Fr. Francis Acharya

Fr. Francis Acharya from Kurisumala Ashram played an important role which lead to Fr. Bede taking charge of Shantivanam. It is wonderful how the Spirit works... Below is an account by Fr. Francis.

(extracts below are taken from: "Kurisumala: A Symposium on Ashram Life" Edited by Francis Acharya P.68)     

Our First Offshoot – The Acharya

At Pentecost 1967 I was granted a sabbatical year. The first months were spent at Saccidananda Ashram, Shantivanam, near Tiruchirapally. This decision was taken to return to the sources from which I had drawn so much inspiration in 1955 during my first year in India. I experienced there the same quiet in the mango grove along the Kavery river. It was with deep emotion that I found myself again praying in the oratory and in the little hut in which I had enjoyed so many blissful days and nights, as a noviciate for my monastic life in India. Above all I met Swami Abhishiktananda and this proved to be a real encounter. We were both very much aware that our respective monastic charisms had taken us along different paths. He had been left alone, as a true hermit of Saccidananda, after my departure, soon followed by the death of Father Monchanin. From then onwards he had been leading in turn the life of an itinerant monk and that of a hermit. He soon confided that the upkeep of two hermitages as far distant one from the other as the Himalayas from the Kavery exclusively for himself had become a burden for him, and he spontaneously requested me to take over Shantivanam.  This offer in itself was a singular proof of how close we had come and of the mutual confidence which had been rekindled on the occasion of our recent meetings. Returning briefly to Kurisumala on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross for the clothing of three “sadhakas” in the white habit of the “brahmachari”, I shared Swami Abhishiktananda’s offer with the community. There was an unanimous response in favour of the foundation but it was not clear at that time who would be sent for it. The three months I had just spent at Shantivanam had confirmed my sabbatical mood and had given consistence to a desire for entering a new stage of life in solitude and quiet. That Swamiji insisted on my taking charge personally of the foundation was then seen by me as a confirmation of my heart’s desire coming from outside. Yet on my return to Kurisumala at the end of the sabbatical leave, it was commonly felt that our present burdens would be too heavy for Faher Bede’s shoulders. At that time he considered whether the time had come for him to resume his Benedictine life in England, but he was soon persuaded to take charge of the new foundation. He agreed to this with two or three companions of his choice, while I would resume duty at Kurisumala.

Our first offshoot thus came forth on August 27, 1968, when a full jeep-load of us, all of the seniors: eight sannyasis and brahmacharis, drove in the early morning across the Cardamon Hills, which make a natural boundary between our Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The contrast between our green hill tract and the dry plains stretching out to Madurai eighty miles east, was quite impressive, while the crowded villages and towns so different from the gardens of Kerala looked extremely picturesque to us. A halt at midday with the Rosarians of Manaparai provided a welcome break before the last stage of our two hundred miles drive. We were refreshed with food and rest and more still with the loving brotherliness of the Superior and the Community. We had our first glimpse of the Kavery at Kulitalai. Reaching in the late afternoon, we were overjoyed with the quiet and simplicity of Shantivanam: the night spent under the guest  “pandal” and the “mandapam”- in the best fashion for Indian pilgrims – the tiny refectory adjoining the kitchen the thatched huts, everything was breathing peace.

The next afternoon we drove to Tiruchirapally for a visit to Bishop James Mendonca, who gave us a hearty welcome. In the talk that followed he evoked many good memories of the origins of Shantivanam, of its founders, and especially of the already legendary figure of Father Monchanin. It was moving to hear the elderly bishop pledging his full commitment to the principles of indigenization, for which Shantivanam always stood..."

 (extracts taken from: "Kurisumala: A Symposium on Ashram Life" Edited by Francis Acharya P.68)     

with kind permission Kurisumala Ashram     


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