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Tura’s first Bishop, Mamalaserry no more

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Tura, July 5: In a great loss to the Catholic community and the Garo Hills region as a whole, Tura’s first Bishop, Rev Fr George Mamalaserry, who was responsible for many development initiatives in the region especially, in the fields of education and health, has passed away in Tura.

Rev Fr Mamalaserry passed away at the age of 92 while being treated at the Holy Cross Hospital in Tura.

Prior to his passing away, Rev Fr Mamalaserry, who had a pacemaker inserted to regulate his heartbeat developed a fungal infection in his lungs and was taking treatment. In April this year, he developed severe breathing problems and had to be supported with oxygen. As his condition worsened, he was shifted to the ICU of the Holy Cross Hospital on Sunday June 23. However, despite the best efforts by doctors, he died at 2:20 AM on Friday.

Varkey (Bishop George) was born on April 23, 1932 as the youngest of the three children of Kurian and Elizabeth Mamalassery, at Kalathoor in Kerala. Mamalaserry began his early education at the age of 4 in the traditional school. In 1950, after his School studies, young George left his home for Madras to join the Sacred Heart seminary at Poonamallee under the Diocese of Madras-Mylapore. While studying at Poonamallee he opted to work in the North East, in the archdiocese of then Shillong-Guwahati.   He was ordained a priest by Most Rev. Louis Mathias DD, Archbishop of Madras Mylapore on 24 April 1960.

After his priestly ordination, he was sent to work as a missionary in the Archdiocese of Shillong-Guwahati. On arrival at Shillong he was told to join the pioneer work of evangelization in the Garo Hills: a remote, hazardous, hilly terrain of Assam infested with Malaria and wild animals. On his arrival at Tura on 14 August 1960, Fr. George was appointed as an Assistant Priest to Fr. Anthony Buccieri SDB with the special charge of the boarding and touring the villages

In 1965 Fr. George was transferred to Baghmara as the Assistant Priest to Fr. Matthew Elanjipuram, the first Indian Missionary to the Garos. From there, he   was transferred to Dalu as the Parish Priest in 1970. During the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971 he played a commendable role in taking care of the hundreds of refugees from East Pakistan who had taken shelter in his parish territory.

It was Pope John Paul II who appointed Fr. George Mamalassery as the first Bishop of Tura on February 8, 1979. He was consecrated Bishop on 18 March 1979 in the presence of the Bishops of North East India and about a 10000 strong gathering of people. As Bishop, Bishop George worked for the over-all development of the people of Garo Hills. Finding that Garo Hills was lagging behind in education, healthcare and development especially in the villages, he set up 24 more Parish Centres in the interiors of the three districts.

In all these new centers and in the existing ones, he set up schools, dispensaries and hostels for both boys and girls. He has thus to his credit, 57 L.P. schools, 35 M.E. Schools, 16 Secondary Schools, 2 Higher Secondary Schools, 24 Girls’ hostels and 23 boys’ hostels. Knowing fully well that one of the urgent needs of Garo Hills was to have an excellent college, in 1988 he invited the Salesians to open the Don Bosco College at Tura.  Later in his Episcopal ministry, he extended an invitation to the Jesuits to open a college at Williamnagar, obtained land for the college and even built the Higher Secondary school building in the college land. His concern for the sick and the suffering prompted him to establish 20 more dispensaries in the village parishes and the 150 bed Holy Cross Hospital at Tura.

During his tenure as Bishop, he financed the training of dozens of Nurses in Garo Hills so that these in turn could enhance the health of the people living in Villages. The establishment of the Rino Simonetti Nursing School for General Nursing was a major step in improving the health care in Garo Hills. Rev Fr Mamalaserry was also responsible for the establishment of many other such facilities in the region like the Montfort Centre at Danakgre, Tura, KGBV School at Jengjal besides many others.

As a mark of recognition of his services to Garo Hills, the government of Meghalaya recommended his name for Padma Awards in 2018.  He was awarded the Pa Togan Nengminza Award this year for his contribution to the people of Garo Hills in the socio-economic fields. For his contribution in the field of education, health care and socio economic development in Meghalaya, Bishop George was awarded an honorary Doctorate by the University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya in 2019.

Rev Fr Mamalaserry’s funeral is to take place on Monday, July 8 at 1 PM at the Sacred Heart Shrine in Tura. His remains will be laid to rest in a tomb at the Cathedral Church at R C Road in Tura.

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