By Fr Sebastian Koladiyil SDB
Thomas Punchekunnel was born in Pala, Kerala, India on 2nd November 1947. Along with some of his friends, he joined the Salesian minor seminary on 5th April 1960 at Bandel, Kolkata. His inspiration was his own elder brother, the late Father Joseph Punchekunnel SDB who had joined the Salesians in 1951.
He did his novitiate at Sunnyside, Upper Shillong in the state of Meghalaya in India where he also made his first religious profession on 8th May 1967. He was ordained priest on 22nd December 1975 in his home parish in Pala.
He worked in India as a priest for five years, before joining the Salesian Missionary Expedition in 1980. He received the Missionary Crucifix from the seventh successor of Don Bosco, Fr Egidio Vigano, and set out as part of Project Africa, with the first group of Salesians to East Africa.
In Kenya, he worked in Don Bosco Upper Hill in the early days of the Salesian Mission in East Africa, Don Bosco Mission Korr, Marsabit, Don Bosco Boys’ Town, Nairobi and Nzaikoni Parish, Machakos. He was the pioneer of Nzaikoni parish which, just a few months ago, celebrated its 25th anniversary.
In Tanzania he worked in the Don Bosco Youth Training Centre, Iringa. He was the financial administrator of the AFE Province for six years. Finally, he was re-appointed as the assistant Parish Priest of Nzaikoni parish and from there he went to his heavenly Father on 4th January 2017.
Among the many messages of condolence received in recent days by his loved ones and his confreres there is one from Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop, Syro-Malabar Church. He says, among other things: "His deep faith, his zeal in preaching the Gospel, his total dedication to the tasks assigned to him and the passion with which he built parishes and schools are all enduring symbols of his attachment to Christ, worthy of being imitated by anyone working in the missions."