Mission of Kanjirappally Province was raised to the status of a Province in 2013.
With the erection of Irinjalakuda and Palakkad dioceses Thrissur Province which had its foundation in 1910 also was divided into three different provinces, Thrissur, Irinjalakuda and Palakkad in 1980. Thrissur province had started mission work outside Kerala in 1960. The mission grew up steadily into provinces under the patronage of the three newly established provinces. Thus the new provinces Noida (1992), Delhi (1994) and Bareilly (2011) came into existence.
Ernakulam Province had started mission work in Madhya Pradesh in 1968 and it became an independent province Amala Province, Bhopal in the year 1991. Kothamangalam Province extended its mission work outside Kerala in 1969 and it grew into a mission province Vijayawada in 1994. Later Kothamangalam diocese was bifurcated and a new diocese Idukki was established in the high ranges of Kerala. Based on the diocesan consideration, Idukki Province was carved out of Kothamangalam in 2004.
The branching out to Malabar from Pala in 1956 was the first missionary endeavour of the Congregation. It became a province in 1974. The growth of the Syro-Malabar Church in Malabar was rapid and two other dioceses, Mananthavady and Thamarassery were formed. Accordingly the provinces of Mananthavady and Thamarassery were erected in 1986 and 1993 respectively and Malabar Province was renamed Thalassery province.
Considering the convenience of administration Pala Province, having around 900 members, was bifurcated and Bharananganam Province came into existence in 1989. Pala had started its missionary expedition in the 1960s to the North East and to Punjab and Madhya Pradesh in the early 1970s. These missions developed into two independent provinces, Imphal in 1998 and Jalandhar in 2004.
The Congregation started its first mission station in North India in the Archdiocese of Agra in 1960 and abroad in Germany in 1976.
New Provinces and Mission: San Francisco Region, Bareilly was raised to a Province on 16th Feb.2011. Sr. Mary Eleisia was elected as the Provincial Superior. San Joe Region, Thuckalay, an out shoot of Devamatha Province, Changanassery became Sanjoe Province on 11th May 2011 and Sr. Ancilin was elected as the first Provincial Superior. San Thom Region Eluru in A.P was the mission of St. Thomas Province, Kanjirappally.It was raised to SanThom Province on 3rd March 2013 and Sr. Celine Maria was elected as the first Provincial Superior. Maria Rani Region, Rajasthan was the mission of St. Mary's Province, Mananthavady and was raised to a province on 4th Sept. 2015. Sr. Alphonsa was elected as the Provincial Superior.
Rajkot Mission under St. Francis Province Thamarassery was raised to the status of a region named St. Alphonsa Region Rajkot on 8th September 2012. Sr. Lilly Jose was appointed as the Regional Superior. The Odisha Mission under St. Joseph Province, Thalassery was raised to Clare Jyothi Region Odisha on 15th April 2015 . Sr. Princy was appointed as the first Regional Superior. FCC is completing 127 years of dedicated service to the Lord and to the Holy Catholic Church and to the humanity at large.
Now FCC has 24 Provinces (13 in Kerala and 11 Outside Kerala) and 2 Regions. Sisters are engaged in various apostolic activities. A small seed which was sown in 1888 sprouted up and grew into a big tree dispersing its seeds not only in India but also in countries like Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, USA, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Papua New Guinea. Today we have 7002 members serving in different parts of the world.
The sisters are engaged in the apostolate of evangelization and faith formation, teaching, social work, care of the sick, and other ministries. Through these apostolic activities FCC tries to bear witness to the poor humble and crucified Christ and share the love and mercy of Jesus.