History of Mangalapuzha Seminary

Mangalapuzha Seminary

A Glance Through Its History

(Dr.Pallipurathukunnel is professor of Church History at the Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy, Alwaye. The article is a brief history of the priestly training programme in Kerala from the ancient to modern times .It also traces the growth of the Mangalapuzha Seminary and highlights the contributions which the Carmelite Missionaries have made in this field.)

St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Mangalapuzha is a Major Seminary of the Syro-Malabar Church of the St. Thomas Christians. It is the continuation of several Seminaries and the outcome of the centralization of the priestly formation in Kerala. It has a long history of untiring service and selfless sacrifice of several missionaries, native clergy and laity.

Until the sixteenth century the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala followed the general system of education of Malabar known as ‘Gurukulavasam’, which means living with the teacher. Such a system of the formation of the clergy was known as Malpanate.

Seminaries under European Missionaries

With the arrival of the European Missionaries in India in the sixteenth century Seminaries, after the model of the formation houses of Europe according to the prescriptions of the council of Trent, were started by the missionaries belonging to different Religious Orders. These Seminaries helped much in raising the standard of the clergy. With the opening of such Seminaries the Malpanate system gradually died out.

1. The Franciscan Seminary At Cranganore: 1541

A Portuguese Franciscan missionary, Frey Viacente de Lagos started a college /Seminary at Cranganore in 1541. He had the support of the bishop of the St. Thomas Christians, Mar Jacob (1502-1522) and of Fr. George, a St. Thomas Christian priest who studied in Portugal. St. Francis Xavier in his letter to the king of Portugal praised the attempt of Frey Viacente. There were about 100 students in this seminary when the saint wrote this letter.

This seminary was a failure because the missionaries did not take care to teach Syriac, the liturgical language of the St. Thomas Christians. Hence those who studied there could not administer the sacraments in the parishes of the St. Thomas Christians. The priests, who were ordained here, were disowned by them. They served the Latin diocese of Cochin. Mar Joseph, the successor of Mar Jacob, refused to ordain anyone who had studied in this seminary because of the lack of the knowledge of Syriac.

This Seminary was under the jurisdiction of Goa. The college continued to be under the Franciscans even after the establishment of Vaippicotta Seminary by the Jesuits. This college was a success in the sense that it produced well trained and good Latin priests from the community of the St. Thomas Christians. But in another sense, it was a failure since those trained there could be of no use to the St, Thomas Christians themselves. So the St. Thomas Christians stopped sending their children to this seminary and thus it came to an end.

2. The Jesuit Seminary At Vaippicotta: 1581

The Jesuits started a seminary at Vaippicotta in 1581 for St. Thomas Christians. Fr. Francis Roz S.J. was the Rector and the he taught Syriac in 1584. The excellent teaching in the seminary really attracted the St. Thomas Christians and they sent their children to it. It was under the jurisdiction of Mar Abraham, the bishop of the St. Thomas Christians.

This seminary became very famous. It was staffed by the Jesuits. There were 50 or 60 students who were taught the Humanities, Latin, Chaldean, the case of conscience, the rudiments of catholic faith and liturgy.

In 1627, the yogam at Edapilly decided to suppress Malpanates and to give instructions to send the students to Vaippicotta seminary. The following directions were given to the seminary :

To limit the number of admissions to Vaippicotta seminary

To select candidates from noble families

To select only the best to priesthood

To reach others to live as good Christians

Regarding the piety and exemplary life of the students of this seminary, there is a report of 1597. They increased more and more every day in number as well as in diligence to piety. Every fifteen days they receive the sacraments, sometimes more frequently. They do various penances and fasts. They are taught Syriac and Latin. They recite prayers at fixed hours every day. They speak about divine things with ardour.

When the Dutch captured the Portuguese possession of Cochin in 1663, the Jesuits were expelled from Vaippicotta and the seminary was turned to an asylum for lepers. They shifted the seminary to their house at Ambalakad, which was started in 1662. At Ambalakad the seminary for the Syrians was different from the Jesuit house of studies. This seminary was closed down legally with the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773. It was destroyed in 1789 during the raid of Tippu Sultan.

3. The Dominican Seminary At Kaduthuruthy: 1624

Fr. Francesco Donati, a Dominican, started a seminary at Kaduthuruthy for the St. Thomas Christians in 1624. He built a church dedicated to Our Lady and the seminary was attached to it. In the seminary Syriac was taught and Donati celebrated Holy Mass in Syriac and spoke Malayalam, the language of Kerala. The Jesuits opposed the entrance of the Dominicans to Kerala. The Jesuit archbishop Stephen Britto S.J. wrote to the Jesuit General and the Propaganda congregation to ask the Dominicans to withdraw from Kaduthuruthy. The Archdeacon favoured the Dominicans. In 1628 the Archdeacon wrote to the Pope against the Jesuits and recommended Fr. Francesco Donati to be appointed coadjutor bishop of Angamaly. Rome was in favour of such a step. Fr. Donati was called to Rome but on the way he has killed by the Moors. We do not know how long this seminary continued to function and when it ceased to exist.

4. The Discalzed Carmelite Seminary At Verapoly: 1682

Fr. Peter Paul of St. Therese OCD, a Carmelite missionary, started a seminary at Verapoly for the St. Thomas Christians in 1682. He appointed Bartholomew Anna, a Maronite priest to teach Syriac there. He requested the Propaganda to grant certain privileges and favours for the new seminary. This seminary ceased to function on account of the fight between the Propaganda and the Padoado and financial difficulties.

5. The Seminary At Verapoly And Alengad Under Propaganda: 1766 – 1866

After the Coonan Cross Oath in 1653, the Catholic St. Thomas Christians – the Syrians – became divided under two jurisdictions, i.e. Padroado and Propaganda. They could choose to be under any of these jurisdictions. In 1766 a seminary under Propaganda was instituted at Verapoly for the Latins and another at Alengad for the Syrian Catholics. In 1774 both the Latins and the Syrians were put together at Verapoly. Due to the dissension between the Carmelite missionaries and the Syrian clergy, the Syrians demanded separation of the Syrian students from the Latins. Therefore the unification was postponed to a suitable time. The Syrians were trained separately and mostly in the Malpanates and in the seminary at Alengad until 1854. Therefore there was no uniformity in the training of the clergy.

6. The Seminaries Under Native Carmelites

In 1854 all the Malpanates were suppressed and all the Syrian students were sent to five seminaries, namely those at Mannanam, Pallipuram, Pulincunnu, Vazhakulam and Elthuruthu. They were run by Syrian Carmelites. The Latin students continued to stay at Verapoly.

7. The Seminary Under Padroado: 1867 – 1886

The Syrian Catholics under Padroado had no seminary of their own, while those under Propaganda had seminaries conducted by the Carmelites at Verapoly and Alengad. Besides, the Syrian Catholics also wished to reestablish the extinct seminary of Vaippicotta. Therefore, 55 Syrian Catholic parishes of Padroado Archdiocese of Cranganore contributed their share towards buying a plot for a new seminary. The sum was entrusted to Parayil Avirah Varkey Tharakan of Thaikkattusserry. Since the amount collected from the parishes was not sufficient, Varkey Tharakan added Rs. 2000 which his great grandfather had given for this purpose and thus brought a property, covering forty acres at Mangalapuzha, Aluva, together with a two storied Bunglow situated in the property, from a European who was the owner – Mr. Schoetlier of Fort Cochin. In 1866 the ownership of the property was transferred and put in the name of the Archbishop of Goa for the purpose of erecting a seminary for the Syrian Catholics.

In 1867 the seminary was duly begun and Syrian Catholic clerics were regularly trained there. It seems that this seminary was run by the diocesan priests. The priests of the Archdiocese of Cranganore used to assemble there for the retreats and conferences. By the conclusion of the concordat with Portugal on 23 June 1886 and the establishment of the Latin Hierarchy of India under Propaganda on 1 September of the same year, the seminary at Mangalapuzha under Padroada ceased to function. The administration of the property was entrusted to the bishop of Cochin who could not of his own accord legally make any transaction relating to this property. The congregation of Extraordinary Affairs decided that the property should be under the Congregation for the Oriental churches,. Since it had been donated by Syrian Catholics.

8. The Central Seminary At Puthenpally: 1866 – 1932

The seminary at Verapoly was shifted to the new buildings at Puthenpally in the year 1866. In 1888 the seminary of Puthenpally was constituted the Major Central seminary for the whole of Malabar and was placed under the immediate jurisdiction of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide. Important changes were made in the curriculum of studies as demanded by the exigencies of time and circumstances. It was during this time that the study of the languages such as Sanskrit, Greek, Hebrew and Malayalam was introduced in the curriculum.

9. The Central Apostolic Seminary At Mangalapuzha, Aluva: 1932

Owing to the increase in the number of the students and the unhealthy location of Puthenpally, a new seminary with better accommodation was built at Mangalapuzha, Aluva, the same location of Padrado Seminary. On 1 June 1932, the Theological section was transferred from Puthenpally to the new seminary which was still under construction. In December of the same year, when more accommodation was made available in the new seminary, the Philosophy section too was transferred to Mangalapuzha. The official inauguration of the new seminary was performed on 28 January 1933 by Most Rev. Dr. Leo P. Kierkels C.P., the then Apostolic Delegate of India. The seminarians at that time numbered 274. On 2 January 1951 the inauguration and blessing of the chapel of the seminary by Most Rev. Dr. Leo P. Kierkels took place.

The increase in the clerical vocations necessitated further extension. The strength of the seminary in 1954 was 486 even though the maximum capacity of the seminary with all the extensions made was only for 450 students. The problem was soon solved when on 24 November 1955 the new Philosophical Seminary later named ‘Pontifical College, Carmelgiri’ was solemnly blessed and inaugurated by His Grace Most Rev. Martin Lucas, the then Apostolic Internuncio to India.

10. Further Development Of Mangalapuzha Seminary : The St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary

In 1964 the seminary was raised to Pontifical status by the Holy See. His Excellency Most Rev. Dr. James Robert Knox read the Papal Brief at a public meeting in the seminary on 14 June 1964.The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (K.C.B.C.) was entrusted with the direction and administration of the Seminary On 12 June 1976. On 27 October 1973, a formal request was made by the Superior General of the Carmelite Order for the transfer of the direction and administration from the Superior General of the Order to the Catholic Hierarchy of Kerala. On 12 June 1976 the Congregation for the Oriental Churches communicated to the Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Conference the decision of the Congregation for the Oriental churches and the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples to transfer the direction of the seminary to the K.C.B.C. The letters of the Congregations recall the concern of the two Congregations for the well-being and progress of the Pontifical Seminary and its continuance as a model of inter-ritual cooperation. The statutes of the Seminary approved by the two Congregations state ‘St. Joseph’s Pontifical is a pluriritual institution, common to the three Rites, namely the Syro-Malabar, the Latin and the Syro-Malankara. The seminary belongs to the Holy See and its direction and administration is entrusted to the Conference of Bishops of the three Rites of Kerala, subject to the high authority of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples’.

The Church of Kerala is greatly indebted to the dedicated missionaries of the Carmelite Order for the excellent formation they had imparted to the clergy of Kerala for over three centuries. It is a matter of great joy and honour for the seminary that the Cause for the beatification of two of its former professors, Fr. Aurelian OCD and Fr. Zacharias OCD has been taken up. Fr. Aurelian had served the seminary for 51 years and Fr. Zacharias for 45 years.

Mangalapuzha Seminary: The Major Seminary of the Syro-Malabar church

The request of the KCBC to reorganize the seminary on the basis of the Rites was approved by the Holy See in 1996. Concrete steps for the implementation of the project were taken at the end of the academic year 1996-1997. With academic year 1997-1998 Mangalapuzha section started to function as the Major Seminary of the Syro-Malabar Church. Now the seminary is subject to the Holy See under the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and its direction and administration are entrusted to the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Synod.

The objective of the seminary is to provide priestly formation to the seminarians of the Syro-Malabar Eparchies. Members of Religious Institutes and Societies of Apostolic life who are preparing themselves for priestly ministry as well as seminarians of other Eastern Churches may also be admitted according to the availability of accommodation.

The programme of formation given here aims at the development of a fully integrated priestly personality taking into account the human, spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and missionary dimensions of priestly formation. While giving this formation the seminary also gives particular emphasis to the study of traditions and heritages of the Church of St. Thomas Christians and of other Eastern Churches taking into consideration the religious and cultural context of India. The seminary also gives importance to inter religious dialogue particularly with the religions of India. There are also con-curricular activities as part of the seminary formation such as cultural academies to train the students in the art of public speaking, social work in order to create in them concern for the poor, the pastoral work for the Theology students to give them pastoral experience.

Mangalapuzha seminary has been blessed with the presence of about 22 resident members of the staff and almost an equal number of visiting staff. Regular staff meetings, prayer sessions and an exclusive annual retreat help to motivate and mobilize them in the desired direction of seminary life and formation.

The Pontifical Institute of Theology & Philosophy

On February 24, 1972, the congregation for Catholic Education issued a decree erecting a Theological Faculty in the Pontifical Seminary, Alwaye. The first step towards the realization of the plan for a Faculty had been taken on October 1959, when the Congregation issued a decree affiliating the theology department of the Seminary with the Lateran University. With this, the theology department of the Seminary became “Studium Theologicum” which was governed by norms given by the University and a convention between the Rector of the Lateran University and the Rector of the seminary. In April 1971, the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council sent a petition to the Congregation for the erection of an autonomous Faculty. On February 24, 1972, the Congregation for Catholic education issued the decree erecting the Theological Faculty in the Pontifical seminary. The decree granted the new Faculty all the rights and privileges which were enjoyed by Theological Faculties. It also empowered the Faculty to confer suitable degrees to students who are successful in their studies and research. The power of conferring the degrees of Bachelor and Master (Licentiate) in theology was explicitly granted. On 15th February 1973, the Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy, Alwaye, was officially inaugurated by His Excellecy, the Most Rev.Dr.John Gordon, the then Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to India. On 25th April 1997, through a decree the congregation for Catholic Education separated the Pontifical Institute from the Pontifical Seminary. At present the Pontifical Institute functions at two separate campuses – Mangalapuzha and Carmelgiri, and offers simultaneously courses of theology and philosophy in both campuses

At present the Institute is empowered to confer the following degrees. Bachelor of Philosophy; Bachelor of Theology; Master of theology; Doctor of theology. For the degree of Master of theology Spiritual theology, dogmatic theology, Pastoral theology and Counseling and Biblical theology are offered by the Institute as branches of specialization

Though the St.Joseph’s Pontifical seminary has been reorganized on the basis of rites(the Mangalapuzha section for the Syro Malabar Church and the Carmeligiri section for the Latins), the Pontifical Institute remains common and is autonomous It is governed by the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council.(K.C.B.C.)

The academic community of the seminary is composed of two categories, namely the resident students and the day scholars. The latter have their religious study houses around the seminary and come to the seminary only for class. The resident students are mainly from the Syro-Malabar dioceses in Kerala and outside. There are also a few students belonging to the Syro-Malankara dioceses and a handful from religious communities having no houses nearby. The number of resident students is 280 and of the day scholars is 144 in the academic year 2006-2007.

Mangalapuzha seminary has been maintaining a close collaboration with other seminaries. A common “Programme for Formators” for the staff of the Syro-Malabar seminaries was organized under the auspices of the Syro-Malabar synod of bishops. Informal meetings of the staff of the seminaries were also held with sharing sessions. Such gatherings help the staff to know each other, to share the problems of formation in each seminary and eventually to arrive at solutions. As far as the students of various seminaries are concerned there are inter-seminary matches in Volleyball and Basketball, inter-seminary Quiz Competition, debate Competition, Homily Competition etc.

Mangalapuzha seminary has a cemetery chapel, which is a place of pilgrimage. The bodies of Venerable Aurelian OCD and the Servant of God Zacharias OCD of blessed memory rested there for decades. Their mortal remains were solemnly transferred to the special tombs in the Carmelite Monastery Church at Manjummel.

As regards the finance of the seminary the various papal agencies, namely CNEWA, Opus Sancti Petri and MISSIO have been rendering wonderful service to the seminary. The Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Congregation for the Catholic Education render special care and support to the seminary and its activities.

The undivided St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Mangalapuzha, celebrated the Golden Jubilee of its transfer from Puthenpally to Mangalapuzha on 9th and 10th of March 1983. This year 2007 the seminary celebrates the Platinum Jubilee of its transfer to Mangalapuzha. On this occasion the seminary remembers with gratitude all benefactors and the zealous discalzed Carmelite missionaries for their outstanding contribution to the Church in Kerala especially in the field of priestly formation. The statement of Msgr. Martin Lucas SVD, the then Apostolic Internuncio, on the occasion of the inauguration of Carmelgiri seminary on 24 November 1955, is the best compliment for them. “If the Carmelite Fathers had done nothing else for the Church in Kerala,but build these two splendid and magnificent seminaries, India would never forget them”.


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