The Fifty Golden Years of the Jamshedpur Diocese

The history of the Church in Chotnagapur is intimately linked to and has its deep roots in a village known as Khuntpani in the parish of Chaibasa, West Singhbhum. Fr. Augustus Stockman, S.J., a 42 years old Belgian Missionary, arrived at Chaibasa on November 24, 1868 on a bullock-cart, which took him 10-days of arduous journey from Midnapur, West Bengal. The Archbishop of Kolkata, Walter Steins, S.J., authorized Fr. Stockman to start a mission parish at Chaibasa, dedicated to St Francis Xavier. However, the first several years were very disappointing as Fr. Stockman was not able to make any contact with the tribals. It was only on November 8, 1873, the first 6 Munda families, involving 28 persons, who were making charcoal, received the Christian faith and were baptized by Archbishop Steins himself in Khuntpani. These were the first Catholics among the tribals of Chotanagpur. Soon after, the Daughters of the Cross came to Chaibasa and opened an orphanage there. However, the 6 Catholic Munda families left Khuntpani and moved to a forest village, Burundi (Ranchi District) for livelihood. Fr. Stockman, too, left Chaibasa and followed these Munda families to Burudi and started a new mission there. Due to various reasons, the Chaibasa mission remained closed from 1909 to 1932. The parish priest of Kharagpur occasionally kept contact with Chaibasa. The Sisters also sold out their property and moved out of Chaibasa.

Fr. Joseph Vial, S.J., of Ranchi Jesuit Mission came to Chaibasa in 1932 and began gathering the scattered Catholic families. Then came Fr. Leo DeJardin, S.J., who worked among the Ho community; and gradually they began to respond to the message of the Gospel. In 1959, the Maryland Jesuits from the USA were entrusted with the mission of Singhbhum, Purulia, and Dhanbad. All efforts were focused on the mission to the Ho community in the Kolhan-Porhat region. The efforts of Fr. John Deeney, SJ, Fr. Edward Nash, SJ, Fr. Carl Dincher, SJ, Fr. John Guidera, SJ, Fr. John Bingham, SJ, Fr. Frank McGauley, SJ, Monsignor John Bodra and other early missionaries succeeded in winning over the hearts of the Ho community. In fact, Late Fr. John Deeney is popularly known as the “apostle of the Hos.” They learnt the Ho language, became familiar with the local culture, and promoted it; they Christianized most of the Ho festivals and rituals; they took up problems and issues that affected the lives of the Ho people; and they were able to enter the Ho villages with the medical team of Nurse Sisters and Catechists. God’s hand was with them, and God’s grace worked miracles.

In July 12, 1962, the Diocese of Jamshedpur was formally established into an independent Diocese -- hiving out parts of the Calcutta Archdiocese and Ranchi Archdiocese, consisting of the undivided Singhbhum and Dhanbad Districts of Bihar and Purulia District of West Bengal. Most Rev. Lawrence Trevor Picachy, S.J., who later became the Archbishop of Kolkata and then was made a Cardinal, was appointed the first Bishop of this new Diocese.

When the Diocese was created in 1962, the Catholic population was around 8,000; there were only 7 Parishes situated in the railway colonies and industrial towns; the Diocese did not have a single Diocesan Priest or Seminarian; there were just a handful of Jesuits; and 6 convents of Sisters. Right from the beginning, God provided committed good shepherds – Bishops, priests, sisters, catechists, and teachers to sow the seeds of faith and to nurture and build the upcoming Christian community. Late Lawrence T. Cardinal Picachy, Jamshedpur’s first Bishop, was a peoples’ man. He came from being the Rector of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. He was a deeply religious person and provided a dynamic leadership to the Diocese. His service included not only Christians, but people of other faiths as well. He tried to bring people together and build communities based on Peace, Justice, and Harmony. Unfortunately, within 7-8 years, he was made an Archbishop and sent to Kolkata.

One of the encouraging trends during the leadership of late Bishop Lawrence Picachy was the push he gave to lay participation in the life of the Church. He promoted lay missionaries to Nagaland; he promoted Catholic Lay Christian movements like the Young Christian Workers (YCW), Christian Workers’ Movement (CWM), All India Christian University Federation (AICUF), Young Christian Students (YCS), Catholic Action Association, and Pastoral Councils. In this regard, he was able to bring to this Diocese Cardinal Joseph Cardijn, founder of the Young Christian Workers’ movement and Priests’ Worker movement. Cardinal Cardijn’s historic visit to this industrial city in November 1964, after the Eucharistic Congress in Mumbai, gave a tremendous boost to the lay leadership movements. Late Bishop Picachy and Cardinal Joseph Cardijn seemed to share a similar conviction on Lay Apostolate: “Lay Christians are witnesses and irreplaceable agents of God at the heart of the world’s life. It is there that they accomplish the Church’s mission of evangelization. Every lay leader must be helped to discover his missionary vocation and to experience it in his daily life. Every day in the ordinary surroundings of his life he will meet believers of other religions and non-believers; and with them, he will work to build the world that God wants.” The impact of these movements and the inspiration and the example set by the then young lay leaders can be seen even now in many of our parishes.

The Diocese was fortunate that our second Bishop came from the metropolitan city of Mumbai. Late Bishop Joseph R. Rodericks, S.J., was a very erudite person; dynamic and forward-looking; and he nurtured this upcoming Diocese for 25 years. As he retired from active service, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II gave us a great gift in the person of Bishop Felix Toppo, S.J., as our third Bishop. He is well-trained and educated, belonging to the Oraon tribe, born and brought up in Tongo, Hira Barway region, deeply rooted in the soil of Chotanagpur, and a beautiful fruit of the hard labour of Belgian missionaries. The Church of Jamshedpur Diocese is proud to have a “son of the soil” to shepherd and lead the flock. Within the last 15 years of his tenure as the Bishop, this Diocese has leaped forward, making great progress.

After 50 years of golden and selfless service to the people of this region, the Diocese has matured into a healthy people of God, and has genuine reasons to thank God. At present, the Catholic population is around 70,000; there are 33 Parishes; 115 Mission Centres; 60 Diocesan Priests; 55 Seminarians; 115 Religious Priests belonging to 8 Congregations; 316 Religious Sisters in 55 Convents belonging to 27 Congregations; and numerous service institutions spanning across the Diocese. Further, within the Diocese there are 11 Ecclesiastical/Formation Houses; 13 Social Welfare Institutions; 25 Hospitals and Dispensaries; 3 Graduate /Postgraduate Colleges; 10 Junior Colleges; 33 High Schools; 28 Primary/Middle Schools; and 22 Hostels for school boys and girls. One of the most satisfying and encouraging development is that from among the first generation Catholics, we already have 6 Ho priests, 3 Santhal priests, and a number of sisters from both these tribal communities. Finally, a number of Candidates for Priesthood and Religious life are coming forward from within the Diocese itself.

For the sake of a better and decentralized administration and pastoral care, the Diocese is divided into 4 Deaneries, namely, Jamshedpur, Chaibasa, Purulia, and Dhanbad. Each of these Deaneries is headed by a Dean to coordinate and animate the Mission’s work in that area.

It is true that at the beginning greater attention was given to the people of Kolhan-Porahat. Due to the open and positive response of those people, a number of service centers – schools and other institutions -- developed. However, sometime later, serious efforts were also made to reach out to the Santhal and other backward classes in East Singhbhum, Seraikela Kharsawan, Purulia, and Dhanbad Districts. During the late 1960s or in the early ‘70s, the Church had already made initial contacts in Ghatsila, Chandil, Tundi, and other villages of Purulia and Dhanbad. Today, Dhanbad has a vast network of quality De Nobili schools, Carmel schools, and other Hindi-medium schools. One of the most important contributions in the field of health was the caring of the Leprosy patients. Fr. Michael Kavanaugh, S.J., and Fr. Larry Hunt, S.J., set up what is now known as the Damien Social Welfare Centre (DSWC) in Dhanbad, embracing 1000s of people affected by leprosy. Later, Fr. Vijay Bhat reorganized the DSWC and made it a great Service Centre. DSWC is a vast network of leper colonies, hospitals, and health centres in Dhanbad. Though today the Government is trying to declare that India is a leprosy-free country, the ground realities give us a different message. The Claver Social Welfare Centre (CSWC) in Rajkharswn does similar work. The Sisters of Missionaries of Charity, with their mission of compassion and service to the poorest of the poor, are taking care of the leprosy patients, orphan children, deserted and lonely old people, babies thrown out in dustbins and bushes, unwed-mothers, malnourished children, etc. Our hospitals, like the Mercy Hospital in Jamshedpur, St. Angela’s Hospital in Chakradharpur, Nirmala Hospital in Govindpur, Dhanbad and a number of rural health centres are serving the poor and the marginalized. St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bhilaipahari is a specialized hospital taking care of the HIV-Aid patients and T.B. patients. This is great service to the “hopeless persons” whom our society avoids and abhors! During the past 50 years, the Diocese has grown into a massive tree, stretching out its branches into the farthest and most interior, almost inaccessible villages in Jharkhand.

Today, the Church works among all sections of people, although our priorities lie with the tribal, the dalit, the marginalized, and the vulnerable groups, i.e. women, girl-child, and children. We have no hesitation in owning up that we seek to empower the poor and the oppressed: for our vision is to build a Just Society based on the Gospel values of love, peace, and fraternity. Our mission is to uphold the human dignity and human rights, especially those of the vulnerable groups. Through its various units, like schools and colleges, hospital and dispensaries, and several social-service societies, the Church is fulfilling its mission of serving the needy and the poor. The Catholic Charities and Samekit Jan Vikas Kendra in Sundernagar and the Tribal Research & Training Centre, Guira, West Singhbhum are very important social service societies which seek to empower the tribal, the dalit, and the weaker sections of Jharkhand, through networking with hundreds of other like-minded NGOs. While we feel proud and make tall claims of our achievements, we also feel humbled by the realization that our service is reaching out only to a miniscule quantum of our population.

Growth and development are an unending process. While we have reasons enough to thank God for His countless blessings, we also realize that we have an urgent mission, much unfulfilled tasks, miles to go still, and a destiny to reach! The Diocese expresses its immense gratitude to all those who have, in any way, contributed to this noble cause and thanks all those who have associated with us in the 50 golden years of this journey! With immense hope, the Diocese looks forward with God’s blessing to a still brighter future.

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