In 1818 he joined a seminary at the age of 13. Pretty soon his parents and only brother died of an epidemic in the span of three weeks. The only people left at home were the sister-in-law and her infant daughter. His uncles brought him home from the seminary with the hope that he would stay and take care of his sister-in-law and niece. But he had other ideas.
He wanted to be back in the seminary to follow the divine call. When he decided to return, his uncles put him under house arrest. But he did not relent. He requested his eldest married sister to help his sister-in-law and niece. When she agreed, he returned to the seminary.
In 1829, at the age of 24, he was ordained a priest. Almost immediately, the newly ordained priest – Kuriakose Elias Chavara (1805-1871) – became a shining star in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, founded by St. Thomas the Apostle in India. Together with two other diocesan priests – Thomas Palackal and Thomas Porukara — he worked hard to start an indigenous religious congregation for men for the renewal of the Church in Kerala. And the Congregation was founded on May 11, 1831 at Mannanam in Kerala. But, both Fr. Palackal (1780-1841) and Fr. Porukara (1800-1848) died before the dream was fully realized.
Fr. Chavara kept their dream alive and made his religious profession on December 8, 1855 at Mannanam under the name Kuriakose Elias Chavara of the Holy Family. On that day, as the Superior General of the Congregation, he received the vows of ten of his companions. The Congregation he founded – Carmelites of Mary Immaculate – is now the largest indigenous religious congregation in India with 3000 members including 1750 priests. In December 2014 there will be 72 ordinations to priesthood in the Congregation. The members of this community now serve in 28 countries in different parts of the world.
Blessed Chavara was an outstanding social reformer. He was a brilliant writer, excellent preacher and was an inspiring champion of the Church who successfully fought against evil forces within and outside the Catholic Church. His achievements include the Congregation he founded for women, the two seminaries he established, the many schools he started and the printing press he designed with his own hands. It was from the printing press he started the first local daily newspaper Deepika came out in 1887.
Blessed Chavara is now honored as the one of the most influential figures of Kerala in the 19th century primarily because of his contribution in the field of education. In 1846 he started the first Sanskrit school in Kerala where children were accepted regardless of their religion and caste. While Saint Chavara was the Vicar General of the Syro-Malabar Catholics, he took pioneering steps in 1864 in establishing schools with all the Catholic churches in the state. It was a revolutionary step unheard of in the history of the Church in India. If Kerala has achieved 100% literacy in recent years, it is also because of the radical steps he took in bringing primary education to all the children of the state irrespective of caste and creed.
Saint Chavara was also a true apostle of the sanctity of family life. He worked unceasingly for the spiritual renewal of families through parish retreats. He also formulated and published norms and rules for leading an upright Christian life. Some of his published works include guidelines for the ideal Christian family life.
HisTestament of a Loving Father which contains guidelines for families is still very popular among the people. One of the greatest achievements of Saint Chavara is the Congregation he founded with the active support of Italian missionary Fr. Leopold Bccaro for women, known as Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (CMC). This happened at a time when women in Kerala were confined to their kitchens for life. The new Congregation for women gave them great opportunities to involve in the various ministries of the Church including education and social work. Now there are more than 6500 sisters in this Congregation who are serving in different parts of the world.
Saint Chavara is the initiator of organized works of charity in Kerala. The first Home of Charity for the elderly was established by him in 1869. He always used to remind everyone that a day without a good deed of charity will not be counted in the Book of Life. He also founded the first lay charitable organization in Kerala, the Confraternity of St. Joseph for Happy Death.
Saint Chavara was well-versed in Latin, Italian, Portuguese, Syriac, Malayalam and Tamil. He authored the first narrative poem in Malayalam (Martyrdom of St. Anastasia), the first short plays in Malayalam (Shepherd Plays), and the first biography in Malayalam (Biography of Fr. Thomas Palackal). His writings includeMeditations, Compunction of a Soul, Thukkasa (Liturgy Guidelines) and Mannanam Chronicles.
A zealous priest with a prophetic vision rooted in divine intimacy, he was born in Kainakary in the district of Alapuzha, Kerala. Chavara always led a holy life, committed to God and to His people. He had total confidence in God and in His loving providence. He had great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Family, Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. His constant advice to his spiritual children was, “live in the love of Jesus, sit with him, walk with him, and talk with him always.” At the end of his life he was able to say that he never lost the baptismal grace he had received in baptism. After dedicating his Congregation and all its members to the Holy Family he breathed his last at 7.30 am on January 3, 1871.
Acclaimed by everyone who knew him as a saint, Chavara was beatified by St. John Paul II in 1986 at Kottayam during his visit to Kerala, India. He will be canonized by Pope Francis in Rome on November 23, 2014. From that time onwards he will be known as Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara and will be venerated all over the world as a saint.

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