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About our Foundress

Mother Eliswa was the foundress of the first Carmelite congregation for women in India. She was also the first nun from Kerala. She was a saint who pioneered girls’ education and established the first convent in the State.

Mother Eliswa was born in October 1831. She was the eldest of eight siblings from the wealthy and religious Vypussery family of Ochanthuruth. At the age of 16, Eliswa was married off to Vareed Vakayil, an older businessman from Koonammavu near Varapuzha. Vareed Vakayil and Eliswa had a daughter named Anna before Vareed passed away, leaving Eliswa a widow at the age of 20. The custom at the time dictated that the young, wealthy widow would have to remarry. But Eliswa declined all proposals and spent the rest of her life in the service of God. She and her child Anna spent much of the next 10 years in prayer and care of the poor.

In 1862, Eliswa spoke about her desire to serve God to her parish priest, a young Italian named Fr. Leopold. The rest has gone into the history of how the Third Order of the Carmelite Discalced (TOCD) was formed. There were no nuns from Kerala then and the Church was considering bringing in Spanish nuns to carry on God’s work here. That is when Mother Eliswa came forward willing to serve. The Church trained her along with her sister Thresia and daughter Anna, who were also drawn to Mother Eliswa’s way of life.

In 1866, the first nuns from Kerala formed the Congregation of Teresian Carmelites (CTC) under TOCD. The first convent was a simple bamboo-mat house at Koonammavu, on the land once administered by Vareed Vakayil. The congregation, under Mother Eliswa, was given the task of teaching girls who had no means to pursue education. St. Joseph’s LP School at Koonammavu was set up in 1868 as the first Catholic school for girls in Malabar. Mother Eliswa’s mission in life was to educate young girls and she set up several girls’ schools here. When she moved to Varapuzha after the separation of the Latin and Syrian rites of the Church, St. Joseph’s School for Girls at Varapuzha was set up.

Today, the order has around 1,400 nuns in 171 convents around the country. Over the 100 years after the death of Mother Eliswa, the Carmelite order in the country grew in size and extended its operations in the field of women’s education and welfare.

St. Teresa Arts and Science College for Women is a new shoot from this stem, which aims at uplifting the educational status of the young women of the locality, following the vision and mission of its Foundress, Servant of God Mother Eliswa.