MARIAM THRESIA CHIRAMEL MANKIDIYAN
Mariam Thresia was called during the first half of her life simply Thresia, the name given to her at baptism on 3 May 1876. Since 1904 she wanted to be called Mariam Thresia as she believed that she was asked to add "Mariam" to her name by the Blessed Virgin Mary in a vision. She did so. And it was as Mariam Thresia that she was professed in 1914, the foundress and first member of the Congregation of the Holy Family. Mariam Thresia was one of the rare holy persons who moved constantly and consciously among the inhabitants of this world as well as with visitors from the world above and the world below.
Discerning Her Vocation
When Thresia was only twelve years old, her mother died, which was the end also of her elementary school education. She was now set on a long search to discern her own vocation in life. She longed for a hidden life of prayer and hatched a scheme in 1891 to sneak away from home and lead an eremitical life of prayer and penance in the solitude of the far away woodhills. But this scheme proved too naive. She continued to frequent the church with three of her companions, clean it and decorate the altar. In her love for Jesus she wanted to be like him in his toil and apostolate. Hence she helped the poor, nursed the sick, visited and comforted the lonely people of her parish. She nursed even hideous and revolting cases of leprosy and small pox, often abandoned to their lot by their poor relatives who had no means of caring for them. Upon their death she took care of their orphaned children. Thus a much neglected village of Kerala benefited from the charitable services of a genuine forerunner of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Nobel prize winning saintly foundress of the Missionaries of Charity. Both Mariam Thresia and Mother Teresa served the poorest of the poor selflessly and heroically, the former preceding the latter by half a century before the age of journalists of the flashing cameras and of television crews relaying instant news across the world and creating celebrities.
The Foundation of the Congregation of the Holy Family
In 1903 Mariam Thresia requested her bishops permission to build a prayer house of solitude, but Mar John Menachery, the Vicar Apostolic of Trichur, first wanted to test her vocation. He suggested to her to consider joining the newly founded Congregation of the Franciscan Clarists, but she did not think that she was called to it. In 1912 he made arrangements for her to live in a convent of the Carmelite nuns at Ollur. Though the Sisters would gladly have admitted her into their Congregation, she did not feel that it was her call. Finally, in 1913 Mar Menachery permitted her to build a prayer house and sent his secretary to bless it. Thresia moved in, and her three companions joined her soon. They led a life of prayer and austere penance like hermits but continued to visit the sick and help the poor and the needy irrespective of religion or caste. The bishop discerned that here was in gestation a new religious Congregation for the service of the family. On 14 May 1914 he erected it canonically and named it the Congregation of the Holy Family (C.H.F.) while receiving the perpetual profession of Mariam Thresia. Her three companions were enrolled as postulants in the new Congregation, while she was appointed its first Superior with Father Joseph Vithayathil as chaplain.
Nurturing the New Congregation
The newly founded Congregation had no written Constitutions. The bishop himself procured the Constitutions of the Holy Family Sisters of Bordeaux from their house in Ceylon (today, Sri Lanka), adapted it and gave it to the foundress. Mother Mariam Thresia saw to its strict observance in the new Congregation, which she nurtured with great care. During and after the difficult years of the First World War, with indomitable energy and utter trust in divine providence, she built, in less than twelve years, three new convents, two schools, two hostels, a study house, and an orphanage. Education of girls was Mariam Thresias liberation theology in action, without the slogan. Several young girls were attracted to her by her simplicity, humility and shining sanctity. At the time of her death at the age of fifty there were 55 Sisters in the Congregation, 30 boarders and 10 orphans under her care. The co-founder Father Joseph Vithayathil continued, till his death in 1964, to nurture the Congregation, which grew steadily. Today in the year 2000, this Congregation of the Holy Family has 1584 professed Sisters, serving in Kerala, in the mission areas of North India, in Germany, Italy, and Ghana, with a total of 176 houses in 7 provinces and 119 novices.
Death and Fame of Sanctity
Mother Mariam Thresia died on 8 June 1926 from a wound on the leg caused by a falling object. The wound defied cure owing to her diabetes. After her death the fame of Mariam Thresia spread as she continued from heaven to succour the sick and the needy through miraculous favours. In 1971 a historical commission collected the necessary evidence regarding her life, virtues and writings and presented it in 1983 before an eparchial (diocesan) tribunal, which also collected the depositions of fifteen of the surviving eye-witnesses. On 28 June 1999 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints promulgated a decree stating that the Servant of God Mariam Thresia had practised the Christian virtues heroically, and so she was entitled to be called Venerable.