Celebrating 400 years of Carmelite presence in India

John Malvino Alfonso OCD

The Discalced Carmelites are celebrating 400 years of their presence in India. They began their mission in India at Old Goa. The entire Carmelite family will have a joint celebration in Old Goa on 10February 2019. This coincides with an Extraordinary Definitory (a meeting of the Superior General, his Definitory and all the Provincial Superiors) of the Discalced Carmelites which will be held from 4-11 February 2019 at St. Joseph Vaz Spiritual Renewal Centre, Old Goa.St. Teresa always wanted that her sons and daughters cultivate love for the missions.This has been fulfilled in many parts of the world. This article will focus on the contributions of the Carmelites to the Indian Church.

Carmelites in Old Goa

The first batch of Carmelites led by Fr. Leander of the Annunciation, who had been sent on the Persian mission,came to Goa in 1619. The pages of history speak to us of the presence of the Carmelites in Goa(Old Goa) in 1619 with Fr. Leander da Anunciacao as the founder of the Carmelite establishment. The Carmelites were able to make a start in Old Goa in 1620. It was a novitiate house. Theologate was started in 1630 which was discontinued from 1954. It is worth recalling that Blessed Denis of the Nativity and Blessed Redemptus of the Cross, who were the members of the Community at Old Goa, became the proto-martyrs of the Teresian reform (Order of the Discalced Carmelites).

Blessed Denis of the Nativity, worked as a cartographer and naval captain for the kings of France and Portugal. Because of his valor and genius, he became first pilot of the kings of France and Portugal. In 1635, while in Goa, he took counsel with his spiritual director, Father Philip of the Most Trinity, and consequently joined the Discalced Carmelites. He made his profession on 25 December 1636and took the name Dionysius of the Nativity. He was ordained a priest on 24 August 1638. According to the testimony of the same Father Philip, he was an example of virtue to all the religious, both during the novitiate and after his profession.

Thomas Rodriguez de Cunha, born in Portugal on 15 March 1598, had made his own profession as a lay brother in 1615 in the same house, taking the name Redemptus of the Cross. His early career before becoming a Carmelite included military service in India at Goa. He became acquainted with the Carmelites in Tatta (Sind) and later evinced a desire to join them as a non-cleric.

In 1638,both proceeded to Sumatra (present day Indonesia) with a Portuguese delegation headed by Francis D’Souza, where they were detained and martyred in Sumatra. They were beatified in 1900 by Pope Leo XIII, and are considered the proto-martyrs of the Discalced Carmelite Order. This is an indication of the flourishing of the Indian mission in the 17th century.

Carmelites had to leave Old Goa because of the tussle between the Padroado and the Propaganda.In 1707 a royal decree ordered the handing over of the Carmelite convent (Convento do Carmo) at Old Goa to the Portuguese Oratorians of Philip Neri. Accordingly,in 1709 they left toSunkery(Karwar). They continued in Karwar with a few interruptions till the 1850.

Carmelites in Mumbai

Meanwhile Bombay had passed over from the Portuguese to the British, who, however, were suspecting the Portuguese clergy of resisting the British take-over. Hence the British decided to expel the Portuguese clergy. To replace them, the British Governor in Mumbai (Charles Boone) invited, in 1720, the Carmelites to look after the Catholics in Bombay (entrusting them 6 parishes) of which they later became Vicars Apostolic and continued till 1848.

Carmelites in Kerala

The Syrian Christians,due to conflicts with the Portuguese in the 1650s,requested that Rome should send Carmelites to them. Fr. Joseph Sebastianiand his companions arrived in the 1660s and the Vicariate Apostolic of Verapoly was entrusted, since then, to the Carmelites for about three hundred years,that is from 1701 to 1934, resulting in an unbroken chain of 17 Carmelite Vicars Apostolic for “Malabar” (now known as Verapoly).

The separation of Quilon, as a new apostolic vicariate, suffragan to Verapoly was decreed and was provisionally executed on 12 May 1845. The first of its prelates, Msgr. Bernardine of St. Teresa, was initially – as happened also with Mangalore – pro-vicar apostolic. He would be the first in a series of Carmelite vicars apostolic and bishops of Quilon for a ninety-year period.The Catholics of Mangalore,who had been placed under the jurisdiction of Verapoly, experiencing the inconvenience of such an arrangement, asked the Holy See to make Mangalore an independent diocese or vicariate. Mangalore, accordingly, became a vicariate apostolic and was entrusted to the Carmelites (1845-1873).

In 1874,Msgr. Leonardo Mellano, OCD, Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly, constructed the Manjummel Monastery for the Carmelite Tertiaries (TOCD), who had had their beginnings in 1857. In 1886, Hierarchy wasinstalled in India; the vicars apostolic become Bishops. Verapoly becomes an Archdiocese and Quilon, a Diocese, both entrusted to the Discalced Carmelites.

Re-establishment of the Carmelite Foundation in Goa

There was a move to bring the Carmelites in Goa once again. On 19 December 1928, Fr. Maxim Godinho, a Goan Diocesan priest,wrote to Fr. Leander,a former missionary in India asking him to re-establish their foundation in Goa. He wrote, “We do really want Carmelites to work among us. The Carmelites of Old kept lasting memories of their activities here”

After praying over the proposal, Fr. Constantine, then Vicar Provincial and Fr Lucas met the Archbishop Teotonio and conveyed to him their intention of having a monastery in Goa. His Excellency not only showed his willingness but he made it clear that he would be very glad to see the spirit of St. Teresa renewed in Goa where it flourished in times of old. He sent Msgr. Benziger, Fr. Lucas and Fr.Mary Joseph of Candolim to meet the Patriarch. They (Msgr. Benziger and Fr. Lucas) had a meeting with the Patriarch.

Based on the report given to the Provincial Council by Fr. Lucas, they went ahead and laid the foundation at Margao. The house near Holy Spirit Church, Margao, belonging to Dr. Vincent Gracias had been rented for temporary residence until the monastery was built. Fr. Lawrence of Sacred Heart of Jesus was appointed as the first Prior (Superior) of Community. Fr. Mary Joseph, Br. Louis,Br. Theophilus and Br. Timothy were the members. Finally, a long cherished dream came true on 19 March 1939. The new foundation was declared canonically established with the reading of all the relevant documents.

Thepresent monastery building was built in the year 1943 and thereafter the monastery Church. Today Carmelites have three foundations in Goa(Margao, Mapusa and Xellim). We have ruins of ‘Convent do Carmo’ (Novitiate House) in Old Goa.


Carmelites collaborated in the expansion of the church’s mission and its care. Today, there are 7 Carmelite Provinces (Manjummel, Malabar, Karnataka-Goa, Tamil nadu, South Kerala, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh) which has more than 1000 friars and 34 Cloistered Carmel Convents with 500 nuns. For three centuries it was the European Carmelites that worked as missionaries, vicars apostolic, and bishops including one in Goai.e Archbishop Emmanuel Felix Soares (de Santa Catarina), O.C.D, the 23rd Archbishop of Goa who held the office from 1780 to 1812. May the celebration of the 400 years of Carmelites in India inspire Carmelites to be more faithful to their Charism and work with devotion to the mission.


Have Something to Say? Comment on Facebook

Leave a Response