OUR FOUNDRESS

A woman of vision - who saw, centuries before her time, the potential of women, the need for their education, her compassionate heart was moved by the pathetic situations in the families and she decided to do all that she could to save the suffering souls as much as possible.

A woman of courage – Years ago Blessed Mariam Thresia and her companions fought the prejudices of their time to follow the call of Christ according to the model of the Family of Jesus.

A woman of prayer – whose deepest longings found fulfillment in God.

Mankidiyan Family

Mariam Thresia was born in 1876 when Kerala and Puthenchira. Chiramel Mankidiyan is a very famous family of Puthenchira. There are three branches: Ollur, Aranattukara and Pazhuvil for this family. This Mankidiyan family belongs to the Ollur branch. There have been some famous priests and nuns from this Chiramel family. Since one of the ancestors had been the head of the village for a long period and there have been a few Mankidiyan families, the area is still known as ‘Mankidimukku’. It is a historical fact that one Mathew from the Chiramel Tharakan family saved the Maharaja of Cochin from the invasion of the Zamorin of Kozhikode, and for that he was given the hereditary title of ‘Tharakan’. All these bear witness to the fame of the Mankidiyan family.

Birth and Childhood of Thresia

The first marriage of Thoma Chiramel Mankidiyan was from the Menachery family of Njarakal. After the birth of Ittianam, her mother Mariakutty expired in 1872. Thoma remarried Thanda from the ‘Mangali’ family of Thuravur. Thoma and Thanda had five children, two boys and three girls. They were Porinchu, Mariakutty, Thresia, Ouseph and Ittianam. Thresia, the third child was born on Wednesday 26 April 1876. Following the custom, she was baptized seven days after her birth on Wednesday 3 May 1876 in the parish church of Puthenchira by the parish priest, Fr. Poulose Maliekal Koonan. She was given the name Thresia after St. Teresa of Avila. The godparents were Antony Chiramel Mankidyan, her paternal uncle, and his wife Anna.

The little Thresia learned to love Jesus from her virtuous mother Thanda. The mother used to tell her the stories of the Bible and some incidents from the lives of the saints. When she was only three years old, on hearing the bell rung for the Angelus, she inquired and learnt from her beloved mother about the meaning of making the sign of the cross, and the prayer Hail Mary etc.The mysteries of the Holy Trinity, the Annunciation, and the Passion of Christ were also the subjects of her inquiry. In her life there are many proofs that Thresia meditated and treasured these in her memory.

Visions and Tribulations

When Thanda died in the year 1888, Thresia was only 12 years old. She adopted the Blessed Mother as her own mother and found consolation in it. After the death of her mother she received all sorrows, pains and hardships with surprising equanimity. She was consoled by the celestial visions, especially those of the Holy Family when she was tortured by the devil with trials and tribulations. She chose Fr. Joseph Vithayathil as her spiritual father, who led her along the path to sanctity. Blessed Mother helped and gave her strength in her struggles and asked Fr.Joseph Vithayathil to add the name Mariam to the name of Thresia as a mark of her love for her. Accordingly on 8 December 1904 she was called by Fr. Joseph Vithayathil ‘Mariam Thresia’.

Born and brought up in Indian Soil in the middle of the 19th century Bl. Mother Mariam Thresia was the beacon who inflamed by the compassionate love of Jesus paved the way to thousands. This courageous daughter of Kerala who was filled with love of God and compassion towards the neighbour dedicated her whole life to God for serving the family or domestic church which is the basic unit of society. By Divine Providence CHF was founded on 14 May, 1914 for continuing her style of life and activity. We expect that the political, social, cultural and religious background of the place of origin of the congregation will help to understand the growth and development, the achievements and set-backs of the CHF in its various stages of development.

Thresia in the Convent at Ollur

God had been preparing Thresia for thirtyeight long years through temptations, sufferings and misunderstandings to be the foundress of the Congregation of the Holy Family. History reveals that Blessed Virgin Mary instructed Thresia to visit families of Puthenchira area. This has become a turning-point in the apostolic vision of CHF. Thresia who wished very much to be united with God in solitude was sent by the then Vicar Apostolic of Trichur Bishop. John Menachery to the Carmelite Convent at Ollur. But Thresia realized that her way of life was different from that of the Carmelites. She informed her spiritual father of this. And the people of Puthenchira, who understood the value of her services, requested the bishop to bring her back to them. Bp. Menachery could easily discern the will of God regarding Thresia when he considered together the desire of Thresia, the opinion of Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and the wish of the people of Puthenchira. So the Bishop said, “It is not the will of God that you stay in this convent, so you may return to your own place. Your spiritual father will build a house for you there”. Saying this, the bishop sent Thresia back home on 26 January 1913. The bishop asked Fr. Vithayathil to build the “Ekanthabhavan” (The House of Solitude) for Thresia.

‘Ekanthabhavan’ – The HolyFamily Convent at Puthenchira-The First House of CHF

As instructed by the bishop, Fr. Joseph Vithayathil made plans to construct the House of Solitude. The land for the building was donated by Maliekal Koonan Kunjuvaried Ittoop19. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil started the construction at his own expense. When it reached up to the plinth-level, he found it difficult to continue the work for lack of funds. Thresia comforted him, saying that she would find the money needed by begging. With much difficulty he reluctantly consented to it. She went with a companion to Njarakal, Chakkarakadavu, Pallipuram which at present is in Ernakulam Diocese and other nearby places seeking help. And within a short time, the House of Solitude was completed.

As Fr. Joseph Vithayathil was not feeling well, he sent Thresia and a companion with a letter to the bishop, seeking His Lordship’s permission to bless the house. But she did not get a favourable reply20. She returned disappointed, but said to the Bishop fully resigned to God’s will. “Lord whatever you desire, only that I want. Let your will be done”21. The next day, 23 September 1913 the bishop deputed his secretary, Fr. John Ukkan, to bless the House of Solitude22. In the presence of Fr.Joseph Vithayathil, many other priests and many parishioners of Puthenchira, Fr. John Ukkan blessed the House of Solitude23. The people of the place met all the expenses for the same. Thresia, who loved solitude very much was shifted to the House of Solitude on 7 October 1913. Her companions: Mariam, daughter of Varunny and Rosa Karumalikkal, Kochumariam, daughter of Ittiera and Acharu Maliekal Koonan, and Thanda, daughter of Kunjuvaried and Thresia Maliekal Koonan were with her during the day time for prayers and apostolic activities. They took turns in staying with her at night. They started to live with her from January 1914 onwards24. During a conversation with Bishop Menachery on May 13, 1914 he informed Fr.Joseph Vithayathil, “The blessing of the convent in Puthenchira can be done tomorrow. I will be reaching there.” On May 14, 1914, in fact it was the foundation of the Congregation of the Holy Family.

Last Days of Mother Mariam Thresia

At the time of the blessing of the convent and chapel at Thumbur six Postulants received the veil and seven Novices were given the religious habit. On account of the rush of the people assembled, a portion of the railings of the sanctuary collapsed and fell on Mother Mariam Thresia’s leg as she was kneeling and praying there29. The mother did not take the wound seriously in her busy schedule. As the Directress of the Novices she had been spending time with them. She made all the arrangements for those who were to go to the study-house at Trichur the following day. The mother was taken to a doctor of the Government Hospital, Chalakudy as she developed acute pain and swelling on her leg. The doctor advised to admit her in the hospital. Although the mother told Fr. Joseph Vithayathil that it was of no use taking her to the hospital, as per the doctor’s advice she was taken to the hospital in a bullock-cart.

The pain and swelling on her leg got aggravated. The doctor decided for an operation. After the operation she was kept in a building of the diocese adjacent to the hospital. Even though she was given all the care and attention in the treatment because she had high diabetes, the doctor felt that the disease was serious. The condition of the mother started deteriorating gradually. When it worsened and was declared fatal, she was brought to Kuzhikkattussery on 7 June 1926 and Fr. Joseph Vithayathil gave her the sacrament of the sick and the holy viaticum.

The following day Blessed Mariam Thresia felt a little relief. She appeared to be fresh though weak. The Sisters and the boarders of the convents of Thumbur and Trichur came and joined with the Sisters of Kuzhikkattussery and Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and stood in tears near her and prayed. Blessed Mariam Thresia begged pardon of all and thanked them. She called all of them near her and spoke her last words. “My beloved daughters, why are your hearts troubled like those of people of little faith? You know just like me that I shall not be relieved of this illness. If it is the will of the heavenly Bridegroom that I leave you very soon in answer to His invitation, let it be fulfilled. Our congregation is still an infant. You should not forget that it is your responsibility as members of this congregation to foster and rear it. Deal with the superiors sincerely and lovingly. Love one another, help one another”.

After giving this advice to her daughters, she called Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and entrusted him the whole responsibility of the congregation and its members. Her condition worsened and became more and more critical. All keenly observed and served her. Hours passed. At her own request she was laid down on the floor on a mat while her spiritual father and the Sisters knelt down and prayed for her. She kept repeating the ejaculations very prayerfully and consciously after her spiritual father. Blessed Mariam Thresia was very peaceful and calm at the moment of intense pain and suffering and submitted to the will of God.

In the evening her condition became critical. Fr. Joseph Kayyalakam, the vicar of Puthenchira church, came there, expecting to see some extraordinary signs at her last moments. At 8 p.m. repeating the ejaculatory prayer after Fr.Joseph Vithayathil “Jesus, Mary, Joseph I entrust my soul and my body into your loving hands” the blessed soul passed away for her external reward. The house was filled with deep silence and great sorrow. During that night of tears and sobs, surprisingly all the jasmines blossmed in the garden, though it was not the season for jasmines to flower. A crown of jasmine flowers was placed on the head of Blessed Mariam Thresia and the coffin was decorated with jasmine flowers. The people thronged to have a glimpse of the ‘saint’. Trusting in her holiness, they touched their rosaries and other religious articles on her remains.

Funeral and Burial

The whole of Puthenchira stood still at the departure of Blessed Mariam Thresia. As Bishop Francis Vazhapilly, was out of station, Msgr. Mathew Edakulathur, Vicar General of Trichur Diocese, officiated at the funeral service at 6.00 p.m. on 9 June 1926 in the presence of Fr.Joseph Vithayathil and many other Priests, Sisters, Brothers, the public and the sorrowful members of the congregation. The body was buried with tearful prayers in the tomb specially prepared in the ground of the chapel under construction. Rev. Fr. Joseph Kayyalakam, the vicar of Puthenchira church, delivered the homily. He narrated her holy life, her apostolate and the growth of the CHF in a very touching manner. He concluded his words saying, “though this funeral is conducted in a very simple manner, the time will come when another saint like the ‘Little Flower’ will rise up from this tomb. A group photograph of all the members of the congregation and the priests and a photograph of the mother separately were taken on that day.

Raised to the Honours of the Altar

Chiramel Mankidiyan Thresia, born in Puthenchira, a remote village of Kerala, India, was a remarkable person and a social reformer. She came from a family that had lost all its wealth paying the dowry of seven aunts, and grew up in poverty. Her work lay with families affected by drink, immorality and violence. She worked at a time when women were not encouraged to go outside the home. Many ways she was a social reformer. Blessed Mariam Thresia founded the order with three friends, who took care of the poor and the needy. There was a great deal of objection to their work in the beginning. But she persisted and the continued accent of her work was on families, mainly poor suffering families.

Mariam Thresia suffered stigmata or had wounds like those received by Christ on the Cross and had been a mystic. Blessed Mariam Thresia was beatified on April 9, 2000.

Canonization is an official act of Catholic Church, declaring one of its deceased members as a model for Christian living and worthy of public veneration, and entering the name in the authorized list known as the canon. There are four stages for the canonization in the Catholic Church. Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, Saint.

Normally the cause of Canonization can begin after 5 years of the candidate’s death. In the case of Mariam Thresia, her spiritual father strictly instructed the Congregation that the process to be started only after his death. He died on June 8, 1964. He had submitted all the related documents such as the letters written by Mariam Thresia, History and the biography of hers written by him, to the Bishop Mar George Alappat, the then Bishop of Trichur on November 20, 1957.

He first instituted a preliminary investigation through Msgr. Sebastin Chereath to ascertain if there was a cause sufficiently well grounded cause to start with. Then after the appointment of Rev. Fr. Simeon de la Sagrada Familia, OCD (Rome) as postulator, on 2nd May 1975, a historical commission was set up to collect and examine all the documents regarding Blessed Mariam Thresia. The three members of this commission were very Rev.Mngr.Thomas Moothedan, Rev. Fr.Anslem, CMI, and Rev.Fr.Antony Anthikkat (Convenor). In 1975-1976 the historical commission made a list of 198 eyewitnesses, visited all the relevant archives and obtained written testimonies from several individuals, especially those who might not be able to depose later in the diocesan inquiry tribunal. This historical research was conducted according to the norms laid down in the Mottu Propio of His Holiness Pope Pius XI dated February 6, 1930 and January 4, 1939. 146 documents were collected and later submitted to the Diocesan Inquiry Commission.

With the erection of the Diocese of Irinjalakuda in 1978, the documents for the cause of Blessed Mariam Thresia was transferred from the Diocese of Trichur to the new diocese, as within this territory her tomb is situated. The process of exhumation and identification of the mortal remains of Blessed Mariam Thresia was conducted on 3 Saturday January 1981. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints issued on 25 June 1982 its nihil obstat (no objection) for the canonical introduction of the cause. They also sent a questionnaire containing a set of questions to be put to the witnesses and an ad hoc diocesan inquiry tribunal of three judges, a promoter of faith, a notary, an adjunct notary and a cursor (errand official).Since the purpose is to collect information in an authentic manner, and not make a judgement, this body is rather an inquiry commission than a tribunal. The cause was officially introduced on 24-4-1983 and in forty five sessions between 14-5-1983 and 24-9- 1983 the tribunal heard 18 witnesses, including four ex officio witnesses, of whom three were the members of the historical commission. The Acts of the tribunal together with the connected documentation were sent to Rome, and a declaration of the validity of the process of 1983 was issued on 8-11-1985.

The next step is to write and present the Positio super virtutibus to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It should contain sufficient information for the experts of this Congregation to arrive at an informed opinion. In the case of Bl.Mariam Thresia, the Positio is a huge volume of 810 pages of large size paper (A4 or 210x297mm). It has two parts: Part I calledInformatio, contains the biography followed by the proof of Bl.Mariam Thresia’s practice of Christian virtues; and Part II called Summarium, contains the evidence gathered from the depositions of the witnesses and the writings of Bl.Mariam Thresia as well as other documents. The Positio of the Servant of God Mariam Thresia was written by the present writer, appointed collaborator by the postulator Fr.Simeon de la Sagrada Familia O.C.D. (Rome) on 12 January 1995 at the request of the Superior General Rev. Mother Mary Benitia, CHF. The collaborator had taken over the Summarium already prepared by Sr. Pavana CHF, revised it slightly, added some further pertinent documentation and wrote theInformatio, from which this biography has been extracted. The positio was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 8-8-1996.

The Positio had been written using mainly the information furnished by a total of 18 witnesses, who had deposed under oath in the Diocesan Inquiry Tribunal of 1983. Of these witnesses, 15 were eyewitnesses, including 4 sisters of the Congregation of Holy Family. The others were outsiders.

The causes are divided into two kinds: historical (ancient) and modern (recent). A modern cause is one in which evidence is collected chiefly from witnesses, whereas a historical cause is one for which there are no witnesses, and the evidence is based exclusively on historical documents. The cause of Mariam Thresia was a modern cause, and the fact that out of 18 witnesses, 15 were eyewitness, leaves no doubt about the matter. The Positio together with the Relatio et vota was submitted to a Panel of nine theologian consultors, who were asked to formulate their answer to the question “an constet de virtutibus…in gradu eroico, in casu et as effectum de quo agitur” (that is, is it certain that the Servant of God practiced virtues in a heroic degree in the case as presented and with regard to the matter in question?).All the theologian consultors cast a positive vote while presenting their written observations in a session held on 9-10-1998.

Now it was the turn of the third panel of consultors of the Pope, the panel of cardinals and bishops, who are members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. They examined the Positio together with the Relatio et vota and the observations of theological consultors. They met on 15-4-1999. Cardinal D.Simon Lourdusamy from India was the ‘ponens’ or keynote speaker. They gave a unanimous affirmative vote. It is to be noted that these panels have only a consultative vote, the final decision or judgement being reserved to the Roman Pontiff, who is the only judge (technically speaking) in the whole process. In his presence and with his approval, on 28 June 1999 a decree of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints was read and promulgated stating that the Servant of God Mariam Thresia Mankidiyan had practiced in a heroic degree the Christian virtues. In all, nine decrees were read and promulgated that day, five on virtues and four on miracles, of which two were in view of canonization, while others were in view of beatification. Obviously, only a summary of each of these decrees could have been read in a single session lasting less than two hours. It is customary for the function to take place in the ‘Hall of Pope Clement IX in the papal palace in the Vatican attended by the cardinals and bishops of the respective panels, the postulators and the “actors” of their representatives.

With the promulgation of the decree the Servant of God Mariam Thresia became entitled to be Venerable. What was still needed for the beatification of Ven. Blessed Mariam Thresia was the evidence of a miracle attributable to her intercession. The healing of Mathew Pelisseri’s congenital club feet which had taken place in 1970-71, was enquired into by a Diocesan Inquiry Tribunal in 1992. The tribunal sat from 28-4-1992 till 26-7-1992 in Trichur, in whose territory the miracle had taken place. This tribunal heard 23 witnesses, including Mathew, his parents and four doctors. The validity of the process was declared by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 22-1-1999. The relative documentation and evidence were submitted to a panel of five doctors appointed by the congregation for the Causes of Saints, all university professors teaching in faculties of medicine. They returned their expert opinion and a unanimously positive vote on 6-11-1999 that the sudden cue of Mathew’s Club Feet at the age of fourteen/fifteen had no scientific explanation. Their vote and relative documentation were gathered in to a fresh document called Positio super miraculo of 179 pages written by the present writer and submitted to the Congregation on 23-12-1999. It was examined by a panel of six theologian consultors, who in their session of 5-1-2000 concluded unanimously that the healing in question was a miracle that took place through the intercession of Ven. Blessed Mariam Thresia. Likewise, after examining thePositio and the Theologians’ written observations, the Commission of Cardinals and Bishops met on 18-1-2000 and unanimously confirmed the vote of the Theologians. The decree stating that this was a genuine miracle that had taken place through the intercession of Ven. Blessed Mariam Thresia was read by the officials of the Roman Congregation in the presence of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II on January 27, 2000 and with his approval promulgated. The function was almost a replica of the one of 28-6-1999 on the virtues, this time it was on a miracle. In that long session 12 decrees were read in all, 2 on virtues, 7 on miracles, and 3 on martyrdom.

This time the decree did not confer any new title but entitled Ven. Mariam Thresia to beatification. And it was for the pope to do so. That same evening of 27 January 2000 the postulator was notified by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints that the beatification of Ven. Blessed Mariam Thresia was being scheduled to take place on 9 April 2000.