FIRST CHAPEL IN BELGAUM
The first Chapel built for Catholics in the city of Belgaum was dedicated to St. Anthony of Lisbon near the present fort [built by Shivaji]. The Chapel was built after 1818, [the date the fort was captured by the British] but before 1823. We do not have any record of the exact date of construction. There was no priest residing in Belgaum at this time.
In 1823 the British troops [from the Madras Regiment] came to reside in Belgaum. They came via Kaladgi. Among the sepoys [as the native soldiers were called at that time] were Catholic Madrasis [Tamilians]. Another Chapel of St. Anthony was built in the Camp area [Sadar bazaar] at the place on modern day Khanapur road where the present Church stands. This was the second St. Anthony’s Chapel in the town.
However, by 1825 this new Chapel of St. Anthony was also found to be too small for both the Madrasis and the Goanese [Christians from the ghats] in the town. It was decided to build a new Chapel in between the military camp and Sadar Bazaar.
ST. MARY’S CHAPEL and THE CARMELITES
The building of this new Chapel commenced in 1825, more or less at the spot where the present secondary building of St. Paul’s High School stands. It was built with contributions from the Madrasi Catholic soldiers, the Goanese in the town and the British Catholic officers and soldiers [a large number of whom were Irish], as well as with a contribution from the government because the troops were also using the Chapel. It was commonly referred to simply as St. Mary’s Chapel [not to be confused with the Anglican St. Mary’s Church, which still exists]. The road between the school and the present Cathedral was called Chapel Road up to very recently because of this Chapel. The Chapel was completed in 1827 and dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This was the first Parish for the whole of Belgaum.
The first Parish Priest was Frei Clement of the Mother of Sorrows O.C.D. a Carmelite Tertiary originally from the Chimbel community in Goa. At that time Discalced Carmelites were in charge of the Vicariate of Bombay [originally called the Vicariate of Bijapur, then Vicariate of Bijapur and Golconda, and still later the Vicariate of the Great Mogul]. The Apostolic Vicar at the time was Bishop Peter Alcantara of St. Anthony. Belgaum came under the jurisdiction of this Vicariate. Since the Carmelites were in charge, it was natural that the new Chapel was dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, to whom they have a great devotion and to whom their name is partly connected. It was a sub-station of Milagres Church, Canapore [Khanapur]. Both St. Anthony’s Chapels would be under St. Mary’s. Frei Clement was the first resident priest in Belgaum, Chaplain of St. Anthony’s Chapel from 1823 - 1827. When St. Mary’s was completed in 1827 he was also made the Parish Priest.
In 1829 Frei Clement died. Frei Marsal O.C.D. took his place. However, he did not stay in Belgaum. Since it was a sub-station of Canapore [Khanapur], he went to reside there. He came from there a certain number of times during the year.
So the Officer commanding the troops in the area wrote to his headquarters in Bombay [the Madras regiment had now been replaced by the Bombay regiment] about this situation. The British government in turn wrote to the Vicar Apostolic of Bombay complaining about this arrangement and asking them to send another priest to reside permanently in Belgaum and minister to the Catholic soldiers and officers. Frei Domingo D’Souza O.C.D. was sent to be Parish Priest of St. Mary’s and Chaplain of the officers and soldiers. The Fathers of Canapore continued to minister to the Goanese Catholics and the Tamil Catholics.
In 1833 St. Mary’s Chapel was rebuilt. The Parish Priest built two verandas on the sides of the Chapel. When Frei Domingo had to resign in 1836, the government requested that the priest sent should have a sufficient knowledge of English to be able to preach and counsel the troops. As Parish Priest he was expected to be military Chaplain as well, visiting the sick in the military hospital in Belgaum, as well as ministering to the Catholic troops in Kolhapur. So the real reason why Frei Marsal felt more comfortable with the Goanese Catholics of Canapore rather than with the British officers and troops in Belgaum may have been his problem with speaking English. The other reason obviously was that in all the villages around Canapore, which formed one parish, there were more Catholics than there were in Belgaum town proper at the time. Besides, Canapore was still his Mother Church, where he had the company of his brethren.
Bishop Alcantara wrote to Chimbel in Goa and asked them to send a Carmelite tertiary to reside permanently in Belgaum. Frei Louis de Chagas O.C.D. was sent. He was Parish Priest of St. Mary’s and Chaplain of the military till 1842. Frei Mariano de la Resurreçao O.C.D. replaced him for a few months. He too moved to Canapore, as Frei Marsal had done earlier, and took with him all the registers of Baptisms, Burials, etc.
This impasse was solved with Frei Miguel Antonio O.C.D., Vicar General of Bombay being sent to replace Frei Mariano. He was followed in this post by a number of diocesan priests. In between, in 1849 Fr. Patrick Sheehan S.J., an Irishman, was the first Jesuit to come and take charge of the parish for a few months, which most probably made the Irish Catholics happy.
By 1850 the military population in the parish had grown so that Assistant Parish Priests had to be appointed. St. Mary’s Chapel was pulled down and built anew in 1850-51, to provide for the larger numbers. It was now a laterite stone building with a tiled roof.
OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHAPEL
1852 was a momentous year for the Catholics of Belgaum. Fr. Fulgentius Perozy, a Goan diocesan priest of Savantwadi, one of the Vicars Vara [Vicars General] of the ghauts [ghats], who was passing through the town, encouraged the Goan Catholics in the town to apply to the government for permission to build a separate Chapel for themselves since they originally came from Goa. While the argument used was that they would thus come under the Bishop of Goa [Padroado], with whom they originally had connections, one emotional factor is overlooked. The services in St. Mary’s were conducted in English for the sake of the British officers and soldiers. So these Ghat Catholics did not feel part of the community since they could not follow the sermons in English. Thus, the whole parish community of St. Mary’s - Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which came under the Propaganda jurisdiction, was split into two parishes. St. Mary’s was under the Archbishop of Bombay, and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Chapel near the ‘Commissariat Cattle Lines’[at its present location], came under Padroado, i.e. the Archbishop of Goa. The Parish Priest of the latter Chapel hence forth was appointed by the Archbishop of Goa.
Fr. John Chrysostom Marchetti of St. Joseph O.C.D. was the last Carmelite tertiary to be Parish Priest of St. Mary’s from 1853 to 1856.
GERMAN JESUITS TAKE CHARGE
In 1856, Bishop Hartmann of Bombay put the Jesuit Fathers in charge of the new Vicariate of Poona. St. Mary’s Chapel and its community came under this new vicariate. The Carmelite Chaplains of St. Mary’s Chapel were withdrawn. Fr. Henry Charmillot S.J., an Austrian Jesuit of the German province became the Parish Priest and was put in charge of both St. Mary’s Chapel and St. Anthony’s Chapel but not of Immaculate Conception Chapel. The same year Bishop Hartmann of Bombay came on his first pastoral visit to the parish Chapel of Belgaum. He confirmed 200 persons. Perhaps this was the first Pastoral visit by any Bishop.
In 1857 the Parish Priest rebuilt St. Anthony’s Chapel. By this time the earlier Chapel of St. Anthony near the fort was demolished and the ground was rented out for Rs 4/- per annum, which were given to St. Anthony’s chapel on Canapore road.
In May 1867 two Daughters of the Cross arrive in the parish to take charge of the school. They moved residence till finally they settled in a bungalow in B.C. 101 [A] that belonged to Mr. Britto.
The old graveyard in the ‘Commissariate Cattle Lines’ was closed and the land handed over to government in 1872. On November 11 of the same year a new European graveyard was opened but was reserved only for Europeans. On February 16, 1878 a new plot of land was bought for a cemetery for the natives. The graveyard was divided into three parts - one part for the parish of Mount Carmel’s, the other for the Catholics of Goa [Goanese] and the third part for the Protestants. However, by mutual understanding, the ‘natives’ could also be buried in the ‘New European Graveyard’ mentioned above.
The Daughters of the Cross are recalled to Bombay by the Bishop. The military station had been downgraded and the Catholic population had dropped drastically.
St. Anthony’s Chapel was severely damaged by heavy rains in 1883. It was rebuilt by subscription in 1884 by the Parish Priest Fr. Charles Kreuzer S.J. In the same year a new roof was put on St. Mary’s Chapel and the Chaplain’s residence, which were in the same compound, B.C. 101.
A small room next to St. Anthony’s Chapel was bought in 1886 in a public auction to be used as a meeting room and library for the Madrasis.
BELGAUM UNDER PADROADO JURISDICTION
Another very important day in the annals of the parish was March 28, 1887 when the Bishop of Poona informed Fr. Charles Kreuzer S.J., the Parish Priest that the whole of Belgaum district, including the Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel had been shifted for administrative purposes from the Diocese of Poona to the Archdiocese of Goa as a consequence of the Concordat signed between the Pope and the Government of Portugal in 1886. On April 9, 1887 the Archbishop of Goa divided this new addition to his territory into three Deaneries, each of which he placed under the charge of a Vicar General [Vigario Vara]; two were in the Karwar coastal belt and the inland area of Belgaum and Kolhapur districts under the Savantwadi Deanery. In the month of May 1887, the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Belgaum met the Archbishop in Goa for instructions.
The Archbishop of Goa visited Belgaum on November 1, 1887, his first pastoral visit of this newly acquired area of his diocese. He also visited all the stations around and left after a month and a half on December 16.
On April 21, 1888 the Archbishop of Goa passed through Belgaum on his way to Europe. Most probably he discussed the new situation after the latest Concordat in Rome. At the time he most probably discussed with the Superior General of the Jesuits the possibility of replacing the German Jesuits with Portuguese Jesuits. One of the reasons for this request may have been language. All communication with the Archbishop of Goa and the Dean was in Portuguese.
On April 1, 1889 Fr. C. Kreuzer S.J. was transferred and his place was taken by Fr. Joseph Nuckel S.J. The Archbishop of Goa returned from Europe and again came to Belgaum on May 17, 1889. He left for Goa on May 20. Fr. Nuckel S.J. was to continue in his post till alternative arrangements were made.
PORTUGUESE JESUITS TAKE OVER
Another change in the parish took place on February 26, 1890 when the Jesuits of the Portuguese province arrived in Belgaum to replace the German Jesuits. However, Fr. J.M. Gonsalves S.J. the Superior of the Portuguese Jesuits took charge on April 7, 1890. He was appointed military chaplain. Fr. Jose Pires Antunes S.J. was made the Parish Priest of St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s Chapels. This was the first time that the two offices were separated. Formerly the Parish Priest was also the Military Chaplain. In 1895 Fr. Gonsalves S.J. rebuilt St. Anthony’s Chapel adding two side-wings making it cruciform.
ST. MARY’S CHAPEL BECOMES DEFUNCT
In June 1915 a strong flash of lightning struck St. Mary’s Chapel, making it dangerous to use. The building was condemned and the Cantonment authorities ordered all the parishioners to use St. Anthony’s Chapel instead. The Parish Priest and the Catholic community made an appeal to the government to help rebuild the parish Church. The government proposed to rebuild a smaller Church as the number of Catholic soldiers had decreased having gone to war. The Parish Priest and the parishioners did not agree because it could not accommodate the civilian Catholic population that was growing at the time. The government then point blank refused. They pointed out that since World War I was on, all funds and cement had to be sent to the battle front for use in the war. After a time when the building deteriorated during successive monsoons, it was totally decrepit and became a danger to the school children who played around it. So it was razed to the ground by Cantonment authorities. Thus, St. Anthony’s Chapel became the Parish Church from then on. De facto ‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel’ parish was defunct. However, its name was transferred to St. Anthony’s Chapel. So it was referred to as St. Anthony’s parish or Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. At one point the residence of the Dean for the interior area of the diocese on the ghats [i.e. Savantwadi, Azrem [Ajra], Atticuru [Adkur] Belgaum, Canapore [Khanapur], Bidi, was shifted from Savantwadi to Immaculate Conception Chapel, Belgaum.
The Jesuits later approached the Patriarch of Goa and pointed out that the only buildings now standing on the property B.C. 101 where St. Mary’s stood were School buildings built with money of the Jesuit Fathers. They requested whether they could be given exclusive use of the property for which they would pay the Archdiocese. This was agreed to and the money was paid in installments over the years to the Archdiocese.
ST. ANTHONY’S MADE THE PARISH
After World War II, the British officers and soldiers were rather quickly withdrawn from the Belgaum military station. After Indian Independence the Parish Priest was no more military Chaplain. Instead a large number of Goans started coming to Belgaum for an English education both in St. Paul’s and St. Joseph’s schools. Families began to rent out buildings in the Camp to stay here for the education of their children.
With the restriction of free travel to and from Goa about early 1950s, the Goan priests found it difficult to move up and down to Goa. Communications with the Archbishop of Goa also became rather difficult. So the Jesuit Superior of St. Paul’s was appointed the Vicar Vara for this interior part of Goa diocese. So too the Jesuit Fathers were appointed Parish Priests of both the Churches and also looked after Khanapur parish, under which all the surrounding villages were included.
ST. JOSPEH’S CONVENT CHAPEL for ST. ANTHONY’S PARISH
As time passed, St. Anthony’s Chapel was too small to accommodate all the parishioners. The consequence was that in the early 1950s, the masses on Sundays, feast days and weddings were over-flowing. A simple solution was found with the generosity and cooperation of the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Convent. Sunday and feast day masses only were celebrated at the Convent Chapel. The Sisters very willingly took up the task of maintaining and decorating the altar for parish needs.
HARMONY AMONG THE PARISHES
The Parish Priests in St. Anthony’s and in the Immaculate Conception parishes, began to coordinate their masses and ministrations for the people. There was one noticeable difference in the parishes. St. Anthony’s now began to have most of the masses in English and only a few in Konkani [with one mass in Tamil celebrated by the Assistant Parish Priest who knew Tamil and ministered to them]. Immaculate Conception parish had most of their services in Konkani as the majority of the parishioners were Konkani speaking. However, without much fuss there was an intermingling of parishioners because both the Jesuit Parish Priests had a common understanding and worked things out among themselves. So there was a lot of harmony between these two parishes.
Important feast day masses and processions were often held together. Sometimes, whenever there were common services involving parishioners of the various parishes, they were held in the Convent Chapel or on St. Joseph’s ground behind the Chapel or on St. Paul’s grounds. This became a regular feature and helped knit the whole Catholic community of the town into one body.
This harmony among the parishes was also made possible because both the parish Churches were small, so all school children were expected to attend Sunday mass in the Chapels of the School they attended. The boys went to St. Paul’s School Chapel and the girls went to St. Joseph’s School Chapel where attendance was taken each Sunday and absenteeism was followed up on Monday. Masses for the children were held separately and earlier than masses for the adults. Christian Doctrine [commonly called ‘Catechism Class’] was also taught daily in the school and preparation for the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation was done by the Sisters of St. Joseph’s, though the sacraments were administered in their own parishes. Each Parish Priest visited his own parishioners, and they in turn contributed to their own parishes no matter where they attended services. Only the parishioners of the Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Shahapur had their services separately because of the distance the parishioners would have to travel to the Camp. This was prior to Vatican II after which the stress has been put more on each parish being an independent unit to help build a well-knit Catholic community.
Only one discordant note created disharmony. As long as St. Mary’s Chapel functioned, the Tamilians felt that St. Anthony’s Chapel was theirs, even if it was not a parish. To help them, a Tamil School had been run for quite some years in St. Joseph’s Convent complex, and later, another near St. Anthony’s Chapel. Sr. Pierina, Canossian, did a lot for this community since with her knowledge of Malayalam she could also speak Tamil. Besides, in the later years a Father from Madras or Bangalore diocese, one knowing Tamil fluently came as the Assistant Parish Priest of St. Anthony’s parish. However, with St. Mary’s becoming defunct the Tamilians felt they had been pushed to a corner and could not contribute much to the running of St. Anthony’s parish. They felt left out.
These problems continued till the consecration of the first Bishop. When the Cathedral was completed the Parish Priest of Mount Carmel Church was transferred to the Cathedral as Parish Priest of the newly created parish, ‘Our Lady of the Family Rosary of Fatima’. He was Fr. George D’Sa S.J. At that time most of the English speaking parishioners of St. Anthony’s and Immaculate Conception parish moved to the Cathedral parish. The situation went back to the days when St. Anthony’s was a separate Chapel from St. Mary’s. This also brought an end to Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. This lasted till all the Chapels were formed into independent parishes and there was a realignment of areas of jurisdiction for each parish based mostly on the principle of contiguity. This brings us to the present division of parishes, which is already being realigned according to the shifting Catholic population which is very noticeable in the Camp and city areas of Belgaum.
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