Augustine Pereira, son of Ignatius Xavier Pereira and Maria Michelammal was born on 11th February 1854 at Tuticorin.
His mother , a very pious and devoted lady ,brought him up in deep faith in our Lord ; and sowed the seeds of love for people .
His father , however, desired him to take up the family business in Ceylon and desired him to go to Ceylon to learn the rudiments of business. But young Augustine who spurned the worldly life declined to move to Colombo and yearned to be a follower of Fr. Julius Larmey S.j. under whose influence he had come and steadfastly grew in Tuticorin itself. His father and mother left Augustine to his desires .
Young Augustine followed Fr. Larmey to Nagapattinam when he was transferred to Nagapattinam to become Assistant Prefect in the boarding of St. Joseph’s college where Fr. Larmey was posted as the General Prefect.(St. Joseph’s college Trichirappalli was in Nagapattinam then.)
In 1875,When Fr. Larmey was transferred to Panjampatty near Dindigul from Nagapattinam, , young Augustine followed him to Panjampatty to be his assistant.
Parents of Augustine who were convinced that young Augustine had spurned worldy life and had set his moorings only to the spiritual life desired that he might take to a seminary or a religious house in Colombo.
But young Augustine had different notions. He wanted to be at Panjampatty as he felt as he wrote to his parents.” The people in the village are in a miserable condition. I wish very much to serve among these poor, ignorant and illiterate people. The poverty and sufferings of the people have shaken me. So I have determined that I should be with Fr. Larmey to assist him till my death. I realize that God has called me and chosen me specially for this Panjampatty people.”
Panjampatty parish had 96 villages. Young Augustine used to regularly visit all these villages and halt in them for three or four days teaching children catechism during day time; and unraveling lives of Saints to elders in the nights ;and preparing people for receiving Sacrements. Like St.Francis Xavier, he travelled widely in the parish to all the villages and tested the growth of spiritual seeds he was sowing among the masses. His visits made him so familiar to almost to all,that he was fondly addressed by them as AUGUSTINE AYYA or AUGUSTINE SANYASI.
Augustine Ayya did not stop with instilling deep faith in Religion and in our Lord among the villagers. He sorted out their mundane and temporal problems justly by his wise counsels born out of his wide knowledge of men and matters. Thus he could prevent most of the times, the villagers from going to courts and police stations.
Inspired by the simplicity, missionary zeal and love and affection for the poor and humble, of the parish priest and Augustine Sanyasi, four illiterate girls of Panjampatty decided to renounce marriage, follow Christ and help the Parish Priest in his pastoral mission.
Fr. Larmey delegated the responsibility of spiritually shaping up these four girls to Augstine Sanyasi. Obeying the dictates of Fr. Larmey , augustine looked after the four girls with paternal care and affection for ten years. He named them IMMACULATES and thus he founded the house of Immaculates. These four girls dedicated themselves to the service of God on 2nd Feb 1899.This was the foundation of Amalorpavaveedu at Panjampatty, the humble origin of Congregation of Immaculate conception.
Augstine made the four girls literates, trained them in prayers, meditation, sacrifice, and penance and made them to teach other villagers. He taught them gospels and instructed them to spread it among villagers.He taught them simple medicines and advised them to administer on the sick. He educated them to render charitable services,to the needy. He advised them to visit the sick and dying even of other faiths and instructed them to pray for them.
Noticing the priestly disposition of Augustine , the church wanted to ordain him as a priest even setting aside the canonical requirements of being in a seminary for a required number of years. Augustine refused to accept this as he was firm in his mind that he would be rendering better service as a lay man under Fr. Larmey than as a an independent priest.
But Fr.Larmy had different ideas for Augustine. He felt he should reward his loyal disciple with priesthood. Therefore he spoke to Msgr. John Mary Barthe S.j. Bishop of Trichirappalli,and he ordered Augustine to be ordained as a priest with only fifteen days of deaconship and sub deaconship at Trichirappalli. Augusine went to trichirappalli and returned to Panjampatty in a cassock, surprising the villagers and giving them unbounded joy and happiness.
Augustine was ordained as a priest on 14 th January 1900 in Tuticorin by the Bishop of Trichirappalli, Msgr. John Mary BartheS.j. The entire Panjampatty turned to Tuticorin to witness the ordination. After celebrating his first mass at Tuticorin he returned to his pasture , Panjampatty, to assist Fr. Larmey.
Back at Panjampatty, he strengthened the house ,he originally built for the four pioneers with the munificent financial assistance of his family.To make villagers of Panjampatty economically more strong, he spoke to vegetable vendors in Tuticorin and got sent lemon that grew widely in Panjampatty areas.
He lived a simple life of taking only one meal , and giving away his other two meals to more needy. He would stand in long queues in Madurai to get his rations so that he could help the poor in Panjampatty. While teaching his wards he would sit on small boulders; and when the followers taunted him to get a chair from his rich family in Tuticorin or Colombo he would parry it saying that the chair could be got after his death and the small boulder was more than sufficient.
Fr. Larmey taught Fr. Augustine all the rudiments of parish administration . Appreciating him fr. Larmey wrote in his report” I know Fr. Augustine well. I want to rise up to his level. For this, I have to form myself still. I did everything with the help of Fr. Augustine. I have done nothing without consulting him. The parish of Panjampatty owes much to Fr.Augustine for his selfless loving services.”
Fr. Larmey bifurcated the parish and made Silukkuwarpatty as a parish and got Fr. Augustine posted there.The water in Silukkuwarpatty was unpotable. The villagers of Panjampatty carried water for Fr. Augustine from Panjampatty.
Fr. Larmey started sinking in health and was sent to Trichirappalli to recuperate. In his sick bed he said “”The church in Panjampatty is not completed but someone will do it.But who will look after the four loving children’’and he passed away on 30 th January 1901.
Fr. Viswasam who took charge of the parish did not pay much attention to the four girls. Fr.Augustine who was posted as assistant parish priest to Panjampatty started looking after them providing a new house and paddy fields. He extended their education too.
After Fr. Viswasam Fr. Eugene Nespolus became the parish priest in 1904 and he served Panjampatty for 13 years. In his time there was addition of girls and the strength grew to twelve.
The twelve had not taken any vows and had not professed their commitment. Fr. Clave,Fr. Nespolus, FR. Augustin discussed and decided to formalize the twelve into a diocesan congregation and get them trained by sisters of St.Joseph’s of Lyons.Fr. Clave recommended the decision to Holy father and got his blessings and approval.
It was Fr. Augustine who framed the rules of the congregation basing them on the rules of Jesuits and the congregation of Ursuline. He insisted Teacher training certificate as an essentiality to enter the order.
Rev.Augustine Faisandier sj who was auxiliary bishop, of Trichirappalli,granted permission for the training of novices of the Immaculate Conception by the sisters of Lyons at Madurai.Fr. Augustine purchased a small piece of land from Sisters of Lyons and built a house for the novices. On2nd july 1911, he took the novices from Panjampatty and placed them under the care of Sr.Radugondh.
After he left them there and returned to Panjampatty, he took ill and was treated in Courtallam and Colombo. He breathed his last on 21 october 1911 and was taken to Panjampatty and buried in a beautiful tomb which was erected and later in 1986 during the Platinum jubilee of the congregation,the mortal remains of Fr. Augustine was removed from the tomb to the convent premises and buried in a newly built tomb. In 1999, a beautiful Mandapam was built over it.
The congregation Fr. Augustin started has now blossomed and has spread all over.
By A.X. Alexander
(The writer thanks Ashok Pereira , Chennai who supplied materials for this article.)