Karnataka Jesuits

Br Thomas Rama SJ

(1951-2020)


The legend has it this way. In mid-July 1978 a young, handsome man with a brand new Aristocrat suitcase arrived from Pune, via Arsikere to Hassan to join the Society for his pre-novitiate. He took a horse-drawn buggy, as per the custom of the day from the Hassan bus stand to St Joseph’s school. There was a buzz among the teenagers, the would-be pre-novices who had already arrived and knew that someone will be joining them from Pune, a senior man who had worked for a couple of years. When he reached St Joseph’s all rushed to welcome the young man; thick black hair, well dressed in black bell-bottomed trousers, tucked in shirt, well-polished high-heeled shining shoes, beaming with a broad smile. At 28, he looked more like a professor rather than a pre-novice. Fr Maxim Rasquinha, the director, welcomed the young man. He was Mr. Thomas Rama.

Born in 1951 - in those days no exact record of birth was kept - the border village of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in Mudianur, in Kollegal, Thomas had his early schooling at the village with sandalwood smuggler, Mr Veerappan’s brother as his classmate. He sported for some time, the handle-bar mush and looked like his hero, the famous Kannada cine-star Rajkumar, who too was from the same area.

Fr Patrick D’Mello SJ was the missionary then at Mudianur; he used to take both Catholics and non-Catholics in his bullock cart for visiting the substations or for marketing at Kollegal. Thomas and many of his friends were part of it. None studied much. Thomas was first sent to Mangalore and did his ITI at St Joseph's, Jeppu. When Fr Patrick was transferred to Papal Seminary, Pune as administrator, he took these dropouts from the school of Mudianur to Pune as many opportunities were available in the new factories in and around Pimpri. Thomas too took the train along with his friends; Fr Patrick found jobs for them in and around Pune. The rest is history.

Being the youngest in the family, with gentle behaviour, he was kept at the Papal Seminary. He hardly knew anything about vocation or priesthood. Fr Lionel Mascarenhas SJ, the then Rector took a special liking for this young man and began special classes in English. Thomas leant a bit, but worked devotedly some time at Fatima School and at Papal seminary.

His vocation germinated here; it was nurtured and supported in the Papal Seminary. But he wanted to become a Jesuit. Having little schooling he joined Karnataka Province in January 1979 to be a Coadjutor Brother. He had a great love for his companions – Francis Serrao (now Bishop of Shivamogga), Cyprian Lobo and Philip Abraham both are now in the Kohima Region.

Thomas had his usual Jesuit Formation with special accent on skill formation, first at St Aloysius ITI, Mangalore, then along with Br A. Antony (three years his senior) as his companion, at Patna and Belgaum. Thomas with limited skills but affective qualities moved around the Jesuit Communities in Karnataka, doing his best at Jeppu Seminary, St Aloysius, Mangalore, Indian High school, St Joseph’s Hassan and MSJ, Bangalore. Since four of his formation days’ companions (including Richard Fernandes who became a diocesan priest in Kohima Diocese) opted for the Kohima Region, Thomas showed a desire to work in Nagaland-Manipur mission and he was transferred to Jakhama in 1992. When the mission became a Region in 1995, he opted for the Kohima Region.

Unlike Solomon the great, Thomas too had to make a choice between love and wisdom; he could not handle both, He chose love and he managed both of these in an inverse proportion. At times when he was angry, he kept silence, and wisdom prevailed just for a week or so, but he would bounce back to love, his usual smiles and service. Thomas worked most of his 25 years in the North-East at Loyola, Jakhama and St Paul’s’, Phesama as the administrator, managing huge boarding houses. For short periods each, he was at Chizami, Khuzama, Gunjung, Guwahati, Bishnupur and Moirang. He had a special love and concern for the poor. He saw to it that the domestic staff, the drivers, the malis and the kitchen staff were well paid so that their children or siblings could go to school and have a decent life.

Thomas was most comfortable with the poor. When he was in charge of Arrupe Self-help Hostel at Phesama meant for poor children of the village who cooked their own food in groups, Thomas was with them, helping them to cook, sit in the warmth of the fire and tell them Mudianur stories of elephants and tigers and how they pushed aside the elephants to make way for the bullock cart. He took child by child to teach them the little he knew, but saw to it they all passed. His little friend Tepupi from Mitelapfe village and his sister Theresa who became a nun at the FCC congregation vouch for his tender love and care.

Thomas celebrated life. Preparing for Mass and the celebration of the Eucharist had a special place in his heart. The previous evening, he would choose the hymns, practice them and intone them at Mass without a false note. He had a special love for his friends. When he heard that his co-novice, Francis Serrao, was made a bishop, he rejoiced and celebrated it in the community. In the company of Philip Abraham and Cyprian Lobo, he was always a transformed person with lots of laughter and mirth. Br A. Antony was a sort of spiritual guide to pep him up now and then. He loved the Jesuits and as he was in charge of the kitchen, he provided food and drinks lavishly; he enjoyed watching people eat well.

Diabetes never left Thomas for the last 40 years; only the dose of insulin increased year after year; but he couldn’t care less. Eventually when it affected his vision and kidneys, he opted back to Karnataka, which looked after him with much tender loving care in his last days, and on 1 February 2020, Thomas went back to be with the angels, where he belonged with his innocent behaviour and gentle smile. Karnataka and Kohima will miss you, Thomas, till we meet again. Goodbye friend! - Hector D’ Souza SJ

“Though my health was not so good, I kept on caring for and loving people. I love the Jesuits and am ready to go out of my way to help them. I found much consolation in waiting on especially the sick and infirm Jesuits. In Nagaland I felt I was appreciated for it, and I was loved much by the hostel students.” (Thomas Rama SJ in DML)

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