Saint Mariam Thresia: Patroness of Families

Author: Sr Dr Abhaya Rose, CHF

Saint Mariam Thresia was born to Thoma and Thanda in a renowned Catholic family, Chiramel Mankidiyan, on 26 April 1876 at Puthenchira, Thrissur, Kerala, India. From her childhood she had an admirable orientation towards God and interior life. She consecrated herself totally to God when she was three or four years old. In her early age she chose Jesus as her spiritual spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mother as her mother and Saint 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 on, 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 a surprising sense of wisdom and precision in her thinking from a young age. She was actively involved in parish events and related compassionately with everyone. 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.

Like the 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. 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 proximity were sealed by heaven, such 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 in 1905. 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 visited, consoled, counselled, prayed and led every kind of family to God. The central vision of her family apostolate was to make families like the Holy Family by imparting Christ to them. Her visits to families with prophetic fortitude were scorned by some. She had to swim against the current to obtain acceptance of the family apostolate by the society and the hierarchy of the Church.

Through her visits to families, Mariam Thresia knew the persons who were irregular to the Sacraments. She prayed for them before the Blessed Sacrament, voluntarily took upon herself mortifications, 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, compassion and grace of God.

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.

One of the favourite 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 not only offered prayers, plenary indulgences, Holy Eucharist, acts of sacrifices, sufferings and almsgiving, but also insisted that others do the same for their relief.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Pope Leo XI11 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 divine providence and the working of the Holy Spirit, it is in this phase that Mariam Thresia entered families with the spirit of the Holy Family to resuscitate them in Christ.

The unique life of Mariam Thresia and her companions was 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 with 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 she 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 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, stewardship of the land, the vicinity and so on.

Mariam Thresia was a visionary who realized that education played a vital role in the formation of families. Therefore, she started 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 her meticulous management of operations.

In the later years of her life, Mariam Thresia made an integrated and progressive move in her apostolate. She concentrated more on the development and spiritual growth of the society. She took the initiative to write to the Cochin Postal Department and set up a post box near the premises of the newly built school at Kuzhikkattussery in 1924. She never made distinctions on the basis of caste, creed or culture but visited people and served them compassionately. Her actions informed society that everyone had the right to be human in every sense. Many came forward to help her personally and financially. She made efforts to relieve fellow beings from the evils of ignorance, exploitation, poverty and discrimination.

Mariam Thresia not only offered education and extra educational activities like needle work, etc., 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 uplifting of women would transform the family and society.

Mariam Thresia was keenly aware of and consumed with nature. She worked hard and harvested crops, despite the scorching sun and heavy rain. She took care and admonished others too to keep the environment clean and not to throw waste in the premises. She appreciated nature and knew the medicinal and nurturing properties of plants. Such was her desire to be in touch with 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 on 8 June 1926, there were 55 Sisters, 30 boarders and 10 orphans under her care. She had established three convents, one boarding house, two schools and an orphanage. She was beatified by Pope John Paul n on 9 April 2000 and canonized by Pope Francis on 13 October 2019 in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome.