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Our Foundress Mother Gnanamma was born at Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, in 1822 to Gali Rayanna and his pious wife Mariamma. She was given in marriage at the age of fifteen to Thatipathri Innaiah, a honest and hard-working young catechist of Phirangipuram. The pious couple was blessed with five sons. After the birth of their last son, Thatipathri Innaiah died of a sudden attack of cholera at Venugunda, when he accompanied his Parish Priest to Madras. Thus Gnanamma became a widow in 1859 at the age of thirty-seven.
After her husband’s death, Mother Gnanamma with her five sons, moved to a village called Kilacheri, 40kms from Chennai and settled down there. During that time, education of young girls was an unimaginable dream. When Mother Gnanamma saw the plight of the girls in the neighborhood, she realized the importance of education of girl children. She was constantly in touch with the illiterate girls in the locality and identified education as the principal means of empowering them.
Fr.Arokianadar, Parish Priest of Kilacheri helped her to reflect effectively and to go ahead with her mission. She went to her native place, sold off all her properties and spent the money in starting a primary school on 3rd May 1863 exclusively for girls in Kilacheri. Thus she became the pioneer in the field of education for women in 18th century. In course of time, a few girls were inspired by Mother Gnanamma and joined her to carry out this ministry.Thus, laid the foundation for the Congregation of ‘The Society of Sisters of St. Anne, Madras.’
The Society steadily spread out in the field of education, offering a range of institutions in education, from schools to degree colleges including institutes of Management Studies. The society has number of institutions, in seven states of India and in a few countries abroad. The Society of Sisters of St. Anne, Madras, has been actively involved in the field of education and uplift of the underprivileged sections of the society. The main apostolate of the congregation is Education and Empowerment of women . The Congregation has entered into other fields such as Health and Social work to meet the needs of the Church today.
The sisters have opened health centers, homes for children, widows, the disabled and the aged. They have also social work centers in remote villages and tribal areas to work for their liberation. They have extended their ministries in other countries such as Africa, Australia, Germany, Italy and Spain. Following Mother Gnanamma’s footsteps, the Sisters of St. Anne, Madras are doing selfless service for the poor and the marginalized by empowering young women with education.
The life of Mother Gnanamma was ‘other-oriented,’ dedicated to the welfare of others. The following noble qualities of our Foundress exhort us to commit ourselves for the cause of uplifting the life of the less privileged in society.
- She renounced …Once she realized that she had a Call to promote the cause of women, she sold all her possession and committed her assets to the realization of her mission by establishing a school for girls. In order to ensure the continuity of her good work, she founded a Congregation though she was only an illiterate widow.
- She announced … Though she was a married woman, she lived a life of selfless service and a witness to Gospel values. Thus, she was an unprofessed religious. She was convinced that her work was God’s own and surrendered herself completely as a child to God’s plan.
- She pioneered …Gnanamma carried out her responsibilities in spite of tremendous difficulties and challenges. Though a young widow, she brought up her five sons strong in Christian faith. She pioneered a school for girls at a time when it was against the cultural norm.
- She dared ……Being fully convinced of the importance of her call, nothing could stop her from providing education to women-not even the transfer of her good counselor and supporter Fr.Arokianadar or being a widow which was a social stigma at her time, or opposition from vested interests.
- She effaced …Her untiring work for young girls in Kilacheri was an inspiration for others to dedicate themselves to her work. Her selfless love overcame the opposition to girls’ education of her time.