St. Raphael Syro Malabar

Catholic Mission of Cleveland

BackgroundIt was a long-felt wish of the Syro-Malabar Christians in Greater Cleveland to have a local mission church to nurture their spiritual needs, keeping the rich Catholic tradition and heritage of Kerala. The faithful in Greater Cleveland represented by the triumvirate - Sunil Manjila, Joseph Kollannur and Wilson Elinjikkal addressed  this desire to H E Mar Jacob Angadiyath, Bishop of St Thomas Syro Malabar Diocese of Chicago. His Excellency had generously accommodated our request and Fr. Roy Kaduppil, the Chancellor was identified to help us pastorally. A few families of Greater Cleveland met in March 2006, to constitute a Mission with the singular aim of organizing regular Malayalam liturgies in Cleveland, in the available local church. A homegrown mission statement was approved after discussions and revisions; a  Pastoral Committee was elected to serve as a conduit between the Mission members and the Diocese of Chicago and also to provide liaison with the sister communities in and around Greater Cleveland. The interim Pastoral Committee headed by Sunil Manjila MD drafted the constitution and bylaws for the mission, overseeing the financial and physical resources of the Mission. A web team under Shijo Thekkel developed a site for the inchoate mission, housed at, to provide communication in an affordable and effective way.

St Raphael Mission will serve as a Eucharistic Community in Cleveland, Ohio under the St Thomas SyroMalabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, in communion with the Universal Catholic Church and the Holy Father, and in union with the Major Arch-Episcopal Church of Ernakulam-Angamaly and the Major Archbishop. St Raphael mission will for the time-being, have only a visiting pastor, and will function as a registered non-profit organization, governed by the bye-laws generated and approved by the Pastoral Committee. The mission members will continue to liaison with the local churches for keeping sacramental records and exercise of jurisdiction. However, the procedural rules of Pastoral Committee and General Body Meeting will be in accordance with and having appropriate modifications from those of the Diocese of Chicago, and disputes hitherto shall be addressed through the administrative tribunal of the hierarch.


The Inaugural Qurbana in Malayalam was consecrated by Rev Fr. George Madathiparambil, Vicar General of Chicago Diocese and Fr Jose Palakkeel (Dayton, Ohio) on the Palm Sunday, April 9th, 2006 in Our Lady of Peace Church, Shaker Boulevard, Cleveland at 1 pm. Approximately sixty people were present at the inauguration, including our guests. Pastor Fr. Gary Chmura, of the hosting church who is also one of our major benefactors, graced the potluck lunch - reception that followed. (See the inauguration pictures in the Photo Gallery: Inauguration of St Raphael Syro Malabar Catholic Mission of Cleveland, Ohio)

The founding members have spared no efforts to bring grandeur to the Holy Qurbana; New altar paraphernalia and more Malayalam Qurbana books were procured from Kerala and a sing-along music system added to the Choir, run by Roy Thattil. The pastoral committee convened on June 4 th, 2006 to elect two new trustees to lead the mission for the initial year of service. Shijo Thekkel (Kothamangalam) and Wilson Elinjikkal (Trichur) were elected as the Chief trustee and Co-trustee respectively. The nominated Executive Council comprised of Mrs. Annie Travassos (Palai), Roy Thattil (Trichur), Arul Mathew (Palai), John Thomas (Kottayam), Premi Mathachen (Ernakulam) and Sunil Manjila (Trichur). It was decided to celebrate monthly malayalam Qurbana in syro-malabar rite on the third Sunday every month at 2.30 pm with a preceding Holy Rosary and also to hold an annual retreat in Cleveland later this year. Member families could sponsor a month's Qurbana at a nominal expense of $100 only; however more generous and regular contributions/donations/gifts from our attending families would be highly appreciated. Children from our member families are encouraged to join the church choir or altar service and their parents would require to contact the trustees for the necessary arrangements. Shijo Thekkel has subsequently stepped down in August 2006 due to personal reasons, and John Thomas Mannanal was elected as Co-Trustee, while Wilson Elanjikkal became the Chief Trustee for the coming term (picture attached). The founder trustees were instrumental in getting the Non-Profit-Organization status for the mission, doing the paperwork for Tax-ID and opening a bank account with Key Bank, Cleveland. The Choir was reconstituted with Roy Thattil, Arul Mathew, Simi Jose and Vishin Robin  ( picture attached).

Another glorious landmark moment in the history of our mission, was the celebration of St. Raphael’s feast on October 15th, 2006. The Executive Committee headed by Wilson Elinjikkal and John Thomas were able to put together a colorful perunnal ceremony-the Qurbana was consecrated  by Rev Dr Roy Joseph Kaduppil (Chancellor, Diocese of Chicago) and Rev Dr George Punchakunnel (Director of the mission). Rev Fr.Baby Shepherd from Cincinnati was a special guest at the perunnal. Sr.Sherly Kodiyan (Notre Dame) helped with the floral decoration of the church. The choir led by Roy Thattil, Vincent Thundiyil, Arul Mathew and Vishin Robin rendered added charm for the Perunnal Qurbana. There was a baptism ceremony of Deepak Thomas –s/o of Pius and Sindhu Padayatti, on the same day-this was the first one since the inception of our mission. There was a potluck lunch (oottu) following the mass-see the pictures from St. Raphael’s Feast listed here:

 A Christmas party was conducted on 23rd December, 2006 at Spahr Center, Fairmount Blvd, Shaker Heights, between 5 to 7 pm. In a colorful function attended by over 50 people (members and guests), Sr Judy Oslowski gave the keynote address and Sr. Lorette proposed the toast, after sharing her experiences of living two decades in Northern India.  After the distribution of cake and wine, the variety-entertainment started, comprising of several songs and dances, instrumental music, mono-act, skit and ottamthullal (comedy). The raffle and quiz contest winners were awarded prizes and the crowd was enthralled by the balloon-art show performed by Jung Ming. We acknowledged the efforts and support of Sr. Sherly Kodiyan in the daily activities of the mission. All the attendees, particularly the regular members were given wrapped Xmas gifts by the Chief Guest, Sr. Judy. The potluck dinner session followed and finally Sri. Wilson Elinjikkal, chief trustee proposed the vote of thanks.


April 15, 2007- was another memorable day for the Syromalabarians in Greater Cleveland; the day which marked the first anniversary of St Raphael mission church, the Golden Jubilee of ordination of its Director, Rev Fr George Punchakunnel and bidding him farewell. Fr Punchakunnel was an experienced pastor and erudite scholar, loved by everyone for his unobtrusive nature and the depth of his Biblical knowledge. He had steered this ship with a steady hand, winning our faith, admiration and boundless gratitude.

Fr Punchakunnel was always young in the company of youth, and has fostered the importance of Qurbana, faith formation and philanthropy in the young minds. He has served us above and beyond the call of his duty, commuting by local transport even daring the inclement Ohio winter. To quote Ecclesesiastes, Chapter 3, "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven ... a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance ... a time to keep silence and a time to speak ...." We had a felicitation ceremony on his behalf, where the clergy, religious and laity spoke briefly about their cherished moments with Fr George Punchakunnel, the First Director of St Raphael Mission, Cleveland.  A light potluck dinner was also arranged in his honor, followed by a group photo-session! see the pictures from St. Raphael’s mission Anniversary and Fr. George Punchakunnel’s Farewell here:






Fr. Punchakunnel                                                                                                   Fr. Shepherd




May1, 2007: We have a new interim-Director for the mission, appointed by His Excellency Rev Dr Jacob Angadiath, the Bishop of St Thomas Diocese, Chicago. We welcome our new spiritual leader and pastor - Rev Fr.Baby Shepherd to our community, who is currently the Associate pastor, St Paul Church, Florence, Kentucky. Born in the Eranelloor village of Trichur (near Kunnamkulam),  Fr Shepherd completed his M.A in Malayalam literature with Philosophy and Theology as subsidiaries. He served as Pastor in Viyyur Central jail and then Prior in Infant JesusMonastery (CMI),

Jesus Monastery (CMI), Thalore (Trichur district) and subsequently functioned as the Director of Chavara Cultural Center, Ernakulam. He has also served as the Board Member and Joint Secretary of Fr.Abel's Cochin Kalabhavan - the alma mater of today's entertainment stars. Always a part of youth programs, Fr Shepherd has functioned as the Chaplain of AICUF- Trichur/Cochin zone before he shifted to USA in 2000. We consider it as our blessing and fortune that Fr Shepherd will be able to share his time and talent for the St Raphael mission. The Committee has decided to change our Qurbana timing to 3.30 pm (instead of 2.30 pm) to suit Fr.Shepherd's commute from Cincinnati to Cleveland by road. We welcome our new Director wholeheartedly!!!

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