Profile of the Congregation of the Carmelite Religious
The Congregation of the Carmelite Religious was founded by Mother Veronica of the Passion, in the mid-nineteenth century. As a Congregation affiliated to the Carmelite Order, it belongs to the Teresian family and joyfully shares its spiritual heritage.
The life of Mother Veronica née Sophie Leeves (1823-1906) reveals the hand of the Divine Architect, who had drawn the blueprint of her life and prepared her for a unique mission. Her devout upbringing in an Anglican family, her pilgrimage to Catholicism, her vocation to an active life in the Congregation of St. Joseph of the Apparition, her experience in the Carmelite missions of India, were all means to an end.
Her spiritual director Fr. Marie Ephrem OCD proposed the possibility of her founding a Congregation of Carmelite Tertiaries for the Missions of Mangalore and Malabar. With her deep ecclesial spirit, she sensed the urgent needs in the missionary Church - quality Catholic education for girls and other works of mercy in order to promote life in all its dimensions and safeguard the dignity of every human person. Her commitment to Christ urged her to pronounce her fiat.
It was on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel July 16, 1868, that the Third Order Apostolic of Our Lady of Mount Carmel began to exist as a legally authorised religious community at Bayonne, France. With the charismatic vision of a foundress, Mother Veronica formed the pioneers for the religious life. Jesus in the Eucharist was the centre of their lives. Mother Veronica instilled in them the spirit of obedience, humility, mortification and prayer. They were very poor, but charity and union reigned in the little community and most of them were burning with the desire of going to India, to labour for the salvation of souls.
Though she was denied the joy of living as a Carmelite Tertiary in India, Mother Veronica instilled in the Sisters the Contemplative-Apostolic-Ecclesial-Marian spirit, the special gift given her by the Holy Spirit for the building of the Kingdom of God. It is this vision that has set us on the way. As Mother Veronica advanced in her spiritual life, she discovered within her a deep yearning for the contemplative life of Carmel.
The seed that she planted, no doubt, had first to die before it could yield a rich harvest. This project was yet only a seed sown in the earth, which needed to die first and then revive slowly and give forth its little sprouts. In the absence of Mother Veronica at the helm, the Lord Himself took care of the nascent Congregation.
While Mother Veronica is the cornerstone of the edifice she founded, we consider Mother Mary Elias, as our co-foundress. Desirous of giving a shape to the dream of Mother Veronica and at the timely request of Bishop Ildephonse Borgna, OCD she founded Holy Angels' Convent, Trivandrum, in 1880. She began with a Primary School and later opened a Teachers' Training College, a Boarding House and an Orphanage. The community steadily grew as candidates joined. Apart from teaching, the Sisters were involved in pastoral work, bringing many to the fold of Christ. In keeping with the charism Mother Elias worked for the empowerment of women, foreseeing the future needs of the Congregation and the Church. Mother Elias also established a convent in Ypres, Belgium dedicated to Our Lady of the Missions, which furnished some of the first pillars of the Congregation - Sister Mary Denis of Jesus, Sister Mary Archange of the Sacred Heart, Sister Mary Elisée of the Sacred Heart and Sister Teresa Mary of Jesus. These were followed by Sister Mary Gerard of St. Michael.
At the request of Bishop Ferdinand Maria Ossi, OCD, a third Carmelite convent for the education of girls was established at Tangassery, Quilon in 1885 under the patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Mother Anne Teresa worked zealously and steadily for this institution.
The year 1907 is a landmark in the history of the Congregation. Archbishop Aloysius M. Benziger, OCD, of Quilon, amalgamated the three Carmelite convents of Tuet, Trivandrum and Tangassery and framed the Constitutions. In 1908, the first General Chapter was convened and Sr. Mary Michael of the Redemption was elected the first Superior General of the Congregation. In 1950 the Congregation was declared a Religious Institute of Pontifical Right.
The Special General Chapter of 1968-1969 agreed upon a change in the name of the Congregation from The Third Order Apostolic of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to the Congregation of the Carmelite Religious of Trivandrum. The Sacred Congregation approved the same, soon after. A few years later the words, of Trivandrum, were deleted with the approval of the same Sacred Congregation.
During the past century the Congregation grew slowly but steadily and spread to many regions of India and to a few countries abroad. With the grace of God, each generation has lived the charism, giving radical witness to gospel values in the secular world, extending its horizon. Inspired by the call of the Second Vatican Council for creative fidelity to the charism, the Congregation charted out new avenues of apostolate - care of the sick, the aged and the mentally challenged, beyond the frontiers of formal school education.
In 1990, time was ripe for decentralising of our presence and four quasi-autonomous Regions were constituted which were raised to be full-fledged provinces by the mandate of the General Chapter of 2005. The same Chapter initiated the work of the revision of the Constitutions. After years of incessant work, the Extraordinary General Chapter held in October 2009 at All Saints' General House, Thiruvananthapuram, approved them, ushering in a new era of spiritual vitality and apostolic fruitfulness.
Today as we deepen our knowledge of our saintly foundress and her charism, we discover the relevancy of her commitment not only in the field of formal education of the youth but also her keen prophetic sense and great desire to respond to dehumanising contexts of modern living. We understand our call to Carmel not as a flight from the world, but as an opportunity to witness to the living God as apostles for our times. Hence our vision for mission encompasses all areas of social concern: spiritual, moral, cultural degradation and economic poverty, especially among the marginalised.
Along with our Mother Veronica, Mary the Mother of God is also our Mother, Model and Mentor. Her single-minded openness to God and her heroic attentiveness to the needs of others is the light for our path, on this our life-pilgrimage to the heights of Mount Carmel.