The 80,000 Legacies of Fr. Anthony
For 33 years, Father Anthony Thaiparambil devoted his every waking moment to serving vulnerable children living in the slums and on the streets of Kolkata and New Delhi, India. His pioneering work paralleled that of Mother Teresa, with whom he often collaborated. And his willingness to live humbly alongside the people, while he worked to improve their lives, quite possibly inspired a character in Dominique Lapierre’s 1985 novel The City of Joy. On March 19, Fr. Anthony entered his eternal reward—but his spirit lives on, burning brightly in the hearts and minds of the more than 80,000 people he helped rescue as children.
His is a remarkable achievement, though he would never have claimed it as so. To Fr. Anthony, helping impoverished and malnourished street children in need was simply what he did.
As rector of the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Okhla, New Delhi—a position he obediently accepted after nearly 20 years of service as a parish priest in several dioceses—he became acutely aware of the harsh daily realities of marginalized children in the area. Feeling he was better suited for direct service than for vocational and administrative expertise, he jumped at the chance when his superiors (and the government itself) approached him to work toward helping street children.
After earning a master’s degree in social work from Tirupattur College in Madras (now Chennai) in 1985, and being assigned to Kolkata, Fr. Anthony immediately noticed the disturbing number of unaccompanied children wandering around the area near Howrah train station. That observation launched what would become his life’s work. In his frequent visits to the station, he listened to the children and learned about their constant struggles to survive amid unimaginable exploitation and abuse. This inspired him to open the very first overnight shelter for kids who lived in the shantytowns surrounding the station. Six years later, Mother Teresa stood next to Fr. Anthony during the inauguration of Don Bosco Ashalayam (“House of Hope”) in Howrah.
“We shall take care of the girls; you take care of the boys,” she told him.
The need was so great that Fr. Anthony opened three more Ashalayam homes within 10 years. For the entirety of his service, he embodied what Mother Teresa requested of him, to “live up to it with much conviction, affection and courage,” as recalled by Father Jose Mathew, provincial of the Salesian community in New Delhi. “As a true son of Don Bosco and faithful to the constitutions, he was ready to suffer cold and heat, hunger and thirst, weariness and disdain, whenever God’s glory and the salvation of souls required it.”
Today, an estimated 80,000 people—who once had no opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty and build brighter futures—have accomplished both, thanks to Fr. Anthony and his devoted colleagues.
“We have often supported projects and services provided by the Ashalayam network in India, and have written about the remarkable things it has accomplished—together with our generous donors—on behalf of the country’s most vulnerable children,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “We feel the void left by Fr. Anthony’s passing, yet find comfort in the living, breathing legacy he leaves behind. We will continue to steward that legacy in honor of his devotion to, and sacrifices for, the very least among us.”
Today in India, more than 500 children live in one of 23 Ashalayam shelters first envisioned by this humble Salesian.
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