By Archbishop Mark Coleridge
Among those canonised was Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, the Indian founder of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI), whom we have serving the Archdiocese of Brisbane.
Quite a few of the CMIs working in Brisbane made the pilgrimage to Rome for the canonisation, and they did so with my encouragement and blessing.
In a sense, they represented the archdiocese, of which they have become such an integral part.
I would have liked to be there myself, but other commitments meant that I had to stay in Brisbane and Rome seems further away the older I get.
So the CMIs from here had to fly the Brisbane flag.
St Chavara was born in Kerala in 1805, a son of the Syro-Malabar Church which has just recently established an Eparchy here in Australia.
At the age of 13 he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1829.
He was engaged for a short time in pastoral ministry, but he soon returned to the seminary to teach.
Here he joined others in planning to found a new religious congregation, which would eventually become the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate.
Eventually St Chavara assumed leadership of the new congregation, and in 1855 he made his religious profession with 10 companions, taking the name of Kuriakose Elias of the Holy Family.
From 1856 until his death, he was Prior General of all the monasteries of the congregation.
In 1861, a schism threatened the Church of Kerala, and St Chavara was appointed the Vicar General of the Syro-Malabar Church by the Archbishop of Verapolly.
He is gratefully remembered and acknowledged by the later leaders of the Syro-Malabar Church and by the wider Catholic community for his outstanding leadership in preventing schism in the Church of Kerala.
St Chavara was also a social reformer and did much to educate the people of lower social and economic status.
He started a school at Mannanam in 1846 and introduced the system called “a school with every church” which was successful in making free education available for everyone.
He believed that the education of women was the first step towards genuine social advancement and founded the first religious congregation for women in Kerala in 1866, the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel.
He also founded the first Catholic printing press in India, which produced the first local-language (Malayalam) daily newspaper called Nasrani Deepika.
On January 3, 1871, St Chavara, died in Kochi after a painful illness.
In 1889, his remains were transferred from to St Joseph’s monastery church in Mannanam.
His Memorial is on the day of his death, January 3, and to celebrate his canonisation we will have Solemn Mass in St Stephen’s Cathedral on the evening of January 2, 2015, to which all are invited.
We join the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate in Brisbane and throughout the world in thanking God for the gift of St Chavara, whose witness is as fresh today as it was all those years ago.
Read Fr Josekutty Vadakkel CMI’s reflection on St Chavara’s canonisation here.