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Maria Theresa Chiramel

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Blessed Maria Theresa Chiramel
Born April 26, 1876, Kerala, India
Died June 8, 1926
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified April 9, 2000 by Pope John Paul II
Feast June 6

Blessed Maria Theresa Chiramel (April 26, 1876 – June 8, 1926) was a Syro-Malabarese Catholic nun who was beatified in 2000.

She was the daughter of Thoma and Thanda Chiramel Mankidiyan in the village of Puthenchira, Trichur District, Kerala. She was baptized Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan on May 3, 1876. She was the third of five children, two boys and three girls.

Her family had once been a rich and noble family with extensive landed property. But they had become poorer and poorer as Thresia's grandfather married away seven daughters one after the other selling the property to pay a costly dowry for each of them. To forget the poor straits to which the family was reduced, Thresia's father and brother took to drinking.

Thresia grew up in piety and holiness under the loving guidance of her saintly mother Thanda. As she wrote later in her Autobiography (a small document of hardly six pages written under obedience to her spiritual father), Thresia was moved from early childhood by an intense desire to love God. For this purpose she fasted four times a week and prayed the rosary several times a day. Seeing her thinned down at eight years of age, Thanda tried to dissuade Thresia from her severe fasts and night vigils. But Thresia wanted to be ever more in the likeness of the suffering Christ.

She made a private vow of chastity at when she was 10. Her mother died when Thresia was 12. Her mother's death also marked the end of her elementary school education. She dedicated herself to prayer, to the service of the poor and sick, and to the comfort of lonely people in her parish. With three friends, she formed a prayer group, and engaged in apostolic work on the streets, with the neediest families of the village including the untouchables caste. Because they traveled unaccompanied by men they were severely criticized.

Thresia placed her trust in the help of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. She saw them frequently in visions and received guidance in her apostolate, especially for the conversion of sinners. She prayed for sinners, fasted for their conversion, and visited them and exhorted them to repentance. Her ascetical and penitential practices are reminisant of the extreme rigour of the ancient hermits and monks. She received several mystical gifts like prophecy, healing, aura of light, sweet odour. And like St. Teresa of Avila she had frequent ecstasies and levitations. On Fridays people used to gather to see Mariam Thresia lifted high and hanging in the form of a crucifix on the wall of her room. Like the well-known Blessed Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, she too bore the stigmata, carefully hiding it from public view. Perhaps to help her keep humble amidst such mystical favours, the Lord let her be tormented by diabolical attacks and vexations (again like Padre Pio) almost all through her life. She was repeatedly submitted to exorcism between 1902 and 1905 by Father Joseph Vithayathil, the parish priest of Puthenchira, acting under orders of the bishop, who wondered if she was simply a play thing of the devils. Thresia submitted to the bishop's orders with exemplary humility, but the exorcisms seem to have made some people regard Mariam Thresia as a dubious saint, even as Saint Mary Magdalene, was eventually identified with the unnamed sinful woman in the Gospel (Luke 7: 36-50) on the presumption that a possessed person must be a sinner. Mariam Thresia had also to fight temptations particularly against faith and chastity and she passed through the dark night of the soul. From 1902 till her death she had Father Vithayathil for spiritual director. She opened her heart fully and confidently to him and followed his advice and obeyed him blindly. Of her extant letters fifty-three out of fifty-five are addressed to him seeking advice and spiritual guidance.

In 1903 she requested permission to build a house of prayer and retreat, but Apostolic Vicar Mar John Menacherry of Trichur refused the request, and recommended that she test her vocation.

As a child she was known as Thresia. After 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.

Mariam entered several religious congregations, and in 1913 her bishop granted her permission to build the home. On May 14, 1914, the Congregation of the Holy Family was founded. And it was as Mariam Thresia that she was professed in 1914, the foundress and first member of that congregation. By Mariam's death of natural causes on June 8, 1926, they had established three convents, two day schools, two boarding schools, a study home, and an orphanage. Today the Congregation operates in Kerala, in Northern India, Germany, Italy, and Ghana with over 170 houses.

She was declared venerable on June 28, 1999 by Pope John Paul II. She was beatified on April 9, 2000 by Pope John Paul II.

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