09 When the Jesuits returned to Bombay - Fr. Myron J. Pereira SJ

posted Jul 25, 2018, 11:07 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Jul 25, 2018, 11:08 AM ]
This year, 2018, two famous Jesuit institutions, St Xavier's High School, and St Xavier's College, both located at Dhobi Talao, will be celebrating 150 years of their establishment. It's a good occasion to reflect on the significant contribution of the sons of St Ignatius Loyola to education, both secular and religious, in this cosmopolitan city.

Bishop Hartmann's request

In March 1850, Bishop Anastasius Hartmann, a Swiss Capuchin (who had been assigned to Bombay as its new Vicar Apostolic) arrived to take charge in the city.

Conditions in Bombay during the terms of his predecessors, the Carmelite Vicars Apostolic, were so dismal that they have been called the "dark ages" of the Church. This was because of the continuous in-fighting among the various Catholic groups. Briefly, the Archbishop of Goa asserted his rights under Padroado as the sole legitimate Church authority, and most of the Goan Catholic community supported him.

Against the Padroado faction were the supporters of Propaganda, the Carmelite Vicars Apostolic, who disputed this claim. It was into this situation that Bishop Hartmann was thrust.

It did not take him long to see that what the Catholic community needed was social uplift, and that could only come about through education.

It is true that there were a few schools, set up by pioneering laymen in the island city – Barretto Charity School (Cavel, 1778), Antonio de Souza School (Byculla, 1797), and other small schools attached to parish churches. There was even a seminary lodged at Medows Street in the Bombay Fort, though it was in a poor condition.

Bishop Hartmann's plans were clear. He wanted to open a college (actually a 'high school') and for this, he realised that the Jesuits were the best people to run it (and the seminary as well). So Hartmann wrote to the Jesuit General, Jan Roothaan, but Roothaan had no one to send, and turned him down. Still, Hartmann persevered, and in 1852, Roothaan's successor, Peter Beckx accepted this mission, and entrusted it to the German Jesuit province.

Jesuit Schools: the beginnings

On January 5, 1853, the Jesuit, Fr Walter Steins, a native of Holland, landed in Bombay. He was soon followed by another four Jesuits. There was initial disagreement as to where the college and the seminary should be started; Hartmann had wanted it in Bandra, for the orphanage of St Stanislaus and its church, St Peter's, had been offered to the Jesuits. But Steins was adamant that the location should be in Bombay island.

And this, in fact, is where the educational work of the Jesuits started.