History of CMI
The Congregation of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) is the first now-existing Religious Congregation founded in the Church in India. It was established in Mannanam in Kerala, on 11th May 1831. The Founders are Fr. Thomas Palackal, Fr. Thomas Porukara and Blessed Fr. Kuriakose (Cyriac) Elias Chavara. They were assisted by Brother Jacob Kanianthara who joined the Congregation as a Brother co-operator.
On 8th December 1855, the Religious Community at Mannanam became a canonically recognized Religious Congregation with the religious profession of the first batch of eleven priests headed by Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara. He was the first Superior General of the Congregation. The name of the Congregation at that time was ‘Congregation of the Servants of Mary Immaculate of Mount Carmel’. Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara passed away with the odour of sanctity on 3rd January 1871. Holy Father Pope John Paul II beatified Fr. Chavara during his visit to Kerala in 1986. In 1860, this Congregation was affiliated to the Carmelite Order as a Religious Congregation of the Oriental Rite and assumed the name T.O.C.D. (Third Order of Carmelites Discalced). It was granted Pontifical status in 1885. The name of the Congregation was changed to C.M.I. (Carmelites of Mary Immaculate) in 1958. The Congregation was given Pontifical Exemption in 1967.
The CMI Congregation, with a far-reaching and prophetic vision was involved from its very beginning, in such pioneering activities in the Church in Kerala. It started with preaching retreats in all the parishes in Kerala. It brought about vitality and vibrancy throughout the Church. It also introduced into the local Church, adopting from the global Church, many devotional practices like the Eucharistic Devotion, Rosary, Way of the Cross, etc. which became very popular in the whole Church of Kerala. The Congregation also took leadership in starting Seminaries for the training of the Clergy. The first school of the Catholic Church in Kerala, a Sanskrit School, was started in Mannanam in 1846. Later in 1885, the first English School of the Syro-Malabar Church also was started by the Congregation at Mannanam. Similarly, in 1846, he first Printing Press in the Syro-Malabar Church was started at Mannanam. Deepika, the first News Paper of Kerala, started in Mannanam in 1887. After running it for more than a century, it was handed over to a registered company. It was the first Catholic Daily newspaper of India and the first daily newspaper in Malayalam language.
It was also an important activity of the Congregation to strive after the works of evangelization and to work for the reunion of the separated brethren among the St. Thomas Christians. Blessed Chavara is considered the pioneer of the works of evangelization in the Syro-Malabar Church. Later in 1962, when the Chanda Mission Territory was entrusted to the Syro-Malabar Church by the Holy See, it was committed to the care of the CMI Congregation. That was the first ecclesiastical territory of the Syro-Malabar Church outside the boundaries of Kerala.
The Congregation also was taking great interest in taking care of the poor and downtrodden sections of the society by establishing charitable institutions. It was Blessed Chavara who founded the first Charitable Institution in the Kerala Church and that was in 1869. Thus, the Congregation was actively involved in an integral development of the people, not only of the Syro-Malabar Church, but the whole of Kerala, irrespective of caste and creed. However, it was the deep-rooted prayer life of the members and of each community, which motivated and supported their people-oriented activities. They were contemplatives in action.
Blessed Chavara was also a great defender of the Church. When the Roccos schism lashed against the Church in Kerala in 1861, the Syrian Catholic Church was on the verge of a serious division. It was at that time, in 1861, that Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara was appointed Vicar General for the Syrian Catholic Church in the diocese of Verapoly. He alerted the Catholic community of the dire consequences of the divisive forces, and gave leadership to fight against the Roccos schism, and preserved the unity and integrity of the Kerala Church.
The Congregation entered a path of rapid growth immediately after its canonical erection in 1855 under the holy and able leadership of Fr. Chavara. Several diocesan Priests as well as lay people enthusiastically sought admission into the rank of the religious, and six more new houses sprang into existence in various parts of Kerala: at Koonammavu (1857), Elthuruthu (1858), Vazhakulam (1859), Pulinkunnu (1861), Ampazhakad (1868), and Mutholy (1870). Starting from Mannanam the above 7 Monasteries are the now-existing oldest Monasteries in the Indian Church.
It was also Blessed Chavara who, in collaboration with Fr. Leopold Beccaro, OCD, who founded the first Religious Congregation for women in the Syro-Malabar Church, the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (C.M.C.), in 1866. This sister Congregation has a membership of more than 6300 professed sisters in 20 Provinces all over India. And it is a matter of great significance that, one of its members, Mother Euphrasia, CMC, has been declared BLESSED on 3rd December 2006.
The second half of the 20th century witnessed a rapid growth of the CMIs beyond the boundaries of Kerala. Three decisive moments in its history in this line were the division of the Congregation into 3 Provinces, the shifting of its Major Formation House to Bangalore, by the new name Dharmaram College in 1957 and extending its activities to North India for direct Evangelization in 1962. The Mission Diocese of Chanda was the first Diocese entrusted to the CMIs in 1962. This was also the first Diocese of the Syro-Malabar Church outside Kerala. Apart from Chanda, today CMI Bishops take care of the Dioceses of Jagdalpur, Bijnor, Rajkot, and Adilabad.
The CMI Congregation has today 5 Major Study Houses for the training of its members. They are: Dharmaram College, Bangalore, Darsana Philosophate, Wardha, Samanvaya Theologate, Bhopal, Carmel Vidya Bhavan, Pune, and CMI Vidya Bhavan, Baroda. Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram (D.V.K.) at Bangalore is a Pontifical Athenaeum with the Faculties of Philosophy, Theology and Oriental Canon Law, and it has a strength of 800 Students hailing from 17 Dioceses and 75 Religious Congregations. In 1998, the CMIs were entrusted with the administration of the Regional Major Seminary in Namibia, Africa.
The CMIs are running a Centre for Indian and Inter-religious Studies in Rome. It offers our Indian as well as foreign Students courses in Sanskrit language and Indian Spirituality. The C.M.I. Spirituality Centre established in Liberty, in the United States, in 2005, is a very promising step that serves the people of America introducing them to Indian, Oriental and Carmelite spiritual traditions.
Today the CMI Congregation is the largest Religious Congregation for men in the Syro-Malabar Church. The CMIs are spread throughout India and abroad in 14 Provinces. It has a membership of 2800 personnel including 6 Bishops, 1590 Priests, 4 permanent Deacons, 33 Brothers and about 1300 Brothers in formation. 700 of our Priests are working outside Kerala, of which 311 are outside India. Our Priests are actively involved in pastoral services in 22 Countries around the world. Our first Formation House outside India was established in 2001 in Kenya in Africa. The first batch of our students from abroad made their Religious Profession on 19th March 2005. The Congregation celebrated Chavara Jayanthi, the 200th Birth Anniversary of Blessed Chavara, during 2004-2005. The Congregation also celebrated the 150th anniversary of the canonical foundation on 8th December 2005. The 175th anniversary of its starting at Mannanam was celebrated on 11th May 2006.
The Prior General and his team of four General Councillors and a General Auditor serve the Congregation in its level of general administration. The General Chapter of the whole Congregation elects them every six years. The Provincial level administration is carried out by the Provincials with four Councillors and the Provincial Auditor elected by the respective Provincial Chapters every three years.
The Charism of The CMI Congregation
The CMI Congregation started and grew out of an intense God-experience of three zealous diocesan priests of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala, India. It started as a spiritual movement with the special aims of a deep-rooted ecclesial vision, down-to-earth people orientation and a far-reaching prophetic outlook.
At the time of the emergence of this spiritual movement, there was not even a single religious society existing in the 19-century-old Christianity in India. Hence, the initiative the above trio took was unique and prophetic. The founding fathers were zealous priests with a vision and a mission. The motivating factor for them to initiate this movement was basically to bring a spiritual renewal and vibrancy to the local Church. And the inspiration came from their awareness of the enormous services rendered by religious societies in the global Church.
The two supporting factors for this new spiritual movement were the following: the patrimony of the Syro-Malabar Church and the rich and age-old heritage of the Indian spiritual traditions. The spiritual power point of the Syro-Malabar Church can be traced back to the intense Jesus-experience of St. Thomas the Apostle who brought the Christian message to India in the very first century of its emergence. It was the direct encounter of St. Thomas with the Risen Lord and the resulting faith-proclamation My Lord and My God that urged him to bring Jesus and his message to India in A.D. 52. Similarly, our founding fathers were well versed in the spiritual classics of India, which had a long tradition of craving and longing for God-realization. We see a confluence of the above two traditions in the very naming of the first House at Mannanam, namely, a House of Darsan, which means an abode craving for intense spiritual experience. Hence, in this concept of an “intense spiritual experience” can we trace the first roots of the charism of our CMI Congregation. After quarter of a century of its inception, there comes a third supporting factor, which enriched its charism further. That was the Carmelite tradition. When Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara made his first religious profession in the year 1855, he did so accepting the rules of the Carmelite family. He accepted it as a providence of God. The second name he took, as customary in accordance with the Carmelite rules, was the name of Prophet Elijah. He cherished the great spirit of that prophet who was burning with zeal for God and his people. Blessed Chavara was also inspired by the spiritual vision of two other great Carmelite saints namely, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Thus, in the shaping of the basic charism of the CMI Congregation, we can discover a confluence of three currents: Syro-Malabar, Indian and Carmelite.
The Activities of the CMI Congregation
Having been rooted in the charism of an intense spiritual experience and the resultant commitment to the cause of the people, the CMI founding fathers shaped the vision and mission of this young religious society in the following spheres: Pastoral Ministry, Formation of Priests, Evangelization, Education, Communication Media and Social Apostolate.
Pastoral Ministry: The very first activity the founding fathers was in the field of pastoral ministry. They assisted the Church authorities for a radical renewal of the Church. They became the pioneers in the Church of Kerala in initiating various practical steps for imparting life and vibrancy to the laity and the clergy alike. They went around all the Churches and triggered an intense movement of the faith-formation of the people. The pioneering steps they introduced were: retreats to the laity and the clergy, systematizing the celebration of the Holy Mass and the Divine Office, inspiring the Clergy for personal sanctification, re-vitalization of the sacramental life of the laity by instructing them through personal visits to their families, introducing Sunday homilies, and adopting from the global Church devotional practices like the Rosary, Way of the Cross and the Eucharistic Devotion. Their intense activity in this field brought about marvelous results in the 19-century-old Kerala Church within a short span of time. The Syro-Malabar Church became so active and vibrant that, for the first time in its history, it was able to produce, within a span of one century, 5 Blesseds and 5 Servants of God. It is to be specially observed that incidentally Blessed Chavara himself became the first among those spiritual blossoms. The above 5 Beatifications took place with in a span of 20 years from 1986 to 2006. It is also to be noted that the pastoral activities resulted also in the promotion of vocations and initiating a great increase in the number of priests and religious in the Church. Today, among all priests and religious in the Indian Church, working even in the Latin dioceses in North India, 60% of them hail from the Syro-Malabar Church. Today, 311 CMI Priests are engaged in pastoral activities in 22 Countries around the globe apart from those working in India.
Formation of the Clergy: The CMI Congregation was active from the very beginning in giving training to the clergy. Through their visits and preaching of retreats to all the parishes in Kerala, the founding fathers realized the exigency of holy, efficient and well-trained clergy to lead the Church. With that intention, a Major Seminary was started at the Mother House in Mannanam in the year 1833, that is, within two years of the starting of the first Monastery there. It was the main Seminary of that time for the whole of Kerala Church. There was a time when about 150 Seminarians were inmates there. This Seminary continued there till 1894.
Today, the CMI Congregation runs 6 Major Study Houses for the training of the leaders of the Church. One of them is in Namibia, Africa. The Pontifical Athenaeum in Bangalore, by name, Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, gives training in Philosophy, Theology and Oriental Canon Law to students from 17 dioceses and 75 religious Congregations. The Congregation has also 11 Novitiates and 31 Minor Seminaries. There are 1300 young religious undergoing formation to be priests and missionaries.
Evangelization: The CMI founding fathers were pioneers in the field of evangelization in the Syro-Malabar Church. Their intense spiritual experience animated them to share their vibrant faith-experience with others too. They gave great priority to propagate the message of Jesus especially to the lower strata of the society. They established Catechumenates attached to all the then existed Monasteries. Within a few years’ time, thousands of people joined the Church.
Today, about 400 of its members are engaged in the works of evangelization especially in North India. The new enthusiasm started in the year 1962 when the historic event of commissioning the Chanda Mission to the care of the CMI Congregation by the Holy See. This was also the first ecclesiastical territory of the Syro-Malabar Church outside Kerala. Now, there are 5 Mission Provinces for the Congregation and 5 dioceses headed by CMI Bishops. The CMIs are engaged in the works of evangelization in Africa and South America. There are 42 priests serving the African missions and 14 in South America.
In the field of Education: The contributions made by the CMI Congregation in the educational field in Kerala were pioneering and revolutionary. Blessed Chavara founded the first Catholic School of Kerala at Mannanam in1846. All the other Monasteries also followed that movement. In the year 1864, Blessed Chavara, in his capacity as the Vicar General of the Syro-Malabar Church, ordered all the parishes to start schools adjacent to them. This historic order triggered the emergence of a galaxy of educational institutions all over the State. It also became the basis of the socio-economic development of the whole State. The main aim of the entire educational endeavour of the Congregation is to bring about a social transformation with emphasis on an option for the poor coupled with a target of a moral reconstruction of the society. In many Provinces, scholarships are awarded to economically poor students. Today, the CMIs run about 400 Schools, 17 Colleges, 1 Engineering College, and 1 Medical College.
In the field of media of Communication: It was also Blessed Chavara who founded the first printing press. This event also took place in Mannanam in the year 1846. It was the first printing press in the Syro-Malabar Church. It was from this press, the Deepika, the first Newspaper of Kerala and the first of its kind from the Indian Church, started its publication in the year 1887. Today, the CMIs run 11 printing presses and 13 publications.
Social Apostolate: Blessed Chavara was also the pioneer in the field of the Apostolate of social and charitable activities in the Kerala Church. He founded a charitable institution in Kainakari in the year 1869. It was for the care of the aged, the poor and the marginalized people.
Today, the CMIs are engaged in social services in various fields such as care of the sick, mentally retarded, physically challenged, and in various job-oriented and self-help programmes. In the North Indian CMI Missions, hundreds of poor villagers are on the path of integral progress by the services of the CMI Missionaries. All our social services aim at building up an ideal community of people with the kingdom values of mutual love, truth, freedom, equality, justice, fraternity, solidarity and peaceful coexistence.