Leaders of Renaissance in Kerala – Kuriakose Elias Chavara (1805-1871)

  • Kuriakose Elias Chavara is called the father of literacy in Kerala.
  • He was the first to establish a printing press in Kerala without foreign support.
  • It was started at Mannanam in Kottayam.Deepika, the oldest daily in Kerala was printed for the first time in this press (1887).
  • He was the co-founder and first Prior General of the first congregation for men in the SyroMalabarCatholic Church, now known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, and of a similar one for women, the Sisters of the Mother of Carmel.
  • He was born Kuriakose Chavara on10th February 1805, at Kainakary in Alapuzha, the son of Iko (Kuriakose) Chavara and Mariam Thoppil.
  • He was baptized on February 17, 1805, atChennamkary Parish Church in Alappuzha.
  • In his childhood, he attended the village school. There he studied language and elementary sciences.
  • He entered the seminary in 1818 in Pallipuram where Father Thoma Palackal was the Rector. He was ordained on November 29, 1829, at Arthunkal and presided over the Holy Qurbana (Eucharist) for the first time at Chennamkary Church.
  • Desirous of living in a religious community, Chavara joined with two other priests, Fathers Thoma Palackal and Thomas Porukara, in order to live in a community following Carmelite spirituality.
  • The name of the community was the Servants of Mary Immaculate of Mount Carmel. The foundation for the first monastery at Mannanam was laid on May 11, 1831, and the trio took vows to form a religious community.
  • Chavara took the additional name of “Elias”, from the Carmelite tradition of his having been their founder. Palackal and Porukara died in 1841 and 1846, respectively.
  • Chavara became Vicar General for the SyroMalabar Catholic Church in 1861.
  • He defended the ecclesial unity of the church, which was threatened by schism due to the consecration by Thomas Rochus of Nestorian bishops.
  • He worked to renew the faith in the church. He was a man of prayer with a devotion to the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary.
  • He was also a social reformer, an educationist and had played a major and significant role in educating women and people of lower sections of society.
  • He first introduced the system called “A school along with every church” which was successful in making education and knowledge available for everyone for free. Thus schools in Kerala are also called ‘pallikudam’(‘palli’ means church).
  • Chavara, in collaboration with Father Leopold Beccaro, O.C.D., founded the first native religious congregation for women in India, the Sisters of the Mother of Carmel (C.M.C.), in 1866. January 1871, aged 65, at Koonammavu, of natural causes.
  • Chavara died on 3rd January 1871, aged 65, at Koonammavu, of natural causes.
  • Kuriakose Elias Chavara was canonised by Pope Francis in 2014 November.