Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an Australian community, in a worldwide religious congregation.
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- Published: Wednesday, 15 September 2010 14:11
BY DENNIS MURPHY MSC
For the sake of brevity, a number of persons and details deserving mention have not been mentioned in this account. A more detailed history is being written for later publication.
This text draws mainly on early accounts written by Father Malcolm Fyfe, plus reports on the main events sent each year to the General House for publication in the Album Societatis.
A Seed is Sown
At the close of the 1981 General Chapter of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the new Superior General, Father Cornelis (Kees) Braun discussed with his Council and all the Provincial Superiors some letters from India requesting to join our Congregation, which the previous General, Eugene James Cuskelly, had received some months earlier. As a result, the Superior General asked Father Dennis Murphy, one of the new General Assistants, to pay a brief visit to India to look into the situation. He came away personally convinced we should start, but suggested a more thorough examination was needed.
Malcolm Fyfe’s report
Father Braun considered it more appropriate that a final decision be made by the biennial General Conference in which the General and his Council met with all the Provincial Superiors. With this in mind, he asked Father Malcolm Fyfe from the Australian Province to look into the pros and cons of establishing the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in India so that a report could be presented at the Conference.
From October to December 1982, Malcolm Fyfe travelled 10,000 kilometers in India interviewing many people. The detailed report covered 64 pages, and it still remains a very perceptive evaluation. He drew up a list of the positive and negative advice he had received. Overall, he felt the majority of the advice he had received did not convincingly support a start in India.
However, he suggested other reasons could be found in our past missionary history and in our Constitutions, especially concerning option for the poor. There was also the recognition that India with its ancient culture and religious traditions had a great deal to teach us, particularly in the affluent West. Some Bishops also had shown interest in accepting a Congregation dedicated to the Sacred Heart. An added stimulus was the MSC Sisters who wanted us to join them in India.
The approval to start
In 1983, the General Conference in Maracaibo, Venezuela, unanimously agreed that the Society take steps in this direction. The venture was to come directly under the Superior General, and the whole Congregation would financially support it on a pro-rata basis. The Australian Provincial, Frank Quirk, said he would ask his coming Provincial Chapter for two men to help in these first steps.
To help the Australian Provincial Chapter in its decision, Fr Braun asked Malcolm Fyfe to pay another visit to get written agreements from some Bishops to accept us. The Bishops of Madras, Mysore and Quilon had already shown support. Archbishop Arokiaswamy of Bangalore, however, had not been very willing during Malcolm’s first visit, but during the second he gave his approval for us to live in a rented house. Sister Gottfrieda MSC probably influenced him to accept us.
For a variety of reasons, including the presence of the MSC Sisters, Bangalore was seen as the most suitable place for us to begin. It had a moderate climate, a wealth of educational facilities both secular and ecclesiastical, and it was centrally placed in Southern India where there were good vocation prospects.
The Australian Chapter
The Australian Chapter agreed to send two men. Two significant members of the Province, Malcolm Fyfe and Michael Fallon, volunteered. However, the Provincial Council felt it was preferable for them both to be given the opportunity for further studies in areas they were interested in. Both were sent to Rome: Malcolm to the Oriental Institute to study ecumenism especially in relation to the Eastern Rites and Michael Fallon to the Biblical Institute to study Scripture.
The first MSCs in India
In their place, the Australian Provincial Council sent Fr Albert Yelds, an active promoter of Devotion to the Sacred Heart throughout Australia and New Zealand; he also had a long experience in dealing with disadvantaged youth. At that time, Mervyn Bailey was already in India doing further studies in Sanskrit and Hindu spirituality particularly in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which he planned to translate with a commentary. He accepted to join Albert.
One of the advantages of Australians taking on the venture was that, as members of the Commonwealth, they did not at that stage need visas but only a valid passport to enter India. However, after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in February 1984, India tightened its security; and all Commonwealth citizens were required to obtain visas valid for three months only.
In spite of this, Father Albert Yelds volunteered to come to India and see what could be done to get the Congregation started there. Malcolm Fyfe, on his way to studies in Rome, came with him to introduce him to contacts already made.
Rather than leave the country at the termination of their visas, Albert and Vyn decided to apply for a change of visa within the country. Some officials told Albert he would be within his rights to stay in the country until he had received a reply from Delhi. In this way, he was able to remain 15 months until he received the reply.
Nevertheless, Albert Yelds achieved much in the time available. In July 1985, he took up residence in the former novitiate of the Holy Cross Fathers in Viveknagar, not far from the MSC Sisters’ Convent. He also received three candidates, two recommended by a Jesuit who had known them for some time; the other was from the Viveknagar parish; Albert already knew him, and the Parish Priest, Fr Baliah, had approved him.
Albert gave retreats to Diocesan Priests and religious; helped street children he met and encouraged them to come to the house. In September 1985, he was able to get the Congregation declared a registered society in the State of Karnataka. Vyn Bailey, in the meantime, was very much involved in fruitful contact with Hindus and had been asked to give a retreat to Carmelite Sisters and Christian yoga courses to others. Both of them also gave talks to aspirants to the MSC Sisters: Albert on devotion to the Sacred Heart, Vyn on Hindu/Christian spirituality.
On 9 August 1985, Vyn Bailey received a Government letter telling him he would have to leave the country and apply for a renewal of visa in Australia. On 20 October, Albert received the same instructions. He phoned the General House asking for a replacement.
Malcolm Fyfe sent to help
In order to keep the venture alive, the Superior General asked Malcolm Fyfe to go to India as soon as possible to take care of the situation until some solution could be found. Malcolm at that stage had already commenced the first term of his second year at the Oriental Institute. Coming to India meant he would have to repeat that term later. Malcolm agreed and was able to arrive in Bangalore before Albert left. He stayed on for about three months before continuing his course in Rome.
Malcolm quickly recognized the advantages in the Viveknagar house. It involved a policy of ‘insertion’, situated as it was among ordinary people; it also required a simple life-style. The community became well accepted in Viveknagar, particularly by their close neighbours.
The fact that Indian candidates wanted to join us also convinced Malcolm that the Congregation should definitely continue in India. At the end of his stay, he wrote to the Australian Provincial Council urging them to make any sacrifices necessary to keep alive what he saw even then as a possible future Province.
Keeping the venture alive
Malcolm had to leave India when his visa expired and return to courses at the Oriental Institute. This marked the beginning of a 21 month period during which a number of MSCs came with short-term tourist visas for 6 weeks to 3 months as formators of the candidates.
Now and then, Sister Gottfrieda MSC supervised the candidates for a short time waiting the arrival of the next priest-in-charge. However, Malcolm had left very detailed written instructions and guidelines to assist those who came. The senior students were also mature enough to keep things going normally; two of them were nearing the end of theology.
The first to come was Father Tyson Doneley (Australian Province) who would later become very much involved in India; he was followed by Bill Cunningham (Australian Province), a missionary in Papua New Guinea; then, in mid-1986, Malcolm Fyfe came for a second time during his summer vacation from the Oriental Institute; he was followed by. Mario Ramirez (Philippine Province), Paul Browne (Australian Province) a missionary in Japan, Ignatius Hadisiswaya (Indonesian Province) and on two occasions, Antonius Vugts (Dutch Province), who already had some personal experience of India.
This continual change-over of priests-in-charge of the small community made some people even doubt the wisdom of continuing in India. But several who visited it were, like Malcolm, impressed by its potential.
Advantages and disadvantages
In his report about India, presented at the 1987 General Chapter, the Superior General, Fr Braun, looking back, saw some advantages in what had happened:
“The constant turnover of staff was obviously not normal, but it did have some positive aspects. Our candidates came to us knowing practically nothing of the Society. Contact with a wide variety of
personnel gave them a unique opportunity to have an experience of the Society that few in formation can have. They also experienced a common spirit and mission in this diversity. At the same time, a regular pattern of life soon emerged, thus ensuring a definite stability and common direction for the community. Father Mario Ramirez did a very valuable work in collecting all the relevant information into a booklet”.
An international venture
In September 1986, the Australian Chapter was to decide whether the Province would continue its previous Chapter’s commitment to supply manpower to India. To give the Chapter freedom of choice, the Superior General and his Council decided to inform them that, whichever way they decided, the General Administration would continue with the Indian foundation. The General Council also discussed where the novitiate would be – eventually deciding on the Philippines.
To show the Congregation’s commitment to the Indian candidates, Father Ron Larkin MSC, the Vicar General, was asked to present those doing seminary studies with an MSC badge in a simple ceremony. As expected, the Australian Chapter decided to continue in India but in collaboration with other Provinces, for Australia had problems meeting the needs of its wide range of missions. As expected, Malcolm Fyfe was appointed to continue his work in India.
Finally, in July 1987, two years after Albert had accepted the first candidates, Malcolm was able to arrive with a long-term study visa to do a Master’s and later Doctorate in Philosophy at Bangalore University. In those past two years before his arrival a total of 12 candidates (mainly ex-seminarians) had stayed for various lengths of time. Of these one only, Pancratius, was to persevere and eventually become the first Indian MSC priest ordained on 27 December1993.
2 The Tree Grows
On 24 October 1987, Archbishop Alphonse Mathias gave the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart approval to build a seminary and also asked them to establish a parish on the growing edge of the city. This made more definite the earlier permission given by his predecessor, Archbihsop Arokiaswamy.
The purchase of land in Bangalore was exceptionally difficult with many legal and bureaucratic problems, particularly lack of documentation concerning ownership. Malcolm Fyfe was to spend many hours riding around the city on his cycle looking for suitable property.
An immediate problem facing Malcolm was the very limited accommodation in Viveknagar. A variety of properties were examined and proved unsatisfactory. The most promising was within the Dharmaram campus itself. The Archbishop was not in favour of such an enclave of religious houses. He preferred them to be scattered among the people to give a Christian witness. Malcolm Fyfe and the General House agreed with this, but Dharmaram seemed to be the only place available.
Providentially, a two-storey former secretarial school, owned by the Naronha family, came up for sale in early 1989; it was exceptionally well situated and suited our needs. The negotiations began on 2 March 1989 and were concluded by 23 October. After extensive remodelling, renovations and additions, including a third storey, the students and staff moved into the building on 4 September 1989.
The Naronha family-house next door came up for sale the following year. Built as a family residence, more extensive changes had to be made. Australian benefactors of Malcolm Fyfe helped significantly in this and with other ventures during his stay in India. The immediate plan was that it would house ten major seminarians, but Malcolm also considered that in future it might become the Administrative centre for the Congregation in India. The two buildings together were named Hridaya Bhavan (House of the Heart).
By June 1990, even a slight increase in numbers by five required the renting of further space in a rather dilapidated house which was referred to as “The Holiday House”. The problem of inadequate water from the city water supply was solved by sinking a borewell in March 1991.
The first Chevalier Bhavan
Even though Hridaya Bhavan had much more space, it quickly became too small. A newly organized vocation campaign saw 25 new students for the 1991-1992 academic year. This made further accommodation urgent. Malcolm Fyfe was able to negotiate with the Archdiocese for a three-year permit to use a building in 4 Palmgrove Road, Victoria Layout. It was an old building, but substantial, and it became the residence for those doing years 11 and 12 for the Pre-University Certificate (PUC).
From the beginning, all candidates had lived together in one house: major seminarians (philosophers and theologians), professed and unprofessed, those studying for their Pre-University Certificate, and newcomers learning English; at times, also, some were doing University courses. This was manageable with a small group and even had a number of advantages. Now with increased numbers, it became possible and even advisable to have a separate building for at least one of these groups. This would gradually become, in principle, the model for each stage of formation.
This new residence was called Chevalier Bhavan. Since it took only about 5 minutes by cycle, the two communities could remain in close contact with Malcolm Fyfe as the Superior of both.
The Indonesians arrive
Fortunately, two Indonesian MSCs were now available to help in formation. In February 1989, the first formator from Indonesia, Father Matheus Gonimasela, had arrived to study for his Master’s Degree in Spirituality at Dharmaram Pontifical Athenaeum. He was followed in April 1990, by Father Yonas Tandayu who had obtained a five year student visa for the same Institute. At first, both went to the Palmgrove ‘Chevalier Bhavan’ to take care of the candidates. However, this was a temporary residence and further building was needed.
The second Chevalier Bhavan
After fruitlessly exploring a number of properties, Malcolm Fyfe, in August 1991, began serious negotiations for the purchase of 3.3 acres (1.33 hectares) on Haralur Road, Bellandur Gate. It was about 15 kilometres from the city centre, 11 from Hridaya Bhavan and 7 from Dharmaram.
The construction of the first phase – the present Union Building – began in May 1993 and the Philosophy and Theology students took up residence in 1994. The first Mass was celebrated in the Chapel on 28 May 1994, the Feast of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. The chapel was built larger than actually needed so that it could be used temporally as a parish church. A new residential site, Trinity Acres, had been built nearby, but otherwise the property was surrounded by open paddocks.
In February 1995, construction started on the second phase. Two connected blocks were built, each to house 15 students plus ideally a group formator and a common room for each 15 to meet and pray. The idea was based on the Indonesian MSC seminary which had to cope with a large number of seminarians; it helped avoid ‘institutionalization’ and promote personalized formation. Looking towards the future, it was considered wise to plan for a similar contingency. Possibly, two similar blocks would have to be built on the campus. However, with our fewer numbers, both of staff and students, the extra rooms were used for other purposes.
All was designed to suit less institutional living. Malcolm wanted something of the spirit of the first community in Viveknagar to continue even when much larger buildings were required. For this reason too, he kept the whole campus more open than was usual for seminaries.
A large separate block was also built comprising kitchen, refectory, library, lecture room and an all purpose hall. The General Superior, Michael Curran, blessed the extensions in 1996. At first, Malcolm Fyfe acted as director for the Major Seminarians who were not yet professed. And Fr Januarius Widyantarto from Indonesia was director of the professed seminarians, he was also the first Parish Priest.
A Novitiate in the State of Kerala
Now that the number of prospective novices had increased, there was no longer any need to send them overseas. So Father Yonas Tandayu was sent to do a course in the Philippines to prepare to become Novice Master. After considering about ten properties, a beautiful riverside site was chosen in Kanjoor, Kerala. Later a small property next door was added to it.
Construction started in 1996; it was the first MSC construction outside the State of Karnataka. Since it was in a Syro-Malabar jurisdiction, it meant that any MSC Syro-Malabar Rite candidates would not need special permission from Rome to be Professed in a Latin Rite congregation.
Fr Yonas returned from his course in the Philippines on 28 April 1997. Fr Tyson Doneley was appointed his Socius. However, delays in the construction obliged the novitiate for the ten novices to begin in Chevalier Bhavan. An independent chapel, dining and recreation room were provided for them in the present Parish Office block.
On 2 February 1998, the Syro-Malabar Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil officially blessed the new novitiate building celebrating a Syro-Malabar Qurbana (Mass) with a large gathering of people. The Archbishop had been friendly with Malcolm and the MSCs since they first arrived in India. Since the building was not completely ready, the 8 novices for the 1998-1999 novitiate could come there only on 21 June 1998.
In the first three years of the novitiate in India, Sister Geradine FDNSC, a member of the Cor Novum team in Issoudun, came each year for a month to six weeks to help in the novitiate
At the General Council meeting, 7 March 1988, the Superior General (Kees Braun) and his Council decided that India should be officially erected as a community coming directly under the Superior General as Provincial in line with the MSC Constitutions n. 202. This meant that the two Indian novices, Charles Raya and Arulappan Perianayagam and future novices could be professed into it. Malcolm Fyfe and Dennis Murphy, then an Assistant General, drew up Statutes for the MSCs in India indicating the powers which the Superior General had delegated to the Superior. These statutes were approved by the General Administration on 6 December 1991.
On 16 October 1997, the Michael Curran General Administration decided that the MSCs in India had developed to an extent that they should be given the same status as MSCs in French-speaking Africa and the Pacific Union. This meant that India would become legally a Union within the Society, but still coming directly under the General Superior as its Provincial. Its Superior would become a Major Superior with ordinary powers as laid down in its Statutes. It was formally erected on 8 December 1997. Malcolm Fyfe and Council revised the Statutes to fit in with this new development. And Malcolm was appointed the first Union Superior.
In view of the new status of the MSCs in India, three communities were officially erected: the Scholasticate with Fr Januarius Widyantarto, as Superior; Fr Yonas Tandayu, Superior of the Novitiate; and Fr Dennis Murphy, who had come to India in 1994, Superior of Hridaya Bhavan, which now housed only the probation year and the pre-novitiate.
The first General Assembly of the Union, from 26-29 December 2001, was a major step in bringing home to the members that they had to take responsibility for the development of the MSCs in India. 41 members attended: all the professed and 5 novices.
In 1991, Malcolm Fyfe and Dennis Murphy, still assistant General at that stage, had drawn up, somewhat hurriedly, a Formation Programme Handbook, which was approved also by the General Administration. This document predated the World Conference of MSC Formators held in Valladolid, Spain, in 1992. In 2002, Malcolm Fyfe reprinted the earlier document leaving out items that were no longer relevant and noting that the “FPH is in need of a very big revision”.
The Union Statutes (nn. 57-117), however, had incorporated much detail on formation and accepted the principle that “The basic guidelines for formation in MSC India are our Constitutions and General Statutes, The Valladolid Document and similar directives, and Directives on Formation in Religious Instiutes (Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life
The Minor Seminary
In June 1988, Malcolm had received permission from the General Administration to accept candidates who had not completed their PUC exams, a common practice in India. The dropout everywhere was always quite high, but good candidates did emerge from the process.
However, in 1994, Malcolm and his Council decided to stop this practice and have no ‘minor seminary’. Nevertheless, since there were few vocations from the States of Kerala and Karnataka, the Council accepted that there could be some exceptions for them. While this principle was sound, in practice attempts to implement it have met with difficulties.
Novitiate before philosophy
In the 1996-1997 year, it was decided to have the novitiate before philosophy. The earlier model for candidates had been a year’s intensive English, two years for completing PUC followed by three years philosophy with the Franciscans including six months regency, followed by the novitiate, then theology. This meant six years before the experience of a novitiate.
The new model involved a year’s intensive English, then a year’s preparation for the novitiate based on the principles and directives for MSC pre-novitiate formation in line with the official MSC guidelines in the Valladolid Documents. There followed two years Philosophy at Dharmaram and then Theology in the same institute.
A special formation committee meeting from 10-19 November 2002, included all the Indian Priests and one deacon. It accepted a principle of more flexibility in the Major Seminary course. This boiled down to a break between philosophy and theology. The break could be one year’s pastoral experience or three years for a full time secular degree in a University. The principle was also accepted that students could do philosophy in different institutes, though in practice this has not taken place.
Foreign MSC students
In the past, a number of MSCs came from other Provinces to do specialized courses in India, mainly from Indonesia but four also from Kiribati and one each from Germany and Australia. Their presence had a widening effect on Indian MSCs. Regrettably, this practice has dropped off significantly in recent years even though the quality of such courses offered in India are of an internationally high standard, and also significantly cheaper. The Superior General, Mark McDonald, remarked on this absence during his last visit to India.
A significant event in 1999 was the arrival of the late Brother Tom Fitzgerald (AUS), a qualified, experienced school teacher to help in the teaching of English. He would come for six months each year until 2002 when ill-health forced him to remain in Australia. That same year, a Brother from Kiribati, Bro. Kaake, arrived for a year’s course in spirituality at Dharmaram. These two reminded the Union that priesthood was not the only choice for an MSC.
A strong assumption has been that candidates would not be attracted to this form of religious life. There are congregations of Brothers in India that do attract vocations, but normally they are not congregations in which the majority of members are priests. MSC Brothers from the Asia Pacific area in the coming 2010 APIA Conference will discuss this issue.
MSC lay associates have not yet been developed here. We have laity who are close to us and work with us but we have not yet formed them into an association with their own mission in the world as part of the wider ‘Chevalier family’.
The departure of Yonas Tandayu
On 17 January 2002, after ten years service to India, Yonas Tandayu, returned to Indonesia to renew his visa and have a well-earned break. This left the Union without a novice master. Michael Fallon, despite heavy commitments in Australia, accepted the task till the end of the novitiate in June 2002. He had come to India as Facilitator of the 2001 General Assembly and to lecture on St John’s Gospel.
When Michael Fallon finished as novice master, Fr Tyson generously accepted the task and Fr Budirahardjo (RI) was able to help for some months. Then Tyson had to return to Australia and was unable return for serious health reasons. For nine years he had a remarkable influence on the MSCs in India. Hearing that Tyson could not return, Fr Tony Bolt (AUS), visiting India at the time, generously took up the task and spent five years dedicated to it.
Around this time, it became increasing difficult for Indonesians to get visas for India. Fortunately, the increase in Indian members gave concrete hope that they would manage the whole of formation and governance.
3 The Tree Bears Fruit
The MSC presence in India had been bearing fruit from the beginning because all, including those in formation, were involved in apostolates either full time or part time, in one form or another, and all were known as MSCs. However, on 5 September 1996, during his visitation, the then Superior General, Michael Curran, told the Union Council that “there had been comment in the General Council that even after about twelve years in India, the MSCs here did not have a specific pastoral involvement”.
Father Malcolm touched on this issue in his Report to the 1998 meeting of MSC Superiors from Asia, Pacific Islands and Australasia (APIA): “Even though our formation is pastorally oriented, it is not as yet feasible for us to take fulltime responsibility as a community for some particular pastoral involvement. From the pastoral involvement of our Indian students, however, a number of future options are already opening for us”.
Some of the criticism was based on the example of other missions where a sizeable group of foreign MSCs had entered a country and taken up apostolates almost immediately. ‘Missionary visas’ were legally available in India for foreigners but obtained with great difficulty, and only for a very brief stay. When we were planning to come to India, long established congregations warned us to be very careful in this matter because even some foreign missionaries who had been years in the country had recently been told to leave. And any rash action on our part could affect other foreigners.
With more staff, probably more could have been done, but in practice very few MSCs had been available to come to India on a long term basis; and those who came were busy in formation and following theological courses. It also took around 10 to 11 years for a candidate to arrive at priestly ordination. And then our young priests had to spend time gaining experience in diocesan parishes before taking up responsibility themselves for that apostolate. Finally, a priority had to be given to formation and an effective preparation for it. Four priests were sent to complete a year’s formation course in Pune.
An Indian Union Superior
On 12 June 2003, the Superior General, Michael Curran, came on official visitation to the Union and also to consult about the appointment of a Superior. Malcolm Fyfe was completing his second term as Union Superior, which was the normal length of time for Superiors.
After long deliberation, the General and his Council decided that the Union had now gained sufficient maturity to warrant an Indian Union Superior. On November 13, they announced that Father Tijo John Arukalil would be the new Superior to take office on 1 February 2004.
The report on main events for 2004 referred to Malcolm Fyfe’s departure as the most significant event of the year. And it explained also the reason for this: “He is remembered not only for what he has done, but for the sort of person and MSC he was. He laid the foundations with great prudence and balance and above all with a friendliness that was appreciated by members of the Union and by a wide circle of people outside it. With his exceptional intellectual and management skills he has devoted eighteen years of his life to building up the MSC presence in India. The Union and the Society will be ever grateful to him”.
The time had now arrived for the tree, up till then nurtured by formators from Australia and Indonesia, to stand on its own. New works would be taken on, but at the same time there was clear continuity with the past. During Malcolm Fyfe’s time preparation was under way for some of them, but carrying them through was the responsibility of the Indian Union Superior and his Council with the cooperation of General Assemblies, conferences and committee meetings.
A city parish
Previously, on 6 June 2000, Archbishop Pinto had issued the Decree of Erection of the Parish of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Fr Januarius was appointed Parish Priest with Fr Jayakumar as assistant. At that stage, the parish was very small indeed, much of it open fields. In the last few years it has grown at a remarkable pace owing mainly to an influx of IT professionals. Many of Bangalore’s key IT businesses are in this area. High-rise apartments have sprung up everywhere and the Catholic population continues to grow rapidly.
When Fr Januarius had returned to Indonesia in 2001 after seven years service to the MSCs in India; Fr Jayakumar took his place as Parish Priest while acting as Bursar and Assistant to Fr Dennis Murphy in the Scholasticate. The smallness of the parish allowed for this sort of combination which would now be impractical. Fr Jose Rajesh is now in his sixth year as parish priest and has organized the parish on a solid basis involving strong participation from parishioners on all levels.
During his visit, 27 May – June 10, 2006, the Superior General, Mark McDonald, met with the Parish Council to discuss the building of a parish church; it was also envisaged as a future a shrine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Religiously and culturally, Indians are a ‘shrine-people’ and shrines to Mother Mary attract not only Catholics but also Hindus and Muslims. Owing to the cost of land in this area, it was decided that the church be built on the Scholasticate property. On 16 February 2008, plans for the church were presented and on May 31, Archbishop Bernard Moras blessed the site. The construction commenced in 2009
Two rural parishes
In his last year in office, Malcolm Fyfe and his Council, had decided to accept a poor rural parish – Kombayanpatty in Tamil Nadu. His successor, Tijo John, continued with this and on 1 October 2004 work commenced on the construction of the church and then on an MSC residence above it. The Superior General during his 2006 visit was able to open the new church. The first parish priest was Fr. Baskar, helped by Fr Sagayaraj, at that time not ordained a priest.
Fr Tijo and his council also decided to take a similar poor rural parish outside of Vellore, Gengapuram. Both these parishes presented problems that even an experienced parish priest would have found difficult. It is to the credit of the young MSC priests that both parishes are now working well. Understandably, some mistakes were made, but to their credit lessons were also learnt. A healthy sign is that some vocations are coming from these parishes.
A foundation in Andhra Pradesh
On 15 May 2010, the Bishop of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, handed over to us a substation to be developed as a parish, plus also the management of a school. The three pioneers are Frs Joji Babu, Deacon Syam Kumar Bandi and regent Joji Addagatla. A foundation in Andhra Pradesh had been long awaited by the MSCs who come from that State. An MSC community there should also encourage more Telegu vocations. In long-range hopes and planning, this foundation is seen as a step to a mission in North India
In Malcolm Fyfe’s time, preparations for an education apostolate began with Fr Antony Lazar being sent to get his M.Ed. after obtaining his M.A. in English Literature. On 17 June 2005, Fr Tijo and his Council decided to purchase six acres of land for a school close to the Kombayanpatty parish, Dindigul, Tamil Nadu.
Fr Adrian Meaney (AUS) arranged for money to buy the land through the Australian Province Mission Office and has been generous with help since then; the Irish Province has also helped substantially. On 11 December 2005, Adrian blessed the foundation stone. In May of the following year, the first intake of students took place in a small temporary building.
On 7 April 2008, the Union Council approved plans for the school drawn up by Mr Namesh, an architect well experienced in designing schools. On 13 June 2009, the Superior General, Mark McDonald, blessed the first floor of the school. The pioneers have been Frs Mariadoss and Rafael, plus also Brothers Darwin and Richard.
Recently, the acceptance of a school in Andhra Pradesh was in line with what had already happened in Tamil Nadu. We have entered this apostolate because in each of our General Assemblies members have shown interest in it and stressed its importance.
Education is recognized in India as the principal means to rise out of poverty and for the nation to become positively competitive not only economically but also politically on the world stage. In particular, the education of girls is seen as a crucial step in lessening discrimination against women.
Chevalier Charitable Society
In June 1998, Fr Adrian Meaney founded the MSC Mission Office in Australia with the general aim to act as an advocate for the poor and to challenge society to adopt policies which incorporate social justice principles. It now has centres in Asia and Pacific areas. The specific needs it aims at are clean water projects, help for HIV/AIDS sufferers and disadvantaged youth.
On 8 September 2004, the mission office was established in India and Fr Jose Rajesh put in charge. Fr Baskaran and now Fr John Chinappan have followed him. Fr Meaney has shown much interest in this and given it support and encouragement.
Alongside this, the Union Council set out to establish legally in India a registered society ‘The Chevalier Charitable Society’ which would act as an agent for the MSC Mission Office but also be able to raise tax deductible funds not only in the areas specified by the Australian Office but also in other areas of need. This was granted on 16 July 2005.
A counselling centre
Fr. Pancratius had returned to India on March 2001 with a Master’s Degree in Counselling obtained at La Salle University, Manila, Philippines. Malcolm Fyfe and the Union Council decided to help him obtain his doctorate in Psychology in Chicago which was a four-year course. He went to Chicago on 23 August 2003. Fr Tijo and Council discovered that they would not be able to cover the expenses beyond the first year. Fortunately, the USA Province covered the rest. On his return, Pancratius set up a counselling centre on the campus of the Scholasticate and parish. It is called Hridaya Shakti (Heart Power) and clients come even from Chennai. Hopefully, the service he is offering will expand into a team with more suitable quarters and facilities.
One important change made in formation by Fr Tijo and Council was that, in principle, all students after philosophy should do a three-year secular degree course, which is not uncommon in India. To begin with, in Malcolm’s time, this had been optional, but experience showed that to live one’s religious life in a University climate was both challenging and maturing. It also brought MSCs into contact with that generation which, for better and for worse, will be a strong force in India’s future.
Each student, in consultation with his Superiors, is given a relatively wide choice of subjects. The principle is accepted that any choice should be personally and academically enriching, while at the same time fit into the common scope of the Union’s apostolates.
Their experience has gradually brought home to students that these years are not merely a matter of academics but also of apostolic and personal formation.
Obviously, formation during this time has to allow for appropriate freedom and flexibility while at the same time upholding essential religious discipline. In this way students should learn important lessons for their future apostolic life.
So far the dropout rate has not been significant despite the lucrative jobs that are available and strongly promoted by firms at the end of their course, especially in areas like commerce, science and computer.
At Dhamaram, for the 2010-2011 year, a new system has been introduced in which a three year philosophy course will combine courses in English Literature and Psychology for a secular degree recognized by Christ University. Our students have not taken this on at this stage but will do the two year philosophy course and followed by the three year secular course which allows far more flexibility in choosing subjects. A decision about what is to be done in future will depend on weighing advantages both from an academic and apostolic formation point of view.
Academically, there has been a continuing emphasis on ongoing theological studies: priests have done further studies in Missiology, Sacred Scripture, Moral Theology, Canon Law, Social Work, and Modern Media for Evangelization.
One effect of the three year secular degree courses was the need to reserve Hridaya Bhavan for a larger community of MSC degree students since it was close to very good academic institutes. This required new accommodation for the probation year and pre-novitiate. Mysore was chosen for this and on 3 December 2005 three and a half acres were bought for this purpose; and with permission of the General Administration construction was started in 2006. Delays in construction caused shuffling of sites for some stages of formation but it is now normal again.
Mission to North India?
A possible mission to North India has been facilitated by the arrival of Fr David Muntode in India. He is from North India and was a missionary in Papua New Guinea for 17 years and decided to become an MSC there. He is a professed member of the Papua New Guinea Province, but his Provincial has agreed that he can stay and work with the Indian Union for two years. Coming from North India he speaks a few of the languages used there. He also has contact with some North India Bishops and priests. If and when the time comes, he could be a providential help for us to become established there.
Missions outside India
Two members, in 2009, were sent to work in other Provinces. Fr Lazar to the USA and Fr Joshua to Australia. This wider experience should benefit the individual concerned and the Union itself as well as the Province to which any Indians are sent. We will learn from experience how to maximize these benefits.
However, there has also arisen the chance to accept some responsibility for supplying men to a foreign mission. In June 2010, while Fr Christy was in the General House, Rome, for a programme for new Provincial Superiors, the suggestion was made that it would be good for the Union to be involved in a mission in Paraguay, South America.
Fr Mark McDonald had already touched on this possibility during his last visit to India, stressing that experience has shown that the taking on of a foreign mission gives a Province greater maturity. Two MSCs from Spain are already there and we will be co-operating with them.
When the news of this mission spread to members of the Union, it was met with enthusiasm. Fr Sagayaraj will be the pioneer. Unfortunately, to supply a second man at this stage would upset the appointments already made in the Union for 2010-2011; at times this involves an agreement with bishops. But in present planning, more members will follow Fr Sagayaraj.
And the future?
One good sign of progress came when the Superior General, Mark McDonald, mentioned during his visitation (27 May – 10 June, 2006) that the Union should take the necessary steps to become a Pro-Province. He raised the same point more concretely again at a special Conference of all the professed members during a later visit from 2-27 June, 2009. This time he spoke of a future Province.
This recalls Fr Murphy’s words in 2002: “Our history in India so far is the story of a beginning. Our real history will emerge from how the future will build on this foundation. We have solid grounds to believe that our history will not be unworthy of the history of our older Provinces and of the mission Jules Chevalier bequeathed to us”.