The Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (CMC), the first indigenous Religious Congregation for Women in the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church was founded as the Third Order of Carmelites Discalced (TOCD), on 13 February 1866 at Koonammavu, in the Vicariate of Verapoly Kerala, by Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara the then Vicar General of Syrian Church of Kerala. Rev. Fr. Leopold Beccaro OCD, an Italian Carmelite missionary is its co-founder, who was the Provincial Delegate of the time in Kerala.
Starting at Koonammavu
St Kuriakose Elias Chavara was much aggrieved at the absence of a religious Congregation for women in the Apostolic Church of St Thomas. He longed for a house of sanctity where the girls of this land could learn spiritual matters and grow up as good Christians. Father Leopold Beccaro was a man of deep prayer and filled with zeal for apostolic activities. He loved the Kerala Church in all sincerity and sought the Lord’s ways for its growth. Divine Providence brought these two holy men together at Koonammavu and their combined effort paved the way for the foundation of this Congregation. The first members were Elishwa Vakayil a widow, her daughter Anna, Thresia Vyppissery, the younger sister of Elishwa and Elishwa Puthenangady (Clara), a widow. Gradually many young women belonging to both Syrian and Latin rites embraced this religious life and they grew in number.
Pope Leo XIII on 20 May 1887, through the Decree Quodiam Pridem, separated the Syrians from the Latin Jurisdiction and established two Vicariates namely Thrissur and Kottayam for them. This event became an important land mark in the history of the Congregation. In the convent at Koonammmavu, there were sisters belonging to three Vicariates, namely Verapoly, Thrissur and Kottayam. According to the Order of Bishop Charles Lavingue, the Vicar Apostolic of Kottayam, the sisters who belonged to the said Vicariate commenced their journey on July 25, 1888 to Mutholy to start a convent there.
On 18 April 1890, as the resolution to the dispute over the jurisdiction of the Koonammavu convent between the Vicars Apostolic of Verapoly and Thrissur, the Holy See declared that the convent shall be under the Vicariate of Trissur. So, seven members including a boarder of the Koonamavu convent belonging to the Latin Rite shifted to Verapoly on 17 September 1890, and there they became an independent community under the Latin Jurisdiction.
CMC Under Different Syrian Vicariates
On July 28, 1896 by the decree Quae Reisacre, Pope Leo XIII, established three Apostolic Vicariates, instead of the existing two Vicariates, via, Thrissur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry under the jurisdiction of three indigenous Apostolic Vicars. Consequently, the convent at Koonammavu came under the Vicariate of Ernakulam. As a result, the Vicariate of Thrissur was left without a convent. In order to resolve this situation, the Vicar Apostolic of Thrissur established a convent at Ambazhakad on May 9, 1897, bringing the inmates belonged to his own Vicariate from Koonammavu convent.
On July 25, 1950, when the Vicariate of Changanacherry was bifurcated and the diocese of Pala was formed, an independent unit of the Congregation was established in the new diocese in 1952. Thus together with the Syrian Church, the Congregation gradually grew, spread out as four independent units with same charism, under four Mother Generals (Ernakulam, Changanacherry, Thrissur and Pala) in the territory of six dioceses in Kerala (Ernakulam, Changanacherry, Thrissur, Pala, Kothamangalam and Tellicherry) and two dioceses outside Kerala, namely Jalandhar and Chanda.
Unification of Independent Diocesan Units
In the year 1962 decisive steps were taken to unify the Congregation that functioned till then as independent diocesan units. In 21 May 1963, Rev. Fr. Hippolitus Kunnumkal OFM Cap. was appointed as the Papal Delegate to give leadership in this venture. As a result of his tireless effort the independent units were unified on 16 November 1963 under one Mother General (Mother Mary Celine) and the diocesan units were declared as Provinces. Thereafter, the Constitutions for the unified Congregation was prepared and was sent to Rome for approval. On 2 March 1967 through the Decree Prot.No. 504/57 of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Congregation was raised to the Pontifical Status, under the name ‘Congregation of the Mother of Carmel’ (CMC) and the Constitutions of the unified CMC was approved with the instruction to revise the same in the spirit of Vatican Council II and in the light of Perfectae Caritatis and Ecclesiae Sanctae. The renewed text of the Constitutions and the Statutes of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel of the Syro Malabar Rite as per above instruction was approved on experimental basis on 30 October 1975 through the Decree Prot.No. 136/75. Taking into consideration the needs and signs of the time, the said Constitutions is revised again and it is definitely approved by the Oriental Congregation on Feb.22, 2014 by Prot.No.133/2012.
Raised to the Pontifical Status and led by the same Superior General in the spirit of the approved Constitutions, CMC began to acquire a global vision widening her fields of activities. Today CMC is rendering her apostolic services in Continents of Asia, Africa, North & South America and Europe. Her presence in different countries of Africa, Iraq and Peru gives more colour to her selfless services. Today CMC has twenty four Provinces and four Regions including the African Region and 6250 sisters from Asia, Africa and America.
Thus endowed with God’s choicest blessings and providential care, CMC has a glorious history to be recorded and grate fully remembered.