A young German Jesuit, Fr Henry Doering, launched a Marathi monthly ‘Niropya’ in April 1903 from a village Kendal-Valan in Rahuri tehsil of Ahmednagar district in April 1903. This magazine presently published from Pune has recently celebrated 100 years of its existence. Significantly, this Catholic magazine is among the only three Marathi periodicals, which have survived for over a century.
Balshastri Jambhekar who launched Darpan (mirror) periodical in 1832 is credited with laying the foundation of Marathi journalism. Thereafter many periodicals were launched in Marathi. Over a period of time, a majority of these periodicals have ceased to exist.
Dnyanoday; a periodical launched by the American Marathi Mission, a Protestant congregation, in 1842 has already completed 150 years of existence and is the oldest surviving Marathi publication. It is still being published from Ahmednagar. The daily ‘Kesari’ was launched by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and veteran social reformer Gopal Ganesh Agarkar on 4 January 1881. This 125-year-old newspaper is still published from Pune. The centurion 'Niropya’ ranks third in the list of longest surviving publications in Marathi language.
It is indeed creditable that a Marathi publication launched by a German Jesuit is among a handful of publications, which have managed to survive despite various problems faced by it. In fact, 'Niropya' too had faced the prospect of wounding up its publication during the First World War hostilities when the British government asked Bishop Doering and other German missionaries, citizens of their enemy nation to leave India. But the magazine, which could not be published for a decade, breathed a fresh lease of life soon after the German missionaries were allowed to return to India. Now the magazine has become a mouthpiece of the Marathi-speaking Christians, a majority of whom was brought to the fold of Christianity by the missionaries during the last 110 years.
The Marathi-speaking Christians - Catholics and in the recent years, Protestants too - from various parts of the country wait eagerly for this magazine that fulfils their spiritual need, besides providing information about various social and other events in their community.
Fr Doering was indeed a missionary with a vision who established this periodical at the beginning of the 20th century to cater to the semi-educated, economically backward neo-Christians in Ahmednagar district. The German Jesuits had started their evangelical activities in this district in1887. A majority of the converts to Christianity belonged to the untouchable Mahar caste, which is presently included in the Scheduled Caste category.
Henry Doering was born in Bocholt in Germany, on 13 September 1859. He was ordained a priest in 1882 and arrived at Kendal-Valan in Ahmednagar district in 1895. The twin villages Kendal and Valan, located on the banks of Pravara river, are very significant for the Marathi-speaking Catholics. This was the place where the priests belonging to the Jesuit German province, had first launched their evangelical mission in rural Maharashtra. A group of persons were baptised by the Catholic priests here in 1887. Gradually Christianity was embraced by people from neighbouring villages and districts. Today, there are a large number of Christians in Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Nashik, Beed and Pune districts. A few years ago, the Catholic community from these districts celebrated the centenary of their conversion.
The Jesuits had just launched their missionary work in Ahmednagar district when Fr. Doering arrived in Kendal-Valan. Many untouchables were getting converted to Christianity but the conversion did not bring any changes in their social and economical conditions. The Jesuits established primary schools to educate these converts as well as others. Education was considered important to improve the lot of the local community.
Fr. Doering, like other German missionaries, learnt the local Marathi language to preach Christianity to the locals. It is indeed noteworthy that after learning Marathi, these missionaries also wrote books in Marathi to impart religious education to the converts.
It seems that some missionaries had already written books in Marathi on religious education, even before the arrival of Fr Doering arrived in Kendal. The honour of being the first Marathi religious book of Catholics goes to a book entitled ‘Lahan Catechism (Small Catechism).
Although the book does not carry the author's name, according to research scholar Fr. (Dr.) Christopher Shelke, the author of the book must have been Fr. Dalling who was based in Kendal. Fr. Shelke who hails from Ahmednagar district and is now working as a professor of comparative theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome has completed research on the history of the Jesuit mission in Ahmednagar district. He had published a series of articles based on this research in Niropya monthly in late 1970s. Fr. Shelke has written that when Fr Doering settled in Kendal -Valan, he found that a Marathi religious book entitled ‘Subhaktisar’ was the most popular amongst local people.
‘Subhaktisar’ was written and published in 1895 by Fr. Francis X. Trenkamp who had come to Kendal in mid-1892 that is before Fr. Doering. Fr. Trenkamp had studied Marathi well. Instead of adopting the literary style used by the writers based in Mumbai and Pune, Fr. Trenkamp used the dialect prevalent in Ahmednagar district for writing his book. The local Catholics who had recently acquired the writing and reading skills used this book to understand the tenets of their new religion. The other Jesuit priests also used the book for saying prayers during celebration of the holy mass.
Fr. Doering had to depend on the available catechism book in Marathi to continue his evangelical activities. During those days, the missionaries traveled to long distance villages on horsebacks or tongas to preach Christianity and to help the local people in various ways. There were no religious books in Marathi, which could be used for teaching the principles and doctrines of Christianity to the converts. Therefore, Fr Doering felt the need of creating religious literature in Marathi. Due to non-availability of such literature, priests and catechists were finding it difficult to preach Christianity to children and the adults.
Fr. Doering decided to start a magazine to overcome this problem. The superiors of Society of Jesus agreed to provide financial aid for this venture. Fr Doering published the first issue of the magazine titled ‘Yeshuchya Atipavitra Hrudayacha Niropya’ (Messenger of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) in April 1903.
Since then, with an exception of a few years during the First World War, ‘Niropya’ is being published regularly till date. The Society of Jesus owns and publishes the periodical. Jesuits priests have shouldered the responsibility of editing the magazine for the past 100 years, barring a brief span when a diocesan priest edited it.
After launching ‘Niropya’, Fr Doering started improving his Marathi vocabulary for his contribution to the magazine. He learnt dialect of people from Ahmednagar district and also specific terms and concepts used in Hindu religious literature. He started using these and making the magazine more and more user- friendly for the neo-Christians.
Fr Doering was the main contributor writer of the magazine he edited. Initially ‘Niropya’ used to be printed at the ‘'Examiner’ press in Bombay. The first issue of ‘Niropya’ was of 10 pages and there were five brief articles. The articles were entitled - ‘The theme of prayer’, ‘To be an alter server’, ‘The feast of Pope Leo XIII, ‘Let thy kingdom come’, and ‘A martyr’.
The founder-editor of ‘Niropya’ stayed at Kendal, a remote village in Ahmednagar district, whereas the magazine was being published from Mumbai. Therefore, the editor had to take pains to maintain the deadline of the magazine's publication. From the available records, it appears that the fourth issue of the monthly was in a manuscript form. Although, the reason for not printing the issue is not clear, it definitely indicates that Fr. Doering was very particular about publishing the issue in time.
The periodical carried articles about developments in the Christian world and also biographies of Christian saints. Apart from this, the translation of the famous Latin classical book ‘Imitotio Christi’ (Imitation of Christ) was serially published in the magazine. Its three chapters were published in ‘Niropya’ under the title ‘Kristanuvartan’.
The small magazine reached at the doorsteps of the Catholics in Ahmednagar district every month. About 100 years ago there were few newspapers and magazines and these periodicals catered only to a select upper sections of society. Under such circumstances, ‘Niropya’ must have played an important role in the lives of its readers.
Fr. Doering was consecrated the second bishop of Pune diocese on December 8, 1907. The Pune diocese then included Pune, Ahmednagar, Nashik, Kolhapur, Solapur, Ratnagiri, Satara, Sangli and Sindhudurg revenue districts. Presently these areas come under Pune, Nashik and Sindhudurg dioceses. After his elevation as bishop, Doering’s responsibilities increased many fold, but he did not desert his brainchild, ‘Niropya’. After Doering took over as bishop in Pune, the place of Niropya's publication too was shifted to Pune.
Bishop Doering was in Rome when the First World War broke out in 1914. The British government refused permission to Bishop Doering to return to India as he, being a German, was a citizen of their enemy nation. Therefore, the pope appointed him as vicar apostolic of Hiroshima diocese in Japan on 16 June 1921. After being shunted out of India, Bishop Doering must have felt strong desire to return to this country, which he had chosen for his mission.
When the British permitted the German missionaries to return to India to resume their missionary work, Bishop Doering once again opted to return to Pune. He was once again appointed to head the Pune diocese on July 14, 1927. However he was allowed to retain ‘archbishop’ as personal title although Pune was not an archdiocese.
After returning to Pune, within six months Archbishop Doering resumed publication of ‘Niropya’ magazine with renewed enthusiasm. Fr. Shelke has described the incident as - ‘Niropya’ too was resurrected like its Lord, Jesus Christ ’.
For the past 100 years, Niropya has offered its services to its readers at a very reasonable price. The annual subscription for the magazine was Rs. 3 only in 1981. In 2007, this magazine with 36 pages and a colourful cover had an annual subscription of Rs 60 only.
Archbishop Doering’s Niropya has not only inculcated the reading habit among the Marathi-speaking Christians but has also contributed by way of producing generations of writers and poets in the community. Niropya has provided a very useful forum to budding Catholic and Protestants writers, who later earned a big name in Marathi literature. Some of the veteran littérateurs contributing articles to this magazine included Satyavan Namdeo Suryavanshi, Fr. Francis D'Britto and poet Vishwaskumar. The author of this book, who is now a fulltime journalist, got his first literary piece published for the first time in Niropya only. There are many Christian families in various districts of Maharashtra who have been the second, third of fourth generation readers of this magazine.
The Jesuits belonging to Pune, Bombay, Goa and Gujarat celebrated the 150th year of their mission and arrival of the German and Swiss provinces in West India arrival in 2004. A souvenir, titled Reise (yatra), released on the occasion carried a brief note on Niropya, and highlighted its contribution to the Marathi-speaking Christians.
The founder of Niropya Archbishop Doering has also contributed to Marathi literature in yet another great way. ‘Kristapuran’, an epic composed in Marathi by British Jesuit Fr. Thomas Stephens in the Portuguese-controlled Goa in the 17th century was brought to the notice of Marathi readers in Maharashtra by archbishop Doering. ‘Kristapuran’ was printed in Roman script since the technology for printing in Devanagari script was not developed in Goa then. For good three centuries, the existence of this epic had remained unknown to Marathi readers, as it was in Roman script and read widely only in Goa, which was, then under the Portuguese control.
Archbishop Doering studied the epic, understood the importance of the literature and published some parts based on Jesus’ biography from the epic in the form of three booklets after transcripting them into Devanagari. Thus the epic came to the notice of Marathi scholars in Maharashtra. The whole epic was later transcripted and edited by Shantaram Bandelu.
In 1949, Archbishop Doering opted for retirement due to old age. Fr Andrew D’Souza then took charge as the first Indian bishop of Pune diocese. Doering wrote his last pastoral letter in Niropya to bid adieu to the flock he had led for almost half a century. The letter is as follows: -
‘My dear children in Jesus Christ, the Lord had put you under my care for several years. But now the time has come for me to say goodbye to you. Pope Pious X had appointed me as bishop of Pune some 42 years ago as a successor to bishop Bernard Bieder-Linden (SJ).
For seven years I could work in peace for my people. When I had gone to Rome to meet the Pope, the First World War broke out and all my efforts to return to Pune went in vain and I was compelled to remain away from my beloved folk.
After the end of the war, the Pope sent me to Japan. He appointed me as Apostolic Vicar of Hiroshima city there. At last in 1927, the British government permitted me to return to Pune and since then I have been staying amongst you all.
As the Second World War broke out, new problems, new troubles started. The government had incarcerated some young priests because they were Germans. This posed several problems for the bishop to carry out his mission. During those difficult days, I derived strength and satisfaction from the confidence and love given by the faithful and priests. I will always remember their concern and help.
Therefore my dear children, this is my last homily to you. Remain steady in your faith and behave accordingly. You will have to face some new problems. Have devotion towards Sacred Heart of Jesus and immaculate heart of Mother Mary. This devotion will protect you. Pray for your new bishop and for me. I assure you that I would pray for you all everyday. May god bless you!'
Archbishop Doering passed away on 17 December 1951. Like his predecessor, he was interred in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Pune. Archbishop Doering who came to Maharashtra from Germany and took spiritual care of his flock for so many years now may have gone into oblivion. But Niropya founded by him continues to visit his flock every month, keeping alive memory of its founder and a great visionary missionary.
1. ‘Khristi Sahitya Aani Niropya ‘(Series of articles on the Jesuit mission in Ahmednagar district) Writer – Fr. Christopher Shelke, Niropya monthly, August 1978, Editor – Fr. Prabhudhar (S.J.), Rosary Church, Ajra, District Kolhapur, - 416 505.
2. ‘Khristi Marathi Vangmay -Fr Stephens te 1960 Akher’ (Marathi Christian literature - Since Fr Thomas Stephens to 1960 A D) Author - Dr. Gangadhar Narayan Morje, Publisher- Ahmednagar College, Ahmednagar, and Snehasadan, Shanivar Peth, Pune, 411 030, Distributors - Vidarbha Marathwada Book Company, 1334, Shukrawar Peth, Pune -2 (1984).