Today, 6 Jun 2012, is the memorial of Blessed Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, (a.k.a. Maria Theresa Chiramel, Mariam Thressia), the foundress of the Congregation of the Holy Family based in Kerala, India. From her early childhood Jesus was leading her to great sanctity, and she followed His lead wholeheartedly. If she had lived later in the 20th century she would have been as well known as St Padre Pio and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Blessed Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan was born in 1876 in the Kerala region of India, which is in the far south west coastal part of India. This region of India celebrates the Syro-Malabar rites of the Church. Initially her name was Thresia ( a form of Teresa, in honour of St Teresa of Avila). Growing up God granted her a holy mother and a father so depressed by the loss of his family’s wealth that he sought refuge in alcohol. By the age of 10, Thresia promised Jesus that she would belong to Him alone for life. “From childhood my soul agonised with an intense desire to love God”. By the age of 11 she was helping teach younger students the catechism. In 1888 her beloved mother died.
Thresia’s journey into religious life was a long one. After one or two early attempts to join a convent failed because of her caste and the poverty of her dowry, she had a go at living the life of a hermit but did not succeed. Instead the good Lord provided her with three companions who helped her keep the local church looking beautiful and in various works of mercy. Step by step the Lord Jesus led her to visit the lonely, the poor and the sick. This soon led to caring for orphans and nursing the sick to the best of their ability.
In Thresia, Jesus united a deep mystical and contemplative prayer life to a very active love of the poor and needy. Visions of saints and angels spurred Thresia on to levels of mortification and fasting that would have made the Desert Fathers proud. Her greatest priority was the conversion of souls. During one of the visions Our Lady asked her to add Mariam to her name, which she did. Just about every mystical phenomenon was present in her life, a hidden stigmata, assaults from the devil, levitations, a luminosity when receiving Holy Communion and mystical marriage.
When 1902 approached, the need to have a house of prayer became urgent. The local Apostolic Vicar denied the request and recommended that Mariam Thresia have another go at finding an existing order to join. None of the convents she tried felt ‘just right’ to her.With mystical phenomena becoming more common in her life, Mariam Thresia was advised to submit to exorcism. In obedience she underwent these trials and others given to her together with a long dark night of the soul. After such thorough testing the bishop finally agreed in 1913 to the house of prayer, and adapted a rule for their use of Mariam Thresia and her companions. Thus was the Congregation of the Holy Family founded.
A feature of the Congregation was their commitment to serve anyone in need, regardless of caste. When these holy women went against social custom and travelled to the poor and sick without a chaperone, they caused a stir. With all her energy Mariam Theresa worked on building new convents, schools, an orphanage and a place for study, as well as all the things needed to obtain approval for the Order.
Death came in 1926, at the age of 50 in Kerala, India, after a wound refused to heal due to her untreated diabetes. News about her closeness to God spread rapidly. Mariam was beatified by Blessed Pope John Paul the Great in 2000. More information about Blessed Mariam Thresia is available at www.mariamthresia.org and www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20000409_beat_Mankidiyan_en.htm
May the prayers of Blessed Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan obtain for us a hunger for the conversion of souls and a thirst for the sacrifices necessary to obtain them.