St. Kuriakose Alias Chavara (1805 - 1871)

Mary Matha College of Arts and Science (MMC) was seminally born out of the educational vision and vigour of St Kuriakose Elias Chavara (1805-1871) who was an educationalist, a social reformer, cultural icon, prolific writer and a sprit-filled religious priest of the nineteenth century South India, Kerala.

Kuriakose Elias Chavara was born on 10 February 1805 at Kainakary, Kerala in a syrian Christian family as the son of Iko (Kuriakose) Chavara and Mariam Thoppil. Nasranis/Syrians are Saint Thomas Christians who are the ancient Christians of Kerala baptised by Thomas, the Apostle in the first century. He was baptised on 17 February 1805 at St. Joseph’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Chennamkary. On 8 September 1805, Chavara was dedicated to Blessed Virgin Mary at St. Mary’s Church, Vechoor. The Chavara family has derived from the ancient Nasrani family Meenappally in Kainakary.

In his childhood, Kuriakose attended the village school and studied language and elementary sciences. He entered the seminary in 1818 in Pallipuram where Palackal Thoma Malpan was the Rector. He was ordained a priest on 29 November 1829 and celebrated first Holy Qurbana at St. Andrew’s Catholic Forane Church Arthunkal Alappuzha. His special intention during the first Holy Eucharistic celebration was the realization of the religious institute which was being contemplated by Palackal Thomas Malpan, Porukara Thomas Kathanar, Brother Jacob Kaniathara and himself.

Eventually, St Chavara founded the congregation of Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI), in 1831 with a vision to serve the marginalized and underprivileged. St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara though he hailed from an upper caste Syrian Christian family, he played a major role in educating the people of the lower ranks of society. In 1846, Kuriakose Elias established St. Joseph’s Press at Mannanam- a remote hamlet near the town of Kottayam in Central Kerala. This was the third printing press in Kerala and the first press founded by a Keralite without the help of foreigners. From this printing press came the first Malayalam newspaper Nasrani Deepika which later became a daily in 1887 and is circulated even today as Deepika. He also started a school at Mannanam in 1846. He was responsible for introducing noon day meals in schools, a practice later adopted by the rulers of Travancore and then by the Indian government. In 1864, while he was serving as the Vicar General of Syrian Catholics, he ordered to start a school along with every church which was successful in making free education available for everyone. Thus schools in Kerala came to be known as ‘pallikudam’ (school annexed to the church).

He believed that intellectual development and the education of men and women were the first step towards overall social welfare. Towards this end he founded both the CMI (Carmelites of Mary Immaculate) for men and the CMC (Congregation of the Mother of Carmel) for women which is the religious congregation for women as well.
Kuriakose Elias attained eternal peace on 3 January 1871, aged 66, at Koonammavu- a northern suburb of Cochin City. Kuriakose Elias was beatified at Kottayam on 8 February 1986, and later on November 23, 2014 he was canonized at St. Peter’s Square by Pope Francis.

The service of Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara has been acknowledged and lauded with gratitude by the Government of India and to honour him, the Government released a postal stamp with his portrait in 1986. The CMI congregation with a membership of almost 2500, serves humanity in educational, social, cultural, healthcare and other activities. MMC, in this part of India strives to impart quality education without distinction of religion, caste or creed.
On 18 March, 2014 Pope Francis approved the miracle by signing the Decree prepared by the Assembly of plenary of Cardinals. On 12 June, 2014. Pope Francis announced the date of Canonization during the celebration of the Public Consistory at the Vatican on 23 November, 2014. Pope Francis registered Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara in the Book of Saints of the Universal Church on 23 November, 2014.

St. Chavara’s Educational Legacy and Inspiration:

Kuriakose Chavara started an institution for Sanskrit studies at Mannanam in 1846. A tutor belonging to the Variar community was brought from Thrissur, to teach at this Sanskrit institution. After establishing the Sanskrit institution in Mannanam, Chavara took the initiative to start a school in a nearby village called Arpookara. On this Parappurath Varkey wrote in the Chronicles of the Mannanam monastery: “While the work on the Mannanam School began, a place on the Arpookara Thuruthumali hill was located to build a Chapel and school for the converts from the Pulaya caste.” Chavara was the first Indian who not only dared to admit the untouchables to schools but also provided them with Sanskrit education which was forbidden to the lower castes, thereby challenging social bans based on caste, as early as the former part of the 19th century.
It was during this time Bishop Bernadine Baccinelly issued a circular in 1856 which would act as the root cause of tremendous growth of education and hundred percent literacy in Kerala. It was a warning circular which stated, “each parish should establish educational institutions, or else they will be debarred from the communion.” The schools in Kerala are commonly called Pallikudams (school attached to Church (Palli)) because of this circular. Kuriakose Chavara took great interest in implementing the circular. He delegated the members of his Congregation to ensure the implementation of the order in the circular and to actively take up educational activities. Each monastery was to oversee these activities of the parish churches in its neighbourhood

Major Literary Works of Chavara
All the literary works of Kuriakose Chavara were written between 1829 and 1870. The literary writings of Kuriakose Chavara are unique in two aspects. First, it reflects the religious spiritualism of Christianity. Second, that which encompasses various other genres and topics of his interests.
The writings of Kuriakose Elias Chavara can be divided generally into following categories namely:
⦁ Chronics and historical writings
⦁ Spiritual writings
⦁ Letters
⦁ Prayer Texts
⦁ Writings on Liturgy
⦁ Writings related to administration

The Books of Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara:

The notes of Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara were collected and edited into 4 volumes.
⦁ Chavarayachente Sampoorna Kruthikal (Malayalam), Volume I. Nalagamangal (Chronicles), C.M.I. Publishing Committee.
⦁ Chavarayachente Sampoorna Kruthikal (Malayalam), Volume II. Sahithya Kruthikal (Literary Works), Fr. Z. M. Moozhoor C.M.I. (ed.)
⦁ Chavarayachente Sampoorna Kruthikal (Malayalam), Volume III. Adhyathmika Kruthikal (Spiritual Books), Fr. Z. M. Moozhoor C.M.I. (ed.)
⦁ Chavarayachente Sampoorna Kruthikal (Malayalam), Volume IV. Kathukal (Letters), Fr. Lucas Vithuvattical C.M.I. (ed.)
⦁ Oru Nalla Appante Chavarul (Malayalam), Blessed Chavara – It is a letter written to his parishners at Kainakary. It contains lots of exhortations which are to be practiced in christian families

English Translation of Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara’s Books
⦁ Volume I Complete Works of Bl. Chavara (The Chronicles), Prof. P.J. Thomas, K.E.C. Publications, Mannanam.
⦁ Volume II Complete Works of Bl. Chavara (Compunction of the Soul, Dirge & Anastasia’s Martyrdom), Sr. Mary Leo C.M.C., K.E.C. Publications, Mannanam.
⦁ Volume III Complete Works of Bl. Chavara (The Letters), K.E.C. Publications, Mannanam.
⦁ Volume II Complete Works of Bl. Chavara (Colloque), K.E.C. Publications, Mannanam.