Palackal Thoma Malpan [പാലയ്ക്കല് തോമ്മാ മല്പാന് / பாலய்க்கல் தோமா மல்பான் / पालय्क्कल् तोमा मल्पान्] (b. circa * 1780 at [South] Pallippuram [ [തെക്കന്] പള്ളിപ്പുറം / ചേന്നംപള്ളിപ്പുറം / ഐരാണിക്കുളം], near Shertallay [ചേര്ത്തല / കരപ്പുറം], in Alleppey [ആലപ്പുഴ], Kingdom of Travancore [തിരുവിതാംകൂര് രാജ്യം]; d. there, † 16th January 1841) was an illustrious secular priest [ഇടവകപ്പട്ടക്കാരന്] from the Catholic Church of St. Thomas [Syro-Malabar Church] then under the Vicariate-Apostolic of Verapoly [വരാപ്പുഴ] and later under the Archdiocese of Ernakulam [എറണാകുളം]; the senior founder of the first Cœnobite order of the St. Thomas Christians, the Third Order of Carmelites Discalced [കര്മ്മലീത്ത നിഷ്പാദുക മൂന്നാം സഭ / Carmelites of Mary Immaculate]; and the founder and Rector of the first Seminary run by the St. Thomas Christians, first at Pallippuram and later at Mannanam [മാന്നാനം] near Kottayam [കോട്ടയം]. (The title Malpan, from the Syriac word malpānā, denotes his status as a preceptor of priests.)
After his ordination in 1807 consequent to studies under Thachil Abraham Malpan [തച്ചില് അവുറാഹാം മല്പാന്] (the younger brother of Thachil Thariyath Matthoo Tharakan, Esq. [തച്ചില് തരിയതു് മാത്തു തരകന് അവര്കള്]), he was appointed the Secretary for the St. Thomas Christians and Counsellor to the Bishop Mgr. Raymond Roviglia of St. Joseph, O. C. D., Vicar-Apostolic during 1803-1815; he continued to be a counsellor to the Vicars-Apostolic for the rest of his life, even after he resigned the position of Secretary in 1815.
As secretary and counsellor, he was instrumental to several reforms in the Catholic Church of Kerala: the practice of St. Thomas Christian priests and seminarians wearing cassocks [ളോവ] was introduced (previously, they had dressed in a way resembling the Jacobite clerics); the custom of episcopal visits [വിസീത്ത] to parishes was begun; the confessional [കുമ്പസാരക്കൂടു്] was made obligatory in all churches; walled cemeteries [സെമിത്തേരി] were built for all churches (earlier, the dead had been buried in the open compound); and confraternities [കൊമ്പിരിയാ, ദര്ശനസമൂഹം] were started in the St. Thomas Christian churches borrowing the custom from the Latin churches in Kerala; the confreres [ദര്ശനക്കാര്] assisted the orderly conduct of solemn feasts [കൊമ്പിരിയാപ്പെരുന്നാള്, ദര്ശനപ്പെരുന്നാള്], funerals, and other ceremonies.
After leaving the position of secretary, he returned to Pallippuram in 1818. Since there were several acolytes desirous of studying for priesthood under him, the Malpan was compelled to start a seminary at Pallippuram, with Mangalath Chandy [മംഗലത്തു് ചാണ്ടി] of Pallippuram, later secretary and counsellor at Verapoly, as the first student. Among the first to join his seminary was Chavara Kuriakose [ചാവറ കുരിയാക്കോസ്] (1805-1871) of Kainakary [കൈനകരി], later Vicar-General for the St. Thomas Christians at Verapoly, then aged 13; the Malpan brought him up as if he were a son and considered him the spiritual heir. Seeking to bring order to the seminary, he wrote a regula [ക്രമച്ചട്ടം] for the seminarians, following it himself more stringently than all else. Even otherwise, he had kept an austere routine and diet from his early years.
Considering teaching and scholarship as his vocation, the Malpan devoted his life to that aim. He took particular care that his seminary had an exemplary collection of books, especially modern books in Tamil and the few in Malayalam, printed chiefly by members of the Society of Jesus. He had a special interest in languages. Learning Tamil on his own, he translated the spiritual books in Tamil into Malayalam; as a consequence he began to be called in jest the `Tamil Malpan' [പാണ്ടി മല്പാന്]. He asked his students to scribe all the books they considered valuable, including liturgical books in Syriac. These may have inspired his disciple Fr. Chavara to start a Malayalam printing press at Mannanam, only the third of its kind in Kerala, in 1844. The Malpan also took every care to have his abler students learn other languages such as Latin, sometimes from European priests.
Since his early years the Malpan seems to have cherished the notion of a Cœnobite order of the Dominican kind; his experiences in running the seminary might have strengthened the resolve. In this endeavour he found an eager and able collaborator in Porukara Thoma Kathanar [പോരൂക്കര തോമ്മാ കത്തനാര്] (1799-1846) of Kalloorkad [കല്ലൂര്ക്കാടു്], Champakulam [ചമ്പക്കുളം] (to which the Malpan's maternal family, Puthenpurackal [പുത്തന്പുരയ്ക്കല്], also belonged), who had known and admired the Malpan since his days as a seminarian. As for Fr. Chavara, as he says in his Chronicles [നാളാഗമങ്ങള്], he had always been of one mind with his Malpan in all matters. With the blessing of the Bishop Mgr. Maurelio Stabellini, O. Carm., Vicar-Apostolic during 1828-1831, the Monastery [കൊവേന്ത] was founded at Mannanam on 11th May 1831.
Two years later, the Malpan started a seminary at Mannanam to teach priests both secular and religious; a new movement in the spiritual formation of St. Thomas Christian clergy, this became the cradle for several priests and bishops such as Mar Louis Pareparambil [പഴേപറമ്പില് മാര് ളൂയീസ്], Mar Matthew Makil [മാക്കീല് മാര് മത്തായി], and Mar Augustine Kandathil [കണ്ടത്തില് മാര് ആഗസ്തീനോസ്], from the St. Thomas Christians.
He passed away in 1841 and was buried at the main altar in the Forane Church of St. Mary, Pallippuram (connected by tradition with the apostolate of St. Thomas in South India); judging from the account of Fr. Chavara, the funeral was worthy of a bishop.
Centre: The façade of the Forane Church of St. Mary, Pallippuram, which was built under European influence in the sixteenth century and stands to this day. A replica of the old church was made in the body of the Forane Church of St. Mary, Muttom, Shertallay [Founded: 1023], a daughter church of Pallippuram; the dimensions of the Pallippuram Church were measured from the exterior to build the new church, which would thus be able to contain the old church within. A portrayal of the Pallippuram Church was printed, as suggested by the Vatican, on the menu of the Air India flight which brought Pope Paul VI (Giovanni Montini) to Bombay on the first Papal visit to India, 2-5 December 1964.
Left: The filial Church of St. Thomas, Mattel Island [മാട്ടേല് തുരുത്തു്], where the Pallippuram Cross floated up from Kokkamangalam.
Right: The filial Church of the Holy Cross, Kurisupura [കുരിശുപുര / House of the Cross], where the Pallippuram Cross was enshrined before the Forane Church was erected in antiquity.
Middle Left: The statue of St. Dominic de Guzman, O. P., at the bottom far left of the main altar; the Malpan's notions of a cœnobite order had Dominican nature. During the times when the Seminaries at Pallippuram and Mannanam coëxisted, the students of Pallippuram used to visit Mannanam on special occasions carrying this statue with them.
Middle Right: Icon of Madonna and the Infant Jesus, at the centre of the main altar; tempera and gold on wood, date and author unknown; believed to be connected with the portraits by St. Luke and to have been brought from Europe; a portrait which is the subject of similar beliefs is at St. Thomas Mount, Madras, India; the pleasant visages and the book in the portrait are notable. The Forane Church of St. Mary, Pallippuram, is one of the oldest Marian shrines in India.
Far Left: Belled chalice [മണിക്കാസ] at Pallippuram Church.
Far Right: The Church of St. Thomas, Kokkamangalam [കോക്കമംഗലം], was refounded after eighteen centuries and a half by Mar Louis Pareparambil on 19 Feb. 1900. A replica in stone of the Pallippuram Cross was installed there in 2002, the 1950th anniversary of the arrival of St. Thomas the Apostle at the Malabar coast (South-West India).
A photograph of the statues [of the Madonna, St. Joseph, St. Michael, St. George, and St. Sebastian, together with the belled chalice] in the Pallipuram Church can be found at pp. 128-129 of Mgr. Joseph C. Panjikaran: `Christianity in Malabar with special reference to the St. Thomas Christians of the Syro-Malabar Rite', Orientalia Christiana, vol. VI(2) / n. 23, pp. 89-136, April 1926.
Landscape envisaging the Forane Church of St. Mary, Pallippuram (left); the Malpan (centre); Lake Vembanad (centre); and the filial Church of St. Thomas, Mattel Island (right); by Artist Samuel, mural, c. 1997. Entrance, Acharya Palackal Jeevass Kendram, Alwaye, India [Founder: A. Mathias Mundadan, T. O. C. D. (1996)].