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History of evangelical works of missionaries in puducherry


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Presented the paper in the South …

Presented the paper in the South
History Congress at Trivandrum, Kerala

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  • 1. History of Evangelical Works of Missionaries in Puducherry P.CHARLES CHRISTOPHER RAJ M.A., M.Phil. M.I.M., M.L.I.S.C., M.C.A., B.Ed.,P.G.D.T.A., ASSISTANT PROFESSOR of HISTORY DEPARTMENT OF HISTORICAL STUDIES KASTHURBA COLLEGE FOR WOMEN VILLIANUR, PUDUCHERRY 605 110 MOBILE: 9443723327 Email Introduction Puducherry Mission has a hoary history of 356 years. But this history, like any other history is not built up with dead wood, but with the flesh and blood of the missionaries, who toiled and worked, did not cow down under pain and suffering, met with opposition and refusal, did not back down from sacrifice, fasting and prayer. Christian missionaries in India reached areas hitherto inaccessible to most of the civilized people and there, braving all sorts of hardships and sufferings had brought the benefits of civilization to the most backward and illiterate people. This paper tries to trace out the evangelical activities by the missionaries in Puducherry. Puducherry region: Puducherry is bounded by the Bay of Bengal on the east and by South Arcot district on the other sides, it is irregular boundary winding in and out of the district in a complicated manner. The Union Territory of Puducherry comprises four regions viz., Puducherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam. Puducherry and Karaikal located on the east coast of Tamil Nadu have an area of 293 sq.kms and 160 sq.kms respectively. Mahe, situated on the west coast, four miles of Tellicherry, has an area of 9 sq.kms. Yanam lies on the eastern coast in the East Godavari district of Andhra State, and has an area of 30 sq.kms. Puducherry is 492 sq.kms1. 8 The total area of the Union Territory of
  • 2. First Missionaries to India : Tradition says that Christianity on the Malabar coast of India originated with St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. St. Thomas is supposed to have landed at Cranganore in about 52, preached the Gospel to people and organised Christian communities in several places and established seven churches. St. Thomas being a first missionary he worked for nearly 20 years and was murdered at Mylapore 2. As San Thome, Mylapore which was named after the arrival of the missionary of St.Thomas, became an important commercial centre for the Portuguese on the Coromondel Coast, it was but natural that it became the seat of missionary activities. With the Portuguese merchants and seamen, there were priests and religious in the region with a Bishop in 1606. In fact Pope Paul V erected Mylapore as a diocese on 9 th June 1606 under the Archdiocese of Goa. The first Bishop was Dom Sebastio de Sanctuary Pedro of the Order of St. Augustine 3 . St. Francis Xavier was the first Jesuit priest to arrive in India. He landed in Goa, alone on 6 th May 1542 just two years after the canonical erection of the Society of Jesus. were very much limited. In North Tamilnadu, his activities He just made a passing visit to San Thome and Nagapattinam. Memories, traditions and miracles are attributed to his presence in these places. At Puducherry he was in Upallam which keeps a vague remembrance of his stay and his abode called as ‘Saveriar Cherry’. It was during a storm at sea while travelling from Nagapattinam to SanThome he would have landed at Upallam, a small fishing village at Puducherry 4. With the advent of these saints as missionaries Puducherry mission grew up like a banyan tree and they should be applaud at all times. Beginning of the Missionary activities in Puducherry : The French came to India not only to gain commercial profits and, if possible, political supremacy, but also to propagate their religion—Christianity. 8 Hence, like all other
  • 3. Europeans who came to India after the fifteenth century, the French took up the propagation of Christianity in all earnestness. Indeed, when Colbert formed the French East India Company in 1664, it was made obligatory on the part of the Company to propagate the Christian religion. By Article XXX of the Royal Edict issued on August 27,1664 the company was enjoined to make suitable arrangements for the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in all its territories. Even before the establishment of the French settlements in India, the Capuchin Fathers visisted Surat in 1639. And they established themselves in Madras, in 1642. At the invitation of Francois Martin, who succeeded Belanger De Lespinay, the Capuchin fathers from Madras had assumed the religious service in Puducherry5. Capuchin missionaries at Puducherry : Around the year 1673, the first missionaries arrived in Puducherry. They were the Capuchin Friars. Perhaps the missionaries were in two minds and were studying the attitudes of the natives. For more than 12 years there was no Church in Puducherry and all the religious ceremonies were performed in the house of the Capuchin Friars. And only in 1686 the Dubash to the French Company by name Lazaro de Motto built the first Church and dedicated it to St.Lazarus. It was known as L’Eglise des Malabares. A few years later, the Capuchins built themselves a convent and a chapel which was called L’Eglise des Capuchins or L’Eglise du Fort 6. In 1707 they built a new church attached to the official Church St. Louis within the Fort where tamil mass was performed. 30 years later second church known as Our Lady of Angels Church was constructed where French mass was performed 7. This church in French was called Notre Dame Des Anges, was planned by Louis Guerre and built in typical Roman Style by Lalande de Calan and Vernian S’Maur the Governors of French Settlements in India. opened in March 1855. This church was A large size oil portrait of Our Lady of Assumption presented by Emperor Napoleon III, on August 15, 1863, is still preserved here 8. Hence, Capuchins took the 8
  • 4. first place in evangelization of people at French Settlements. Gradually, this work was taken up by the Jesuits. Jesuits at Puducherry : The French Jesuits who were expelled from Thailand in 1681 due to political revolution took shelter at Puducherry. The Jesuit priests found a vast field open to their evangelical work. In 1691, Rev. Fr .John de Britto put them in charge of the Malabares, a term then popularly and erroneously used for the Indians. And he entrusted the Capuchins with the spiritual welfare of the Europeans and the Creoles. But the Jesuits had no Church to call their own they built a church dedicated to Virgin Mary and called it as Notre Dame de la Conception 9. However, the church was commonly called ‘Saint Paul’s Church. In Tamil, ‘San Pauol Koil’ the pronunciation was distorted into ‘Samba Koil’ (this expression is used even today). The reason for it is that the Jesuits were then known as Saint Paul’s Fathers or Paulists, owing to their famous College of Santa Fe at Goa, which was inaugurated on the feast day of the Conversion of St. Paul. That College was popularly known as ‘Saint Paul’s College’ 10. The Jesuits started a small Boarding High School where they began to teach competently various subjects such as Mathematics, Science, Navigation, Philosophy and Theology. In the Parish, Fr. Dolu and mostly Fr. Turpin did great work at the beginning of the 18 th century. Yet their ignorance of the Hindu customs prevented the development of these institutions. Due to their excessive zeal for spreading Christianity, the Hindus became apathetic towards them. New conversions were made almost everywhere 11. The glorious days began to decline as the French Governor Dupleix was asked to return to France. Under his successors, the Carnatic war went on against the British. In 1761, the 8
  • 5. British captured Puducherry. There came the natural end for the work of the Jesuits. When the French power in India was ruined in Puducherry, the Jesuits were persecuted in Europe also simultaneously. The Carnatic Mission felt the repercussion. The suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773 by Rome was a terrible blow for the already struggling and impoverished Carnatic Mission and for the churches in the whole of South India. During the period between 1736 and 1761, the country was stained with blood because of the war between the British and the French. Portugal suspended the Society of Jesus and recalled the missionary Jesuits of the Portuguese origin. Many priests were arrested and deported to Portugal. Moreover in 1784, the Sultan of Mysore, Tipu Sahib began to persecute the Christians. Many were killed and Catholics were forcibly converted to Islam. In 1776, the situation was so bad that a missionary wrote “ A good number of our Churches were deserted, the civil wars, the fall of Puducherry, the lack of missionaries and poor income have been the causes of complete collapse of the churches. We are in a state of distress”. Though the Church has survived the most awesome changes in the world’s history. It will still survive many more of them. Its discipline is an example for an estimate of all men and women Catholics were about 2,75,000, in South India and 10,000 Catholics were there in Puducherry. 12 It was under these bad conditions the Society of Paris Foreign Missions usually called M.E.P (MISSIONS ETRANGERES OF PARIS) was called upon in 1776 to take care of the Coromandel Coast Mission. M.E.P Fathers at Puducherry: A Roman decree was given on 30th September 1776 and the official letters of the King of France, Louis XVI were dated 30th December 1776. As these documents reached Puducherry only in the middle of 1777, the official ‘registration’ by the upper council of the 8
  • 6. Government of Puducherry of the taking over of the mission by Mgr. Briggot and the Society of Paris Foreign Missions took place on 18th September, 1777 13. French Mission House at Puducherry: The M.E.P fathers intention was to develop the Apostolic Mission that was already done by the Jesuits. For this purpose they constructed a mission house in the year 1771 by name ‘College Generale’. Similar kind of this was at Siam established in the year 1666 but was closed in 1767 due to an invasion from Burma. So Puducherry ‘College Generale’ became the first of its kind and it acted as a base for the mission. The Directors of the M.E.P bought a splendid piece of land at Virampatinam, near Puducherry and constructed a college. In 1775 Pope Pius VI approved the College Generale of Virampatinam and put it under the special care of the Holy See 14. The first Rector was Fr. Pigneau de Behaine. He remained as Rector till 1774 even though he was nominated coadjutor of Cochin China already in 1771. Due to insufficient students in the Seminary it was closed in the year 1781. With the British attack in the year 1793 the Mission House was used as hospital for many years 15. One can see even today the imposing ruins of the former seminary, in a delightful spot on which the Romans had set up an “emporium” in older times. The enormous Roman bricks found in the remains have been used for the building of the Seminary, a few of which are still seen in the portico. The life in the Seminary was a studious as it was practical: “Everyday, the brothers spent four hours in study and one hour in gardening, baking, etc.” And it was only in 1807 that the Seminary of its kind was reopened at Penang. But there was a small seminary at Oulgaret established by Fr. Magny which trained the first batch of Tamil Seminarians for the priesthood. 8
  • 7. The first Puducherry priest was Fr. Thomas ordained in the ember days of Advent in 1788. The second was Fr. Philip ordained on the octave of Epiphany 1789. Thereby the missionaries were able to breed their kind gradually at Puducherry and other French settlements 16. Education of Girls : The training of the local clergy is the priority of M.E.P society. It demanded the education of youth in general, particulars of girls who will become mothers and as such, they have an important role and influence on priestly vocation of local boys. In the year 1843, the Administrator of Karaikal, Mgr. Bonnand, M.E.P, the Apostolic Vicar of Cormandal Coast, with the help of Cluny sisters set up a Needle work centre. Three schools were opened in 1844 and three workrooms for Indians and Harijans, one orphanage for girls were opened 17. Commitment to local Church and Adaptability : One of the outstanding features of M.E.P was their commitment to local church. training of indigenous clergy has been the priority of M.E.P missionaries. The They took keen interest in all round development of the rural poor, especially in their faith formation. The interest shown by M.E.P in fostering the indigenous culture and traditions are praise worthy. They encouraged in promoting local vocation to priesthood and religious life. Their principles were ‘Be good to the natives, protect them by every means possible. Inspire them with the love of God and love of Mary18. Catechical and Biblical Formation : The M.E.P fathers took great interest in the Catechetical and Biblical formation of the laity and religious. The services were rendered by Fr. Becker as Diocesan promoter of Catechetic, Catholic centre at Tindivanam and the services of Fr. Carof Andre in Tindivanam and Puducherry. Fr. Pennel Gerard, Fr. Roland, Fr. Rossinngol, Fr. Mahe Auguste, Fr. Cornu, Fr. Dussaigne, Fr.Olivier, Fr.Legrand in this field are worth mentioning. 8 Their simple life style,
  • 8. adaptability, contribution to Christian literature are exemplary. They had been always inspiration to the people of Puducherry19. Fr. Carof Andre towards the youth and his tireless zeal in bringing back the lost sheep to the fold, and his profound love towards the Christian youth, his service in the animation centre in guiding the youth will ever be cherished. His constant cry was ‘Give them Jesus, the world needs Christ’20. Other Religious Congregation founded by M.E.P : Amantes de la Croix – Lovers of the Cross founded by Mgr. Lambert de la Matte, one of the first Vicars Apostolic in Thailand in 1667. Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary founded in Puducherry by Fr. Louis Savinien Dupuis M.E.P in 1840 where Fr. Dupuis was the most honoured author and publisher of several books in tamil, nearly 35 religious books, 18 biographies, 6 story books, 5 dictionaries,6 tamil grammar. Under his incharge Mission Press was established and a weekly Christian pamphlet called ‘Sarvaviyabi’ was brought out. Bon Secours, St. Louis de Gonzague, a pious association founded in Puducherry by Fr. Ansaldo S.J., in 1775 was raised into a Religious Congregation by Mgr. Bonnand in 1858. Fr. Lehodey M.E.P was put in-charge of the new Congregations21. Statistics showing the gradual growth of Puducherry Mission** : Status of the 1 2 3 4 5 Puducherry Mission Catholics Parishes Churches Indian Priests M.E.P Priests 1930 1955 2000 1,04,000 43 48 22 60 1,58,925 53 97 72 37 2,88,000 87 286 153 4 8 2011 3,79,984 101 373 256 nil
  • 9. From the statistics it is possible to estimate that M.E.P served the Diocese to which they were sent and spent all their resources, in building churches, parishes, when they left the place they left all to the native priests in the diocese. Native priests were trained by them to take up the work started by them. Many of the M.E.P fathers chose to work and die in the Diocese where they were called upon to work. A casual look at the cemetery of priests attached to Puducherry Cathedral will testify it. They lived a simple and austere life without claiming any special privileges. They took pains to learn the language of the people. In the past there were no such facilities as we have now. In spite of the draw backs they travelled by cycles, horses, bullock carts to reach the parish and sub-stations. In short they are the ideal missionaries. It seems that M.E.P sends financial help to our Archdiocese even now. ‘Missionary Zeal’ of the M.E.P should be a source of inspiration to all the Indian catholics 22. Conclusion Progress in the extension of the Kingdom of Our Lord has a price to be paid. During the years, many good and active missionaries paid their efforts with their life and were called back to the Presence of their Master. The people of Puducherry have great admiration for missionaries who did yeomen’s service for the all round progress of this city of peace. The missionaries spread out into the villages and did dedicated service. Their service in all walks of life helped effect the social change, the results of which are witness today23. Henceforth, Puducherry which was under the Colonial rule of the French had experienced great difference from colonizers of other nationalities like the Portuguese, the British, the Dutch and the Danes for their missionaries identified themselves with the local population and nurtured the local customs, manners and culture. They were one with the local people in their aspirations. They learned the language of the people and made contributions to their development. demeanour and conduct. They were ever ready to help the poor. Footnotes and References 8 They were not supercilious in their
  • 10. 1. Ramasamy, History of Pondicherry,Puducherry 1986, p.1-2. 2. T.K. Joseph, Six St. Thomas Of South India,Delhi, 1955 p. 27. 3. Sampathkumar P.A and Andre Carof M.E.P,History of Pondicherry Mission: An Outline,,Puducherry1999,p.4. 4.Clement Iswar, Diocese of Pondicherry – Cuddalore (A.D 1545-2000),Puducherry,2003,p.8-9. 5. Revue Historique de Pondicherry, Vol.II,1973,p.46. 6. Raja & Rita Nath Kesari,Glimpses of Pondicherry,Puducherry,2005,p.10-11. 7. Sampathkumar P.A and Andre Carof M.E.P,op.cit.,p.11 8. Ramasamy, op.cit.,p.200. 9. Raja & Rita Nath Kesari, op.cit.,p.10. 10. Sampathkumar P.A and Andre Carof M.E.P,op.cit.,p.13. 11. Ibid, p.14. 12. Ibid, p.18-24. 13. Ibid , p.30-33. 14. Ibid, p.28. 15.Jacob, History of Pondicherry Mission,Puducherry,1976,p.16. 16.Ibid,p.17. 17. Sampathkumar P.A and Andre Carof M.E.P,op.cit.,p.140-145. 18. Sampathkumar P.A and Maria Joseph.S ,(ed), Call to Asia, Missions Etrangeres de Paris(MEP) 350 years service,Puducherry,2009. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid. 21. Clement Iswar,op.cit.,p.126-129. **--Consolidated the statistics from the books Clement Iswar, Diocese of Pondicherry – Cuddalore (A.D 1545-2000),Puducherry,2003 and Jacob, History of Pondicherry Mission,Puducherry,1976,p.16.also Supplement to the ORDO for the Ecceleisastical Province of Pondicherry & Cuddalore,2010-11 August,Puducherry. 8
  • 11. 22. Sampathkumar P.A and Maria Joseph.S ,(ed), Souvenir on Call to Asia, Missions Etrangeres de Paris(MEP) 350 years service,Puducherry,2009. 23. Mathew.K.S (ed), French in India and Indian Nationalism (1700- 1963),Delhi, 1999, p.311. 8