Life of Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara

Life of Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara

        Saint Kuriakose was born on 10 February 1805 in the moderately rich family of Chavara at Kainakary of the Chennamkary parish, of very pious parents, Kuriakose Chavara and Mariam of the Thoppil family of Velianad, Pulincunnoo parish. The Chavaras are considered to be a scion of the well-known Pakalomattam family of Kuravilangad. Baptized on the 8th day, he was dedicated to Blessed Virgin Mary, a consecration which his mother renewed every year. He considered it a particular fortune to have had grown up with the loving care of his mother. He had his early schooling under a country teacher, who was a Hindu, in the company of other boys belonging to different faiths. Chavara, influenced as he was by the negative, apologetic theology of the missionaries, looked back to his school days rather pessimistically. He felt that the good upbringing he had at home was challenged by what happened at the school. He felt relieved with his call to priesthood, which came when he reached the age of ten. The Saint gives expression to these reactions in his autobiographical poem Atmanuthamm (Compunction of the Soul').

           After spending one or two years of preliminary training with his parish priest, Kuriakose entered the seminary at South Pallipuram in 1818, in which year Malpan Thomas Palackal had taken over the seminary from Malpan Abraham Thachil. He had a very good priestly training under the rather strict discipline of Palackal, who had a special predilection for this disciple. The latter helped the malpan to collect books and manuscripts and compose prayers for the Divine Office. Kuriakose Porukara's testimony is eloquent:

As his companions in the seminary themselves testify, they had great respect, regard and love for Kuriakose, because he was a model of devotion to God, gentleness, humility, obedience and brotherly love. In the new seminary strict discipline was maintained through chapter of faults and due punishment. But though he lived there for a long time with many companions, he was never rebuked for any fault. Moreover, on account of his fine character diligence and  intelligence, he mastered Syriac and other languages. Because of this his malpan was well pleased with this disciple and sent him to other places in order to study Latin and Portuguese.

            During his seminary days Chavara lost both his parents and only brother. This did not deter him from continuing his priestly studies. After making arrangements for the succession of the family, he returned to the seminary, and completed his studies. Ordained deacon in 1828, he began to assist his malpan in the training of the seminarians. His responsibility in the seminary increased after his ordination in 1829, when Fr. Palackal together with Fr. Porukara was searching for a proper site for establishing the proposed monastery. The Chavara offered his first Mass with the special intention for its realization. Soon after the foundation was laid for the monastery at Mannanam, the malpan sent him there to supervise the work and help Fr. Porukara. The words of Chavara about how his malpan groomed him for the task are touching:

             For, from my childhood Malpan Palackal adopted me as his protégé, looked after the needs of both my body and soul, and met the expenses of my priestly studies. Until his death he took more interest in me than in any of his relatives or his other spiritual students. He considered me as his heir; and left me in charge of the work that was his heart's love—the work of the monastery, to which he dedicated his life.

He never deviated from the path set for him by the malpan; he, and the other two founders were the only persons who in the beginning "dedicated themselves to work for the new house, leaving home and relatives and everything else".

Even before the pioneers passed away, Palackal in 1841 and Porukara in 1846, Chavara took several initiatives on his own in consultation with the seniors. However, it was after the death of Fr. Porukara that the full responsibility of leading the newly founded religious community fell on his shoulders. He inherited not only the more contemplative spirit of Palackal, but also the more active dimension of Porukara's spirituality. Assimilating the spirit of the two elders he evolved a vision of his own. Further combining this vision with the insights he received from the tradition of the Carmelite Order he tried to give to both contemplative and active aspects a texture in a very dynamic manner.

All through his life Chavara worked hard and shouldered heavy responsibilities both within the religious community and in the Kerala Church. It was he, as the common prior or prior general, presided over the community when the first fathers made the religious profession on 8 December 1855 under the rules and constitutions given to them by the Ordinary; again, when the congregation was affiliated to the Order of the Discalced Carmelites in 1860. Already during his life time seven new monasteries were established: St.Philomena's, Koonammavu (1857), St. Mary's Elthuruth (1858), Carmel Vazhakulam (1859), St. Sebastian's Pulincunnu (1861), St. Theresa's Ambazhakad (1868), St. John of the Cross, Mutholy (1870), Sacred Heart Chethipuzha (for which negotiation started in 1868, but was established only in 1883). The monastery at Plasnal started by Fr. Antony Kudakkachira, taken over by Fr. Chavara in 1858 on the order of the vicar apostolic, was abandoned within a year due to the unfavourable climate there.

Chavara wrote the chronicle of the congregation and composed many other books. The heroic leadership he gave to the Church of the St. Thomas Christians as vicar general during the time of the disturbances caused by the intruding East -Syrian bishop Thomas Roccos is to be written in red letters in the history of the Church. It was he who, together with Carmelite missionary Leopold Beccaro, founded the first religious house for women. His humble and self-sacrificing spirit won the members of the congregation his paternal testament he breathed his last on 3 January 1871, at the age of 66. The huge crowd that flowed to Koonammavu, where he spent his last seven years, to pay their last respects to the deceased was already a sign of the odour of his sanctity.

Kuriakose Elias Chavara to the Saint Hood

               Fr. Kuriakose Chavara died in the odour of sanctity. Perhaps soon after his demise persons intimately related to him thought of taking steps to get him officially declared a saint. Fr. Leopold Beccaro, his close friend and spiritual director during the last seven years of his life, seems to have had this intention in some of the actions he took immediately after the death of Chavara. He published a few chapters of Atmanuthapam, which was prefaced by a short biography of Chavara the missionary had composed. He also sent to the monasteries some of the clothes and other articles Chavara had used. They were intended to be kept in the respective houses as relics. Fr. Leopold, being in the bad books of Archbishop Mellano, had to leave India and return for good to Italy in 1876. That was the end of perhaps the first attempt for the canonization of Chavara.

The members of the congregation, however had never given up the idea and periodically expressed their wish for the canonization. However it was only in 1936 some concrete steps began to be taken. A few monasteries like Kurianad, Champakulam, Pulincunnu sent formal petitions to the general council of the congregation requesting it to start the process for canonization. The council positively responded to the requests. As a first step it decided to publish a detailed and authentic biography of Chavara and appointed. Fr. Simon Pattassery to take up the task with the assistance of Fr. Valerian Plathottam.

The actual process for beatification/canonization started in the 1950s. Fr. Maurus Valiaparambil, the then prior general, took the initiative for it in 1953. At the advice of Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, he petitioned the Congregation of Rites or for the Cause of Saints, which reacting positively authorized Mar Mathew Kavukatt, Bishop of Changanacherry, to constitute the informative process. The cause was reckoned a historical one as stipulated by the Motu Proprio Gia da qualche tempo issued by Pope Pius XI in 1930. The definitory (prior general and his councillors) appointed Fr. Placid Podipara CMI, then residing in Rome, the postulator of the cause and Fr. Maurelius Kakkanatt CMI, vice -postulator. Bishop Kavukatt constituted on 31 December 1957 a historical commission consisting of Mgr. Kurian Vanchipura (president), Fr. Anse1m Perumalil CMI (secretary) and Fr. Antony Kaithara (third member). As the commission proceeded to collect all the writings of Chavara and those about him, another commission was constituted to conduct the informative process on the life and virtues of the servant of God. This commission had six members: Fr. Romeo Thomas Mannanal CMI (judge delegate), Frs. Eapen Aylooparambil and Nicholas Perumalil CMI (sub-judges), Fr. (later Bishop) Paulinus Jeerakath CMI and Fr. Mathias Mundadan CMI  promoters of justice), and Fr. Joseph Madukkakuzhi (notary). The work of both the commissions were completed by 1970 and the diocesan process was concluded under the presidentship of Archbishop Antony Padiyara who succeeded Mar Kavukatt, on the latter's demise in 1971 and all the acts and documents of the diocesan process were submitted to the Congregation for the Cause of the Saints. At the direction of Relator Giovanni Papa the services of Fr. Lucas Vithuvattickal CMI were made available by the prior general for writing the Positio on the life and virtues of the servant of God. Fr. Lucas, assisted by Fr. Joseph Vattathara CMI, made some fresh investigations for documents and completed writing the Positio and submitted it to the Congregation in 1978. In 1983 he submitted also the Positio on the miracle attributed to the servant of God. On 7 April 1984 Pope John Paul II declared Chavara Venerable. On 8 February 1986 the same Pope, during his pastoral visit to India, at the official ceremony conducted at Kottayam, declared the Venerable Servant of God Kuriakose Elias Chavara Blessed.

On 3 April 2014, Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decrees concerning the miracle attributed to Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara’s intercession. This confirmed Pope's approval of Kuriakose Elias Chavara's canonisation. On 23 November 2014, he was canonised at Saint Peter's Square by Pope Francis along with Sister Euphrasia Eluvathingal CMC.