Hubertus, Ludwig, Adalbert, Josef, Bernhard Thanhäuser was born on 27th February 1918, in the last year of the First World War, in Berlin Friedenau, the hometown of his mother, while his father had to participate as a soldier in the First World War. His parents were Ewald Thanhäuser (forest officer) and Maria (housewife). The family settled in Volpersdorf (Silesia) after the war, where the father of Bernhard had become head forester. Bernhard Thanhäuser was the eldest of 3 sons.
Bernhard Thanhäuser joined the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God at the age of 17, on 27th May 1935, when the clouds of the Second World War were looming large, at Breslau, in the Silesian Province of Poland, where the Order was running a big general hospital. The provincialate and the novitiate of the Silesian Province were also situated in Breslau.
Bernhard Thanhäuser was admitted to the novitiate on 20th September 1935 in Breslau and received the religious name BROTHER FORTUNATUS. His first profession was on 21st November 1936 at Breslau. He received training in General Nursing (diploma) at the School of Nursing of the Order at Breslau and later training as laboratory and X-ray technician. Br. Fortunatus served, after these periods of training, as a male nurse in various departments in the Breslau hospital as well as laboratory and X-ray technician.
He made his final profession on 21st July 1946 at Breslau. The regime of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War had been the reasons for the extension of the novitiate and for the period of 10 years of temporary profession.
There was not at all any doubt on the religious vocation of Br. Fortunatus. Documents in Breslau prove that he had received positive votes of all the solemn professed Brothers in the prescribed canonical voting for admission to the novitiate, for temporary and solemn professions. The same documents show that the novice master had transferred maximum marks on Br. Fortunatus at the quarterly valuations prescribed during the novitiate in those days. The novitiate had been extended for two months, as the provincial and all the councillors of the Silesian Province were imprisoned by the secret police of the regime of Adolf Hitler on the originally planned date of the temporary profession.
The formula of profession in those days had the following addition: - till drawn into active military service - , instead of any fixed period of time, as Hitler had introduced compulsory military service for all men between 18 and 60 years of age, including religious. Bro. Fortunatus was never drawn into military service, as he was suffering from a serious blood disease. The period of his temporary profession continued, therefore, during all the years of the Second World War.
Silesia came under Polish administration at the end of the Second World War in 1945. The hospitals and services of the Brothers in Silesia too were taken over by the communist Polish Government. The Brothers, still living in the monasteries of the Order in Silesia, including Bro. Fortunatus, were permitted to continue their service in the Order’s former works as government employees.
Brothers who had been in compulsory military service in the German army during the Second World War were taken prisoners of war at the end of the War. Later they were released from the prisoners of war camps but the communist Polish Government did not permit them to return to Silesia. They were fraternally received in the houses of the Bavarian Province, until they started their own communities and services in other parts of West Germany. The last German Brothers still living in Silesia, among them Br. Fortunatus, had been expelled by the communist Polish government and deported to West Germany in 1950.
After staying for a while at Obermarshtal Br. Fortunatus went to Frankfurt where his superiors stationed him. There he was responsible, together with another Brother, to supervise the construction of the Brüderkrankenhaus. Other Brothers of the Silesian Province joined later. They rendered nursing and medical care to the people around and a hospital was established. Br. Fortunatus was novice master from 1953 till 1969, and then General Delegate from 1959 till 1964. He became the first Vice Provincial from 1964 till 1968 after the elevation of the General Delegation to the status of a Vice Province. During 1961-63 he started a home for the aged at Falkenstein, near Frankfurt and renovated the hospital in Frankfurt.
Br. Fortunatus had a longstanding dream to plant the Order in the missions where the services of Hospitality were very much in need. He read much about the missions in India. He decided that if a mission were to be started, it must be in India. Convinced that the ‘Indian Mission’ was the will of God, he courageously faced all opposition. He received the permission of the Provincial Council to start a house in India, and for that purpose to bring candidates from India to form them as Hospitaller Brothers.
Through contacts with the late Archbishop of Changanassery Servant of God Mar Mathew Kavukatt some young men, recruited by the Archbishop, came to Frankfurt in February 1966 for religious formation and for professional training, so as to be able to start new services in India together with German Brothers later.
Accepting the invitation of the Archbishop Br. Fortunatus visited Kerala (Kattappana) in January 1967 and agreed to start a house of the Hospitaller Order and a General Hospital at Kattappana in the High Ranges of Kerala, an underdeveloped region of mostly illegal new settlements of landless poor in government forests.
There he arranged to build the present St. John's Hospital at Kattappana (its foundation stone was laid on 27th June 1968) and a dispensary on 8th December the same year. Br. Fortunatus came back to Kerala on 19th November 1969 and stayed in the parish church at Kattappana until a residence for the Brothers was built and inaugurated on 6th April 1970. The first building of today’s St. John's Hospital was opened in February 1971. Today this institution has developed into the biggest and most important hospital of the High Ranges, catering to a population of about one million people. A School of Nursing and a College of Nursing have been added to the hospital.
He was Prior at Kattappana from 1969-1977 and 1989-1992, director of St. John’s Hospital at Kattappana from 1969-1980, Master of Novices at Kattappana from 1970-1971, Provincial Delegate in India from 1981-1983 and 1986-1989, and Councillor to the Provincial Delegate in India from 1989-1995.
Father of the Poor
Br. Fortunatus did not confine his services in the hospital alone, but engaged in various works of charity in the manner and spirit of St. John of God. He was very sensitive to the varying needs of people and started a number of welfare programs like Pratheeksha Bhavan (home for the aged and chronically sick orphans) with an additional home for orphaned and socially disturbed children, Housing Scheme, Mother and Child Health Program, Financial Assistance to the Poor, Sponsorship for Education, Medicine for Poor Patients, Poor Feeding (midday meals for the poor), Goat Project, Cloth Distribution,... to name a few. Therefore he is being venerated by the people as 'FATHER OF THE POOR'.
Sisters of Charity of St. John of God
Br. Fortunatus also founded the religious congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. John of God (SCJG), at Kattappana (Kerala, India) on 8th September 1977, to work along with the Brothers according to the charism and spirituality of St. John of God, to serve the poor, the sick and the needy. The Sisters are serving the poor, sick, needy and old in institutions of the Brothers in India, Austria, Germany and Italy. And they are running a number of own institutions in India.
To Heavenly Homeland
God Almighty and Merciful has called our confrere BROTHER FORTUNATUS into our heavenly homeland on Monday 21st November 2005 after a period of long and serious sickness. It was on the feast of the 'Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary' and exactly on the same day on which he had pronounced his first vows 69 years ago.
Servant of God-Brother Fortunatus
Brother Fortunatus was declared 'Servant of God' on 22 November 2014 at Kattappana, Kerala, India