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Mother Eliswa declared Venerable: Pioneer of women religious in Kerala takes step towards Canonization

Mother Eliswa Vakayil has been declared Venerable, the second stage of Canonization.

Pope Francis on November 8 authorized Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, to promulgate the Decrees regarding the heroic virtues of the Servant of God Eliswa of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She was the first religious sister and a pioneer of women religious in Kerala.

She is the foundress of the first indigenous Third Order Discalced Carmelite Congregation (TOCD), which later divided into the Congregation of Teresian Carmelites (CTC) and Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (CMC).

Born on October 15, 1831, as the first of eight children of Thomman and Thanda in Ochanthuruth in Verapoly Archdiocese in Kerala, Mother Eliswa established the first convent school, boarding house, and orphanage for girls in the southern state.

Her impact extended to her family, as her third brother, Louis, became the first priest ordained for the St Pius X Province of the Discalced Carmelite Order in India. He was also the founder of the first Catholic bi-monthly, ‘Sathyanadhakahalam,’ and a scholar who contributed to the translation of the Bible into Malayalam, authoring ten books.

Mother Eliswa, recognized as the mother of all consecrated women in Kerala, provided value-oriented and integral formation for girls and women. Today, the combined membership of CMC and CTC exceeds 7,000, as reported by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI).

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At the age of 16 in 1847, Eliswa was married to Vatharu Vakayil and had a daughter, Anna. After Vatharu’s death, she chose a life of prayer, detachment, and solitude. Following a divine revelation from Italian Carmelite Missionary Father Leopold Beccaro, she consecrated herself to God, and her daughter Anna and youngest sister Thresia also followed suit.

The Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly, Archbishop Bernardine Baccinelli, OCD, officially signed the decree of foundation of the Third Order of the Discalced Carmelite Congregation for women (TOCD). The three Latin-Rite women moved from their home to the newly built bamboo convent on their property on February 13, 1866. This convent marked the beginning of the unique history of TOCD in the Catholic Church.

Mother Eliswa later admitted members of the Syro-Malabar Rite to the Congregation. In March 1867, the sisters moved to St Teresa’s Convent, newly built on the property owned by Mother Eliswa and her daughter Anna at Koonammavu in the state.

On March 24, 1890, the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide changed the jurisdiction over St Teresa’s Convent at Koonammavu from the Archdiocese of Verapoly to the Vicariate of Thrissur. Six months later, all the Latin sisters, including Foundress Mother Eliswa, had to leave the convent. They found temporary shelter in St. Teresa’s Convent (CSST) Ernakulam before being brought to Varapuzha by the Archbishop of Verapoly.

Mother Eliswa passed away on July 18, 1913, at the age of 82, and was interred in a special burial place close to St. Joseph’s and Mount Carmel Church at Varapuzha. In 1997, her mortal remains were shifted to the memorial building Smruthi Mandhir at St. Joseph’s Convent at Varapuzha.

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