St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara

St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, the heavenly Patron of CEVA, led an extra ordinary life of holiness, with committed action for the transformation of the society. Driven by the conviction that the love of God should translate itself as service to the poor, the illiterate and the destitute, St. Chavara committed himself, and led others in his sphere of influence, to dedicated social action for the relief of human suffering around him, and his contemporaries hailed him as a living saint.

The 19th century Kerala society was very much backward in social, cultural and educational spheres. Social life was marked by inequality, caste system, untouchability, ill-treatment of women and the low castes, and denial of education to the marginalized. Poverty, hunger and pestilence were wide spread. In this milieu, as a man with unique vision and mission, St. Chavara gave pioneering leadership for the social transformation in Kerala.

St. Chavara was truly the father of universal education in Kerala. As a social reformer his focus was on education. A man of unique vision, he realized education as the best means of human uplift and social mobility. In a society that discouraged education in general, and banned Sanskrit learning in particular for non-bramins, St.Chavara established a Sanskrit school at Mannanam, open for all religions and castes, including the Dalits. A second school was established mainly for the Dalits at Arpookara . Education for the lower castes and the untouchables was a revolutionary idea in India those days.

“A School for every Church (Pallikoodam)” was a revolutionary educational initiative that brought about a subsequent educational revolution of Kerala. As the Vicar General of the CMI Church in
Kerala, he compelled to start schools in every parish. The response was so tremendous that within two decades, over a thousand schools were established in Kerala. Such educational endeavours for universal education were subsequently taken up by other social reformers and community organizations in Kerala.

The mid-day meal programme for school children he initiated was truly innovative and the State Government soon adopted it and subsequently the programme has been universally accepted and followed, even in countries such as the United States. The Pidiyari programme (small rice contributions by families) ensured the viability of the mid-day meal programme and helped to feed the hungry families.

Women empowerment was another genuine concern of St. Chavara. Programmes for skill training for women and encouraging them to organise small production units were initiated under his leadership. The home-based units, employing women, produced Christian artfact, handicrafts, candles and paper flowers, etc., and made over 3000 families self-reliant. Opportunity for girls to attend schools, including convent schools, and the encouragement for educating the girl child were basic to women empowerment, and women empowerment forms the basis for family and social development. The house for the dying and destitute he established was an inspiring model for the congregation. The printing press and the publishing house was also a model that facilitated literacy in Kerala. During the days of a wide spread small pox epidemic in the State, when people were reluctant to bury the dead and the clergy were afraid to perform the last rites, St. Chavara visited the dying and offered holy communion and prayers.