Homepage
Home Read stories Africa maps The Project Resources Our Writers News

Kuruppamparambil, Joseph (Father Bill)
1928 to 2008
Roman Catholic
Uganda

Rev. Fr. Dr. Joseph Kuruppamparambil, first came to Uganda in the early 1990s at the invitation of the Ugandan Roman Catholic priest Rev. Fr. Expedito Magembe [1]. Kuruppamparambil, popularly known as Fr. Bill [2] outside India, was a zealous Roman Catholic priest belonging to the Vincentian Congregation in Kerala-India and an international retreat preacher who conducted spiritual retreats and popular missions all over the world. Fr. Bill moved the hearts of millions through his powerful preaching and healing prayers. After participating in some of Fr. Bill's popular mission retreats in India, Fr. Magembe was spiritually impressed and inspired to invite Fr. Bill to Uganda because he thought that Fr. Bill could be instrumental in a spiritual re-awakening within the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda.

Once in Uganda Fr. Bill developed a special love for the people of Uganda. He sought permission from the Uganda Catholic Church authorities to do evangelization work within the Catholic Church in Uganda, and permission was readily granted. He later revealed that what endeared the country to him was the faith of the Uganda Martyrs and the warmth, generosity, and great faith of the Ugandan people [3].

Joseph Kuruppamparambil was born to Xavier and Anna Kuruppamparambil on February 23, 1928 in Thottakom-Vaikom in the state of Kerala in South India. Xavier Kuruppamparambil was the first villager from Thottakom to receive an English education and he was prominent in the Thottakom coir industry. Joseph Kuruppamparambil was the last born in a family of five children, four boys and one girl. Determination, optimism, perseverance, and enthusiasm were Joseph's personality traits from childhood. He began his education in a Thottakom primary school. When he reached high school, he developed a keen interest in social and political activities. As his parents feared this could cause him trouble they decided to place him in a boarding high school run by priests in Mannanam [4].

After successfully completing his high school studies, Joseph returned home where his father Xavier planned to have him train as a police inspector. Joseph, at that time, happened to be visiting his uncle Msgr. Jacob Naduvathussery, who was vicar of Thottakom Catholic parish. While on this visit, Joseph also happened to meet Fr. George Mannara, the superior of the Vincentian monastery adjacent to Thottakom parish church. When Fr. George asked whether Joseph had passed his high school examinations he replied that he had. Fr. George then advised Joseph to enroll at the Vincentian seminary and start training to become a Vincentian priest. Joseph did not hesitate; he filled out the application form then and there and handed it over to Fr. George. He began seminary training right away.

While at the seminary, as Joseph reverently studied the life histories of saints, his outlook on life was thoroughly changed. Through this study, Joseph discovered two important common disciplines in the lives of saints--prayer and endurance--which he decided to develop in his own life [5].

The Vincentian Congregation (VC), founded in 1625 by Saint Vincent de Paul, expanded in India in 1904 through the efforts of Rev. Fr. Varkey Kattarath. The Vincentian Congregation was founded in Thottakom, Fr. Bill's birth place. Fr. Bill was ordained a priest of this congregation on October 12, 1958 by His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Parecattil, the archbishop of Ernakulam. Three days after his ordination, Fr. Bill was appointed procurator of the Vincentian province. Intent on imitating St. Vincent de Paul, a name that has become synonymous for charity throughout the world, Fr. Bill constructed the first orphanage under the direction of the Vincentians. He later built many other institutions and churches in India, and abroad including Uganda. In addition to being provincial procurator, Fr. Bill was vicar of the parishes of Meckad and Chengamanad, before receiving his second calling as an international retreat preacher. He had spent eighteen years in different offices with varying activities when an incident occurred which changed his life [6].

In 1976 Fr. Bill was at an institution at Kuravilangad, when he felt some uneasiness in his chest but he did not pay much attention to it. Later when he was praying silently in the church after celebrating mass, the uneasiness in his chest worsened and he suddenly fell down unconscious in front of the altar. He was taken to hospital where he remained unconscious for three days. When he regained consciousness, Dr. Joseph Kurian a famous cardiologist informed him that he had had two massive heart attacks and that he would not survive a third one if it came. Dr. Kurian, therefore, advised Fr. Bill not to move or speak for forty-five days while in bed in hospital.

Fr. Bill did survive a third heart attack, and Dr. Kurian again advised him to be extremely careful, saying that he had to take medication daily and go for a medical check up every month. Fr. Bill was very discouraged, convinced that he would die soon, so he prepared himself spiritually and prayed for a happy death [7].

As Fr. Bill continued to pray for a happy death, a priest visited him and told him about a charismatic retreat which was going to take place in Kerala for the first time. It was going to be a six-day retreat meant for two bishops, and 163 priests. The visiting priest encouraged Fr. Bill to attend. Most importantly, he told him that on the last day of the retreat prayers would be offered for the healing of the body.

Fr. Bill had not heard about the Catholic Charismatic Movement nor did he believe in the body's healing because of prayer, but owing to his own ailing condition, he decided to attend the retreat. On the last day of the retreat during the prayers for bodily healing, Bishop Sebastian laid hands on Fr. Bill, and prayed for him. Later Fr. Bill testified that when he felt the bishop's touch, he saw Jesus touching him and not the bishop any more. Fr. Bill was shocked. He gained new strength in his heart and was restored to perfect health [8].

When Fr. Bill went for his medical examination after the miraculous cure, the doctor discovered that his heart was completely healed. The doctor was not convinced, and did another thorough examination of his heart to verify the medical examination. The result was that the heart had no problem whatsoever. The doctor then accepted that the healing of Fr. Bill's heart was miraculous. When Fr. Bill later went from place to place preaching and giving testimony of his heart's miraculous healing, Dr. Kurian accompanied him to confirm the miracle [9].

To prove to his superior that he was healthy again, and could return to normal duties, Fr. Bill climbed the high Malayattoor Mountain on the banks of river Periyar accompanied by a seminarian. According to popular belief St. Thomas the Apostle climbed this same mountain when he preached the Good News in Kerala around 52 A.D. After his successful climb, Fr. Bill returned safely and his superior allowed him to resume his duties.

In an effort to learn more about Jesus Christ, and the charismatic retreats, Fr. Bill was given permission to go to Duquesne University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. (where the Catholic charismatic movement started) to study all about healing through faith. While there, Fr. Bill was able to travel widely in America preaching, and giving testimony of his miraculous healing [10].

One day while Fr. Bill was praying in the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston, someone approached him and asked him to pray for a paralytic. Fr. Bill had not prayed for anybody in particular before, but he accepted to pray for this person. As he prayed for the paralytic he heard Jesus repeatedly urging him to command the paralytic to stand and walk.

As Fr. Bill did not doubt, he gave the command. Immediately the paralytic stood and walked. Fr. Bill had not expected the miracle to happen right away. The sudden occurrence of the miracle increased Fr. Bill's faith tremendously and he realized that Jesus had bestowed upon him the gift of healing. News of Jesus performing miracles through Fr. Bill spread in America, and Fr. Bill began to hold retreats and healing services there [11].

In 1981, after returning from America, Fr. Bill started conducting healing masses in India. He reformed the concept of popular mission retreat which was originally conceived by St. Vincent de Paul as the charisma for the Vincentian Congregation. Within months, combining the popular mission retreat with elements of the Catholic charismatic renewal movement, Fr. Bill brought great spiritual renewal in Kerala, and in almost all the cities of India [12]. Africans started to attend his retreats in India, and they asked him to consider traveling to Africa to conduct renewal retreats. Fr. Bill readily accepted, taking the request as a new calling from God [13]. He conducted the first renewal retreat and healing mass on the African continent in Kigoma Tanzania, and invitations started to come from other parts of Africa [14].

By the time Fr. Bill started to preach the Good News in Uganda, the Catholic charismatic renewal movement was twenty-six years old in Uganda, but it had not made great impact on the Ugandan Catholic faithful, nor had it been fully accepted in the church. [15] Fr. Bill intensified spiritual renewal efforts in Uganda during the preparations for the Catholic Jubilee year 2000, putting special emphasis on the Holy Spirit [16]. As he had done more than a decade earlier in India, Fr. Bill popularized the Catholic charismatic renewal movement in Uganda through his preaching. Through his method of evangelization he managed to correct the misconceptions the Ugandan Catholic faithful had about the Catholic charismatic renewal movement [17]. He specifically promoted the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary within the Catholic charismatic renewal movement in Uganda [18].

By the time Fr. Bill died, all the Catholic dioceses in Uganda had embraced the Catholic charismatic renewal movement. Through his ministry he spiritually empowered the Ugandan Catholic faithful to keep the Catholic charismatic renewal movement alive within the Catholic Church in Uganda [19].

According to many who worked closely with Fr. Bill in Uganda, the success of his evangelization was not so much a result of his eloquence at preaching or the miraculous healings God performed through him, but a result of his simplicity and down-to-earth approach which endeared him to many. His simple everyday language and examples attracted the faithful, and he was able to confront people's sinfulness in daily life, and bring them spiritual re-awakening [20].

Fr. Bill's special love for the non-Catholics and non-Christians attracted many of them to the Catholic faith. His ministry brought many non-Catholics into the Ugandan Catholic Church [21]. Fr. Bill believed in the inherent goodness of human beings and trusted that people could change for the better for as long as they are given the right message with the right approach. Fr. Bill was optimistic, preached positively emphasizing the goodness of life, and encouraged people to live happily [22]. People found Fr. Bill's message of God's goodness, love, and forgiveness very attractive, and this helped them to change their ways. This ushered in the spiritual re-awakening in the Catholic Church of Uganda.

Fr. Bill's greatest legacy to Uganda is faith and hope [23]. He was a source of inspiration for women and men in Uganda interested in the word of God. He sought out the ill, the hungry, the homeless, and the downtrodden. He believed that most sickness was caused by sinfulness which could be spiritually healed through forgiveness. Under his influence, the attitude towards the receiving of the sacrament of reconciliation among the Catholic faithful in Uganda improved. The Catholic faithful also began paying the tithe. [24] By encouraging Ugandan Catholics to be committed to their faith in receiving the sacraments, praying with the word of God, and participating in the service to the church, Fr. Bill brought spiritual transformation to the church. Many people in Uganda could say "I am the spiritual product of Fr. Bill." Some of those who attended his funeral were calling for his early beatification [25].

Fr. Bill arrived in Gulu on March 9, 2008 to conduct a one week peace crusade in northern Uganda, a region ravaged by war for over twenty years. For four days he preached the love of God to hundreds of people. But on March 12 he developed complications in his breathing and was admitted to St. Mary's Lacor hospital. He died at two o'clock in the early morning of Thursday March 14, 2008. He was eighty years old. [26]

Fr. Bill evangelized Ugandans for nearly two decades and had preached the Good News in seventy-two countries. [27] On the evening of Wednesday March 19, 2008 [28], his soul was commended to God by six Ugandan bishops, over fifty priests, and hundreds of faithful including some from outside Uganda. Fr. Bill had expressed to the Ugandan Catholic Church authorities and the faithful his wish to be buried in Uganda [29]. He is buried in the Miraculous Medal Shrine at the Vincentian Centenary Prayer House which he established in Entebbe, Uganda.

Deogratias Kabagambe


Notes:

1. Mr. Francis Xavier Iga of Entebbe, interviewed on June 12, 2008: Fr. Expedito Magembe at the time was parish priest in Kiziba Catholic Parish of Naddangira Deanery in the Archdiocese of Kampala central Uganda.
2. Kuruppamparambil himself shortened his name Kuruppamparambil to "Bill" in order to make it easy for people outside of India. Likewise, for the purposes of this article, we will use his adopted name "Fr. Bill."
3. Mr. Andrew Kaggwa Ssekate of Mbuya Kampala interviewed on May 30, 2008.
4. Joseph K. Bill, Jesus Touched Me (Kerala: Good News Media Centre, n.d.), 23-24.
5. Ibid, 25-27.
6. Ibid, 28-30.
7. Joseph K. Bill, Jesus Loves You (Kerala: Good News Media Centre), 7-8.
8. Ibid, 8.
9. Ibid, 8-9.
10. Ibid, 9.
11. Ibid, 9-10.
12. Jesus Touched Me, 36.
13. Ibid, 40.
14. Ibid, 42.
15. Rev. Fr. James Burasa of Nsambya, Kampala, interviewed on May 28, 2008.
16. Mr. Patrick Ogwok of Mbuya, Kampala, interviewed on June 13, 2008.
17. Mr. Andrew Kaggwa Ssekate of Mbuya, Kampala interviewed on May 30, 2008.
18. Major Godfrey Wababa of Uganda Air Force, Entebbe, interviewed on June 12, 2008.
19. Mr. Andrew Kaggwa Ssekate of Mbuya, Kampala, interviewed on May 30, 2008.
20. Mr. Patrick Ogwok of Mbuya, Kampala, interviewed on June 13, 2008.
21. Mr. Francis Xavier Iga of Entebbe, interviewed on June 12, 2008.
22. Mr. Patrick Ogwok of Mbuya, Kampala, interviewed on June 13, 2008.
23. Sister Irene Lucy Onyai, the National Coordinator Radio Maria Uganda of Mutungo, Kampala, interviewed on May 29, 2008.
24. Mr. Francis Xavier Iga of Entebbe, interviewed on June 12, 2008.
25. Within the Catholic Church the Pope's declaration that a deceased person is enjoying supreme felicity in heaven is the first step towards canonization.
26. Rev. Fr. John Rathappilly V.C at the Vincentian House, Entebbe, interviewed on April 15, 2008. Joseph K. Bill, Jesus Loves You, 8.
27. Freddie Sekitto, "Fr. Bill's legend and legacy: Special Tribute," Catholic News Report 6, no. 3 (June 2008): 7.
28. In the Catholic Church March 19 is celebrated as the feast day of Saint Joseph the husband of Mary, Kuruppamparambil's patron saint.
29. Major Godfrey Wababa of Entebbe Uganda Air force interviewed on June 12, 2008.



Bibliography:

Bill, K. Joseph. Do you believe Jesus can heal you? Palarivattom, Cochin-25 Kerala, India: Good news Media Centre. N.d.
--------. Jesus the Ocean of Love. Palarivattom, Cochin-25, Kerala, India: Good News Media Centre, 2005. N.d.
--------. Jesus Touched Me. Palarivattom, Cochin-25, Kerala, India: Good News Media Centre. N.d.
--------. Jesus Loves You. Palarivattom, Cochin-25, Kerala, India: Good News Media Centre. N.d.
--------. Spiritual Thoughts of Fr. Bill K. V.C. Palarivattom, Cochin-25, Kerala, India: Good News Media Centre. N.d.
"Rev. Fr. Bill Bill dies in Gulu." Saturday Vision. March 15, 2008, National News, p.4.
"Fr. Bill's wish to be buried in Uganda comes to pass." The New Vision. Wednesday, March 19, 2008, People, Tribute, p.40.
"Father Bill mourned, to be buried today." Daily Monitor. March 19, 2008, National News, p.4.
Sekitto, Freddie."Fr. Bill's legend and legacy: Special Tribute." Catholic News Report 6, no. 3 (June 2008): 6-13.

Oral Sources:

Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala: Retired archbishop of Kampala Archdiocese who welcomed Fr. Bill to Kampala Archdiocese and gave him the permission to do evangelization work in Uganda.
Bishop Christopher Kakooza: The auxiliary bishop of Kampala Archdiocese, a friend and close associate of Fr. Bill.
Mr. Francis Xavier Iga: A retired civil servant living in Entebbe and Fr. Bill's very close friend. Mr Iga's home was Fr. Bill's home in Uganda. Before the construction of the Centenary Vincentian House in Entebbe, Fr. Bill stayed at Mr. Iga's and the family provided for all Fr. Bill's needs. Mr. Iga's son drove Fr. Bill on his final trip to Gulu where Fr. Bill died. Fr. Bill remained very close to Mr. Iga's family till his death.
Major Godfrey Wababa of Uganda Air Force in Entebbe was one of the very first close associates of Fr. Bill when he started evangelization work in Uganda. Major Wababa helped Fr. Bill organize the retreats and popular missions in Uganda. Shortly before he died, Fr. Bill had revealed to Major Wababa that he intended to ask his Vincentian superior in Uganda to consider hiring Major Wababa as a full time lay associate in their evangelization work.
Sister Maria Tarcis: A nun at the Goggonya convent where Fr. Bill conducted his first popular mission retreat in Uganda. Sister Maria Tarcis worked closely with Fr. Bill organizing the retreats.
Miss Margaret Nassaka of St. Anthony Restaurant on Lumumba Avenue in Nakasero Kampala was so close to Fr. Bill that he called her his mother in Uganda.
Miss Scholastica Adyeeri: A friend of Ms. Nassaka and one of the people who worked closely with Fr. Bill.
Mr. Patrick Ogwok: A lecturer at Kyambogo University who worked closely with Fr. Bill at the popular missions and retreats in Namugongo at the Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Kampala.
Rev. Fr. John Rathappilly V.C: A Vincentian priest and director of the Centenary Vincentian Prayer House in Entebbe. Fr. Rathappilly lived and worked with Fr. Bill in Entebbe.
Monsignor Waynand Katende: From Namugongo Kampala; one of the Kampala archdiocesan administrators when Fr. Bill preached the popular missions and retreats in Kampala Archdiocese.
Rev. Fr. James Burasa CSC: From Nsambya Kampala; the regional superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross in the Archdiocese of Kampala, who worked very closely with Fr. Bill in Nairobi, Kenya. Fr. James accompanied Fr. Bill and they preached together the popular missions and retreats.
Mrs. Regina Kakulu: Employed by Toyota Uganda in Kampala; the wife of one of the leaders of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement in the Archdiocese of Kampala. Mrs. Kakulu helped organize Fr. Bill's popular missions and retreats.
Mr. Andrew Kaggwa Ssekate first met Fr. Bill at the first popular mission he conducted in Uganda at Goggonya. Fr. Bill made a great spiritual impact on Mr. Kaggwa and he became an ardent member and leader in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement in the Archdiocese of Kampala. Mr. Kaggwa always helped Fr. Bill organize the popular missions and retreats.
Sister Irene Lucy Onyai LSMIG, the national director of Radio Maria Uganda in Mutungo, Kampala, was in Gulu by the time of Fr. Bill's death. Sister Onyai had the opportunity to talk to and pray with Fr. Bill a few hours before his death. In 2005 Sister Onyai had suffered a nervous breakdown and was able to heal from the stroke after receiving prayer at the Centenary Vincentian Prayer House in Entebbe. She attributes her healing to the influence of Fr. Bill's healing prayers.


This article, received in 2008, was researched and written by Deogratias Kabagambe at the Centre of African Christian Studies (P.O. Box 33507, Kampala, Uganda; Tel. (256) 0414-510 373; cacisa@utlonline.co.ug) where Fulgencio Kayiso was Executive Director and DACB liaison coordinator.