Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara

The Early Days Of Kuriakose Chavara

Kerala, the birthplace of Kuriaksoe Elias Chavara, is from the point of view of its geographical position, the joint gift of the ever-blue Arabian Sea on the west and the evergreen Western Ghats on the east. Though very small in area among the states of the Indian Union, the picturesque variety of the landscape and the abundance of plant and animal life, invest this region with a distinct personality. Kerala culture has been an integral part of the mainstream Indian culture. At the same time its special geographical position enabled Kerala to enjoy its own outlook, way of life, culture and institutions peculiar to itself. From ancient times Kerala emerged as the meeting ground of all Indian religions and philosophical systems as well as the most important world religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

On the Arabian coast at Kainakary in Kuttanadu, in the diocese of Changanaserry, Kerala, India Kuriakose Elias Chavara was born on February 10, 1805 as the sixth child of parents Kuriakose and Mariam. The Chavara family is believed to be the descendant of the Pakalomattam family, one of the four that claim descent from the time of St.Thomas at Palayur, central Kerala. He was baptized on 18 February and on 8th September 1805 the child Kuriakose was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Marian shrine in Vechoor.

At the age of five, he began his studies in the village school, called Kalari under a village master called Ashan. There he continued his studies until he was ten years old. Then Malpan Thomas Palackal invited him to his seminary at Pallipuram. Subsequently as he was too young he spent about two years in the parish rectory under the care of the zealous and loving parish priest. Here his parents also discerned his divine call. In the year 1818 he joined the Pallipuram seminary under the tutelage of Malpan Thomas Palackal. Not long after the tonsure he received, there was an epidemic in Kainakary and surroundings. His loving father, his good mother, and his only brother fell prey to the epidemic.

As there was no heir in the family, relatives compelled him to discontinue seminary life and comeback to the family. But he arranged the family affairs in such way that he could continue his priestly studies. On 29 November 1829, at the age of 24, Bishop Maurelius Stabilini, Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly ordained him priest at St. Andrew's Church, Artungal.

Foundation of CMI Congregation

Frs. Thomas Palackal, Thomas Porukara and Kuriakose Chavara having the same motivation of starting a religious community life, had several occasions to meet together at the vicariate of Verapoly or at the seminary of Pallipuram to discuss the idea of a religious institute. By the words of blessed Chavara, from the first page of his chronicle, we may allude to the request fathers Palackal and Porukara placed before the bishop Maurelius Stabilini Seeing that a lot of good has not been done due to the absence of a Thapasu Bhavanam (house of discipline) in Kerala even for priests, we desire to start a 'Darsana Veed'(house of vision) at least for priests.
The Vicar Apostolic, finally on 1st November 1829, granted permission to establish a religious house. On May 11, 1831, the foundation stone for the proposed religious house was laid at Mannanam near Kottayam in Kerala dedicating it to St. Joseph. This was the first indigenous religious institute for men in the Indian Church of modern times, known now as Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI). For, if at all there existed any religious institute before, no one continued upto that time. Jacob Kanianthara, who in 1865 became the first professed brother co-operator in the congregation also co-operated with those three founding fathers from the beginning.

The Whole Responsibility on Chavara's Shoulders

More members began to join the religious institute at Mannanam. However they did not have any written rule or regulations. In 1840, the members then present resolved to start a community life, sharing their assets in common and meeting all their expenses from the community. In 1841, on January 16, Malpan Thomas Palackal, and on January 8, 1846 Malpan Thomas Porukara died, leaving the whole responsibility of organizing the religious community to Malpan Kuriakose Chavara. On December 8, 1855, the first anniversary of the official proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother, Chavara made the profession of the religious vows before Fr. Marceline Berardi OCD, the delegate of the Vicar Apostolic, assuming the name of Kuriakose Elias of the Holy Family. Then his eleven companions made their religious vows before Kuriakose of the Holy Family, who was constituted the Superior of the religious community. The new religious community was known at the time as 'Servants of Mary Immaculate'. Later from 1856 by the influence of the Carmelite missionaries, the community began to be known as 'Servants of Mary Immaculate of Mount Carmel'. In February 1861 the congregation was affiliated to OCD first order with name Third Order of the Carmelite Discalced (TOCD).

A Religious Congregation for Women

A religious congregation for women in Kerala was a great desire of Chavara. It was a long cherished desire of his and the result of several attempts, one at Alangad in 1857 and another at Puthanpally in 1859. In 1866, on February 13, with the co-operation of Fr. Leopold Beccaro OCD, an Italian Missionary, the first convent of the sisters was inaugurated at Koonammavu, under the name "Third Order of the Carmelites Discalced". The motive of starting such an institute of religious life was for the education, empowerment of women folk and to take care of their spiritual needs.

A Man Zealous in the Service of the Church

Starting seven religious houses, besides the first one at Mannanam, in different parts of Kerala within a period of twelve years, the new congregation made great strides in the spiritual renovation in the Kerala Church. Seminaries for the education and formation of clergy at Mannanam in 1833, at Vazakulam in 1866 and at Elthuruth in 1868; introduction of annual retreats for priests and laity; publishing house at Mannanam in 1846 for the propagation of Catholic doctrine and social information; special attention to start catechumenates at Mannaanm in 1853 and with other monasteries, house for the destitute and dying at Kainakary in 1869; reunion movement; Sanskrit School at Mannanam in 1846 and school for the general education at Mannanam in 1865, a school and boarding house exclusively for girls at Koonammavu in 1868 etc. were among the few of various activities under St. Kuriakose Elisa's leadership. Thus he focused the area of ministry in (1) Educating the uneducated, (2) Helping them who desire to enter the Catholic fold, (3) Working for the reunion of the separated brethren. (4) Safeguarding the well being of all (5) Aiming at the renewal of the Church and (6) Willing to do all that are seen good for the people of God. In this way he prepared the religious, priests and the laity for the spiritual and social up-lift of the Church and society.
A schism threatened the church of Kerala in 1861, creating a very critical situation. Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, the then appointed Vicar General of Syro-Malabar Church, is gratefully remembered and acknowledged for his strenuous fight, strong stance and effective leadership in thwarting Thomas Rocco's intrusion and saving the church of Kerala from the Schism. On this account, the Holy Father Pope Pius IX sent him a letter expressing his great appreciation.


Father Kuriakose Elias died on January 3, 1871, aged 66, at Koonammavu, of natural causes and he was buried in St. Philomina's Church, Koonanmavu .And his memorial is celebrated on January 3.


Scores of miraculous favours were reported by the intercession of Kuriakose Elias. Sister Alphonsa, who later became the first saint of India (Saint Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, F.C.C.), has herself testified in 1936 that Father Kuriakose had appeared to her twice during her illness and relieved her suffering. In 1955, Mar Mathew Kavukattu, arch-bishop of Changanacherry, received instructions from Rome to start diocese-level procedure towards the canonisation. On April 7, 1984, Pope John Paul II approved the Servant of God, Kuriakose Elias Chavara's practice of heroic virtues and declared him "Venerable".


Venerable Kuriakose Elias Chavara was beatified at Kottayam on February 8, 1986, by st.Pope John Paul II, in the course of a papal visit to India.


On 3 April 2014, Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decrees concerning the miracle attributed to Kuriakose Elias' intercession.[9] This confirms Pope's approval of Kuriakose Elias' canonisation.[10] On June 12, 2014, the Pope decreed that Blessed Kuriakose Elias be inscribed in the roll call of Saints on 23 November 2014, the Feast of Christ the King.

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