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Archdiocese of Calcutta

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The Ecclesiastical province of Calcutta comprises practically the old Indian province of Bengal, where the Catholic Faith was introduced very early. About the middle of the sixteenth century Portughese merchants were trading with the ports of Bengal. But they did not stay in the country, their ships came to Bengal with the monsoon at the end of May, and went back to Cochin in October. About 1571 they obtained from Akbar, the great Mogul emperor then residing in Agra, very important concessions: they were allowed to build a town in Hugli, to erect churches, send for priests and baptize the natives who might wish to become Christians. Portuguese merchants and settlers soon flocked to Hugli, many natives became christians, so that in 1598 the number of Catholics in Hugli was five thousand, of Portuguese, native, or mixed origin.

Quite different were the origin and the character of the other Catholic communities which sprang up all over Bengal at the end of sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century. Native rulers whose states were continually exposed to the raids of their enemies, appealed for protection to the Portuguese adventurers then numerous in India and famous for the undaunted bravery. They settled in bandels , generally situated on the bank of a river, and received for their military services lands, a monthly pay, and a share of the booty. Their numbers increased rapidly, for they married native women, and many native converts came to them for protection and security. These converts were called topassees , because they wore a hat, like the Portuguese ( topa means hat). In 1598 there were on the coast of Chittagong and Arracan 2500 Catholics of Portuguese or mixed origin, besides the native Christians. All the Catholic communities of Bengal were under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Cochin, erected in 1557. But no regular provision had been made for the supply of priests and the building of churches. Hugli alone had a church and a parish priest. Elsewhere Catholics depended for spiritual ministrations on any priest who happened to be travelling through the country. On 9 January, 1606, the Diocese of San Thomé de Meliapur was erected, and Bengal was put under its jurisdiction.

Two Jesuits had gone to Bengal temporarily in 1579, and two others were sent there from Cochin in 1598 to report on the hopes and prospects of a Catholic mission. They erected in Hugli a school and hospital, in Chittagong two churches and residences; two churches were contemplated or begun in Siripur and Bacala. The native rulers were very favourable, and even generously endowed the new missions. But political disturbances ruined these happy beginnings; churches and residences were destroyed in 1603, and the four Jesuits then in Bengal were recalled by thelr superiors. In the meantime a permanent provision had been made for the Catholics of Bengal by the Bishop of Cochin, Don Fray André, a Franciscan. He had entrusted Bengal to the Augustinians of Goa, and is said to have conferred upon them the exclusive right to the parishes of the country. In 1599 five Augustinians landed in Hugli, built a convent of St. Nicholas of Tolentino , and took possession of the church or churches existing in the town. A few years afterwards we find them established in Angelim (Hidgelee), Tambolim (Tumlook), Pipli; about 1612 in Dacca, Noricul, Siripur, Katrabo in 1621 in Chittagong; and after 1640 in Balasore, Ossumpoor, and Rangamati.

Chittagong deserves a special notice. The Moguls of Bengal were continually trying to wrest Chittagong from the dominion of the Emperor of Arracan. Twice they almost succeeded in taking it in surprise, and from that time this potentate always kept a large body of Portughese in his service at Dianga, near Chittagong. Instead of waiting for the attacks of the Moguls, these Portughese found it easier and more effective to carry the war into the enemy's territory, and they began to make periodical raids on the coast of Bengal, carrying away whole populations of Hindu and Mohammedan villages. Thus between 1621 and 1634 they brought back with them to Chittagong 42,000 slaves, of whom the Augustians baptized 28,000. They converted besides five thousand natives of the country, called Mugs or Mogos.

This barbarous warfare of the Portuguese of Chittagong brought about, amongst other causes, the ruin of Hugli in 1632. Shah Jehan, the Mogul emperor ordered Khasim Khan, Nawab of Bengal, to destroy Hugli. After a siege of three months, the town was stormed; four priests and many Christians were sent prisoners to Agra. However, the Portuguese were restored to favour the next year (1633). Either by the exertions of the Jesuits of Agra and Lahore, the intervention of a Mogul prince called Assofokhan or the negotiations of the Viceroy of Goa Christians were allowed to settle, not in Hugli itseif, but on a spot outside the town, called to this day Bandel. They erected there in 1660 a church and an Augustinian convent, still existing. The prior of the convent was the captain of the bandel, with power to try minor but not capital offences. There also was erected a convent of Augustinian nuns, which has been the occasion of the accusations levelled by travellers against the morality of Bandel. The canonical standing of this convent seems to have been rather undefined. In 1666 Aurangzeb succeeded in taking Chittagong, and the Portughese colony was transferred to Felinghee Bazar, near Dacca.

The Jesuits went back to Bengal about 1612. Their ministry was hampered by the rivalry of the Augustinians who strongly maintained their exclusive privilege. The former soon confined their exertions to their church and college of St. Paul in Hugli. These were built in 1621, destroyed or damaged in 1632, and reappear in 1655. For many years only one Jesuit priest was stationed there, till, in 1746, church and college were given up. In 1688 the French started a factory in Chandernagore, a few miles from Hugli. The Augustinians of Bandel claimed the right to be the parish priests of the new town, but, yielding to the representations of the French authorities, the Bishop of Meliapur created there on 10 of April, 1696, a special parish entrusted to the French Jesuits. In 1753 there were in Chandernagore 102,000 inhabitants and only 4000 Catholics. The Capuchins had settled there and built a church in 1726.

In 1690 Charnock founded Calcutta. Portuguese from Hugli settled in the new town. They built a chapel and were attended by Augustinian priests. In 1799 the chapel was replaced by the beautiful church dedicated to Our Blessed Lady of the Rosary, which is used today as the cathedral. The Augustinians of Bengal have been severely criticized by Protestant travellers, and, it must be granted, not without foundation. It can cause no surprise if in some cases the conduct of half-trained priests who were sent to outstations, far from any spiritual help or control, should not always have been exemplary. Besides, they were living in the midst of Pagan, Mohammedan, and Christian corruption. The defect lay in the way they were recruited. The Augustinians of Goa refused all candidates of native or mixed origin, and were therefore compelled to accept all European candidates, however unfit. As the supply was not equal to the demand, the training was necessarily short. Even so, Catholic communities had to remain without a priest for many years. The Augustinian superiors of Lisbon did not approve of such a policy; they pointed out that it was much better to select at the best of the native candidates than to accept indiscriminately the young adventurers whom their families had sent to India to get rid of them. These superiors and the King of Portugal himself, in virtue of his right of patronage, threatened more than once to recall the Augustinians from Bengal. The bishops of Meliapur insisted on better organization and discipline. All was useless; the best regulations, the most stringent orders could not be enforced at such a distance and on Mogul territory. Francis Laynez. S.J., Bishop of Meliapur, visited all the stations of Bengal in 1712, but his efforts were fruitless. In all questions of reform clergy and people were against him. They even went so far as to appeal to the Mogul authorities to stop the exercise of his episcopal jurisdiction.

At the end of the eighteenth century there were Augustinians in Calcutta and Bandel only; elsewhere the Catholics were attended by clerics from Goa. The condition of the 25,000 Catholics then living in the eleven parishes of Bengal may he summed up in two words: ignorance and corruption. They were an easy prey for Kiernander, called the "first Protestant missionary in Bengal", who went to Calcutta in 1758. But what did more for the perversion of Catholics was the erection, at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, of a number of well-endowed Protestant Schools. There was no Catholic school in Bengal before 1830. About 1829 division set in among the Catholics of Calcutta. One party, with the parish priest of the principal church at its head, wrote to Rome to obtain a British vicar Apostolic and British priests. On 18 April, 1834, the pope created the Vicariate Apostolic of Bengal, and entrusted it to the Jesuits of England. Robert St. Leger, an Irish Jesuit, was nominated first Vicar Apostolic of Bengal, and landed in Calcutta with five companions in October, 1834. The parish priest of the principal church received him in his church. The companions of St. Leger started a little college of St. Francis Xavier, which increased slowly. Most of the Catholics accepted the authority of the Vicar Apostolic ; only a few sided with the Goanese priests of the Boytakhana church, which was interdicted. St. Leger was recalled in 1838, and Mgr. Taberd, titular bishop of Isauropolis and Vicar Apostolic of Cochin China, then living in Bengal, was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Bengal ad interim. He earnestly promoted Catholic education and endeared himself to all, but died suddenly 31 July, 1840. Division set in again amongst the Catholics of Calcutta. Dr. Carew who had just succeeded Dr. O' Connor as Vicar Apostolic of Madras, was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Bengal, 20 November, 1840. He built in Calcutta the church of St. Thomas, founded Schools, orphanages, asylums, and the little college of St. John. Difficulties arose between him and the Jesuits. The latter were recalled by their superior and their flourishing college of St. Francis Xavier was closed in 1846.

In 1850 Eastern Bengal and Arracan were constituted a separate vicariate, which became in 1886 the Diocese of Dacca. Dr. Oliffe, coadjutor of Dr. Carew, consecrated in October, 1843, was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Bengal. In 1852 the districts of Bengal south of the Mahanadi River were entrusted by Dr. Carew to Bishop Neyret, Vicar Apostolic of Vizigapatam. In 1853 the Foreign Missions of Paris consented to take over Assam, which has since become a prefecture Apostolic. In 1855 Dr. Carew made over to the Foreign Missions of Milan the districts of Central Bengal, which became in 1870 a prefecture Apostolic , and in 1886 the Diocese of Khrishmagur. Dr. Carew remained Vicar Apostolic of Western Bengal, and died 2 November, 1855.


The Archdiocese of Calcutta extends along the sea-coast from the Khabadak to the Mahanundi River. After the death of Dr. Carew, Dr. Oliffe, the Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Benga! took possession of the Vicariate of Western Bengal. This vicariate, increased by the addition of the districts of Hazaribagh in 1871, Kurseong in 1881. Purneah, Santhal Pargannahs, Darjeeling in 1887, is today the Archdiocese of Calcutta, with two suffragan dioceses, Dacca and Krishnagur, and the Prefecture Apostolic of Assam. Taught by experience, Dr. Oliffe entrusted at once with the approval of the Propaganda, his former vicariate to the Fathers of the Holy Cross. Three years afterwards he also obtained permission to put the Jesuits in charge of his Vicariate of Western Bengal. The British Jesuits being unable to undertake the work on account of their small number, the pope entrusted the Bengal Mission to the Belgian Jesuits. Dr. Oliffe died at Naples in May, 1858. On 28 November, 1859, four Belgian and two English Jesuits with a lay brother, landed in Calcutta and started at once, in the old St. John's College, the new College of St. Francis Xavier . In 1842 their predecessors estimated the Catholic population of Calcutta at 8000. Carew's estimate was 15,000, which seems much too high, for the Belgian Jesuits found only 6000 Catholics in Calcutta in 1859. A few hundreds were spread over Western Bengal. As the new mission was still in its experimental stage, no vicar Apostolic was appointed till 9 September, 1864, when Father Augustus Van Heule, S.J., was nominated Vicar Apostolic of Western Bengal. Unfortunately he had been only four months in Calcutta when he died suddenly 9 June, 1865.

On 11 January, 1867, the Very Rev. Walter Steins S.J., Vicar Apostolic of Bombay, was transferred to the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Bengal. He had accompanied in 1859 the first Belgian Jesuits to Calcutta to help them with his experience, and had been appointed in 1861 Vicar Apostolic of Bombay. He left Calcutta in 1877 for Australia, where he was appointed Bishop of Auckland. He died there 1 September, 1881. On 31 December 1877, Father Paul Goethals, S.J., was nominated titular Archbishop of Hierapolis and Vicar Apostolic of Western Bengal On 23 June, 1886, a new concordat was concluded between Pope Leo XIII and the King of Portugal. A concordat had already been signed between Pope Pius IX and the King of Portugal in 1857, but the difficulties caused by the double jurisdiction had subsisted in Bengal, though in a lesser degree than elsewhere. The new concordat established a permanent peace. On 1 September, 1886, the Bull "Humanae Salutis Auctor" erected the Catholic hierarchy in India. Leo XIII sent to India Mgr. Agliardi as Apostolic Delegate, to carry out the dispositions of the Bull and settle minor points connected with the padroado or Portuguese patronage. On 25 November, 1886, Dr. Goethals was appointed Archbishop of Calcutta, and ecclesiastical province of Calcutta was constituted above explained. In the archdiocese two churches remain under the Portuguese jurisdiction : the church of Boytakhana in Calcutta and the church of Bandel with its annexed chapel of Chinsurah. The Augustinians having given up Bengal in 1867, these churches are attended by secular priests of the Diocese of Meliapur. Their juridiction is personal over all those who were adhering to the Portughese priests at the time of the Concordat of 1857 and all those who go to Calcutta, Bandel, or Chinsurah from a territory belonging to the Diocese of Maliapur.

On 9 January, 1894, the first council of the province of Calcutta opened. His Excellency Mgr. Ladislas Zaleski, titular Archbishop of Thebes and Delegate Apostolic, presided, and there were present, Archbishop Goethals of Calcutta, Bishop Francis Pozzi of Khrishnagur, Bishop Augustine Louage of Dacca, and the Very Rev. Angelus Wuenzloher, S.D.S., Prefect Apostolic of Assam. The Constitutions of this council, revised at Rome, were promulgated 25 July, 1905. Archbishop Goethals's health had for some time been declining, and he died, July, 1901, at the age of sixty. Father Brice Meuleman, S.J., Superior of the Bengal Mission, was nominated Archbishop of Calcutta, 21 March, 1902, and consecrated in the cathedral 25 June following.

The area of the Archdiocese of Calcutta is about one hundred thousand square miles inhabited by a population of about twenty-seven millions. Of these, according to the statistics of 1906, 126, 529 were Catholics ; 81, 000 were baptized, and 44, 759 were catechumens. The number increased during 1906-1907 by about 25,000 new catechumens. There are besides in Calcutta and Bandel about 1200 natives belonging to the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Meliapur.

One hundred and ninety-three Jesuits, most of them Belgians, of whom 107 are priests, are working in the mission. Besides there are two secular priests . In Calcutta there are about 13,000 Catholics under the jurisdiction of the archbishop. They are mostly of mixed blood, called Eurasians, and many are very poor. The town is divided into eight parishes attached to the following churches: the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. John's, St. Xavier's, St. Thomas's, St. Theresa's, St. Patrick's (Fort-William), St. Joseph's (for the Madrassees), and the church of the Sacred Heart.


To give an exact idea of the Calcutta Mission it will be best to consider the educational and charitable work carried on exclusively by religious communities, the railway and military chaplains, and the native missions. The Jesuits have built for the training of their junior members a house of theological studies (St. Mary's), in Kurseong and a house of probation (Manresa House), in Ranchi. They have opened two colleges for boys, St. Xavier's in Calcutta with about 800 boys and St. Joseph's in Darjeeling with about 200 boarders. In 1847 Dr. Carew had begun in Calcutta a little congregation of Brothers, which Goethals succeeded in affiliating to the Irish Christian Brothers in 1890. In Calcutta they have charge of the Male Orphanage with 300 boys and St. Joseph's High School with 800; in Howrah, of St Aloysius' School with 70; in Assansol, of St. Patrick's High School with 240, in Kurseong, of the Goethals Memorial Orphanage with 150. Thirty-five Brothers are working in the arch-diocese. The Loreto nuns from Rathfarnam, Ireland, went to Calcutta in 1842. They have charge, in Calcutta, of the Chowringhee, Bowbazar, Dhurrumtollah, and Sealdah schools and the Entally orphanage, with about 1500 pupils; in Assansol, of a school with 140 girls; in Darjeeling, of a boarding school with 160, and in Morapai, of 160 native Bengali girls. There are ninety nuns of this order. The Daughters of the Cross of Liège, Belgiunn, located in Calcutta on 22 December, 1868. They have charge in Calcutta of St. Vincent's Home with 252 inmates in Howrah, of a school with 120 girls; in Chaybassa, of a native school and orphanage with 70 girls, in Kurseollg, of St. Helen's High School with 220 pupils. There are forty-five nuns. The Ursulines of Thildonck, Belgium, went to Bengal in January, 1903. They have twelve nuns in charge of the native girls' schools in the Chotanagpore Mission, and convents in Ranchi, Khunti, Tongo, Rengarih. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny have had charge since 1903 of the native girls' orphanage in Balasore, where five nuns take care of 80 inmates. The Daughters of St. Anne are a native congregation begun five or six years ago. The Bengali branch is under the direction of the Loreto nuns in Morapai, the Chotanagpore branch under the direction of the Ursulines in Ranchi.


For British Catholic soldiers in Bengal there are four military chaplains stationed at Darjeeling, Dumdum, Calcutta (Fort-Willlarn). They are paid by the Government. The priest at Serampore attends to the soldiers stationed at Barrackpore. Railway employees are attended to by seven railway chaplains stationed at Sealdah, Assansol, Khargpur, Purneah, Kurseong. All these chaplains attend also to the Catholic population not belonging to the railway or the army.


One of the great difficulties met with in the conversion of the natives is the thirty-five languages spoken in the archdiocese. The Mohammedans seem to give no hope of conversion, the Hindus little more. But the Catholic Faith has made great progress among the aborigines during the last twenty-five years. There are small native missions in Kurseong, Darjeeling, Purneah, Jhargram, each with a few hundred catholics. During the famine of 1866 Father Sapart gathered at Balasore a number of native orphans. Later on the station of Khrishnochondropur was founded in the native state of Morbhunj. The number of Ouryia converts is about 1800. There are two priests, one church in Balasore, 6 native chapels, a schools with about 220 children. The Sunderbunds missions were started in 1868 among the 1868 Bengalis who cultivate the marshy swamps of the Gangetic Delta, south of Calcutta. There are two central stations with two priests each, Morapai and Raghabpur; 3200 Bengali converts are spread over a great many villages. There are 2 churches, 22 native chapels, 7 schools with 450 children. In the Chotanagpore missions, west of Calcutta, the population is mostly of Dravidian (Ouraons) or Mogul (Mundas) origin with a few minor tribes. They believe in one Supreme God who, however, they say, is so good that they need not trouble about him; they worship the devil who can do them harm, and to him they offer sacrifices. At the end of 1868 a priest started a mission in Chaybassa without great success. In February, 1876, another priest was sent to Ranchi to take care of 200 Madrassee soldiers stationed there, and opened a native mission in Buruma, in the direction of Chaybassa. The priest of Chaybassa started then a mission in Burudi, in the direction of Ranchi.

It was only in 1885, when Father Lievens, the real founder of the Chotanagpore mission, appeared on the scene, that the mission began to make great progress. His policy, followed by his successors, was to help the natives in every way, to protect them against the tyranny of their landlords and the native police, and to feed them in times of scarcity. In return he wanted them to send their children to his schools, where they were trained as good Christians. The Lutherans of the Gossner Mission had been working for more than fifty years in Chotanagpore, and had met till then with great success. But they opposed in vain Father Lievens's generous efforts. He never spared himself, and within six years broke down in health. He returned to Belgium in September, 1982, and died at Louvain in November, 1893, of consumption. But he had started the work on permanent lines, did not die with him. Today there are in Chatanagpore more than 100,000 converts, baptized or catechumens ; in the year 1906-1907 more than 25,000 catechumens joined the Catholic Church. The difficulty is to cope with such a number spread over an immense country. There are fifteen stations with thirty priests. In all these stations there are central schools ; in villages more important a catechist and a school. The four convents built by Ursulines in Ranchi, Khunti, Tongo, and Rengarrih exercise a great influence for good in the family life of these neophytes. Ranchi is the headquarters of the mission, and has a central boys' school for select pupils from the districts, an Apostolic school to train catechists and help vocations to the priesthood, and a central girls' school, where the native Daughters of St. Ann are trained under the Ursulines nuns. The need of this mission may be summed up in these two words: men and money. More men and more money would allow the mission to extend in definitely the field of operations westwards, so as to create a zone of Catholic country across the whole of India from Calcutta to Bombay. This mission has 8 churches, 281 native chapels, 85 schools, with more than 3000 pupils.

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