Friday, 28 December 2012

Kuriakose Elias Chavara: Founder of CMC Congregation

“There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing,” said Swami Vivekananda. Keralite women, being sidelined, were craving for a change in social attitude towards them and come to the mainstream. Rightly analyzing that women’s education was the ultimate means in this equalization process, western missionaries were in forefront in bringing about change. Kuriakose Elias Chavara too felt that a new religious congregation for women would be game changer for women in Kerala both socially and spiritually.

Kuriakose Elias Chavara founded the Congregation of Mother of Carmel (CMC) along with an Italian missionary Fr. Leopold Beccaro OCD on 13th February, 1866. The dream of starting a religious congregation of women was something which Fr. Chavara had been praying for long. While recollecting the day Fr. Leopold shared this idea, Chavara writes, “It seems that God has been pleased to fulfill something which seems difficult and for which I have been praying for long. In 1865, Rev. Leopold took me out for an evening walk… (and told me) there is a widow and her fourteen year old daughter. The girl is heiress to half the property of her father. She does not like to get married. Why not separate them from their home and accommodate them in a new house to be built on their own property, a little removed from the family house? Here other girls in like situation may be trained in handicrafts and virtuous ascetic life to become nuns.”

The permission to begin the congregation was granted by the Archbishop Bernadine OCD and treated them as third order of Carmelite nuns. The building of the first convent was not an easy task as contributions had dried up. But with the little they got a building was made, in the words of Chavara, “it was built of coconut tree and bamboo mats. It was divided into a prayer hall, a dining room and three other rooms.” It was with unconditional trust in the Lord that Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Leopold Beccaro started the first indigenous women’s congregation in India with four members namely Eliswa-a widow, her daughter Anna, her sister Teresa, and another young lady named Clara.

But the early life of sisters was challenging. Fr. Chavara writes, ‘The life of sisters in the present structure was very pitiable. Because it was made of fresh bamboos, bamboo mats that were not yet dry and unprocessed tender coconut logs, they fall easy victims to moths and termites. Hence there was need to construct a stronger and permanent building.’ To make a new building, initiatives like families setting apart ‘a handful of rice’ (pidiyari) everyday while preparing a meal for building a new convent were taken up. Priest even went around to various churches to collect money and even priests were contacted through letters to get contributions. The foundation stone was laid for the convent on 13th June 1866 and on April 27th 1867 sisters were shifted to a new convent in Koonamavvu.

This religious congregation for women branched off into Congregation of Mother Carmel (CMC) in the Oriental rite and Congregation of Teresian Carmelites (CTC) in the Latin rite. This religious congregation played a significant role in giving a new face to women upliftment. Taking women from the confines of homes and giving training, employing them in cottage industries, giving them education, ensuring spiritual growth, the Carmelite women congregation’s contribution to women and the Church in Kerala is immense.


  1. According to the study of history , it shows that Servant of God Mother Eliswa Vakayil was the Foundress of Congregation of Theresian Carmelites(CTC)

  2. More books, articles, images, videos, prayers, etc., On Saint Chavara available at :-