The Dream and Reality of Claretian Presence in India

The Dream and Reality of Claretian Presence in India

The Beginning

Hard work makes the dreams come true. It is the same motivation that had moved Fr. Peter Schweiger, superior General (1949-1967), to pursue the plans for the Claretian foundation in India. There had been many attempts to start Claretian mission in India from the middle of the 20th century. The first ever invitation by an Indian bishop to the Claretians to work in his diocese was in 1952. Rt. Rev. Leonardo Joseph Raymond, the bishop of Allahabad, invited the Claretians to work in his Diocese and to teach in the seminary of Allahabad. The bishop gave even an affidavit to the Claretians. However, this was not materialized since the foreign missionaries could not enter India.

Meanwhile the Bishop of Kollam (Quilon) came to know of the Claretians during one of his trips to the United States in 1955 and he invited Fr. Peter Schweiger to visit India. As invited by the Bishop of Quilon, Fr. Peter Schwiger visited India in May 1956. On his return, Fr. Schweiger stopped over at Delhi and discussed with Mons. Jack A. D’Souza, the archbishop of Delhi, the manner of procedure to found the Congregation in India.

In the year 1956 when Fr. Rudolf Mainka (Province of Germany) was doing his doctorate in the Oriental Institute, Rome, he came into contact with some Indian priests who were studying with him. In April 1961, in the General Chapter of the Claretian Congregation held at Rome, Fr. Franz Xavier Dirnberger spoke about the initiatives the Germen Province had been taking to establish the Congregation in India.

In the summer of 1961, when Rt. Rev. Sebastian Vayalil, bishop of Palai, was in Rome to take part in the preparations for the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Safran invited him to stay in Wurzburg. At that time, Fr. Franz Dirnberger was superior in Weissenhorn, while Fr. Andreas Back was provincial superior. Fr. Dirnberger invited the Bishop to come to Weissenhorn to see the Claretinerkolleg there. The bishop accepted, and on that occasion there was a talk between him, Fr. Back and Fr. Dirnberger. In that talk the bishop explained that he was ready to tell the students of his seminary that there was a chance for them to go to Germany and join the Claretian Congregation.

As promised, on his return to India, bishop Vayalil encouraged his students to join Claretian Missionaries. A good many of them volunteered, of whom five were selected. On 21 October 1961 this first group of the five students left for Germany. In subsequent years more students followed in the similar manner to be trained as Claretians in Germany.

Thus the first Indian Claretian priest, Fr. Joseph Madavath, was ordained on 27 July 1968, in Germany and returned to India in the same year. After a few weeks he was appointed as the assistant parish priest at Mary’s Forane Church, Kuravilangad. With the joining of Fr. Thomas Mannacheril, a diocesan priest, the first Indian Claretian community started functioning in a rented building- National Building at Kuravilangad since September 1969. Frs. Mathew Njayarkulam and George Vanchipurackal too returned after their priestly ordination in the same year.

First Indian foundation at Kuravilangad: in 1970 Fr. Franz Dirnberger CMF from Germany came to India to help and guide the young Indian fathers to give good foundation to the Congregation in India. He perceived the urgent need for formation centers to mold the Claretians. Thus they opted to start with the minor seminary at Kuravilangad in the state of Kerala.

On 31 March 1970 the foundation stone for the first house in India was laid at Kuravilangad. On 31 May 1970 the first batch of the novitiate with five students was initiated in a temporary shed under the guidance of Fr. Dirnberger as the Novice Master. Some of the students had received initial formation in the minor seminary of diocese of Palai as Claretian Students.

The minor seminary started functioning in the finished part of the building with a group of 21 students on 3 July 1970. On 24 October 1971, Claret Bhavan, the first house of the Claretians in India was blessed and inaugurated by Mar Sebastian Vayalil, then bishop of Palai. Frs. Joseph Madavath and Mathew Njayarkulam were the two priests who had to look after the various needs of the house and the students. The service of Rev. Msgr. Thomas Moothedam as Professor of Latin for the students was a great help in the initial years.

Foundation in Karnataka: a suitable place had to be found out for the further studies of the students who have completed their minor seminary and Novitiate. This search led the superior to Bangalore and the St Peter’s Seminary at Malleswaram was selected. For the purpose of the residence for the students, a small house at the 15th cross, Malleswaram was purchased. Thus a study house was established in Bangalore in 1971 and was named as Shanti NivaS. Fr. Kuriakose Thekkilakatil was the first Rector.

Fr. Dirnberger too shifted his residence from Claret Bhavan, Kuravilangad to Shanti Nivas and started the second batch of Novitiate with two students who simultaneously did their novitiate and philosophy studies. As Shanti Nivas had facilities to accommodate hardly ten students, a plot of land was bought from St Peter’s Seminary for the purpose of constructing a study house for the philosophy and Theology students. Thus Claretian Seminary, Malleswaram was inaugurated by Very Rev. Fr. Antonio Leghisa, then Superior General, and was blessed by His Grace P. Arokiaswamy, the Archbishop of Bangalore on 29 February 1976.

The superior realized the need for a separate Novitiate house for the formation of the young missionaries and purchased some property from the Carmelite Fathers in Carmelaram area of Bangalore in the beginning of January 1972. A farmhouse was constructed there and Fr. Dirnberger shifted his residence to this farmhouse and started the third batch of Novitiate here with three students from Tamil Nadu and one student from Kerala in May 1972.

First Foundation in Tamil Nadu

The idea of starting a formation house in Tamil Nadu originated in 1972 when the Claretian Novices together with Fr. Dirnberger and Fr. Kuriakose visited Karumathur on a tour to Madurai, the temple city. This tour was proposed in order to explain to Fr. Dirnberger the possibility for the seminarians to study philosophy at Arulanandar College at Karumathur. The proposal began to take shape in the following year with the arrival to two students to do their pre-university course at the same college. The students stayed at Christ Hall, the regional seminary of the archdiocese of Madurai. More students were sent in the following years to Karumathur.

Fr. Mathew Njayarkulam was sent to Karumathur to make a feasibility study for the starting of a minor seminary and a study house for the students of Philosophy. The first Claretian community with eight students and Fr. Mathew Njayarkulam as the superior started living in Ponnaham, a rented house at Karumathur in June 1976. The first regular batch of Tamil students was admitted in June 1977 in the new building named Claret Bhavan. With the starting of this house, the Claretians of Tamil Nadu began to recruit students from Sri Lanka. Fr. Cyriac Njayarkulam went to Sri Lanka in the year 1978 and recruited first batch of four students. The Sri Lankan students underwent their formation at Karumathur.

Expansion to Andhra Pradesh

The initial efforts of the province of Germany to promote native vocation to carry out the missionary activities in India proved fruitful when eight students were ordained on 24 October 1980. It seemed that the appointed time to start missionary activities had come. Thus, the dioceses of Eluru and Guntur in Andhra Pradesh were selected for sending priests for pastoral and missionary activities. During the simple prayer service held in the Chapel of Claretian Seminary at Malleswaram on the Feast of the Assumption, 15 August 1981, Rev. Fr. Dirnberger presented the Crucifixes to six of our fathers. Rev. Frs. Joseph Madhavath, Joseph Perumaparampil and Peter Puthenkandam were assigned to Nallajerla in the diocese of Elure and Rev. Frs. Mathew Njayarkulam, John Vettikanal and Thomas Thazhathuveetil were assigned to Bhattiprolu in the diocese of Guntur. And this marked the beginning of an important phase in the life and mission of the Claretians in India. In November 1981 the first mission house in Andhra Pradesh, Christu Bhavan, Bhattiprolu was started.

Formation of the Province of India

The general Government took note of the rapid growth achieved by the Indian Claretians and deemed it appropriate to raise the new organism to the status of an autonomous province. After the necessary consultations and studies, the General Government decided in the Council meeting held on 5 May 1984 to establish the Province in Formation of India in conformity with the No. 91 of the Constitution. On 10 June 1984, on the Feast of the Pentecost, the Indian Province of the Claretian Congregation was erected. Fr. George Nedumpalakunnel was appointed the Provincial Superior and Fr. Dirnberger was appointed the Mission Superior of the Indo-Sri Lankan Mission.

Claretian Presence in North East India

In 1984 Claretians sent their first missionaries, Frs. Joseph Mappilaparampil and Abraham Vanchiyil to the diocese of Tura at the invitation of Bishop George Mamalassery. These two priests worked in the West Garo Hills in Meghalaya for a year. In the following year Fr. Joseph Mappilaprampil was transferred to Baghmaria in view of starting a mission. And the Claretian mission at Rongara was opened in 1989. In view of giving a contextualized formation to the students, who would work in the North East mission, a small house was purchased in 1986 at Mawlai Mawtsiar, Shillong and this study house was named Claret Villa.

The Claretians then sent their missionaries to the diocese of Imphal, Manipur at the invitation of Archbishop Joseph Mittathany. Fr. Thomas Thoompilputhenpurayil was the first Claretian to go there. The first Claretian Mission in the archdiocese of Imphal started at Keihao in 1991. This mission suffered a setback in the year 1993, since it was closed down at the advice of the bishop because of the ethnic violence in that area. At present Claretian Missionaries are working in the states of Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. On 16 July 2001, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Foundation Day of the Congregation, the General Government erected the North-East region of the Bangalore Province as a Dependent Delegation with Fr. Joseph Mappilaparampil, as the Delegation Superior, Fr. Pius Thuruthiyil as the Econome and Fr. Johnson Thurackal as Consulter cum secretary.

Establishment in West Bengal

In order to provide a mission oriented formation for the students of Theology, the Indo-Sri Lankan Mission explored the possibilities of starting a study house at Barrackpore, near the Morning Star Regional Seminary of West Bengal. With the generous support of Cardinal Piccachi and with the permission of Most Rev. Alen De Lastic the Auxiliarybishop of Kolkata and Chairman of the governing board of the seminary gave permission to study at Morning Star Regional seminary, the foundation stone for Claret Nivas Study House was blessed during the visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Kokata on 4 February 1986.

Formation of Province of Chennai

In 1987 the Indo Sri Lankan Mission of the German Province was raised to the status of a Dependent Delegation and was named as Indo-Sri Lankan Delegation with Fr. Dirnberger as the Delegation Superior, Fr. S. Anselmus as the Vicar and Secretary and Fr. Abraham Pothiyittel as the Econome. In the year 1992, the General Government raised the Indo-Sri Lankan Dependent Delegation to the status of an Independent Delegation Called the Indian Delegation of Claretian Missionaries. On 9 November 1993 the General Government erected the Indian Delegation into a Province in Formation. Fr. S. Anselmus was appointed as the Provincial Superior. The organism was named as Madras Province of the Claretians. In 1997 the name of the province of Madras was changed into Province of Chennai.

Formation of an Oriental Organism of the Congregation (St Thomas Province)

The first Provincial Chapter of the Indian Province in 1984 declared its intention of canonically erecting an Oriental Province in India. The General Government, in its session of 4 January 1996 has canonically erected the Syro-Malabar Dependent Delegation of the Province of Bangalore in India. And it was officially inaugurated on 29 January 1996 at Claret Bhavan, Kuravilangad by Mar Joseph Pallickaparampil, the Bishop of Palai. The provincial government appointed Fr. Augustine Mundiath as the Delegation Superior, Fr. Mathew Keechira as consultor cum secretary and Fr. Jose Pulinkunnel as the consultor cum Econome.

At Present in India

As of July 2022, the Claretian in India consist of five major organisms, viz. Province of Bangalore, Province of Chennai, St. Thomas Province, Northeast India Delegation, and Kolkata Delegation. The Claretian presence is spread across the states of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Gujrat, Goa, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab,Tamil Nadu, Telangana, West Bengal and Andaman Nicobar. Many of our missionaries also render their services in missions outside India.

Today in India we count on more than 475 priests, 95 professed students, nine novices, 90 postulants and over 240 candidates.

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