Ghogargaon – First MSFS mission in Nagpur diocese
Fr Gurien Jacquier of Ghogargaon (Catholic Mission in Aurangabad diocese - 1892 onwards)
By Camil Parkhe
Published by SFS Publications, Bangalore
Till the middle of the 19th century, Christianity was almost non-existent in Central India. The Christians in this area were mainly the Irish, Goan and Tamil soldiers at the garrisons of the East India Company. The Goan priests of the Golcoda mission used to visit them occasionally.
The MSFS or Fransalian congregation was founded by Fr Peter Marie-Mermier (1862) in France on October 24, 1838 under the patronage of St Francis de Sales. The vast mission territory of Visakhapatnam in India was entrusted to the MSFS in 1845. Fr Mermier sent his best six men for the new mission. Fr Jacques Martin, Fr Joseph Lavorel, Fr Jean Marie Tissot, Fr Jean Thevenet, Bro Pierre Carton and Bro Sulpice Fontanel boarded the ship on June 8, 1845 and arrived at Pondicherry on September 8, 1845.
Visakhapatnam mission then included parts of the present day states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra. Its four mission centres were Visakhapatnam, Yanam, Kamptee and Aurangabad.
Many of the missionaries who came to India learned many Indian languages and some of them even wrote books in these languages. The Visakhapatanam mission was divided into two in 1887, forming the new diocese of Nagpur, with Alexis Riccaz (MSFS) as its first bishop. During the last 125 years, this Nagpur diocese was further bifurcated to form various dioceses including Nagpur (1887), Amravati (1955) and Aurangabad (1978). During these years, the Fransalians too have spread out to the other parts of India. This religious congregation today has five provinces in India, namely Visakhapatanam, South–West, North–East, Nagpur and Pune.1
The first Fransalian missionaries, Fr Jean Thevnet and Fr Joseph Lavorerl, arrived in Central India in 1846. At that time, there were only three priests in the whole central India – Fr Murphy, Irish chaplain at Kamptee, his Tamil assistant Fr Emmanuel and Fr O’Driscoll, a military chaplain in Jalna.
The Fransalian missionaries made several attempts to open mission centres in central India but they were unsuccessful. Fr Lavorel tried to work in Mandla in Madhya Pradesh. Fr Benistrand tried to work among the Kunbis and the Mangs in the Deccan and among the Kurkus in Vidarbha. An orphanage was also opened at Thana near Nagpur in 1865 but with limited success. 2
The breakthrough came in 1892 when the first mission centre for the local people was opened at Ghogargaon in Aurangabad district. There is an interesting story revealing how the seeds of Christianity were sowed in this region, now called Marathwada.
A mission among the Mahars had been opened by the Jesuits in neighbouring Ahmednagar district, on the other side of the Godavari River, in 1878. Other Jesuit mission centres followed at Kendal in 1879, Walan in 1889 and Sangamner in 1892. By that time, the number of the Catholic Mahars in Ahmednagar district had risen to 1,000 under Fr Marcel D’Souza, Fr Otto Weishaupt and Fr Kraig.
Some 16 miles from Kendal was Ghogargaon village, on the left side of the Godavari. It had half-a-dozen stone and brick houses, a 100 mud houses. Outside the village lived the Mahars, the Dalits who were one of the untouchable communities during those days. An orphaned young Mahar from Ghogargaon, Nathu Raphael Shingare, had married a girl from Walan. There he saw the Jesuit mission, became a Catholic and later a catechist of Fr Weishaupt. On his return to his village Ghogargaon in 1892, Nathu Raphael gave a glorious account of the Walan mission to his neighbours and relatives. The local people who were denied development and progress for generations were indeed impressed. They immediately sent a delegation to Walan with a request to the Jesuit fathers to start a mission center in Ghogargaon.
Walan parish priest, Fr Kraig, paid a visit to the village to see the situation there. As Ghogargaon then belonged to the Nagpur diocese, he informed the chaplain of Aurangabad, Fr Montagnoux, of the local people’s desire to become Christians. Fr Montagnoux forwarded the request to Nagpur. At that time, Nagpur had no bishop after the recent death of Bishop Riccaz. Thus, in October 1892, Fr Pelvat, Nagpur diocesan administrator, received a letter telling him that several people from the village of Ghogargaon were asking for a school and were desiring to become Christians.
Bishop Riccaz had wanted to open a mission centre among non-Christians. Fr Pelvat welcomed the proposal and appointed Fr Thomas Marian to open the first Catholic mission in the Moghulai.
1) Fransalians, website of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales (MSFS)
2) Fr Francis Moget (MSFS), “The Missionaries of St Francis de Sales of Annecy’, SFS Publications, Vinayalaya, Bangalore, Karnataka 560 055 (1985). Distributors: Asian Trading Corporation, 150, Brigade Road, Bangalore- 560 025 (pages 268-260)