Kuriakose Elias Chavara was born on 10 February 1805 at Kainakary, Kerala in a Nasrani Christian family as the son of Iko (Kuriakose) Chavara and Mariam Thoppil.
In his childhood, Kuriakose attended the village school. There he studied language and elementary sciences. He entered the seminary in 1818 in Pallipuram where Palackal Thoma Malpan was the Rector. He was ordained a priest on 29 November 1829 and celebrated first Holy Qurbana at St. Joseph's Syro-Malabar Church, Chennamkary.
Kuriakose Kathanar joined with two other priests, Palackal Thoma Malpan and Porukara Thoma Kathanar to lead a monastic life. The name of the community they founded was Servants of Mary Immaculate. The foundation for the first Dayra at Mannanam was laid on 11 May 1831 by Porukara Thomas Kathanar. Palackal Malpan and Porukara Kathanar died in 1841 and 1846 respectively. On 8 December 1855, Kuriakose Kathanar and ten other priests took vows in the Carmelite tradition. He was nominated as the Prior General of Mannanam Dayra. The congregation became affiliated as a Third Order institute of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. From that point on they used the postnominal initials of T.O.C.D.
Kuriakose Kathanar was also a social reformer. Though he hailed from an upper caste Syrian Christian family, he played a major role in educating the people of the lower ranks of society. In 1846, Kuriakose Kathanar St. Joseph's Press at Mannanam which was the third printing press in Kerala and the first press founded by a Malayali without the help of foreigners. From this printing press came the first Malayalam daily Nasrani Deepika. He also started a school at Mannanam in the same year. He was responsible for introducing noon day meals in schools, a practice later adopted by the rulers of Travancore and then by the Indian government. In 1864, while he was serving as the Vicar General of Syrian Catholics, he ordered to start a school along with every church (palli) which was successful in making free education available for everyone. Thus schools in Kerala came to be known as pallikudam.
Service to the Church
Kuriakose Kathanar introduced retreat preaching for the laity for the first time in the Kerala Church. He popularised devotions and piety exercises such as rosary, way of the cross and eucharistic adoration. He was the Vicar General of Syrian Catholics in 1861 in order to counter the influence of Mar Thomas Rochos on Saint Thomas Christians.
Founder of CMI and CMC congregations
In co-operation with Palackal Thoma Malpan and Thoma Porukara, Kuriakose Kathanar founded an Indian religious congregation for men, now known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate. He believed that intellectual development and the education of women was the first step towards overall social welfare. Hence he founded, the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, the first religious congregation for women in 1866.
Kuriakose Kathanar died on 3 January 1871, aged 66, at Koonammavu. His mortal remains were transferred to St. Joseph's Syro-Malabar Dayra Church, Mannanam on 24 May 1889. His memorial is celebrated on 3 January as per the Syro-Malabar liturgical calendar.