The inception of St. Thomas’ College during the latter half of 19th century as an institution of higher education shows the active intervention of Catholic Syrian Community of India in the nation building process through education and the spreading of the spirit of nationalism. It was also a period of horizontal growth within the Syrian Catholic community, coinciding with the foundation of new churches and schools. Thus, “St. Thomas' College" was founded in 1889 by the first Vicar Apostolic of Trichur, Rt. Rev. Adolphus Edwin Medlycott, PhD. He was formerly Professor of Rhetoric at the Propaganda College in Rome and the author of India and the Apostle Thomas (London: David Nutt, 1905) which is a lasting monument of his scholarship in the history of the Syrian Christian community that he was to lead in its formative years of institutionalization.
During the formative years the College was only a Lower Secondary School, primarily intended for resident ecclesiastical students. Subsequently, it became a High School in 1894 under the managership of Fr. Zambanelli, an Italian missionary. The naming of the school as "College" by Dr. Medlycott at the very inception of the institution, and that too, after St. Thomas the Apostle of India was, therefore, symbolic of the mission the school was to shoulder in the subsequent years. Rt. Rev. Medlycott purchased the present site of the College, appointed Fr. Paul Alappatt, PhD as the Manager and Rector of the institution in 1895 and prepared plans to house the "College" in what he referred to as a "handsome structure". It was Rt. Rev. John Menacherry, the first Indian to become the Vicar Apostolic of the Vicariate of Trichur, in 1896, who constructed the first building for the institution at the present site and shifted the "College" to that site in 1901.
It was Fr. John Palocaren, M. A. (Edin.), a member of the staff of the School and subsequently Headmaster of the School in August 1918,who planned and piloted the "College Scheme" along with Prof. Joseph Pettah, the Chief Professor of History & Economics at the Murray College, Sialkot in the Punjab (subsequently Professor of Economics & History at the St. Thomas' College, Trichur, University Reader in Economics of the University of Madras, Chevalier of the Diocese of Trichur and Member of the Legislative Council, State of Cochin), Bishop John Menacherry and Fr. Francis Vazhappilly who was the Manager of the School. As part of an attempt at canvassing the College Scheme in the press, Prof. Joseph Pettah published articles in an English Weekly of Kerala emphasizing the need and explaining the feasibility of a College in Trichur.
Funds for the College project were collected initially by the floating of a grand raffle and subsequently by a Diocesan to which all the parish churches of the Vicariate of Trichur contributed their one-year's income in six annual installments. On the basis of the report of the Commission for local inquiry at the School consisting of F. S. Davies Esq., Rev. Fr. Carty S. J., and His Highness Appan Thampuran, the University of Madras gave formal affiliation in Group III in April 1919, when the institution was already 29 years old in its service to education, and thus the St. Thomas' High School formally became a Second Grade College with Fr. John Palocaren as the first Principal. The Junior Intermediate class was opened on 8th June, 1919 with 96 students and 5 teachers, and in August 1919 the inaugural ceremony of St. Thomas' Second Grade College was held under the presidency of His Highness Sir Sri Rama Varma, the Mahârâjâ of Cochin.
The progress made by the College since its inception has been gradual but spectacular. The College rose to the status of a First Grade College in History Group in March 1925. With the formation of Universities in Kerala, the College was affiliated to the University of Kerala in 1957 and to the University of Calicut in 1968. It was St. Thomas' College that offered most of the modern academic disciplines for study at graduate and postgraduate levels for the first time in central Kerala. The importance and stature commanded by St. Thomas' College in the intellectual and cultural history of Kerala in the context of the birth of modernity in Kerala have been well recognized by most students of modern Kerala History.
The history of the College as an educational institution during the past century has been inextricably interwoven with the history of the Catholic community and of central Kerala. However, the infant days of the College was days of struggle and hardship, of successfully combating the distrust of the public and the step-motherly attitudes of the authorities. It is worthwhile in this context to recollect the yeomen services rendered by those patrons and members of St. Thomas' College community who took painstaking labour in planning and implementing the affairs of the College.
It is a long list of far-sighted scholar-Bishops and scholar-priests, Professors and students, and laymen, whose memory has become almost epic in the minds of the people of the region. This list includes the founder-Bishop Rt. Rev. Medlycott, PhD, Patron-Bishops Mar John Menacherry, Mar Francis Vazhappilly, Mar George Alappatt, PhD, and Mar Joseph Kundukulam; Managers of the institution Rev. Frs. Zambanelli, Rev. Fr. Paul Alappatt, PhD, Rev. Fr. A. J. Ukken, Rev. Fr. Matthew Edakkolathur and Monseigneurs Antony Pudussery, Rev. Fr. Paul Chittilappilly, Rev. Fr. Iype Irimpen, Rev. Fr. John Maliekkal, Rev. Fr. Paul Chittilappilly, PhD and Rev. Fr. Ignatius Chalissery; Principals of the College Msgr. John Palocaren, and Rev. Fr. Joseph Kallingal, Rev. Fr. Ittyera Mampilly, Rev. Fr. Thomas Moothedan, D.D., Rev. Fr. Nicholas Anthikad and Rev. Fr. Paul Alappatt; and Professors P. Sankaran Nambiar, Chev. Joseph Pettah and T. O. Mathew.
The College has had a very strong scholastic tradition that spans over a century. The meticulously rigorous standards prescribed by the College for its academic community and the stature of the College as one of the premier educational institutions of higher learning in Kerala attracted the best of talents into its teaching and student community. It can count among its past staff and students, eminent scientists, literary critics, educationists, jurists, spiritual leaders, administrators, statesmen and others whose contributions to the intellectual, cultural and political life of our nation will ever be remembered. Scientists C. S. Venkatesvaran, R. S. Krishnan who was the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Kerala, K. Gopalan who was the former Director of the N.C.E.R.T. and the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cochin, and Prof. E. D. Jemmis, a recipient of the coveted Santhi Swaroop Bhatnagar Award and Padmasri; literary critics Prof. M. P. Paul (who has been commemorated by the Sahitya Akademy, New Delhi, by publishing a monograph on him in English and several Indian languages in the series entitled Makers of Indian Literature in 1985), Prof. Joseph Mundassery (former Minister for Education, Kerala and Vice Chancellor of the University of Cochin) and Prof. P. Sankaran Nambiar who had initiated and led the world of literary criticism in Malayalam; Jurists Joseph Thaliath, the one-time Puisne Judge of the High Court of the princely state of Travancore, M. S. Menon, the former Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala, M. P. Menon and G. Viswanatha Iyer of the High Court of Kerala; spiritualist and interpreter of Indian scriptures Swamy Chinmayananda, Christian Bishops Mar George Alappatt, PhD, Mar Iype Irimpan, Mar James Pazhayattil, Mar Paul Chittilappilly, Mar Aprem, PhD and Paulose Mar Paulose, PhD; statesmen Panampilly Govinda Menon (former Chief Minister of Travancore-Cochin), E. M. S. Namboodiripad (first Chief Minister of Kerala), Mathai Manjooran, C. Achyuta Menon ( former Chief Minister of Kerala), C. M. Stephen (former Union Minister and the leader of the opposition at the Indian Parliament), statesman and diplomat A.M. Thomas (former Indian High Commissioner to Australia and Union Deputy Minister for Defence Production), N. K. Seshan (former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and Finance Minister of Kerala) and Sri V.M. Sudheeran (former Speaker, Minister of Kerala and Member of the Indian Parliament); administrators T. M. Varughese I.C.S. (former Chief Secretary to Govt. of Madras), T.N. Jayachandran I.A.S. (former Additional Chief Secretary to Govt. of Kerala and Vice Chancellor of the University of Kerala) and K.M. Thomas I.E.S. (former Director of the Eleventh Finance Commission, Govt. of India); eminent teachers of south India, Chev. Joseph Pettah, Chev. C. J. Varkey (former Minister for Education, Madras), S. F. Nunez (Member of the Legislative Council of Cochin), R. Narayanaswamy, Prof. A. Sreedhara Menon (former Registrar of the University of Kerala, Editor of the Kerala State Gazetteers, U.G.C. Visiting Professor, onetime President of the South Indian History Congress and a National Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research), Prof. V. R. Subrahmanian (the founder of the first association of private College teachers in Kerala and member of the Syndicate of the University of Kerala), Prof. Joseph Kolengaden PhD (onetime Professor of English in the University of Basra and Head of Department of English at the St. Joseph's College, Trichinapoly), Jose Mechery, PhD (an ex-Alexander vön Humboldt Fellow, Universität München), V. K. Krishnan, PhD (noted mathematician whose Functional Analysis has been published by the Prentice Hall of India), K.C. Shekhar (onetime Professor and Head of the Department of Accounting & Finance, University of Zambia), Chummar Choondal, PhD (folklorist and recipient of the Indira Gandhi Award), Edmund Peters (the linguist), George Menachery (the Editor of St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia and Thomapaedia), and P. C. Thomas (the master-trainer of pre-medical and pre-engineering examinations); industrialist Sri Kochouseph Chittilappilly of the House of V Guard and many others from different walks of life to mention but a few from a long list were members of the St. Thomas' College community at some time or other and had their formation in or contributed to the intellectual traditions of the College. They represented a wide spectrum of vibrant and eclectic intellectual streams that constituted a live academic community.
The dimensions of the intellectual activity of the period as represented by the St. Thomas' College can be perceived by taking a glance here at the variety and depth of the articles published in the College Magazines of the 1920's and 1930's. St. Thomas' College Magazine was launched in 1925 as a chronicle of the activities of College life and as a proper medium of expression of the literary achievements of the students. Under the editorship of such illustrious Professors as Joseph Pettah, M. P. Paul, Joseph Mundassery and others, the magazine attained a standing and repute of its own among publications of the kind. The articles published in the magazine exhibited a remarkable awareness of the contemporary intellectual and socio-political realities and the deep insights into the subsequent events in India.
For the students of the intellectual history of modern Kerala, the magazine of the College forms an invaluable source to work upon on account of their pioneering character and thematic innovation. Any account of the history of the College, to be as objective as possible, should incorporate the substantial contributions that the College made to the growth of Malayalam literature and various branches of the liberal arts through the forum of the magazine. The scholarly articles published in the magazine during the period between 1925 and 1950 attempted a thoroughgoing critique of the British imperialist view of India's past and the British economic policies in India. These articles together constituted what can now safely be regarded as a nationalist discourse that emanated from the St. Thomas' College. Another contribution of the College to literary Kerala and the Malayalam language was a journal entitled Keralam under the editorship of Msgr. John Palocaren, Prof. M.P. Paul and Prof. Joseph Mundassery, which fostered the language and literature of Malayalam in the form of hundreds of research articles on literature, linguistics, literary criticism, biography, history, political science and various sciences. Though Keralam as a journal did not survive long, it did attain reputation among scholars, men of letters and the reading public of the time for the standards it set for itself and the contributions that it made to the spread of ideas and values that were so essential for the growth of a democratized society and secular culture in this part of India.
Apart from the contributions to intellectual and cultural fields, the College community has responded positively to the problems thrown up by the processes of nation-building and political life. When the Indian nationalist movement became a mass-movement under the stewardship of Mahâtmâ Gandhi in 1919, the College was still in its infancy as a Second Grade College. 'St. Thomas' College Parliament' in its inaugural session in 1926, passed a resolution deciding to grant 'Immediate Swaraj' to India, though the Indian National Congress was yet to resolve upon and declare complete independence as its goal first in 1927 and subsequently in 1929. Thus, within a period of eight years, the College was prepared to welcome the Mahatma into its active and responsive campus. It was on 14 October 1927 that Gandhi visited the College “to the address of the Cochin students who also presented him with a purse of Rs 501". The mangalapatram submitted to Gandhi on that day by the students of the College is a proof of the dimensions, which the education and learning process as proposed by the scholar-founders of the St. Thomas' College took, and the directions to which the College community wanted the rest of the intelligentia to follow.
The impact made by the historic visit of Gandhi and his clarion-call for participation in the anti-British struggle was tremendous as could be seen in the subsequent mobilization of manpower into the movement in this part of Kerala. In 1931, members of the College Union celebrated the birthday of Mahâtmâ Gandhi, when fervent appeals were made to the students to follow the ideals of the 'half-naked fakir'. It is now pertinent to recall that a good number of activists from central Kerala in the cause of national liberation had their intellectual formation in the College and, in this respect, the College has offered to some of the veteran leaders of anti-British struggle in Kerala an early experience of Gandhi and the charm of anti-imperialist struggle. Sri E.M.Sankaran Namboodirippad, then a student-member of the magazine Committee, who left St. Thomas' College in 1932 to enlist himself as an Indian National Congress volunteer, Sri S. Ramakrishnan, Personal Secretary to Mahâtmâ Gandhi and Sardar Patel, and a recipient of the Bharat Ratna Award, and Sri V.R. Krishnan Ezhuthachan, veteran freedom-fighter all of whom were students of the College did share the rising Indian nationalist fervour in the College. Incidentally, the willingness of the St. Thomas' College community to open up its doors for dialogue between the leader of the anti-British struggle and the academic community of the College weakens the arguments, cherished for long by a section of historians, to the effect that the Catholic Church was against the burgeoning Indian nationalist movement. Moreover, the College provided a platform and a community centre for free expression of ideas of the educated sections of the public of Trichur on various contemporary and important events in the first half of the 20th century.
Since the upgradation of the institution as an affiliated College in 1919, numerous eminent persons, academicians as well as statesmen and leaders of religion and society, have visited the College and interacted with the College community. The former category includes His Excellency Msgr. Edward Mooney, D.D., the Delegate Apostolic of India in 1926; Sir C. V. Kumara Sastri, M. A. & B. L., the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court in 1926; Justice P. Narayana Menon of the Chief Court of Cochin in 1927; leading Malayalam poets Mahakavi Ulloor S. Parameshwara Iyer and Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon in 1928; C. G. Herbert Esq., I. C. S., the Diwan of Cochin in 1930; V. Subrahmania Iyer, the Retired Registrar of the University of Madras in 1931; C. J. Chacko, PhD., Fellow of the Columbia University in Political Science in 1932; Fr. Murphy S. J., M. A. (Oxon) of Loyola College, Madras in 1933; Dr. P.J. Thomas, former Economic Adviser to Govt. of India in 1950; Prof. C.D. Deshmukh, the Chairman of the U.G.C. in 1957; Dr. John Mathai, reputed economist and Vice Chancellor of the University of Kerala in 1958; Sri Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon, noted Malayalam poet, and Sri Sukumar Azhikode, leading Malayalam literary critic in 1958-'59; Prof. Samuel Mathai, Vice Chancellor of the University of Kerala in 1964; Mr. Farely Richmond, the Director of Asian Theatres, University of Michigan in 1971; Sri K.J. Yesudas, singer and musician of all times and the then Chairman of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy in 1972; P. Kunhiraman Nair, noted Malayalam poet in 1972; Justice Mr. Balakrishnan Eradi of the Hon. High Court of Kerala in 1972; Sir L.A. Hill, Chief Educational Adviser of the British Council and others. The more prominent among the latter category include Mahâtmâ Gandhi in 1927; the Maharajas of Cochin in 1919 and 1935; Lord Irwin, the Viceroy who received a delegation of the St. Thomas' College community in 1930 at Trichur; Dewan Bahadur A. Ramaswamy Mudaliar in 1935; T. K. Narayana Pilla, the Chief Minister of the Travancore-Cochin State in 1950; Sri Panampilly Govinda Menon, the Chief Minister of Travancore-Cochin in 1956; Dr. B. Ramakrishna Rao, the first Governor of Kerala in 1957; Sri V. K. Krishna Menon, the Defence Minister, in 1957 and again in 1958; His Eminence Valerian Cardinal Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay in 1959; Mr. S.K. Patil and Mr. M.V. Krishnappa, Union Ministers in 1959 and 1960 respectively; Acharya J. Kripalani in 1960; Sri Humayun Kabir, Union Minister in 1961; His Excellency the Most Rev. Dr. James Robert Knox, Apostolic Internuncio of India in 1962; Sri V.V. Giri, the Governor of Kerala in 1963; Sri K. Kamaraj, President of the Indian National Congress in 1964; Mrs. Laksmi N. Menon, Union Minister in 1964; Sri E.M.S. Nambuthiripad, the Chief Minister of Kerala in 1969; His Excellency Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, the President of India who inaugurated the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the College in February, 1980 (i.e., the 91st year of educational service of the institution); Sri P. V. Narasimha Rao, the Prime Minister of India, who inaugurated the valedictory functions of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in January 1994 (i.e., the 105th year of educational service of the institution) and the venerable Mother Theresa who received a delegation of the College community in 1994.
The College has built up over the years extensive resources necessary to support and accommodate more than 3000 students and sixteen teaching Departments (including the nine Research Departments and the fourteen postgraduate Departments) that encompassed around 145 teachers who teach the undergraduates and help the postgraduates in their specializations. The College Library houses nearly one lakh of volumes and is one of the largest and oldest collections of books maintained by the Colleges in Kerala. The location of the College near the Sahitya Akademy, the Lalita Kala Akademy, the Sangeeta Nataka Akademy, the Archaeological Museum, the State Museum, the Zoo, the Public Library, and various other institutions of higher learning in the medical, engineering, agricultural specialisations and fine arts, provide the students with unique opportunities not available elsewhere in Kerala. Though a comprehensive history of the College in the context of the intellectual and social history of modern Kerala is yet to be designed and worked out in the coming years, it has generally been recognized that the wealth of records and other archival materials preserved in the archieves of St. Thomas' College encompass the events of more than a century of progress of central Kerala in education, of the history of the spread of ideas and of the contributions of the Syrian Catholics to education, social progress and nation-building. A collection of the publications of the members of St. Thomas' College community, both of the past and present, will not only form a library in itself but will also stand as a testimony to and document what the College has long been doing as a centre of higher learning to life and thought in Kerala during the past one century. A study of the impact of these volumes on Kerala has to be at the centre of bringing out a true defence and justification of the St. Thomas' College, Thrissur, which will definitely contribute to the form and contents of a meaningful history of the College.
The foregoing brief account is only the bare outline of a proposal for a detailed history of the College, which is yet to be planned and worked out in the coming years on the basis of the archival materials pertaining to the history of the College as well as on oral evidence and the fading memories of the old boys of the College. The success of the proposal will rest largely on the volume of archival materials that St. Thomas' College will be able to identify, preserve and appreciate in an attempt at bridging the gap between the past and the present of a century-old academic excursion of a pioneering institution of higher learning in Kerala. Some of the major events in the history of the College are briefly listed in the Analecta given elsewhere in the College Manual for a fuller appreciaton of the history of the St. Thomas' College.