People, as outsiders, who had been to Cheppukualam 6 years ago and have been recently to Cheppukulam, will be astonished by the kind of facelift and makeover that Cheppukulam had been being undergone for the last 6 years. What a makeover and what a facelift!! People will speak out loud that the outgoing vicar of St. Thomas Church Cheppukulam, Rev. Dr. Geo Thadikkattu, leaves Cheppukulam with nothing to desire.
Cheppukulam, situated about 3,600 feet (1,100 m) above mean sea level, is a village in Udumbannoor Panchayat in Idukki district, Kerala, which is 18kms away from Thoudupuzha town and 7.4kms away from Karimanoor, and is known as the high-range in the low-range. Irukallummudi, a lesser-known scenic cliff, is located on the top of Cheppukulam hill. The place provides bird's eye view of Muttom Dam reservoir on one side and Ilaveezha Poonchira on the other.
Fr. Geo was appointed as the Parish Priest of St. Thomas Church, Cheppukulam in 2011 with the herculean mission of constructing a new church in the place of dilapidated old church. All the credits must go to Fr. Geo, considering the amount of efforts he had put in; from fund raising, demolishing the dilapidated church to constructing a new one in such a hilly terrain needed meticulous planning and engineering.
The foundation stone of the new church, that falls under the Episcopal jurisdiction of Kothamanglam Diocese, was laid by the then Bishop of Kothamangalam Diocese, His Excellency Mar George Punnakottil on December 18, 2012 and exactly 1 year after the commencement of the work, the church, with a total built-up area of 7000 sq. ft, was blessed by the new Bishop of Kothamangalam Diocese, His Excellency Mar George Madathikandathil on December 18, 2013. Thus, Rev. Dr. Geo Thadikkatt became a synonym for constructing church at a record speed.
After completing the herculean task of constructing the church within one year, Fr. Geo had no plan to take a back seat. He knew that he had to make more significant contributions towards Cheppukulam other than just the spiritual needs of over 235 families in the parish. With the objective to provide better educational facilities for the children in his parish, he started the construction works of St. Thomas U. P. School, replacing the dilapidated old school. He also completed the compound wall of the church, steps which lead to the church, installed the big statue of St. Thomas, constructed the parish hall and the grotto of Our Lady, new building for shops and post office, parking ground for the church , offices for pious associations and toilet facilities for school and church.
Rev. Dr. Geo Thadikkatt did not want to have any debts for St. Thomas Church, Cheppukulam on the construction works that he, as a parish priest, had undertaken at Cheppukulam and leave that burden to his successor. Therefore, he contributed 11 lakhs towards school construction works and 1,40,000 towards church construction works, thus, now there is balance of Rs. 10,000 in the income-expenditure statement of the construction works during 2011 to 2017. The parish council has taken a unanimous resolution to refund the amount that their vicar contributed towards the construction works of the school and church, which Fr. Geo had invested in LIC policy gathering each penny he received over the last 25 years for his pastoral services, while serving in various parishes in the diocese. The parish council is of a unanimous opinion that they don’t want the money of their vicar; instead they were fortunate to have received abundant divine blessings and services through and from their vicar, which have been far more than enough for the entire parish.
The great accomplishments should also be attributed to the parishioners, who rallied behind their parish priest in the series of herculean construction works undertaken. The majority of the parishioners being basically agrarians from 235 families, without winning their hearts, it would not have been possible for Fr. Geo to collect over 1 core and 6 lakhs from the parishioners towards church construction works expense and 7.70 lakhs towards St. Thomas U.P School construction works. Over 7,852 number of public works of the parishioners were very instrumental for the church as well as school construction.
To acknowledge and encourage the budding artist, Mr. Jomon Kandathil, from Cheppukulam, Fr. Geo entrusted him to do the artistic works in the church sanctuary, the statue of St. Thomas the Apostle as well as the statue of Our Lady installed in the grotto. Construction works of a total of 3.25 crore had been undertaken in the last 6 years in St. Thomas Church, and as far as the parish church is concerned, it’s the supreme example of team work among the parish priest and his parishioners.
Acknowledging the great contribution of Fr. Geo to St. Thomas Chruch, Cheppukulam, to extend the apostolic support and blessings, Bishop of Kothamangalam Diocese, His Excellency Mar George Madathikandathil had travelled to St. Thomas Church, Cheppukulam 9 times, which is the highest number Bishop Madathikandathil had travelled to a parish in Kothamangalam Diocese in his tenure, till date.
Fr. Geo left no room for ambiguities. He had a great communication flow with his parishioners, and to facilitate the same regular parish council meetings were held every three months to evaluate the work flow and to keep the parishioners posted of the plan of actions. To maintain the transparency and accountability of the money received, Fr. Geo published a detailed directory of income-expenditure for the entire constructions works he had under taken during his 6 years tenure, as the vicar of St. Thomas parish.
In a political scenario, a political party comes to power with their manifesto having so many promises but hardly any promise is fulfilled during their tenure. Here, Fr. Geo came without any lofty promises to fulfill to St. Thomas Church Cheppukulam but he leaves Cheppukulam fulfilling lot more than Cheppukulam parishioners would have imagined. Fr. Geo left his signature in Cheppukulam; a signature of spiritual awakening as well as material and holistic development of Cheppukulam parish. Cheppukulam has been very close to the heart of Fr. Geo and it will be so forever.
The future generation of Cheppukulam parish will have to pause and say, they had a parish priest, Fr. Geo, who left no stone unturned for the growth of the parish during his 6 years of tenure, from 2011 to 2017, as vicar of St. Thomas Church, Cheppukulam. In his tenure, Cheppukulam recorded highest growth in its history and witnessed a complete facelift and makeover, which the outside world could also witness, Cheppukulam being a hilly terrain. Thus, Cheppukulam has gained a remarkable position among the parishes in the Episcopal jurisdiction of Kothamanglam Diocese as well as in the political and civil landscape of Kerala.