The Congregation of Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI)
is the first indigenous religious congregation in the Catholic Church of
India. Fr. Thomas Palackal, Fr. Thomas Porukara and Fr. Kuriakose Chavara of the Syro-Malabar
Church of apostolic origin, who felt that “a lot of good had not been done
due to the absence of a Thapasu Bhavanam (House of Discipline) and a Darsana Veedu
(House of Vision)”, had the challenging vision of providing spiritual
leadership and fostering unity and growth in the Kerala Church. With the
permission of Bishop Maurelius Stabilini,
the then Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly, they founded
a religious house at Mannanam
on 11 May 1831.
Jacob Kanianthara who
later became the first professed brother in the Congregation, cooperated with
the founding fathers from the beginning. The name of the Congregation was
‘Servants of Mary Immaculate’.
Soon, some more priests and clerics joined the founding
fathers and thus a small religious community took shape. On 8 December 1855, the
religious Congregation was canonically approved and the first eleven fathers
made their religious profession.
Blessed Chavara, the only surviving founder,
was appointed the first superior of the Congregation. Since, during the early
period of the religious Congregation, the Vicars Apostolic of Verapoly were Carmelites, the congregation had come under
the Carmelite influence; hence, the rules of the Carmelites with some
modifications were given to them in 1855.
In 1860, the community was affiliated to the Order of Carmelites
Discalced with the name, ‘Third Order of the Carmelites Discalced’ (TOCD).
The Constitutions were approved ad experimentum
by the Apostolic See in 1885. In 1958, the name was changed to ‘Carmelites of
Mary Immaculate’ (CMI). The
Congregation was granted pontifical exemption in 1967.
From the very beginning, the religious life in the
congregation was rooted in the Indian, Oriental and Carmelite spiritual
traditions. Being contemplatives in action, the members engaged in such activities
as the Church in Kerala was in need of at particular times. They preached retreats, conducted
seminaries for the training of the local clergy, met the challenge of
educating the youth and disseminating Christian literature, laboured for the propogation of
the faith and for the reunion of separated brethren, undertook works of mercy
and started charitable institutions.
The apostolate of the CMI Congregation gathered new
dimension and momentum as mission areas were entrusted to it beyond the boundaries
of Kerala. In 1962, Chanda became the first mission ordinariate
of the Syro-Malabar
Church and was
entrusted to the Congregation. Since
then, more mission dioceses and regions were erected in Central and North India.
There are now four dioceses in North India and one in South India
entrusted to the Congregation, viz., Chanda, Jagdalpur, Bijnor, Rajkot and Adilabad. These five dioceses are headed by CMI
Bishops. This is indeed a milestone in
the progress of the CMI missions and an abiding evidence of the recognition
by the Apostolic See. Besides, many members are engaged in various kinds of
apostolate in other parts of India
and also in other countries.
The Prior General, assisted by four Councillors,
is at the head of the administration; the Prior General’s House at Chavara Hills in Kochi
is the headquarters of the Congregation. For the sake of administration, the
Congregation is divided into 14 provinces, one region and 5 sub-regions. At
present the Congregation has about 3000 members including 5 bishops, 1539
priests, 2 permanent deacons, 34 brothers and 1300 brothers in
formation. More than half of the
priests are working outside Kerala, of whom about
300 are doing pastoral services in 23 countries around the world.