Mangaluru: To Lepers, with Love! St Joseph Leprosy Hospital at FMCI Completes 125 Yrs of Dedicated Service

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“I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper’s wounds I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?” I choose the poverty of our poor people. But I am grateful to receive the Noble prize in the name of the hungry, the naked, the homeless, of the crippled, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, un-cared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” – Mother Teresa while receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, 1979.

Mangaluru: On the outset let me give a brief description of Leprosy- According to sources, Leprosy (also known as Hansen’s Disease) is a chronic, infectious disease involving the skin and nerves of infected individuals. Pale patches on the skin are usually the first sign of the disease – they are painless and do not itch, so are often ignored by the patient. In the past, nerve damage and other complications occurred as the disease progressed. The numbness and lack of feeling in the limbs often led to festering wounds on the hands and feet, and then to the characteristic deformities of the face and limbs. In many communities this led to stigma towards those affected and their families, causing them to be shunned and even excluded from everyday life.


Fortunately, antibiotics can now quickly kill the bacteria (germs) that cause leprosy, so the disease can be completely cured with a few months of treatment. If this is started at an early stage, most patients need never suffer the terrible complications which used to be common. Nerve damage does still occur in some patients, but it can often be reversed with other medical treatment. When it cannot be reversed and the person remains with some disability, there are many different strategies of rehabilitation to help them live as normal a life as possible.

How do you catch leprosy? Leprosy is probably spread like the common cold, but is much less contagious than the cold, or influenza. You really have to live for some years in an endemic area, where new cases of leprosy are continually being detected, to run the risk of catching it. Leprosy remains endemic in poorer parts of the world. In 2006 there were approximately 260000 new cases reported world wide.

India currently has about 54% of all the new leprosy cases in the world, followed by Brazil with about 17%, then Indonesia with about 7%. In considering the impact of leprosy it is not only the numbers of new cases being detected and treated that has to be taken into account. Many of those cured of the disease will have to live with the consequences of leprosy. It is estimated that probably at least 3 million people are living with some permanent disability due to leprosy, although the exact figure is unknown.

Leprosy research has been given a great boost by the decoding of the genome of Mycobacterium leprae, the causative organism. This gives hope that more effective ways of managing the disease and its complications will be developed and that effective methods of prevention can be found. In the meantime, efforts are being made everywhere to change attitudes, so that leprosy is seen as a disease like any other, which can be treated through the general health services, just as other diseases are.

St Joseph’s Leprosy Hospital, the second oldest leprosy hospital in India, is an integral part of the Father Muller Charitable Institutions, which completes 125 years of its service to the most downtrodden section of the society-the leprosy patients.St Joseph’s Leprosy Hospital started in the year 1890 by Father Augustus Muller,is one of the first Leprosy Hospitals in South India. The modern scientific treatment and the concept of Leprosy control was not existing during those day’s when Leprosy was considered as the most dreaded one , without any specific treatment and was associated with social stigma and the patients were being ostracised from society.


Father Muller himself used to take care of the patients in the beginning and later the sisters of charity associated themselves with the good work of the institution and still continue to be an integral part in the running of the same . The department which was hitherto known as a Leprosy Hospital started treading the educational and academic path.The Govt. of Karnataka gave permission to start post-graduation course in Dermatology, Venereology and Leprosy, affiliated to Mangalore University. With the passage of time and the advent of more effective treatment in the form of “Multi Drug Therapy”, Leprosy is coming under control. As a sequel, case load has dwindled and the impatient strength is on the decline.

The Hospital also conducts SET (Survey,Education and Treatment) projects in the villages and towns bordering Mangaluru city.During these projects Leprosy is detected in the early stages and free medicine are dispensed for their cure. The Department Staff are responsible for the socio-economic assessment and counseling of patients, guiding the patients to respective doctors/surgeons/counters. M.C.R. footwear is provided usually free of cost or at a subsidized rate to the leprosy patients. It is also provided for a nominal cost to patients referred by general and orthopedic surgeons. Many patients admitted are for ulcer care. Patients from other states also have taken advantage of the facilities available at this Hospital.


During the press meet held at Mangalore Press Club, in regards to the “Post Centenary Silver Jubilee-125 Years of St Joseph’s Leprosy Hospital”, and also ” Golden Jubilee of Rehabilitation Unit-50 Years”, Rev Fr Richard Coelho-Administrator, FMMCH and Dr Nandakishore- Dept. of Dermatology, along with Rev Fr Rudoplh Ravi D’Sa- Administrator,FMMC; Sr Aileen Mathias- Chief Nursing Officer, FMMCH; and Dr Ramesh Bhat-HOD, Dept. of Dermatology/Leprosy on the dais, gave the following details to the media persons:


“Father Muller Charitable Institutions was started by Rev. Fr. Augustus Muller in 1880 as a small dispensary which slowly developed into a hospital. That was the time when leprosy was considered as a dreaded disease for want of scientific treatment, fear of deformities and social stigma. Fr. Augustus Muller started a home for such unfortunate patients in the year 1890. This was an asylum for leprosy patients in Jeppu and was named as “St. Joseph Asylum”. Here the patients were helped to live as best as they could and pass on to a better world when God called them.


“The asylum was shifted to Kankanady, to a new building with eleven rooms, six for men and five for women. This was in 1892 and the hospital was named “St. Joseph Leprosy Hospital”. The hospital gradually expanded to meet the demand and in the year 1909 could accommodate fifty in-patients. Fr. Muller himself was taking care of these patients and later on Sisters of Charity came from Italy continued the good work, the prominent among them being Sr.Matilda, Sr. Candida, Sr. Leonilde and Sr. Josephine. Fr. Muller left for his heavenly abode on 1st Nov 1910 and was interred in St. Joseph’s Chapel which formed the centre of the male and female wards”.

“It was only in 1926 that the Leprosy hospital got its first full time trained doctor. That was Dr. Aloysius Felix Coelho who took charge after completing his training at the school of Tropical Medicine, Calcutta. He continued to serve the hospital for 35 years. The arrival of Swiss doctors in 1962 brought in a sea of change in the quality of care and treatment for this disease. These doctors belonged to a committed agency, Swiss Emmaus which was dedicated to the cause of leprosy. Dr. C Heinz, Dr. Wintsch, Dr. V P Macaden and Dr. (Mrs) S E Macaden belonged to this time. They introduced the concept of reconstructive surgery for the deformities in leprosy followed by rehabilitation. Mrs. Heidi Dutt (Zehnder) was the Swiss lady who founded the Rehabilitation Unit in 1965”.



“St. Joseph Leprosy Hospital has contributed substantially to the eradication of leprosy in the Dakshina Kannada district. School surveys were being conducted in all the primary schools of Mangalore city to detect leprosy in its early stages. Out reach program to cover Moodbidri, Ganjimut, Kallamundkur, Kinnigoli and Bantwal was arranged in the form of weekly skin clinics. This out reach programme later on was changed to Leprosy Control programme in Ullal area covering 14 villages comprising of more than 1 lakh population, where house to house survey was conducted to detect leprosy cases”.

“The programme was launched in 1986 and an intensive survey for 1 to 2 years in that area showed a prevalence of 24 cases per ten thousand population. This prevalence gradually decreased over a period of 15 to 18 years and was brought to 0.6 per ten thousand population in the year 2002 when this programme was wound up as we attained the elimination point i.e leprosy cases less than one per ten thousand. The year 1990 was a witness to the centenary celebration of St. Joseph Leprosy Hospital. The very next year post graduate course was started with 2 MD and 1 Diploma in Dermatology, Venereology and Leprosy under Mangalore University. Presently the hospital has transformed into a full fledged Dermatology department having adequate teaching faculty, nineteen post graduates students, modern amenities including lasers for the treatment of various skin disorders.”.



Speaking to me, Sr Aileen Mathias-the Chief Nursing Officer at St Joseph Leprosy Hospital said, “Leprosy is an infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms and legs. The disease has been around since ancient times, often surrounded by terrifying, negative stigmas and tales of leprosy patients being shunned as outcasts. Outbreaks of leprosy have affected, and panicked, people on every continent. The oldest civilizations of China, Egypt, and India feared leprosy was an incurable, mutilating, and contagious disease”.

” During this fearful time Fr Augustus Muller S.J from Germany arrived to India as a beacon of light for these out cast leprosy affected people. Sisters of Charity of Bartolomea Capitanio and Vincenza Gerosa from Italy made their home in a newly started Saint Joseph Leprosy Hospital by Fr Muller himself. Many of them went to their heavenly abode as young itself. Still the dedicated work continues through the sisters for the remaining few inmates. However, leprosy is actually not that contagious. You can catch it only if you come into close and repeated contact with nose and mouth droplets from someone with untreated leprosy. Today there is effective treatment. Whoever observes a patch on the skin better to contact the dermatology department and get relief as early as possible. Nothing to fear only be aware and dare to eradicate leprosy”.



While concluding, Sr Aileen said, “We are proud of the work and services that we are providing to these leprosy patients. With the blessings of God and Fr Muller we continue taking care of these special people without any hesitation or fear of getting sick. Encouragement and support from the management, well-wishers and public gives us enthusiasm and courage to carry on with our duties. We look forward for the support from well-wishers/donors to continue with the good work that we are entrusted with. Myself and on behalf of all the Sisters/staff at the Leprosy hospital, I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who have played a vital role in during 125 years of existence of this hospital. God bless you all”.

About Rehabilitation Unit at Fr Muller Charitable Institutions :

The rehabilitation unit became functional in the year 1965.This was mainly started as an occupational therapy for the patients disfigured by Leprosy.The Rehabilitation unit provides them work with soft and smooth materials, causing no damage to them.This therapy really helps them to regain their sense of achievement and confidence.


The Rehabilitation unit produces beautiful block printed bed spreads and silk shawls , lovely wall hangings , scarves and greeting cards with batic work on them and exquisitely prepared toys.A printing press is also a part of the Rehabilitation unit.the people working here spend their time making letter heads , invitations, envelopes and other material that are required in the hospital.

Leprosy work is not merely medical relief .It is transforming frustration in life into the joy of dedication , personal ambition into selfless service. The man with leprosy already suffers on account of his illness and segregation from society.Therefore one should not add to his misery.







The Unit completes 50 fruitful years in the service of the physically challenged this year. Since its inception it is working hard for the betterment of the physically challenged people.At present there are 28 trainees in its program.Out of these 2 are working at home and 26 come daily for work to the Unit. The Unit imparts training in making various types of handicrafts and sells them to pay the trainees and to help them to become self dependent.

Details of the celebrations:

The Post-Centenary Silver Jubilee-125 Years of St Joseph Leprosy Hospital; and Golden Jubilee of Rehabilitation Unit-50 Years celebrations will commence with the Solemn Eucharistic Mass at 8am on Saturday, 11 April 2015 at St Joseph Chapel-Father Muller Campus. The main celebrant of the Eucharistic celebration will be Dr Aloysius Paul D’Souza-Bishop of Mangaluru.

The formal grand celebrations will be held at the Academy Hall at 5.30pm on the same day, with State minister U T Khader as the Chief Guest. Guests of honour will be Vimala Patel- Joint Director, State Leprosy Officer, Karnataka; Sr Prescilla D’Mello-Superior General of Helpers of Mount Rosary; Stany D’Souza Sj- Provincial superior of Jesuits-Karnataka; and Dr Sr Matilda Monteiro- Provincial Superior of Sisters of Charity-Mangalore Province. Bishop of Mangalore, Dr Aloysius P D’Souza will preside over the function.

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  1. Thank you Alfie. This sums of Jesuits work and one of Jesus’ miracles at work. Remember always that Jesuits embrace those who are neglected by Society.

    Now, are we right in saying that Mother Theresa is/was a savior for Indians ?.

    We have to put our heads in shame looking at Mother Theresa who came all the way from Albania or Macedonia to serve Indian poor.

    Fr. Muller’s is a Great Institute one has to visit to see the difference.

    It is very hurting that how on earth we can hurt Christians’ feelings in India and around the World ?

    Thank you,

    Govindraj Prabhu

  2. Very elaborate and informative reporting with photos by Alfy Sir–brought back memories of my college days when we used to visit St Joseph Leprosy Hospital as part of our social service league. The Sisters, nurses and other staff are doing a yeomen service in taking care of these lepers. Great work- may God bless you all

  3. Thank you, dear Alfie, for your informative article on the Leprosy Asylum of Fr. Muller’s Hospital which is an inspiring gift of charity from the Christians of Mangalore 125 years ago. The Jesuit priests, six in number, that came to Mangalore during the 19th century had a foresight on their charitable mission for the cause of needy in Mangalore. They also expanded their thoughts towards Education. Therefore they went to the Light House Hill for Education and they went to Kankanady for their Medication. Then they went to Jeppoo for their Religious movement. They bought some of the prime properties of Mangalore and make our town so rich in heritage added with discipline. Then came the Missionary nuns such as Sisters of Charity, Carmelites and A.C. order to help the Jesuits. All of these activities were carried out thru the blessings of the Bishop and the Diocese. Leprosy Asylum in Mangalore is a noteworthy Instittute. Dr. Lorsab and also Dr. Coelho have dedicated great deal of their time and effort for this noble cause. We have frequently visited the Leprosy Asylum many many times, including the Xmas midnight Mass. The Leprosy choir was the best in town then, and so also the nativity Crib that they displayed including the home made Chinese lanterns with candles. I met Blessed Mother Theresa for the first time at the Leprosy Asylum at Kankanady where Dr. Venkat Rao garlanded the saintly lady when we all knelt down and watched the glorious occasion. Our sister, Sr. Joan lived few yerds from the Leprosy Asylum from where she did her Graduate studies. Long live the name of Fr. Mullers who had a vision and also a love for Mangalore. Jesuits knew their way into the heart of Mangalore, and focus on Leprosy research and treatment was their specialty. The nuns from the Sisters of Charity were more than the “Gift of Angels” in our home town that made the place into a modern City of today

  4. After my MSW, I worked as a social worker for this department from 1987 to 1989. I really enjoyed working with inmates .

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