St. Jospeh Pontifical Seminary Carmelgiri

Through the annals of history.......

The Christian mission at early age was inaugurated by the missionaries, chiefly Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits in India. The missionaries who reached India in the beginning of 16th century introduced a seminary system in the pattern of Western culture. They found inadequate the existing priestly training system in India.[1] Under the Franciscan John d’Albuquerque (1537-1553), the first Bishop of Goa, the College of Holy Faith was founded in 1541 for the training of native clergy. Vincent Lagos, a Franciscan, founded a seminary at Cranganore, Kerala in the same year.  In 1581, at Vaipicotta in Kerala, the Jesuits opened a College for the candidates of priesthood among St. Thomas Christians[2] and an another one called St. Paul’s Seminary at Ambalakad in 1679. The early seminaries existed in and around Cochin were later shattered after the conquest of the Dutch.[3]

Pope Alexander VII delegated Fr. Sebastiani, a Carmelite to Malabar in 1656, to heal the split caused by the Coonen Cross Oath at Mattancherry, Cochin in 1653. The Carmelites who reached Malabar in 1657 settled at Varappuzha (Verapoly) and directed the Mission of Malabar for about three centuries. The Seminary for Indigenous clergy was one of the greatest contributions of their mission in Kerala. On the inauguration day of Carmelgiri in 1955, Msgr. Martin Lukas SVD rightly stated: “If the Carmelite Fathers had done nothing else for the Church, but build these two splendid and magnificent seminaries, India would never forget them”.[4]  In fact, Fr. Bartholomew of Holy Spirit[5], who was the Prefect of the missions in 1676 prepared way to begin a seminary in Malabar. In 1680, at the earliest of their mission works, Carmelites had a catechumenate for the faith formation in Verapoly. Fr. Peter Paul of St. Francis who reached Verapoly 1679 sent to Madurai Mission a short while then returned to Malabar in 1680. He was appointed as the Provincial Vicar of Mission in 1682. He was the pioneer to erect a Seminary at Verapoly for the formation of indigenous clergy in 1682.[6] It worked satisfactorily for some time, but it had to be closed down owing to some adverse circumstances. The long-desired dream of having a seminary was cherished in consequent decades.

In 1733 John Baptist Morteo (Multedi), the Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly (1714-1750) [7], made a proposal of a new Seminary but the Propaganda postponed it for a suitable time. In 1764 Florentius of Jesus (1750-1773) the successor of John Baptist renewed the request. Meanwhile on 4th Sept. 1764 the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda addressed a letter to Fr. Charles of St. Conrad,[8] Procurator of the Verapoly Mission, asking him to reopen the seminary at Verapoly for training the indigenous clergy of both the Syrian and Latin rites. The Holy See showed keen interest in the formation of indigenous clergy by building a new structure at Verapoly.

Florentius, the Vicar Apostolic in his report of Malabar Mission on 22 April, 1767 says that the Seminary was provisionally opened in the beginning of December, 1766, by accommodating the students of the Syrian Rite in the Carmelite house of Alangad under rectorate of Ildephonse of Presentation and the students of the Latin Rite in the Verapoly house of the Carmelite under the supervision of the Vicar Apostolic and Alex Gonzalez, an indigenous clergy as master. A special building to house the Seminary could not be put up on account of the wars and calamities of the times.[9]

In the lapse of three years, the Seminary was opened in 1767, and it was fully furnished in 1774. Propaganda continued its guidance and financial assistance. The common Seminary for both rites accommodated 12 Syrian and 10 Latin candidates. The Seminary did not enjoy long this grant. The Papal sources of income became the prey of French Revolution in 1789. The subsidy allotted to the Verapoly Seminary turned in arrears in arrear and finally discontinued. The local authorities kept the Seminary running until 1866.[10] Fr. Paulinus of St. Bartholomew, one of the eminent Scholars of the time occupied the office of the Rector from 1779 to 1789.[11] The candidates of both Syrians and Latins received formation together during 1774-1866. The transfer of Verapoly seminary to a separate from monastery and a better building was in the thought of missionaries.

Fr. Bernadine Baccinelli[12], the then Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly, laid the cornerstone of a building at Puthenpally in 1855. Fr. Bernadine desired to build a Convent for the promotion of religious life and education of women.  Fr. Philip of St. Joseph, the Vicar General of Bernadine was entrusted with the construction works. A two storied building was completed in 1860. But before nuns could arrive from Europe, and take possession of the building, the unity of Catholicism in Malabar was threatened by the arrival of the schismatic intruder Bishop Rochos in 1861 in Malabar. Fr. Bernadine fought against the schism. He felt that the most efficacious weapon against further schismatic invasions would lay in the hands of a zealous and well educated body of indigenous priests, loyal to their religion and pastor. In pursuance of this, he sacrificed his idea of opening the convent at Puthenpally, and proposed to transfer the Verapoly Seminary to the building put up there. He entrusted his plan to Fr. Marceline in 1866 and as its Rector, it remained with him to carry out the project. The transfer of the Seminary to Puthenpally[13] took place in 1866. Thus three student of Latin rite from Verapoly and six from the Syrian rite of Mannanam formed the first clerical community at Puthenpally.

In the course of time the Seminary gained strength and popularity. The extensions were made for the convenience. On the feast day of St. Joseph, the foundation stone of the Seminary Chapel was laid by Fr. Marceline in 1869 and completed the work in1872.[14] In the “Report of Verapoly Mission” in the part of “Seminaries and Seminarians” he speaks about the urgent need of centralization of priestly training in Kerala.[15]

During the Rectorship of Fr. Marceline, which lasted from 1866 to 1877, and the professional staff of the seminary consisted of Fr. Rector, two missionaries from Verapoly and two Carmelite Fathers of the Third Order of the Syrian Rite. Fr. Marceline was made Coadjutor Bishop of Verapoly. Fr. Camilus took up the Rectorship in 1877. But two years later he was called elsewhere. Then the office of the Rector was successively discharged by Fr. Eliseus of the Sacred Heart, a Spaniard, and by Fr. Polycarp of Jesus and Mary, an Austrian. Fr. Philip the author of the Moral Theology in Malayalam once more occupied the rector’s office in 1881. The Seminary followed a brilliant progress in the ecclesiastical studies.

In the year 1890 the Propaganda closed the Seminaria Minora attached to the Syrian Monasteries of Mannanam, Elthuruthu, Vazhakkulam and Pulinkunnu, and placed Puthenpally Seminary under its own jurisdiction. By this act of the Propaganda, the Seminary became a central institution for ecclesiastical students of both the Syrian and the Latin rites of Malabar. The Delegate Apostolic of the East Indies, as the representative of the Holy See and Propaganda Fide in India, became the immediate authority, and the Rector came to be appointed by the Propaganda itself.

In 1886 the Leonard Mellano, the Archbishop of Verapoly, with a view to reform the Seminary, drew up new rules and a new programme of studies. By this during the first year, the alumni studied Latin, English Languages; Rhetoric, Profane History and other subjects which were the requisites of advanced ecclesiastical studies. Out of the remaining six years, two were to be allotted to Philosophical and four years for Theological subjects. Besides prescribed subjects, the students were to hold academic debates and literary meetings very frequently.[16] The curriculum included the teaching of Syriac, the liturgical tongue of the large section of the alumni and for this purpose, a number of books were printed at Koonammavu press. In 1890 when the seminary came under the direct control of the Propaganda, the Holy See reformed its rules and the programme of studies. This required the Rector to admit only candidate who had passed the Matriculation examination and learned as much Latin as to begin Rhetoric and Philosophy immediately. As a result of this, Petit Seminaries were opened in the respective Vicariates. The Major Seminary followed a syllabus, modeled on that of the Propaganda College in Rome, with a few alterations.

The Rectorate of Fr. Boniface (1884-1912)[17] marked a turning point in the history of the Seminary and it was mentioned about him as a right person in the right place at the right time. He took effort to impart sound training to the clergy. The Seminary extended with spacious and convenient building. Then he turned to reform the curriculum of studies and took measures to equip the clergy in the fittest manner. He appointed learned professional staff. The Seminary was considered eminently qualified to be on a par with the standard Seminaries of Europe. The Apostolic Delegate, among many expressions of appreciation, said in 1906: “Few Seminaries in Europe have such a staff of professors as you have at Puthenpally.”[18]

Fr. John Joseph (1912-1944) during his long term of service of rectorship, equipped the seminary with able personnel and updated the formation. He was Rector, to get over the various difficulties derived from the transition of international personnel existing then at Puthenpally.

Fr. Aurelian (declared Venerable in 1999) occupied the office of Rector from 1944-1956, person known for the odour of sanctity and intense Carmelite spirituality. The spirituality implanted in the seminarians and priests by him was accomplished by life examples   than through his teaching. He was the Director and chief organizer of the great National Eucharistic Congress held at Madras in 1937.

Fr. Michael Angel, Rector (1956-67), gorged with theological and philosophical faculties. To promote higher education of clergy, he raised the standard of theological studies getting it affiliated to the Lateran University, Rome. Thus students were able to get Bachelor Degree in Theology.

Fr. Dominic, an erudite theologian and historian, was the last one from Europe to occupy the office of Rector (1967-75). During his time extended the library and raised the ecclesiastical studies to autonomous status as Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy, Alwaye.  The Pontifical Institute was made eligible to confer degrees of M.Th and B.Ph.

The Seminary had steady flow of students. By the year 1929 number had gone up to 225, far too many for the existing edifice at Puthenpally. The desire for new building was initiated by finding new site near Periyar River, north of Alwaye. Msgr. Edward Monney, the then Delegate Apostolic of East Indies blessed the foundation stone in 1930. On the first June 1932, Seminary at Mangalapuzha was opened, accommodating the first batch of Theology Students. The number of students on the rolls of 1932-1933 was 274. There were eleven staff members from Europe and four from the local church.

The expansion of Indian Church and the increase of vocation made essential to think about new extension to Mangalapuzha. It is recorded: “the growth of vocations was beyond imagination. In 1951 the number of seminarians was 296; in 1952 there were 344; in 1953 the number up to 385; in 1954 it reached 409 and in 1955 it had gone up to 486.”[19]

The expansion of Indian Hierarchy by erecting new dioceses and steady growth of vocation to priesthood had necessitated to construct a new building for Seminary. It was decided to build a new Seminary to serve as the Philosophy annex to Mangalapuzha. The new campus determined to be set up separately but sufficiently near to Theology seminary. The choice of place fell on ‘Thodalikunnu’,  Veliyathunadu East, in Karumallor Panchyath, which is also on the bank of River Periyar a distant about a mile from Mangalapuzha. Cardinal Eugine Tisserant, the dean of Sacred College and Secretary to the Congregation for the Oriental Church, blessed the foundation stone of the new Seminary on 7th Dec. 1953. The foundation stone was laid in the presence of the Apostolic Internuncio on 5th May 1954 in the feast of the patronage of St. Joseph, and new place was called ‘Carmelgiri’.

The work was progressed under the able guidance of Victor Sanmiguel, the Procurator of the Seminary. He had no special engineer to help, except on one occasion for a short consultation. He utilized the great abilities of a local Mason called Sylvarathnam. The building suitable to accommodate 300 seminarians was not easy task. It was built in the pattern of Aristotle’s Recta ratio factibilium. Hundreds of workers employed eighteen months to build the structure in regularly shaped and dressed granite stones. The style is simple Gothic with large series of Gothic windows of equal proportions giving impression of a dignified and symmetric monastic structure. The main structure is three storeyed, the three wings together 620×45 ft. The new Philosophy seminary of the St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary was solemnly blessed by the Most Rev. M. H. Lucas, SVD, the Apostolic Internuncio to India, on 24th Nov. 1955.[20] About the inaugural event Victor Sanmiguel wrote: “The 24th November 1955 the feast of Saint John of the Cross the mystical Doctor of Carmel is a memorable day in the history of Catholic Malabar. On that day Carmelgiri, the new philosophate was solemnly blessed and inaugurated by the Apostolic Internuncio, Mgr. Marin Lucas SVD assisted by fifteen Bishops and about 403 ex-alumni Priests and 486 seminarians”.[21] There were about 28 members of staff including Fr. Aurelian the Rector and Fr. Zacharias, the Vice-Rector. In 1964 the Seminary was raised to the “Pontifical Status”

The Carmelite continued to administer the Seminary until its transfer to the Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Conference in 1976. The Statutes of the Seminary made by the two Congregations, the Oriental Churches and the Propaganda, state that “St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary is a pluri-ritual Institution, common to the three Rites, namely the Syro-Malabar, the Latin and the Syro-Malankara,”

In compliance with the request of the KCBC, made on June 5, 1995, for separate campuses on the basis of Rites, the Holy See has, without prejudice to the Pontifical Institute, Alwaye, which remain common to all the three Rites, on 7th October 1996, reorganized Pontifical Seminary, Alwaye. In view of promoting better formation in matters of Liturgy, spirituality and tradition of each sui iuris Church, the Carmelgiri campus was assigned to the Latin Rite.

Today not just the Latin students of the diocese of Kerala but also those outside the State and the religious have access to this Seminary and thus the Seminary caters at a national level.


[1] The St. Thomas Christians had a system of training priests called the Malpanates where priestly training was done after the model of the ancient gurukulavasam. They were parochial seminaries under senior priests(Malpans).

[2] M. D’sa, History of the Catholic Church in India (Bombay: B. X. Furtado & Sons) 167 & 176.

[3] Joseph Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India (Bangalore: CHAI, 2001) II, 133-135.

[4] Victor Sanmiguel, Commemorative Brochure Issued on the Occasion of the Golden Jubilee of St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary Alwaye, Kerala, India, 1933-1983 (Vemsur: AP) 1

[5] Ambrosius a S. Teresia, Nomenclator Missionariorum (Romae: 1944) 63

[6] Ambrosius, Nomenclator Missionariorum (Romae:1944) 303-304

[7] Ambrosii, Hierarchia Carmelitana, 221-230

[8] Ambrosius a S. Teresia, Nomenclator Missionariorum (Romae: 1944) 88

[9] Ambrosii, Hierarchia Carmelitana, 245.

[10] Cf. Victor Sanmiguel, Puthenpally Central Seminary 1888-1933 (Sathupalli, India)

[11] Ambrosius a S. Teresia, Nomenclator Missionariorum (Romae: 1944) 285-86

[12] Ambrosius a S. Teresia, Nomenclator Missionariorum (Romae: 1944) 71

[13] Puthenpally a small village about 10 km. North of Cochin, Kerala. It was a northern boundary of the kingdom of Travancore at that time. It situates on the bank of the river Periyar.

[14] Ambrosii, Hierarchia Carmelitana, 357-359

[15] Marcellino, Relazione della Missione di Verapoly (Verapoly 1883)  in AGOCD. 440, b.

[16] Cf. Silver Jubilee of the Very Rev. Fr. John Joseph D.C., Rector, Puthenpally Seminary, pp. 14-15.

[17] Ambrosius a S. Teresia, Nomenclator Missionariorum (Romae: 1944) 77-78

[18] Cf. Silver Jubilee of the Very Rev. Fr. John Joseph D.C., Rector, Puthenpally Seminary, pp. 63-64.

[19] Victor Sanmiguel, Commemorative Brochure Issued on the Occasion of the Golden Jubilee of St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Alwaye, Kerala, India, 1933-1983 (Vemsur: Christ the King Church)

[20] Commemorative Brochure of the New Philosophical Seminary (Alwaye, 1955)

[21] Victor Sanmiguel, Commemorative Brochure Issued on the Occasion of the Golden Jubilee of St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Alwaye, Kerala, India, 1933-1983 (Vemsur: Christ the King Church) 42