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Generations of church service

BISHOP SUNDAR Clarke's recently published autobiography — Lead Us On — certainly made clear to me something I had long been getting confused about. And that was two eminent women who made a mark in Madras but whose names and accomplishments had links that often caused confusion. I refer to Prof. Samuel Satthianadhan's two wives, both women of letters.

His first wife was Krupabai Kristy, a Maharashtrian, who was the first Indian woman to enrol at Madras Medical College. Ill health compelled her to quit medicine and she became a writer, to her credit being the first novel in English by an Indian. That novel was Kamala, A Story of Hindu Life published posthumously in 1894; she had died young, in 1892, after a life marked by ill health.

Samuel Satthianadhan subsequently married a Kamala, Kamala Krishnamma, a Telugu, who was as committed to education as Krupabai had been to medicine. In 1898, she published her first book, a collection of short stories. Soon afterwards she became the first Indian woman to do her M.A. She then started India's first women's magazine, the Indian Ladies' Magazine. Like Krupabai, she too was well versed in Sanskrit language and literature.

The Satthianadhans and the Clarkes, Bishop Sundar Clarke traces, descend from the first Indian to be ordained a Protestant pastor. C. Arumugam, born in 1698 in Cuddalore, was baptised in 1718 by Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg in Tranquebar and christened S. Aaron. The next year he became a catechist and on December 28, 1733, was ordained a pastor. Aaron had four daughters and one of them married G. Devasahayam Pillai. Their daughter married John Devasahayam who was ordained in 1896 the first Indian Anglican priest. The Devasahayams' daughter married William Thomas Satthianadhan, whom many felt should have become the first Indian Anglican Bishop. But those were still British times, and so Rev. Satthianadhan established a different precedent.

In 1863, the Rev. W.T. Satthianadhan was assigned as presbyter of a Chintadripet church that had been established in 1843. He renamed it Zion Church and ministered to its ever-growing congregation for 30 years. He was succeeded by his son-in-law Rev. William Devapriyam Clarke. Rev. W.D. Clarke's son, Samuel Thomas Satthianadhan Clarke, followed in his father's footsteps, serving Zion Church from 1921 till 1944, three generations thereby having tended the Zion flock in an unbroken line for 81 years. Later, a fourth generation served as presbyter of Zion Church. This was the Rev. S.T.S. Clarke's son, the author of the autobiography, who was ordained a priest in Zion Church in 1954 and who served it in 1970-72. When the Rt. Rev. Sundar Clarke's son Sathanathan read the lesson in the Church a few years ago, the family's connection with it was over 100 years old. The line of priests in the family from the Rev. S. Aaron to the former Bishop of Madras, Sundar Clarke, is also an unbroken line that's over 170 years old. That's quite a record for one family — which also boasts of kin in the Adiseshiahs, Prabhakars and Hensmans.

It was during Bishop Sundar Clarke's episcopacy (1974-89) that, I learnt from his book, there was a heated discussion before the exact number of votes needed for a two-thirds majority was polled, permitting the ordination of women. The matter then went to court and dragged on for a while, but in the end the Rev. Elizabeth Paul was ordained the first woman presbyter of the Church of South India. This and other events of his association with the Church are rather candidly narrated by the Rt. Rev. Sundar Clarke in his autobiography.


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