THE APOSTOLIC CARMEL CONGREGATION
- The Apostolic Carmel Congregation of Women Religious was founded in Bayonne, France, on 16th July 1868 by Mother Mary Veronica of the Passion and was established at St. Ann’s Convent in Mangalore, India on 19th November, 1870 which became the Mother House of the Congregation since the foundation house in Bayonne had to be closed down in 1873.
- Patroness – Our Lady of Mount Carmel: The Apostolic Carmel with its rootedness in prayer and total dedication to the service of Jesus Christ accepts the Virgin Mary as Mother, Patroness, Model and Sister. The feast of the Solemn Commemoration of the Virgin of Mount Carmel as our Patroness is the principle feast celebrated on 16th July.
- Foundress – Venerable Mother Veronica of the Passion nee Sophie Leeves (1823-1906): was an Englishwoman with a vision! She was born at Constantinople on 1 October 1823, in a pious, cultured, English Anglican family. Her father, Henry Daniel Leeves, an Anglican Chaplain to the British ambassador at Constantinople, had studied at Oxford and came from a family which numbered many Protestant ministers, including his father Rev. William Leeves, Rector for half a century (1779 – 1828) of the Anglican Church at Wrington near Bristol, in Somersetshire. Her mother, Marina Haultain, was the daughter of a colonel in the British army and many of her relatives were soldiers and marines. Thus Sophie inherited from her parents a wideness of heart, fiery ardour, indomitable courage, perseverance in the face of difficulties, love for the poor and above all, a deep faith in God and love for the Scriptures. She was also gifted with singular talents of mind and heart, which were nurtured by sound education and wide experience.
Under divine inspiration, young Sophie broke off her engagement to a marine officer whom she loved much, that she “might be free to belong only to God”.
An avid reader, a deep thinker and ardent seeker of truth, Sophie from her early years, felt an attraction for some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Her reading of the New Testament in Greek convinced her of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. God offered her the gift of faith at the age of 27, which she accepted without counting the cost. On 2 February 1850, she was baptized by Father Seagrave, S.J., at the Church of Gésu in Malta, in spite of the rejection she anticipated from her dear ones beginning with her own mother, as also the Protestant Society.
A life of no ordinary prayer and sacrifice culminated in her generous response to the call to religious life after breaking off her engagement to a marine officer whom she loved much, that she might belong only to God. She entered the Congregation of St. Joseph of the Apparition at Syros, made her religious Profession on 14 September 1851 and took the name of Sister Mary Veronica of the Passion. Her early years as a religious were marked with mystical graces and deep experiences in prayer which strengthened her already profound faith. As a Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Veronica was assigned to teaching, first at Syros, later as Superior at Piraeus, in Greece and then at Tremorel, in Brittany, France.
Mother Veronica was ardent and full of zeal to work for the missions in India, when she was sent to found a house of the Congregation at Calicut on the Malabar Coast, in 1862. It was here in Calicut that she read the signs of the times and saw the urgent need of the Church for the evangelization of people and the faith-formation of Catholics. Having heard an interior voice prompting her to enter Carmel, discerned God’s will under the direction of Father Marie Ephrem OCD., who helped her to discover her special vocation to found a Congregation of the Third Order Regular of Active Carmelites for the Missions, especially for the evangelization and faith formation of young girls on the west coast of India.
However, she had to surmount several obstacles before reaching the goal. Her Superior General who did not want to lose her, appointed her Mistress of novices. This was in a way providential, as she met the Arab Postulant Mariam, (St. Mary of Jesus Crucified, canonized in May 2015) who, being rejected by the Congregation of St. Joseph, was able to go to the Carmel of Pau with her and become a Cloistered Carmelite nun. While she founded the Apostolic Carmel in 1868 at Bayonne, France, the subsequent unfavourable circumstances obliged her to close it down in 1873. Then, at the age of 50, she re-entered the Cloistered Carmel of Pau again, as a novice and this time made her Solemn Profession as a Discalced Carmelite on 21 November 1874, and took the name Sister Marie Therese of Jesus.
In 1875 she set out for a new foundation at Bethlehem along with Saint Mary of Jesus Crucified, where she remained for twelve years. Her stay in Bethlehem brought out a new dimension of her saintly qualities as she was offered a painful participation in the Cross of her Master in a special way. After the death of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, she underwent terrible trials, misunderstandings, humiliations of every kind and the greatest of these being the interior affliction that found her helpless, feeling the weight of her sins and the sense of abandonment by God. In the year 1887 she returned to the Carmel of Pau.
The last nineteen years of her life were spent in peace and tranquility at the Carmel of Pau. Truly she could say at the end, “self seems to disappear, whereas God and His mercy alone remain”. Her heroic “yes” to God, who was becoming her “All”, to an ever-deepening degree with the passing years, continued with increasing ardour. Her gift of mystical prayer along with her thirst for asceticism made her increasingly humble and compassionate of heart. She prayed and made penance unceasingly for her sisters in India whom she loved dearly, and with whom she kept in touch through correspondence. Her life of loving surrender to God under challenging circumstances culminated in her holy death on 16 November 1906.
Mother Veronica’s heroic obedience to the will of God, her life of unceasing prayer and heroic charity, her deep faith in the ‘Real Presence’ of Jesus in the Eucharist, her enthusiastic loyalty to the Catholic Church, her wholehearted commitment to the Cross, her outstanding humility and zeal for the Mission, her vision of education for the integral development of persons especially the girl child with emphasis on faith formation and prayer, remain an inspiration to all those who, following in the footsteps of Jesus, seek to offer their lives in loving service to humanity, especially the less privileged.
- Charism, Apostolate, Spirituality: The Apostolic Carmel is a Congregation of Sisters aggregated to the Order of Discalced Carmelites (OCD). The Apostolic Carmel Charism is, “The experience of God’s love as ALL-SUFFICING in contemplative prayer lived in a simple, joyful and life-giving community and shared with all especially the poor through education and other apostolic ministries”. “SOLUS DEUS SUFFICIT” meaning “God Alone Suffices” is our motto.The Charism of the Congregation urges the members to integrate love and compassion, prayer and activity, contemplation and proclamation, in daily life for building up the missionary church.
Rooted in the contemplative spirit of Carmel, and nourished by its life of prayer and missionary zeal, the Apostolic Carmel expresses the vitality of the Church through its fruitfulness in the active apostolate of education and other works of mercy.
The Apostolic Carmel Spirituality is a priceless legacy, the unique contribution of Mother Veronica to the Missionary Church in the 19th century – the union of Carmelite contemplation with active ministry for building up the Missionary Church in India and elsewhere.
- Founding and Growth of the Congregation: Venerable Mother Veronica of the Passion – a woman with a farsighted vision! An Anglican convert to Catholicism had been sent by her Congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition in France, to the Carmelite Mission in South India, with a clear and definite mandate, namely, to open a convent and school at Calicut, South India in 1862. This woman in her late thirties, English by birth, French by adoption, Indian at heart and human in approach, dared to risk everything to bring her vision to fulfillment. Fired with ardent zeal, undaunted courage and firm determination, and strengthened by obedience, she crossed the seas and, on her arrival, falling on her knees, kissed the sands of the shore, thus symbolically embracing the people to whom she had been sent and whom, from then on, she would keep close to her heart. In her own words to her Superior General, ‘If India is a torture to many, I tell you, Mother, it is a paradise to me; I shall willingly live and die here’.
It was here in Calicut that she read the signs of the times and saw the urgent need of the Church for the evangelization of people and the faith-formation of Catholics. There she often heard a voice which said to her, “I want you in Carmel’. Just at this time the Carmelite Bishops of the West Coast too realized that with the emergent British power in India, the Protestants were opening many schools in South India with the Catholic children making a beeline to their school. With not a single Catholic School and the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition not being able to send any more sisters, the youth ran the risk of losing their Catholic faith. The need was great to provide education for the Catholics along the west coast of India. Since the mission was Carmelite, they envisaged the founding of a Carmelite Third Order of Sisters, who would have the common vision with the Fathers and would continue to be available for the mission. At this juncture, Mother Veronica’s vocation to Carmel seemed to set the seal of God’s approval on their vision in providing a foundress for the new Carmelite Third Order for the Missions. Mother Veronica having heard an interior voice prompting her to enter Carmel, discerned God’s will under the direction of Father Marie Ephrem OCD., the local parish priest, who helped her to discover her special vocation to found a Congregation of Third Order Regular of Active Carmelites for the Missions, especially for the evangelization and faith-formation of young girls on the west coast of India through education and other apostolic ministries
However, she had to surmount several obstacles before reaching the goal. It was extremely difficult for her to leave her Congregation which she loved and where she was loved. Finally, submitting to God’s call, Mother Veronica painfully left her Congregation, St. Joseph of the Apparition in May 1867, and entered the Carmel of Pau to imbibe the spirit of Carmel. On completion of her novitiate and first Profession, she was asked under directions from the Father General of the Discalced Carmelites, to draw up the Constitutions for the new Congregation. Having completed this task, she left her beloved Carmel of Pau in search of a place to start her Congregation. For six months she roamed from place to place without any success. Finally, after having faced unbelievable challenges, utter poverty, many hardships and untold sufferings, but with unshakable faith in God in her relentless search for his will, she founded the Apostolic Carmel at Bayonne, France on 16 July 1868, the feast of our Lady of Mount Carmel, with the authorization of the Very Rev. Father Dominic OCD., the then Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites and with the approval and support of Mgr. La Croix, the Bishop of Bayonne.
The first group of three Apostolic Carmel Sisters, namely, Sister Elias, Sister Marie des Anges and Sister St. Joseph arrived in India on 19 November 1870 and were joined by two more, namely, Sister Agnes and Sister Cecile the following year. They were established in the Diocese of Mangalore under the jurisdiction of Bishop Marie Ephrem OCD., where, bravely facing many difficulties, hardships and inconveniences, they worked zealously and successfully for the spread of God’s kingdom. The foundress, however, in spite of her earnest desire and longing to be with her spiritual daughters, was not destined to reach India, as she had to remain in Bayonne and train more sisters to be sent to the Indian Mission.
When unfavorable circumstances obliged Mother Veronica to close down the Convent at Bayonne in 1873, the work begun by her was not to die, for it was the work of Divine Providence. Indeed, even when the mission of Mangalore was placed under the Jesuits of the Province of Venice by the Holy See in the year 1878, the young Apostolic Carmel Congregation came under the jurisdiction of the Jesuit mission along the Malabar Coast. However, the Convent at Quilon, Kerala started in 1875 was still under the Carmelite Mission. It got separated from the parent branch and in Divine Providence grew into a distinct Congregation in 1879, sharing the Charism of Mother Veronica and known as the Congregation of Carmelite Religious (CCR). Mother Elias, one of the pioneers from Bayonne who went to Quilon the same year nurtured it as their Co-foundress. The Apostolic Carmel (A.C.) was kept alive through the instrumentality of Mother Marie des Agnes, the first Superior General, also one of the pioneers from Bayonne. In course of time, the little Congregation grew in number and in stability as an indigenous Congregation of active Carmelites dedicated mainly to the mission of education and other works of mercy, with St. Ann’s Convent, Mangalore as the Mother House, and was subsequently aggregated to the Order of Discalced Carmelites. Under Mother Aloysia (1855-1939), who succeeded Mother Marie des Agnes (1878-1909), the Congregation further stabilized and became one of pontifical right in 1925. In 1949, the Constitutions were granted pontifical approval. During Mother Aloysia’s tenure of office, the Apostolic Carmel pioneered girls’ education across India. Apart from pioneering girls’ education along the west coast in 1870, St. Ann’s Teacher Training Institute was started in 1890 for the empowerment of women and St. Agnes College, the first Girls’ College by private management in South India was started in 1921. The Apostolic Carmel took root in Sri Lanka in 1922, in response to the earnest request of the Bishop of Trincomalee who recognized the educational competence of the sisters and eagerly sought for their services in his diocese.
- Spread of the Congregation and its Mission:The little seed sown in the heart of Mother Veronica a hundred and fifty years ago has grown into a mighty tree with a total of 1566 sisters and 201 convents, andthrough the dynamic leadership of eleven Superiors General, its branches have spread across the length and breadth of India with 144 Convents in five Provinces, Sri Lanka with 40 Convents including four in Pakistan with its Provincial House in Colombo, East Africa Region with ten Convents in Kenya and Tanzania with the Regional House in Nairobi,and seven Convents under the Central Administration including the ones in Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Pau and France. The Apostolic Carmel Generalate is in Bengaluru, with Sr. M. Susheela A.C. as the Eleventh Superior General and the Provincial Houses: Karnataka Province in Mangaluru, Southern Province (Kerala and Tamil Nadu States) in Kozhikode, Western Province (Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu and Kashmir) in Mumbai, Northern Province (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh) in Patna and Eastern Province (West Bengal, Orissa and Seven North Eastern States, Andaman & Nicobar Islands) in Kolkata.
The mission of education has made its impact through five degree colleges (four with post-graduation and Ph.D.), three Colleges of Education (one with post-graduation and Ph.D.), eight D.Ed. Colleges including one for Special Education and three Pre-Primary Training Schools, around forty Junior/Pre-University Colleges, sixty Secondary schools, fifty Primary Schools, sixty Nursery/Kindergartens, eight National Institutes of Open Schooling, five Special Schools for the Mentally Challenged and one for the Hearing Impaired. Children and young girls are also taken care of in the thirty and more hostels/boarding houses and twenty Children’s Homes on the campuses. Besides, the sisters also manage five Parish/Diocesan Higher Secondary Schools, twenty two Secondary Schools, twenty three Primary Schools and ten Nursery/Kindergarten Schools, ten Hostels/Boarding Houses. The Sisters have also secured teaching posts and Principalship in fourteen Government Schools in Sri Lanka. The schools and colleges of the Apostolic Carmel speak of the pioneering in education of girls in different parts of the country.
The Direct Social Apostolate Centres of the Congregation focus on empowerment of women and children, rural reconstruction, prison ministry, health care, family welfare and counselling. In addition, the Congregation also serves the less fortunate through thirteen Community Colleges/ Community Development Centres, four Technical Institutes, about twenty Free Schooling/ Coaching Centres, two Adult Education Centres, five Craft/Weaving/Production Centres (one for the mentally challenged), fourteen Tailoring/Computer Training Centres, eight Health Care Centres/Dispensaries, three Day Care Centres and two Homes of Compassion for the senior citizens (one for the specially challenged adults). Parish apostolate is undertaken as a special mission by almost all the communities through pastoral care, teaching of catechism, involvement with parish pastoral councils and family visits and support. In all apostolic ministries, special attention is given to faith formation, value inculcation, character building, social awareness and promotion of peace and communal harmony.
- Saints/Blessed in the Congregation: Mother Veronica’s Cause for Beatification and Canonization was introduced on 16 July 1999, by Most Rev. Dr. Ignatius Paul Pinto, the Archbishop of Bangalore at the Apostolic Carmel Generalate Bangalore and she was declared Venerable by our Holy Father Pope Francis, on 9 July 2014. We are now looking forward for the day when she will be raised to the honors of the Altar, so that she becomes a greater source of inspiration to all those who wish to follow Jesus in the religious life.