St. Mariam Thresia was born to Thoma and Thanda in a renowned Catholic family, Chiramel Mankidiyan, on 26 April 1876 at Puthenchira, Thrissur, Kerala. From her childhood she had an admirable orientation towards God and interior life. It is written in the History of Mariam Thresia by Venerable Fr Joseph Vithayathil, her spiritual guide, that she consecrated herself totally to God when she was three or four years old. In her early age itself she chose Jesus as her spiritual spouse, Blessed Virgin Mother as her mother and St Joseph as her father. She was earnest to reflect upon the Passion of the Lord, to participate in the Holy Eucharist daily and to exercise austerity. From then, she had various experiences of visions and revelations from the celestial world. Jesus would visit her as an Infant, Adult, Suffering One, Crucified, Eucharistic Lord, Sacred Heart, Judge, enthroned in Heaven and with celestial beings. These experiences led her to the mysteries of the whole Christ Event.
Despite the fact that she had only elementary schooling and hailed from a rural background, Mariam Thresia would exhibit surprising sense of wisdom and precision in her thinking from the younger age. She was actively involved in the events of the parish and related with everyone with compassion. She sought passionately to enter into the religious way of life at the age of fifteen; however, God did not allow her to enter the existing religious congregations as He had unique plans for her. She made a few attempts to move to the woods to love God in solitude, which were also thwarted by the hidden hands of God. Subsequently, she engaged herself in various services in the parish.
Mystic-Prophet of the Era
Like great saints of the Church, Mariam Thresia was subjected to dreadful diabolic attacks, tempestuous temptations against faith, hope and purity, and various physical illnesses. In spite of these, she lived heroically the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, and other virtues like humility and submission to the divine will in an outstanding manner. It was in this period that she found a spiritual guide in the person of Fr Joseph Vithayathil, who played a vital and decisive role in her life. Even though the devils were in continual combat with her, she exercised her authority over them courageously, which the Spiritual Father had helped her to realize. She was being formed a mystic of the contemporary era, who would go through different stages of mystical life even while being actively involved in the life of her society. She integrated faith and work in an exceptional manner giving importance to both in an extraordinary way.
Mariam Thresia had the frequent interventions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph who guided and directed her all through the journey of life. Their constant accompaniment and close propinquity were sealed by heaven that the hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were given to her during the period of 1904-1906. She who would engross herself in the Passion of Christ began to evince the signs of His suffering in her body since 1905. God willed to give her the imprints of the five wounds of Jesus in a visible form in 1909, thus making her the first stigmatic in India. She entered into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist wherein Jesus revealed to her that He Himself is the Offeror and the Victim of the Holy Sacrifice. Jesus would celebrate the Holy Eucharist in her room when she was unable to come to the Church due to various sufferings.
Mariam Thresia was blessed with many more mystical experiences, like, visions of heaven, hell and purgatory, spiritual betrothal, gift of reading hearts, ecstasies, transverberation, levitation and crucifixion. Many departed persons would appear before her seeking intercessions for the release from purgatory. She drew inspirations from such experiences and reached the heights of holiness with the motto, ‘Thy Will Be Done.’
Mariam Thresia along with her three companions would visit the families, pray for the needy and engage themselves in various kinds of works of compassion in the parish. However, Family Apostolate as her unique apostolate was revealed and mandated through the intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mother. God called her to participate in the redemptive mission of Christ through family apostolate and gifted her with the charism of compassionate love of Christ to sanctify them. It was an innovative and pioneering apostolate especially in the Syro-Malabar Church. She had to overcome a lot of hurdles and strenuous situations from within and without to concretize the new apostolate that aimed at the salvation of souls. Once convinced, as a messenger of the Lord and with the zeal of a prophet, she would transcend the social taboos and traditional norms that prevented her from entering the families and the society. She ministered the families through genuine prayer, constant accompaniment, self-sacrificing penances, tireless perseverance and compassionate service, which were deeply rooted in and generated from her spirituality.
Mariam Thresia, who experienced various predicaments and strife in family life, visited, consoled, counselled, prayed and led every kind of family to God. During the family visits, she would offer prayers, mortifications and services for the restoration of persons and families to the main strata of religious and social life. The central vision of her family apostolate was to make the families like the Holy Family by imparting Christ to them. Her visits to the families with prophetic fortitude were scorned by a few. She had to swim against the current to get family apostolate accepted by the society and the hierarchy of the Church. They yielded finally to the evidence of the good results of it.
Conversion of Sinners
When the parishioners made confessions, Mariam Thresia would intercede to God for them, being present in the church. She spent days and nights beside those who were away from the Church until their return. She endured ridicules and abuses from them but never withdrew from her commitment. She would request Fr Joseph Vithayathil to warn the people about their pernicious spiritual conditions through sermons and exhortations.
Through the visits to the families, Mariam Thresia knew the persons who were irregular to the Sacraments. She prayed for them before the Blessed Sacrament, took upon herself mortifications voluntarily, visited and counselled them often to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation, the Holy Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick, in order to experience the love, the compassion and the grace of God. Her persistence to counsel such persons was something remarkable and admirable for many people.
Many people used to seek the intercession of Mariam Thresia for various needs. She was regarded as a powerful intercessor, specially favoured by God. The eradication of smallpox in Puthenchira by her prayers and sacrifices is just one example for it. Her life was a continuous intercession on behalf of the suffering humanity. Even after her death, she continues to intercede for those who seek her aid.
Works of Compassion
Numerous instances are recorded in the Positio about the compassionate acts that were carried out by Mariam Thresia for the less fortunate in the society. She helped the needy with great sacrifice on her part, even giving up her own food when nothing else was left to give to the poor. A burning love of neighbour and an eagerness to serve the destitute were always manifested in her.
Mariam Thresia never missed an occasion to care for the sick and the downtrodden as she had a unique aptitude for it. Through her God-given healing power and ardent prayers, she healed many from spiritual and physical ailments, including the Maharaja of Cochin. She would bring the untended sick to her home and nurse them like her kinsfolk. In the same way, she would bring the abandoned children to the convent, love them like a compassionate mother, and take care of their material, educational as well as spiritual needs.
It is reported that Mariam Thresia would walk miles to assist the dying in their homes regardless of time and place. She would recite rosary, ejaculatory prayers, remind them of the sacred wounds of Christ, read spiritual books, counsel and prepare them to receive the sacraments. By her compassionate presence, prayers and voluntary sufferings she would help them to overcome the despair of the last moments and lead them to a peaceful death.
Praying for the Souls in Purgatory
One of the favorite acts that Mariam Thresia devoted herself to was praying for the souls in purgatory. Many souls would appear before her, seeking her intercession for their release from the pains of purgatory. She did not only offer prayers, plenary indulgences, Holy Eucharist, acts of sacrifices, sufferings and almsgiving, but also insisted others too to do the same for their relief.
Unique Response to the Call of the Church
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Pope Leo XIII and the succeeding Popes endorsed the Holy Family as the model for all families. They encouraged the people to imitate the Holy Family to lead a genuine family life on which the future of the society depends. By the divine providence and working of the Holy Spirit, it is in this phase of the history that Mariam Thresia entered into families with the spirit of the Holy Family to resuscitate them in Christ.
Foundation of CHF
The unique life of Mariam Thresia and her companions were appreciated by many. Her intense desire for a house for prayer and solitude eventually came to fruition on 7 October 1913. Mar John Menachery, the Vicar Apostolic of Thrissur, permitted her to stay in the house of solitude, which was built by the support of Fr Joseph Vithayathil and the parishioners. On 14 May 1914, the Bishop officially recognized this community as the Congregation of the Holy Family (CHF). Mariam Thresia made her perpetual vows and her three companions were received as Postulants on the same day. Her new life as a religious did not deter her from the unique apostolate but carried it out with greater zeal and resolution. She discerned and undertook various social and compassionate works, impelled by love of God and neighbour.
After founding CHF, Mariam Thresia assumed her responsibility as the superior with much integrity. She was keen and meticulous on the spiritual and the physical welfare of the members, propagation of the charism, oneness of the community, establishment of new convents, maintenance, taking care of the land, the vicinity and so on.
Education to Impart Knowledge of God
Mariam Thresia was a visionary who realized that education played a vital role in the formation of families. Therefore, she began schools with the assistance of Fr Joseph Vithayathil and the benefactors of her society. The first school was opened just a year after the establishment of CHF with the aim of imparting the knowledge of God. Her commitment to this cause was evident from the efforts that she made for its decorous running.
Reformation and Development
In the later years of her life, Mariam Thresia made an integrated and progressive move in her apostolate. She concentrated more on to the development and spiritual growth of the society. It was she who took the initiative to write to Cochin Postal Department and set up a post box near the premises of the newly built school at Kuzhikkattussery in 1924. She never discriminated the people on the basis of caste, creed or culture but visited and served them compassionately. Her actions conscientized the society that everyone had the right to be human in every sense. Many came forward to help her in person and with finance. She made efforts to relieve the fellow beings from the evils of ignorance, exploitation, poverty and discrimination.
Mariam Thresia not only offered education and extra educational activities like needle work and so on to the women of her neighbourhood, but also provided them with opportunities to pray, study and work. She understood the importance of Sisters and Students learning English and so made arrangements for it by opening a boarding house in Thrissur. She was convinced that the uplift of women would transform the family and the society.
A Companion to the Nature
Mariam Thresia was closely associated with and engrossed by the nature. She would work hard and harvest the crops, despite the scorching sun and the heavy rain. She took care and admonished others too to keep the environment clean and not to throw waste in the premises. She was nature friendly and knew the medicinal and nurturing properties of the plants. Such was her desire to be in touch with the nature that at the time of her death she asked her Sisters to lay her on the ground that she might die feeling one with it.
Twelve years after founding CHF, at the time of her death, there were fifty five Sisters, thirty boarders and ten orphans under her care. She had established three convents, one boarding house, two schools and an orphanage. She was called for her eternal reward on 8 June 1926. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 9 April 2000 and canonized by Pope Francis on 13 October 2019 at St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
Sr Dr Abhaya Rose CHF