Epochs are born in a simple way from out of the lives of ordinary people. These men and women are primeval energies from the atom, sanctified already in the womb. These makers of history are often persons without any important historical background. They often do not have any historical roots to boast of. These are truly the saints of the Universe. The wonder that these men and women evoke in our hearts is beyond imagination, deeper than the seas and higher than the mountains. “This indeed is the work of God, a delight for our eyes….” (Psalm118:23)
Thatipathri Gnanamma, a young widow, founded the Congregation of Sisters of St.Anne - Madras (SSAM) for the empowerment of women. Gnanamma was born to devout parents in Guntur in Andhra, South India, in 1822.
In 1837, young Gnanamma was given in marriage to Innaiah, the catechist of Phirangipuram. This pious couple was blessed with five sons. Innaiah always accompanied the parish priest on his pastoral visits. Soon after the birth of his last son, he went along with his parish priest to Madras. On his way, he succumbed to an attack of Cholera.
Left all alone with five boys to bring up, Gnanamma, a widow of 37 years, put her entire trust in Divine Providence and raised her children strong in Christian faith. Her four sons joined religious life. Peter, the second son, settled in family life.
Freed from all family commitments, Gnanamma moved to a village called Eraiyur, 40 km from Madras since she had some relatives there. After six months, she settled down in Kilacheri, though she had no relatives there, to avoid travelling 25 km every Sunday to attend the Holy Mass.
During her time, education to young girls was an unimaginable dream. Though she herself was uneducated, she understood the value of education especially for women. Rev.Fr.Arokianathar, the parish priest of Kilacheri, helped her to reflect effectively and to go ahead with starting a school for girls in Kilacheri. She went to her native place Phirangipuram and sold off all her properties and to invest in her school the proceeds.
On 3rd May 1863, a girls’ school at Kilacheri became a reality.
Gnanamma’s commitment to the cause of women inspired Arulamma and Agathamma to join the school as hostellers. They both decided to dedicate themselves fully to the work started by Gnanamma. In 1871, they requested Gnanamma to let them help her in her great work permanently and expressed their desire to do so as nuns. Gnanamma who was anxious to ensure that her work should continue, accepted their request.
At that time, Rev.Fr.Arokianathar, who was Gnanamma’s great support, was transferred from Kilacheri to Bellary as parish priest. He invited Gnanamma to send these two young women to be formed at St.Anne’s Novitiate of Good Shepherd Congregation in Bellary. After their initial formation, Arulamma and Agathamma became Sr.Angela and Sr.Philomena respectively on 04.10.1874.
Gnanamma’s unstinted hard work, chronic asthma, her long and tedious journeys and her sacrifices took a toll on her health. She died on 21st December 1874, having received the last Sacrament.