The successors in the New Testament of Prophet Elias who witnessed the oracular symbol of the Virgin who was to bring forth the Saviour of mankind built the very first shrine in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Mount Carmel which their precursor of the Old Testament had climbed. A Community but with no coded rules and regulations, they came to be known as the "Brothers of Blessed Virgin Mary". Later they were provided a constitution for the first time by John, Patriarch of Jerusalem, in A.D. 400.
As centuries passed, the rules became inadequate and in the 13th Century, St. Albert, the then Patriarch of Jerusalem provided maxims to St. Brocard and other hermits who dwelt in caves until St. Berthold built the first monastery on Mt. Carmel for pursuing coenobitical life. Saracen persecution and subsequent migration to Europe necessitated adaptations to the Canons. An Englishman, St. Simon Stock, was the chosen instrument for the purpose. With the approval of His Holiness Pope Innocent IV, the modified precepts provided the Carmelites all privileges of a mendicant Order in 1248.
The thirteenth century posed even the threat of extinction of the Order but the Queen of Carmel herself appeared to Simon Stock, the General of the Order, in those days. The Holy Mothers' protection preserved the Congregation and assured its continuance. But the times were really bad and the Great Plague of the 14th Century decimated the Religious Congregations and diminished vocations greatly. So on appeal from the Superiors of the Order, Pope Eugene IV granted mitigation and when St. John Stock set up a convent in Belgium for women and it slowly spread to Spain and France, the same mitigated Canons were in vogue. As time passed by, Carmelites began to long to return to the original ideal of their Order and efforts were set in motion to restore the Primitive Rule.
When Teresa de Ahumada joined the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation in Avila, the treasured solitude and silence were rather a remote reminiscence, though a cherished one for Carmel's children. Teresa, with her indomitable spirit overcame all obstacles and brought Carmel back to contemplative life itself. She opened her first reformed convent called "Discalced Carmelites" at St. Joseph's Convent, in Avila on 24th August 1562.
Divine Providence provided St. John of the Cross as an associate to St. Teresa and he is the father of the reformed Carmel who began the first monastery of the Discalced Carmelite Friars at Duruelo. Mother Teresa herself founded 16 cloistered Convents before her death in 1582. Now there are about 880 Convents spread throughout the world in 89 countries.
His Excellency, Dr. Joseph Kureethara, longed to have a cloistered convent, to him a "Power House", in the Diocese, which the Bishop was sure would produce energy for the whole pastoral activity of his bishopric. His Excellelcny set his mind on the idea and with prayers he left the rest with the Divine Providence. The bishop has this note in his journal about those days, "The prayers of the Sisters were there to help me. There is nothing impossible for God". His own account throws light into his ardent yearning and persuasion for the establishment of St. Joseph's Convent at Eramalloor.
When His Excellency Dr. Bonaventure O.C.D., as the first Bishop of the Diocese of Vijayapuram, visited His Holiness Pope Pius XI, the Holy Father suggested that he invite the Spanish Cloistered Carmelite Nuns to start a House in his diocese saying the House would be a 'power house' in his new Diocese. He invited Mother Maravillas of Cerro de Losangeles in Spain and in October 1933 a Convent of the Cloistered Carmelite Nuns was instituted at Kottayam.
His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara also found that the Diocese of Cochin, the first in South India since 1557, needed a Community of Cloistered Nuns. The Bishop was sure that the prayerful and penitential life of the Congregation would bring innumerable blessings from heaven upon all the apostolic activities of the Diocese. An occasion to accompany his predecessor Dr. Alexander Edezhath to the Convent in Alwaye to attend the ceremony of Profession of a Sister from Chellanam was his first personal acquaintance with the Cloistered Nuns.
Later, as the Shepherd of Cochin, His Excellency considered inviting these nuns to the Diocese but time had not reached its fullness yet and had to await God's providence. While attending the Malankara Rite Episcopal Ordination of Rt. Rev. Isaac Mar Youhanon, the Bishop of Tiruvalla Diocese and Rt. Rev. Cyril Mar Baselios, the Bishop of Bathery Diocese, at Thiruvalla on 28th December 1978, Rev. Fr. Thomas Pathiparambil, a professor at Mangalapuzha Seminary who was present, piloted the prelate's path to Rev. Fr. Bonaventure O.C.D., the chaplain of the Cloistered Carmelite Nuns at Thiruvalla in the Diocese of Vijayapuram. The Chaplain, a native of Chirackal and not so distant a neighbour of His Excellency, was very happy and extended an invitation to the Bishop and Rev. Fr. Thomas to visit the Carmelite Nuns of cloistered Community.
His Excellency honoured the invitation one day and reached the convent and together with Fr. Thomas Pathiparambil entered their parlour. Fr. Thomas cautioned the Bishop not to get too close to the window protected by sharp, pointed spikes. The Sisters came, removed the black curtain and knelt inside but sat down on the floor at His Excellency's request. His Excellency's own pen portrays what transpired then: "Then God inspired me what I should say. Seeing a Sister from Mundamvely among them, I expressed my long cherished dream of having a convent cloistered nuns in my Diocese of Cochin."
The immediate reaction from the Sisters was that they too wanted to come to Cochin! But they expressed the regret that they did not get enough vocations since it is a life of penance and prayer. Then His Excellency made a remark questioning their faith in God and asserted the entire world belonged to God and He could create many more if He wanted. It would be a gross injustice just to report the Bishop's meeting with the Sisters and not let His Excellency's own words run on what transpired in those sublime momentous moments in the partitioned parlour on that distinctively blissful day. Hence, "But from each and everyone of us He is asking something very small. We are generous enough to give away many things but there are certain small items that we want to keep for ourselves till death. It may be a small medal, a holy picture or a fountain pen - something that we received from someone whom we cherish very tenderly. We keep them with so much affection and it is very difficult for us to part with such things."
Then the Sisters asked His Excellency what he really meant by saying so and His Excellency elaborated: "You 'desire' to come to Cochin. That is the first condition even to go to heaven. And the second condition is a little bit painful. We have to make some sacrifice". Then the Bishop posed the second question: "Since all of you said that you wanted to come to Cochin, are you prepared to select a group of Sisters from among you who are efficient and capable of starting a new Community? By doing so, all of you should feel a terrible loss and inability to continue this Community as such here in Thiruvalla!"
His Excellency knew it was a painful query they had to answer and when they all kept silent, the Bishop advised them: "Trust in God and do exactly as I suggest. Select enough number of Sisters from your Community to start a Convent in Cochin. You cannot defeat God in generosity. You will see the result immediately". After giving the blessing Bishop Kureethara turned to leave and so did Fr. Thomas. But obviously the Rev. Father in the mean time had forgotten his own caution. When he bowed down to wish the Nuns well and bid bye, suddenly one of the spikes touched his eye-brow. Blood started oozing out and the Rev. Father needed some first aid then and there.
His Excellency's personal notes record that they had more faith and trust in God than any one could imagine. They followed the advice and decided to select seven nuns and a novice to go to Cochin which indeed was a big sacrifice. The rule permitted them to have in a Community only 21 members but they had then twenty nuns. Four of them were very elderly and under the grip of senility and another four had to be to be with the indisposed ones. That meant only twelve nuns could attend to any Community work. To give up seven Sisters from among the twelve remaining, really demanded a heroic faith and trust in the Providence of God. Yet they did exactly that!!
God rewarded their generosity and soon they started getting more vocations. As the number increased to 24, they hastened to start a new House. V. Rev. Fr. Francis Gregory O.C.D., their Delegate General, suggested that they start a House near their monastery in Pius Nagar, Kandalloor, taking Sisters from the three Convents in Kottayam, Thiruvalla and Kottiyam but God had His own plans.
Fr. Bonaventure wrote to the Bishop in May 1980 about the Sisters' decision to start a Convent in Cochin Diocese and the very next month the Rev. Father came to meet His Excellency. Mother Theresa of Jesus, the Prioress, also had informed His Excellency that they had no place to accommodate the new candidates. As there were only 21 cells but had 24 inmates right then, the Rev. Mother was seeking expeditious help in instituting a new Convent. Thus the ball came rolling into His Excellency's own court to find ways and means to turn his aspirations a reality. The Bishop, in his turn, entrusted the task to Rev. Fr. John Manakatt, the Parish Priest at Eramalloor.
After much difficulty, a plot of land, around three and a quarter of acres was found at Ezhupunna. After negotiations, the Rev. Father entered into the preliminary formalities of procurement of the same with the party concerned. The matter was reported to the Convent in Thiruvalla and Rev. Fr. Bonaventure O.C.D, Rev. Mother Teresa of Jesus and two Sisters reached Cochin. The Bishop himself took them to the proposed site and the Carmelites found it suitable but God, it seems, had different plans regarding the location of their convent!
Due to the owner's, ( that too, a faithful! ) dishonest and devious dabblings, the deal dropped into doldrums. But Fr. John Manakatt had been blessed with enough light to peer into darker depths and perceive things clearly. To make a long story short, the Rev. Father's cautious and careful handling finally secured the land for the Diocese. Nay, the moment the Rev. Vicar of Eramalloor smelt a rat in the deal, he made arrangements for the outright purchase of a plot of about two acres adjacent to the "faithfuls' property" and straight away executed the deal!
Meantime, intimation reached the Diocese from Thiruvalla to place official request for a convent to the Father General in Rome. To the confusion and regret of all concerned the response from Rome read "Stop all procedures"! A similar request to V. Rev. Fr. Paulinus O.C.D of Manjummal Province to establish a monastery at Eramalloor also met with the same fate from the same source - V. Rev. Fr. General!
His Excellency, in the meanwhile, had information that the Father General would be in Kerala soon and the advice that his very Reverence should be met personally. His Excellency has these lines in his personal notes: "I was prepared to meet this problem! And the prayers of the Sisters were there to help me. There is nothing impossible for God!!"
His Excellency had to participate at the ceremony of the blessing of St. Cornelius Mission Church of the Carmelite Fathers at Kolayad in Calicut in March 1981. This offered an opportunity to meet V. Rev. Fr. Philip Sainz de Baranda O.C.D., the General of the Carmelite Order. His Excellency reminded him of the request for both the Convent and the Monastery at Eramalloor and the Rev. General said he had to respond thus because he wanted to see for himself the site for the Convent.
Later, on an occasion at the Carmelite Provincial House in Ernakulam on 14th March 1981, V. Rev. Fr. Paulinus O.C.D., the Provincial, invited the Bishop to address the V. Rev. Fr. General and His Excellency repeated his request for the two institutions. Father General responded smilingly with the remark that the Bishop of Cochin would not leave him alone unless the request was granted. He then cheerfully announced that he was granting permission for the Monastery at Eramalloor. Still nothing about the Convent and His Excellency had to wait for one more day.
The next day, the Father General conducted the concluding Ceremony of the Forty Hours Adoration at the Perumpadappu Monastery in the Diocese where the Bishop was also present. Afterwards, while visiting the Poor House, His Excellency reminded him of the request for the convent. Upon learning that the proposed site was only fifteen kilometers away from the monastery, the Father General forthwith granted permission for the convent too.
The Very Rev. General then clarified that he had been to a few sites on similar requests from Bishop's in India but found the proposed sites isolated and far away from people, hospitals and other basic amenities. He conceded that Eramalloor had no such disqualifications. Forthwith confirming that the Very Rev. General was not averse to the symbolic institution of the Friary and Nunnery, His Excellency sent word to the parish priest of Eramalloor Rev. Fr. John Manakatt to make necessary arrangements and prepare for a ceremonial laying of foundation stone the very next day.
On Monday, 16th March, 1981, the Fr. General was given a grand reception at Eramalloor. In the august presence of a lot of Priests, Sisters and the laity, the foundation stone for the St. Jude's Monastery was laid at the newly bought property. Thence all proceeded to the site for the Convent, where the Fr. General gave a talk on the significance of the Cloistered Convent of the Carmelite Sisters and then very solemnly blessed the stone and laid it.
Poor Sisters of 'Thiruvalla!' They had just completed the Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus when they received the Bishop's telegram! What a joy! And later for the Fr. General too ! He visited the Convent in Thiruvalla on March 27,1981 and found that the new candidates had no place even to sleep. He was immensely happy then that a new convent would soon be coming up in the Diocese of Cochin.
Mother Teresa, Sr.Mary Antony and Fr. Bonaventure O.C.D. came to St. Francis Xavier's parish, Eramalloor, to see the site to the northern side of the church and the Sisters liked it. Yet problems of shifting the old parochial house to the southern side of the parish church, shifting the carpet factory, storeroom, door-mat factory, dye shed, office room - all belonging to the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul Society, remained.
The Parish Council (yogam) had decided to donate only 75 cents of land to the Convent but the Sisters needed the entire plot. So, His Excellency donated the property bought for the Convent in exchange for the excess land to be taken from the parish for the benefit of the Convent. Meanwhile the Sisters had received donations from some benefactors, sufficient enough to pay for the shifting of the Parochial House and buildings of the St. Vincent de Paul society.
All hurdles thus having been overcome, everything was set at last and work had only to be started. But His Excellency stood at the site gloomy and crestfallen. On the query of Mother Tresa of Jesus, the Bishop had to divulge his private grief that the Diocese had but empty coffers to meet all the expenses for the construction of the walls and the convent buildings. Mother Teresa then fired a flare of astonishment. "Don't worry bishop, God has provided everything. All the money needed has already arrived!" - crowning glory of Divine Providence to the plan, pursuit and project for a convent of Discalced Carmelites in the Diocese!
Don Salvador Minguijon Adrian, a professor at the university of Zaragoza, Spain, had left a huge heritage to Sr. Maria Louisa, her daughter, a Carmelite nun. Sr. Maria Louisa longed to employ the legacy for a new foundation of Carmelite mission. She had confided her craving to the Mother of her mission in Zaragoza. Several attempts had been made to utilize the huge heritage for its intended purpose but none succeeded; for, God in His divine providence was keeping the nest egg for its fruitful usage.
It was then that the petition of Mother Teresa of Jesus from Thiruvalla seeking help for the founding of a fresh mission in the Cochin Diocese reached the Mother Prioress. The Prioress and her Counsellors deliberated on the request and voted unanimously in favour. With that rare feeling of warm contentment and gratitude His Ex. Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara notes in his personal chronicle: "When God works with us, no one else can stop us! Propaganda Fide (Rome), Missio (Germany), Society of St. Peter Claver Kiyette (Rome) Kirche in Not (Germany), Carmels of da fayette (USA) Ormistin (USA) Seattle (USA) and some benefactors from Kerala all came to help this new foundation."
The intention was to dedicate the Convent in 1982 during the centenary year itself of St. Theresa of Avila's summon to her heavenly abode. That being the emotive concept, elestial help was there for all to succeed in their efforts. Rev. Fr. John Manakkad proved to be the chosen instrument for Eramalloor of the days. The Rev. Father had no second thoughts on undertaking any amount of troubles. The Rev. Vicar shifted his residence to the most inconvenient of all places - the sacristy of the church!
The sacristy was made his office and the room upstairs, his bed room- cum- CRS office which were both cluttered up with ever so many things and pieces of furniture. Worse still, the poor parish priest had no water closet or proper bed room or refectory even! Construction of the compound wall commenced under the able management and expert supervision of Rev. Fr. John Manakkatt who could overcome the opposition of the youth to a Convent of contemplative life instead of an active one and the labour problems instigated by the local unit of an atheistic political party.
On 3rd May, 1982, Mother Teresa of Jesus, Sr. Mary Antony, Fr. Bonaventure OCD and His Excellency reached Eramalloor and jointly laid the stone blessed by V. Rev. Fr. Philip Sainz de Baranda, the General. Work started in full swing and when enough rooms were ready in the middle of December 1982, a private blessing of the Convent was arranged. Meanwhile the Sacred Congregation for the Religious and Secular Institutes, Vatican City, issued permission to the Bishop to establish the Convent in the Diocese.
On 28th December 1982, the Sisters from Thiruvalla arrived together with the Mother Prioress, Teresa of Jesus and Sr. Teresa Margaret. Fr. Basil OCD blessed the House using the simple form and installed the new Community - after which there was a Concelebrated Mass with His Excellency as the chief celebrant. Subsequently when all the Sisters to be there reached three days later on New Year's eve, Bishop Joseph Kureethara celebrated Holy Mass and installed the Blessed Sacrament. Mother Teresa of Jesus was happy, seeing her Sisters well settled and safe in their enclosure within the year of the centenary celebrations!!
The solemn inauguration of the St. Joseph's Convent, Eramalloor was on 20th January, 1983. Bishop Joseph Fernandez of Quilon, the Definitor General, the Delegate General, the Vicar General of Cochin, Msgr. Paul Katticherry, the Provincial of Karnataka - Goa Province, many Monsignori, Priests, Brothers, Sisters and a vast crowd of the flock were present on that auspicious occasion. The dignitaries were garlanded and led in procession to the convent gate accompanied by flower girls and 'chenda melam'. Upon reaching the gate, the Fr. General delivered a speech and afterwards, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara, solemnly blessed the Convent. Once these were over, the enclosure was established by locking the entrance door with two keys.
A concelebrated solemn High Mass followed with His Excellency Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Fernandez as the chief celebrant since the Bishop of Cochin was indisposed. During the Holy Mass Rt. Rev. Msgr. Paul Katticherry, Vicar General of Cochin Diocese, read out the Decree of Erection of the Convent of the Discalced Nuns at Eramalloor and the transfer of eight Sisters from their Convent at Thiruvalla to the new one at Eramalloor by the Sacred Congregation of Religious, Rome.
Rev. Fr. Berthold O.C.D. was appointed Chaplain to the Sisters and Fr. Basil O.C.D. used to celebrate Holy Mass on Sundays. In August 1983 the first floor was completed and in November 1983 the western wing of the Convent was blessed. Finally, the blessing of the newly built chapel took place on 15th October, 1987.
The cloistered nuns aim through their secluded life at perfection of charity, contemplation, salvation of souls and well-being of the Church especially, the sanctification of priests. And they attain it within the four walls of the convent without getting submerged in the tumultuous life of the outside world.
Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara