Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Tura’s first Bishop passes away


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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 demise, Rev Fr Mamalaserry, who had a pacemaker inserted to regulate his heartbeat, developed a fungal infection in his lungs and was undergoing treatment. In April this year, he developed severe respiratory problems and had to be supported with oxygen. As his condition worsened, he was shifted to the ICU of the Holy Cross Hospital on 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. George began his early education at the age of four in the traditional school.
In 1950, after his schooling, 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 Northeast, 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 in Shillong, he was told to join the pioneering work of evangelisation in the Garo Hills: a remote, hazardous, hilly terrain of Assam infested with malaria and wild animals.
On his arrival in Tura on August 14, 1960, Fr. George was appointed Assistant Priest to Fr. Anthony Buccieri SDB with the special charge of 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 of 1971, he played a commendable role in taking care of the hundreds of refugees from then 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 10,000-strong gathering of people.
As Bishop, George worked for the overall 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 the existing ones, he set up schools, dispensaries and hostels for both boys and girls.
He has thus to his credit 57 LP schools, 35 ME schools, 16 secondary schools, two 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, he invited the Salesians to open the Don Bosco College at Tura in 1988. 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 on 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 healthcare in Garo Hills.
Rev Fr George was also responsible for the establishment of many other such facilities in the region such as 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 state government recommended his name for the 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, healthcare and socio-economic development in Meghalaya, Bishop George was awarded an honorary Doctorate by the University of Science and Technology Meghalaya (USTM) in 2019.
Rev Fr Mamalaserry’s funeral will take place at 1 pm on Monday at the Sacred Heart Shrine in Tura. His remains will be laid to rest in a tomb at the Cathedral Church at RC Road, Tura.


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