CARMELITES OF MARY IMMACULATE (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 First 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.
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 all over the world in 20 Provinces.
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 13 Provinces. It has a membership of 2800 personnel including 6 Bishops, 1510 Priests, 4 permanent Deacons, 34 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.