St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara

St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara

Kuriakose Elias Chavara was an Indian Catholic priest, an educator, a social reformer, and now a saint. He was canonized by Pope Francis on November 23, 2014.

Kuriakose was born on February 10, 1805 at Kainakary, Kerala, in southwestern India, to Christian parents. His family belonged to an ancient community of Christians popularly known as Saint Thomas Christians. The community is descended from Christians baptized by St. Thomas the Apostle in the 1st Century AD. He attended school in his local village and was educated in language and science.

Before he became a Carmelite priest, Kuriakose was an educator and social reformer. He initiated reforms in his local society, and started schools in the communities of Mannanam and Arpookara. He recognized that children needed to be fed in order to learn, so he instituted a midday meal to feed the children.

In 1846, he established St. Joseph's printing press in Mannanam, which was the third such press in Kerala, and the first purchased without foreign help. Using the press, he began printing the Nasrani Deepika, a religious newspaper. The press would go on to print the Deepika, starting in 1885, which is now one of the oldest continually published newspapers in India. The paper is published in the Malayalam, which is widely spoken in the region with about 37 million native speakers.

Kuriakose took vows in the Carmelite tradition along with ten other priests on December 8, 1855. He took the name, Kuriakose Elias of the Holy Family. He governed a series of monasteries in the region as the prior general from 1856 until his passing in 1871. He established seven monasteries during his tenure.

During his life, Kuriakose was a prolific writer who kept a chronicle of events in his monastery as well as a record of what was happening in society around him. He wrote several spiritual works, including poetry.

Kuriakose passed away on January 3, 1871, at age 66. His last words suffice as a homily: "Why are you sad? All God's people must die someday. My hour has come. By the grace of God, I prepared myself for it since long. My parents taught me to keep the Holy Family always in my mind and to honor them throughout my life. As I had always the protection of the Holy Family, I can tell you with confidence that I have never lost the baptismal grace I received in baptism. I dedicate our little Congregation and each of you to the Holy Family. Always rely on Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Let the Holy Family reign in your hearts. Don't be sad about my dying. Joyfully submit yourselves to the will of God. God is all powerful and His blessings are countless. God will provide you with a new Prior who will be a source of blessing for the Congregation as well as for you. Hold fast to the constitution, the rules of our elders and that of the Church. Love our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with all your heart. Draw the waters of eternal life from that fountain as in the words of the Prophet Elijah. All the members of the congregation, especially elders must be charitable to one another. If you do so, God will be glorified by the congregation and which will be flourished day after day. Your charity will bring salvation to souls."

After his passing, a many miracles were attributed to his intercession. St. John Paul, then Pope John Paul II, declared him venerable on April 7, 1984. He was beatified on February 8, 1986 during a papal visit to India. His second miracle, required for canonization, was formally acknowledged by Pope Francis on April 3, 2014, who decreed Kuriakose should be canonized. The canonization took place the following November.

His feast day is January 3 in the Syro-Malabar Church, and February 18 in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church. He remains well-known and popular in India.