To commemorate the silver jubilee of arrival of Brothers in India in 1986, the Brothers were looking for a new extension to the mission of serving the poor and most in need. Most Rev. Casimir Gnanathikkam, Archbishop of Madurai, requested the Brothers to take charge of a school in Suranam a remote area but very dear to him. Having come from there he was very anxious that a good school under professional guidance be established and maintained in his native village and he also offered Rs.300,000/- as an incentive to the Brothers to go there and the people of the area also donated 6.37 acres of land and Rs. 17000 in cash.
Suranam is a remote, dry place accessed by rugged roads 250 km away from Madurai in Sivagangai District. It hardly receives any rain even during the monsoon it remains ever a dry area. The villages are adorned with thorny bushes and venomous reptiles. Even for the basic amenity of drinking water people have to walk miles. Where water is to be found in underground reserves it is brackish for the most part and unfit for human consumption. The primary occupation of the people is agriculture but due to drought, it becomes a Herculean task to make both ends meet. As a consequence, many experienced extreme poverty.
Bro. Patrick Minus as 1st Auxiliary Provincial of the sub-district of the Brothers in India, attached to Colombo District, concluded the negotiations with the diocese and the Brothers took charge of the school on 4th of June, 1986, the silver jubilee year of the second arrival of the Brothers in India. Bro. Arulsamy was appointed director of the new community and also the first Brother Headmaster of the newly acquired high school. Bro. Alfred was another member of the staff who gave a helping hand in administering the school in its first year under the direction of the Brothers. The following year Bro. Thomas joined the community for his first Apostolic Experience. The pioneering task was always difficult and challenging, The Brothers bravely rose to the expectations of the people around. Soon they won the admiration of the people for their dedicated service to the rural youth of this remote area. For the first two years the Brothers conducted classes in the church premises and the Brothers also stayed for the first two years in the presbytery. With the help of Bishop Casimir and other donors the Brothers put up seven classrooms in 1988. Then the residence for the Brothers was started. At first the Brothers stayed in what was to later become the kitchen block. Then with the help of Missio and the Superior General the Brothers constructed a decent living quarters for themselves where they have their present community residence.
Since there was a great scarcity for drinking water and the Brothers did their best to find good water sources at Suranam. They engaged experts to see if water could be found within the campus but sadly without success. They sank a bore-well and they went as deep as 200 feet, but could not get good drinking water. The water was brackish. To solve the water problem the superiors allowed them to purchase a few acres of land at Sarugani, 18 km away from Suranam, to cultivate the plot and to get good drinking water. SECOLI then helped the Brothers to buy a tractor and to sink a bore well. They brought drinking water by the tractor and trailer to serve both the needs of the community and the school which was a great relief to all concerned.
The school admitted all the students who sought admission as it was meant to serve the needs of the rural poor without distinction. Both the boys and girls attended the school and since most of the students being from this backward rural area the standard of education was rather low at the beginning. However with the dedicated help of the Brothers and a committed lay staff the standard of education was raised rapidly and it became one of the best schools is that area. As a result, quite a large number of students began to seek admission every year from the neighbouring forty villages so much had the reputation of St. James Higher Secondary as a quality school had become known. The school remains a living witness to promoting excellence, literacy, women’s education and social justice and it offers education to over 700 boys and 500 girls from 40 villages in and around Suranam.
To insure the continuation of the ministry of the Brothers new recruits are always needed and the Brothers actively encourage vocations from among the students under their care. A peculiar aspect to the vocation of Brotherhood ministry in the Church is that it seems not to be well known to the diocesan clergy and they seem to find it difficult to recommend youth to consider such a commitment when they appeal for vocations. On a trial basis a Juniorate was started in 1988 and there were four junior novices who came forward and at first Bro. Alfred looked after them. The second year the number of juniors increased and facilities for them had to be improved. In 1989 Bro. Arul Joseph became the prefect of junior novices. A study team was appointed to evaluate the programme for juniors at Suranam. It was found that the place was not suitable and so it was decided to close the Juniorate at Suranam and the juniors were admitted to St. Joseph’s Juniorate, Mangalagiri, from 1990 onwards.
With the help of MANOS UNIDAS, Spain the Brothers constructed another classroom block known as the Community Development Centre. It provided training in tailoring and basket making for the rural women. It also provided more classrooms for the school and laboratory facilities for the school children and since the strength of the school increased so much these extra classrooms became a great bonus for the already overcrowded school. They enabled the school to accommodate more students. After a period of five years of fruitful service Bro. Arulsamy left in 1991 for the Philippines for higher studies and Bro. Alfred became the headmaster in 1991. As he was able to get good water from Sarukani for the Brothers and students, he put up three additional classrooms on the southern side of the campus.
A group of volunteers from Lasallian Developing World Project, England, helped to construct the additional classrooms in 1991 and 1992. Bro. Antony succeeded Bro. Alfred in 1993 as the next headmaster of the school. He tried his best to improve the amenities of the school and with the help of benefactors he completed the building on the southern side. The volunteers from the District of San Francisco, U.S.A. lent a helping hand in constructing a classroom-cum-science lab and as there was a dire need of water supply for the school they dug wells and constructed a tank to store water for the use of the children. Having always had an avid interest in planting trees Bro. Antony planted a lot of trees in and around the property to give added shade to the buildings. These have fully matured and the campus is all the richer for them.
He also made necessary arrangements to upgrade the high school to a higher secondary school in 1995 and laboured hard to get permanent recognition for high school to maintain its standards. The school also became a center for the class XII examination, a recognition that is quite rare for a private institution to have. The school has managed to produce marvelous results in government examinations. Apart from regular curriculum the students are imparted life-oriented and value-based education. Amidst hardships and limited resources they have, the Brothers in the community cherish their stay at the school by responding to the call of God cheerfully.
Bro. Arulsamy was the first director of the community which is known as Arnould Anbalayam. With the help of MISSIO and the Superior General a decent house was constructed in 1988 for the Brothers. In 1988 Bro. Alfred succeeded Bro. Arulsamy as the director of the community. He was also the prefect of junior novices. In 1988 Bro. Thomas and Bro. S. James joined the community and shared joyfully in the limited sources available. Although amenities were limited the Brothers had a good cheerful community. Later on Bro. Motha joined the community. This added flavour to the community.
In 1991 Bro. Arul Joseph became the director of the community Bro. Ignatius succeed him in 1993 and he was director for only one year and in 1994, he became the President of the Delegation, In 1995 Bro. Heldon was the director and in 1996 Bro. Doss was appointed as director. In 1997 once again, Bro. Ignatius became the director and animated the community. In 2000 Bro. John Paul succeeded him as director of the community. Later he also was appointed headmaster of the school.
The atmosphere and the ambience of Suranam and the surrounding villages are really pathetic due to constant drought. The inhabitants have been deprived of basic needs of life such as clean drinking water & proper food. The people have also been harassed and exploited, due to illiteracy. The statistics show that 70% of the older population is illiterate in and around Suranam. In order to promote social Justice, literacy and to regain their forgotten identity, the Brothers at Suranam launched a development programme named LARES in 1992. Bro. Christopher was the first Brother who animated LARES at Suranam. LARES wholeheartedly promoted complementary education, adult literacy and youth programmes in 12 villages. The tuition centers created a more conducive atmosphere for education with providing lighting facilities at night time, writing and reading materials, and a place for students to complete their homework assignments.
Nearly 400 students, 100 adults and 12 youth enjoyed the benefits of education and motivation. LARES also conducted awareness seminars, discussions and rallies. A small savings scheme was begun to enable them to save money and to avoid the clutches of greedy money lenders. The students were encouraged to exhibit their cultural skills at regular intervals. They also actively participated in social work such as clearing and cleaning roads, tanks, pipe lines and drains. LARES has also imparted health education periodically. Thus true to its objectives it has created a more equal society but there limitations to what it can achieve with financial constraints.