St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, Our Founder

Our lodestar is Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara (1805-1871), the founder of the CMI, the first indigenous religious congregation in India.

Kuriakose (Cyriac) Chavara was born on 10th February 1805 of pious and devout Catholic parents of the Syro-Malabar Church, at Kainakary, Kerala, India. After his early schooling in the native village and priestly studies under Fr. Thomas Palackal at Pallippuram, he was ordained priest on 29th November 1829. In 1831, co-operating with Fr. Thomas Palackal and Fr. Thomas Porukara, he founded the first indigenous religious congregation for men, now known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI). It was after the death of his senior companions in the foundation that Fr. Kuriakose, together with the first members, made the religious commitment on 8th December 1855. In religious Congregation he took the name, Kuriakose Elias of the Holy Family. Fr. Chavara has written a number of books in prose as well as in verse with unique spiritual vision. His counsel to the Christian families given in the form of the “Testament of a Loving Father” is applicable and relevant to this day. Essentially a man of prayer and intense charity, he lived in close communion with the Lord amidst his several religious and social activities. Owing to his deep spirituality that permeated all his actions, he was accepted and referred to as a man of God, from his early years. In 1871, on January 3rd, Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, after a short but painful illness, passed away at Koonammavu preserving his baptismal innocence unto death. His mortal remains were transferred from Koonammavu to Mannanam in 1889 and interred in St. Joseph’s Monastery Church.

He was indefatigable. What was the source of his boundless energy? Referring to the the secret of Chavara’s success, Pope John Paul II on the occasion of his beatification ceremony at Kottayam on February 08, 1986, observed that his success in all that he did was undoubtedly due to the intense charity and prayer which permeated his daily life. Former President of India Sri.R.Venkataraman on the occasion of the release of the commemorative stamp on December 20, 1987 described Father Chavara as the “epitome of Indian Christianity at its best and the Malabar church at its most resplendent”.

It is more than a century and a half since Father Chavara left us. We have moved on. Society has changed a lot. Yet, he continues to inspire all those who yearn to make the world a better place to live in.

CMI Congregation

The Congregation of Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) is the first indigenous religious congregation in the Catholic Church of India. Fr. Thomas Palackal, Fr. Thomas Porukara and Fr. Kuriakose Chavara of the Syro-Malabar Church of apostolic origin, who felt that “a lot of good had not been done due to the absence of a Thapasu Bhavanam (House of Discipline) and a Darsana Veedu (House of Vision)”, had the challenging vision of providing spiritual leadership and fostering unity and growth in the Kerala Church. With the permission of Bishop Maurelius Stabilini, the then Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly, they founded a religious house at Mannanam on 11 May 1831. Jacob Kanianthara who later became the first professed brother in the Congregation, cooperated with the founding fathers from the beginning. The name of the Congregation was ‘Servants of Mary Immaculate’.Soon, some more priests and clerics joined the founding fathers and thus a small religious community took shape. On 8 December 1855, the religious Congregation was canonically approved and the first eleven fathers made their religious profession. Blessed Chavara, the only surviving founder, was appointed the first superior of the Congregation. Since, during the early period of the religious

Congregation, the Vicars Apostolic of Verapoly were Carmelites, the congregation had come under the Carmelite influence; hence, the rules of the Carmelites with some modifications were given to them in 1855.

In 1860, the community was affiliated to the Order of Carmelites Discalced with the name, ‘Third Order of the Carmelites Discalced’ (TOCD). The Constitutions were approved ad experimentum by the Apostolic See in 1885. In 1958, the name was changed to ‘Carmelites of Mary Immaculate’ (CMI). The Congregation was granted pontifical exemption in 1967.From the very beginning, the religious life in the congregation was rooted in the Indian, Oriental and Carmelite spiritual traditions. Being contemplatives in action, the members engaged in such activities as the Church in Kerala was in need of at particular times. They preached retreats, conducted seminaries for the training of the local clergy, met the challenge of educating the youth and disseminating Christian literature, laboured for the propagation of the faith and for the reunion of separated brethren, undertook works of mercy and started charitable institutions.The apostolate of the CMI Congregation gathered new dimension and momentum as mission areas were entrusted to it beyond the boundaries of Kerala. In 1962, Chanda became the first mission ordinariate of the Syro-Malabar Church and was entrusted to the Congregation. Since then, more mission dioceses and regions were erected in Central and North India. There are now four dioceses in North India and one in South India entrusted to the Congregation, viz., Chanda, Jagdalpur, Bijnor, Rajkot and Adilabad. These five dioceses are headed by CMI Bishops. This is indeed a milestone in the progress of the CMI missions and an abiding evidence of the recognition by the Apostolic See. Besides, many members are engaged in various kinds of apostolate in other parts of India and also in other countries. The Prior General, assisted by four Councillors, is at the head of the administration; the Prior General’s House at Chavara Hills in Kochi is the headquarters of the Congregation. For the sake of administration, the Congregation is divided into 15 provinces, one region and 7 sub-regions. At present the Congregation has about 3000 members including 9 bishops, 1766 priests, 1 permanent deacon, 26 brothers and 1200 brothers in formation. More than half of the priests are working outside Kerala, of whom about 367 are doing pastoral services in 27 countries around the world.