St Kuriakose Elias Chavara

St Kuriakose Elias Chavara was born on February 10, 1805 as the sixth child of parents Kuriakos and Mariam on the Arabian coast at Kainakary in Kuttanadu, in the diocese of Changanasesry, Kerala, India. He was baptized on February 17, 1805, at Chennamkary Church, Alappuzha, Kerala. His parents were devout Catholics. On 8th September 1805 the child Kuriakose was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Marian shrine in Vechoor. In his childhood, Kuriakose attended the village school where he studied language and elementary sciences.

He entered the seminary in 1818 at Pallipuram where Fr. Thomas Palackal was the Rector. HeSt Kuriakose Elias Chavara Ashram was ordained priest on 29 November 1829 at Arthunkal and presided over the Holy Qurbana for the first time at Chennamkary Church. He joined with two other priests, Fr. Palackal Thomas and Fr. Porukara Thomas to lead a monastic life. The foundation for the first monastery of the CMI Congregation, St Joseph’s Monastery at Mannanam, was laid on May 11, 1831. Rev.Fathers Palackal and Porukara died in 1841 and 1846 respectively. On December 8, 1855, Fr. Kuriakose and ten other priests took their vows in the Carmelite tradition.

Fr. Kuriakose was made Vicar General for the Syrian Catholics of Verapoly Archdiocese in 1861. He introduced Retreat Preaching for the laity for the first time in the Kerala Church. He popularised devotions and piety exercises such as the Rosary, the Way of the Cross, 40 Hours Eucharistic Adoration etc. He was also a social reformer and played an important role in educating the people of the lower ranks of the Indian society. He started a Sanskrit school at Mannanam in 1846. He introduced a novel system called “A School for Every Church” which was successful in making free education available to everyone.

Thus, schools in Kerala came to be called ‘pallikoodam’. He believed that intellectual development and education of women are the St Kuriakose Elias Chavara Tombbasic requirements for overall social welfare. In 1866, with the help of an Italian missionary, Father Leopold Beccaro, O.C.D., he started an Indian religious congregation for women, the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (CMC). He was the founder and first prior General of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI), the first indigenous Religious Congregation for men in India. In 1846 he founded the first printing press of the Indian Catholic Church at Mannanam. From this printing press came the first Malayalam Daily Nasrani Deepika.

On 3 January 1871 at 7.30 in the morning he calmly slept in the Lord and was buried at Koonammavu. His mortal remains were later transferred from Koonammavu to the Mother House at Mannanam in 1889 and re­interred in the St. Joseph’s monastery chapel.

The official canonization process of Fr. Chavara was started in 1955 and on 7th April 1984, Pope John Paul II solemnly declared the Servant of God, Chavara the Venerable. On 8 February 1986, Late Pope John Paul II, raised Venerable Kuriakose Elias Chavara to the honors of the Altar declaring him the ‘BLESSED’.

In 1987 Government of India released postal stamps in honor of saint Chavara for his humanitarianservices to the country. In 2006 Kerala government honored him by erecting his portrait painting in the hall of Kerala Sahitya Academy at Thrissur, considering him as one of the literary genius in Malayalam of the 19th century. Pope Francis declared Kuriakose Elias Chavara a saint on November 23, 2014.

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