by Sean Sprague
Mar Ivanios College in Trivandrum, Kerala, was recently voted among the top 10 English medium colleges in all of India by the National Assessment and Accreditation council. It was founded in 1949 on a crop of undulating hills on the edge of the city, by Archbishop Ivanios, head of the Syro-Malankara Church at the time. He was the visionary and intellectual Church leader who in 1930 led the Syro-Malankara Orthodox Church to union with Rome. In those days, he was the only postgraduate in the entire Church, and he understood the value of education.
The present head of the Syro-Malankara Church, Cyril Mar Baselios, explains how his predecessor understood the value of education: “Mar Ivanios, the only post graduate degree holder in the Malankara Orthodox Church in those days, visualized education as a continuous process of information, formation and transformation. Information must lead to formation, which alone can make a man civilized. Formation means character formation rooted in perennial values and principles. Nobility, truthfulness compassion, justice and all such human qualities emanate from a person as an outcome of education.”
He went on to explain how seriously they take character-building at the college, and how they aim to transform the whole of society in the process: “Formation is not a process that takes place only in an individual but rather is an interaction between the individual and society. Education must lead to a critical analysis of the society and eventually must transform the society. Hasn’t education degraded itself as a means to obtain a job? We have to emphasize time and again that the ultimate goal of education is transformation of society.”
Mar Ivanios purchased about 200 acres of land consisting of seven desolate hills, aptly reminiscent of Rome, where he started to realize his dreams. He applied to the University of Travancore (the old name of Kerala) for permission to start the college, as it needed to be officially affiliated into the existing system of universities. In his application, Mar Ivanios stated that: “I have been playing a significant role in the educational programmes in Travancore for the past 37 years. At present about 3600 boys and girls study in the 70 primary schools managed by me. I believe that it is time for expanding my involvement in the field of education in Travancore to the field of Higher Education.”
Mar Ivanios’s vision was to supplement the existing system of higher education by offering courses which were not available elsewhere in the state, for example Commerce. He also wanted to offer courses in Syriac and Scholastic Philosophy, which would be a useful subject for religious working in the archdiocese. Years later, in 1983, a major Malankara seminary was built on the campus. In all, the contribution made by the various Church groups in Kerala is enormous. They provide education from preschool to post-graduate, and have greatly contributed to Kerala’s present status of almost universal literacy.
Continued, part two coming next week…
Originally published in November-December 2002 in CNEWA’s One Magazine.