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Oct 23, 2017

Pilar-Goa: The Reorganized Society of Missionaries of SFX Spreads in All Directions

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[ Published Date: March 20, 2015 ]

by Fr Cosme Jose Costa sfx-Pilar, Goa

Foundation and old Members of the Society:

As a Deacon, Jose Mariano Clemente Bento Martins from Orlim (Salcete Taluka), had in 1878 started a school in Tilamola (Quepem Taluka). After his priestly ordination he had told the Bishop that “in order to serve God and the Church in a better way, out of his own will he had dedicated himself for the religious education of the peoples of the New Conquests, who were so much in need of it”. He had then been sent in 1881 to Valpoi in Satari Taluka and established the first Christian community there. By 1884 he was given additional charge of Agonda in Canacona Taluka, where three more clerics joined him, and with them he founded ‘the Society of the Missionaries of St Francis Xavier’ on 26th September 1887.

Seeing their dedication and service, the first Patriarch D. A. S. Valente gave his Summer Residence of the Pilar Monastery to them as the headquarters of the new Society on 4th February 1890 and since then it came to be known as the “Society of Pilar”. Fr B. Martins started imparting adult education and spiritual exercises in the Pilar Monastery. At the same time he was constructing the first Church in Valpoi and enlarging the existing Chapel of Agonda and both were shortly raised to parish Churches. As new members joined the Society, besides Satari and Agonda, they were given charge of Shiroda in Ponda Taluka in 1894. This mission area, to be managed by 3 members, extended from Shiroda to Molem and Colem with a residential Chaplain in Panchwadddi, who had to manage a School there.

Fr. Bento Martins suddenly died of malaria on 16th August 1896 at the young age of 49. He was succeeded by Msgr. Lucio F. J. R. Vaz, also from Orlim, who continued the educational and pastoral works, as Superior of the Society till his death in 1936.

Meanwhile, when Portugal became a Republic in 1910, the Portuguese government again enforced the ban on religious orders more severely till 1928 and would not allow new members to join the Society of Pilar. As a result the Society of Pilar dwindled in numbers. In 1939, it was left with only one member; he was Fr Baltazar Remedios do Rosario Gomes from Chandor, who had been Dean of Honavar and was transferred as parish priest of Curca and made Vice Superior of the Society in 1934. Meanwhile, the political scenario changed after 1928, when Religious Orders were re-admitted by the Portuguese Government in Goa.

Ven. Fr Agnelo G. A. de Souza from Anjuna, who as a deacon was running a School for three years in Calangute, joined the Society in 1898. He lived a life of obedience, prayer and contemplation for ten years in the Pilar Monastery, was a renowned preacher in Goa, and from 1909 was made Parish Priest of Kumpta, then of Sanvordem, and from 1918, Spiritual Director of the Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol till his saintly death on 20th November 1927. His bones were transferred from the cemetery of Rachol to Pilar Monastery on 10th January 1939 and since then Pilar became a center of pilgrimage for his devotees.

Re-Organization on 2nd July 2014:

This event took place on 2nd July 1939. The history of the unfolding of this event, however, goes way back to November/ December 1931, when students of Rachol Seminary were encamped in Old Goa, for the exposition of the relics of St. Francis Xavier. A few of them, while praying there, felt inspired to imitate the Saint, who had come from so far away and spread the faith in our land. “What are we as  sons of the soil doing for our own people?” This vision, coupled with the clarion call of Pope Leo XIII, “Your own sons, India, will be ministers of your salvation” made them to resolve to dedicate their lives to the Missions. Among them were two first year students of Theology, Conceicao M. Rodrigues and Francisco J. Sequeira. Back in the Seminary, they shared their experience with each other and then with other seminarians. Thereby began a movement. They called this movement, “Liga Xaveriana” in honor of St. Francis Xavier.

Two years later, the same seminarians were again assembled in Old Goa for the IV Centenary celebrations of the canonical erection of the Diocese of Goa in Nov/Dec. 1933. There they got another inspiration: to pursue their vision by starting a new indigenous Missionary Society for the evangelization of India. Hence the promoters of the League decided that henceforth only the aspirants to the projected missionary Society could be its members and started working on a project of statutes for their missionary Society in the line of modern missionary Societies of Common life without public vows as per Canons 673-681 of the code of Canon Law 1917.

However, according to the laws of the Church, the local Ordinary’s approval is necessary for such a new foundation. Fr. Conceicao Rodrigues and Fr. Francis Sequeira, as prime movers, approached the local Ordinary of Goa, the Patriarch-Archbishop D. Teotonio, during his visit to Rachol Seminary in August 1934, and explained to him their project. The Patriarch-Archbishop listened to them attentively, but his response was not very encouraging. He had a different idea.

As we have seen in the first session above, there existed already in Goa a missionary society in the Pilar Monastery, which had rendered great services to the Archdiocese of Goa, namely the Society of the Missionaries of St Francis Xavier, founded in 1887 by a zealous Goan priest from Orlim Fr. Jose Mariano Clemente Bento Martins and which was now dying out. Its Superior at the moment, Msgr. Lucio Vaz, was very old and had asked for an auxiliary. It had another two old and sick members and a third Fr.Rosario Remedios Gomes in his forties.

Acceding to the request of the Superior, the Patriarch had, on 16th April 1934, transferred the above Fr. Gomes, from Honavar in Kanara as Parish Priest of Curca near Pilar, with the additional job of an Auxiliary to Msgr. Lucio Vaz. Patriarch Teotonio, in this letter of transfer, commended Fr. Gomes to promote the exact observance of the statutes of the Society to give it a new life, for “We learn that there are young priests or ordinandi, who manifest desires of more perfect life in community and want to dedicate themselves to the work of the missions, wherever the Prelate may send them.” It is clear that the Patriarch was concerned about the Society, and knew about the movement of the Xaverian League, at least four months before meeting the above mentioned Leaguers in August 1934.

But, refusing to get discouraged, the above (by now ordained) Deacon Conceicao  Rodrigues approached, not the Patriarch but his Auxiliary on 26th October 1934, and submitted to him a comparative study between the statutes envisaged by them and the Constitutions of the old Society which he obtained from the above  Auxiliary Superior, Fr. R. R. Gomes, as well as the Particular Norms concerning private vows prepared by the Leaguers. For the next three years (1935-37), there was no word from the Patriarch on the matter. Meanwhile, Msgr. Lucio Vaz, the Superior, retired to his home and died shortly afterwards on 22nd July 1936, and the Leaguers began holding their meetings in Pilar. Fr. R. R. Gomes gave them a warm welcome. Then on 23rd November 1937, the Secretary of the Patriarch, Msgr. Francisco Rebello, in a letter to Fr. C. Rodrigues conveyed the readiness of the Patriarch to patronize an Association of secular priests, similar to that of Pilar, whose statutes, as the Ecclesiastical Authority may judge to be opportune and convenient, would be able to serve the purpose in view.

The above letter set the ball rolling. A lot of correspondence followed between the Patriarch and Fr C.Rodrigues. The Leaguers made all efforts to get a new Society and waited till 1939 to come together, though their Constitutions were ready by 1934/35 only after making the Patriarch accept many of their proposals. But although he used the term “nova Sociedade continuadora da velha”, (new Society continuing the old) he did not permit them to start an entirely new Society. The Patriarch, influenced by the decree of the S.C. of Religious of 1922, and the Instruction of S.C. Propaganda Fide of 1937, which were not in favour of proliferation of Missionary Institutes, asked the Leaguers to strengthen the old Society which was not different from that of theirs. Ven. Fr. Agnelo D’Souza, a saintly member of the Society had been buried in Rachol Cemetery after his death in 1927; Fr. Gomes and Fr. Conceicao worked hard and got bones exhumed and transferred to Pilar Monastery on 10th January 1039 and Pilar became a centre of pilgrimage for his devotees.

The Society was re-organized and re-vitalized on 2nd July 1939 by the two who accepted the advice: Fr. Conceicao Rodrigues and Fr Francisco Jasso Sequeira, together with Fr B. R. R. Gomes by now the lone survivor of the old Society, and a few more who joined them, namely Fr. M.J. Barreto, Fr. J. A. F. Albuquerque, Fr T. Cabral and two candidates Paixao Lacerda and Peter Mascarenhas as lay brothers. They started their Novitiate in the Pilar Monastery on 5th August 1939 and made their commitment on 8th September 1940. Unlike the old Society, which had limited its activities to the then Archdiocese of Goa, the Re-organized Society slowly spread its missions and socio-educational activities throughout India and abroad. Today the Society is spread in 4 Provinces and one Region in different parts of India and has opened a few units abroad. On 30th September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI has granted the Society the canonical status of Pontifical Right.

THE RE-ORGANIZATION of the Society of Pilar on 2nd July 1939, gave a spurt to the missions of the Church. The first concern of the Re-organizers was to ensure the stability and progress of the Society by establishing in 1942 a Seminary in the Pilar Monastery with only 7 students on its rolls, for the recruitment and training of the future members of the Society. No doubt, there was initial criticism and skepticism from some quarters, but with the support of the ecclesiastical authorities, the reorganizers boldly went forward with their vision. As new candidates went on joining the Seminary, year by year, the spacious All India Mission Seminary building, atop the hillock, was put up from 1946. The Philosophy section was shifted to Nagpur from 1967. An Academic Block of the Pilar Theological College with classrooms, Library and auditorium were added as an Annex to the Seminary in 1997.   Meanwhile, Apostolic schools and Minor Seminaries were opened in Goa, Kalyanpur, Bhopal and other places to recruit vocations.

The old Pilar Monastery housed the Novitiate for many years, until it was definitely shifted to Colem from 1991; from then on, it continues with the training of candidates before joining the Society, in the Pre-Novitiate year. The office of the Superior General, which was in Pilar, was shifted to its new premises at Porvorim in 2003. 

The Missions, Regions and Provinces

The Reorganized Society spread its activities everywhere, thanks to the priests trained and formed in the Pilar Seminary who gradually joined the ranks of the missionaries. They aimed at doing pioneering work for the socio-educational uplift of the poor and downtrodden.

Mumbai Province:

In 1940, soon after the Profession of the Re-organizers, the Society took over the mission of Nagar Haveli, a very backward area, part of the Archdiocese of Goa, but separated from it by long distances and difference of cultures. In the beginning people had to be convinced to send their children to Schools in Nagar Haveli, even by giving them incentives.  In 1951, Ambarnath in Bombay Archdiocese was entrusted to the Society. Eventually, the Society served the whole area, with schools, a few agricultural farms, dispensaries and a number of parishes and mission stations and slowly expanded its activities to Daman, Gujarat, Juhu Tara (Mmbai) and Diu, which by 1997 came to be known as the Western Region of the Society. From 2nd July 2004, all the Houses, institutions and communities in this Western Region came under the present-day Mumbai Province, with the Provincial Superior’s residence situated at Waliv in Vasai. In the educational field: today the Society runs 16 schools (English, Marathi and Gujrathi medium) some with orphanages and hostels in Nagar Haveli, 5 schools in Daman and Diu, 5 in Maharashtra and 4 in Gujarat: a total of roughly 15,000 students are being educated in these schools of the Mumbai Province.

Goa Province:

In 1951, Sanguem taluka was entrusted to the Society. At that time there was an upsurge in mining industry in the area with thousands of laborers flocking there in search of work. The missionaries had to face a lot of problems but did yeoman service in fighting against injustice and in attending to the spiritual, moral and religious needs of the people. There were no suitable buildings for Churches and no schools in the area, except a small military Chapel in Sanguem affiliated to Zambaulim Church in the deanery of Kepem and the Guardian Angel High School in Curchorem, and that too ridden with debts. The Society took over the School in 1953 and gradually upgraded it to Higher Secondary and Catering College, and opened a number of High Schools and primary schools in remote areas. It also established 6 Parishes and a number of mission stations with Churches and Chapels in them, opened Music Schools and put up agricultural farms, and then extended its services to other areas, inside (e.g. Anjuna, Agonda, Britona, Birondem and Carona) and outside Goa, in Southern Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamilnadu. In 1997 the Southern Region of the Society was constituted; and on 4th July 2004,  the Goa Province came into being, with the Provincial Superior’s residence in Margao, Goa. Presently the Province runs in the educational field 2 Colleges, 2 Higher Secondary Schools, 5 High Schools, 7 Primary Schools, 5 Nurseries, 4 Music Schools, 1 hostel, 2 Orphanages, 1 ITI, 1 non-formal school for children of migrant labourers and 4 coaching centers serving a total population of  around 7000 students.

Delhi Province:

The members of the Society started working in North India first from 1950. In 1961 the district of Hissar in Haryana was entrusted to the Society and in 1964 the district of Bhatinda in Punjab. A network of High Schools, orphanages, hostels for the students and quarters for teachers, as well as agricultural farms and dispensaries and social service centers were put up with a dozen residential stations in Punjab-Haryana. The members of the Society also serve in Dholpur in Rajasthan, in Amritsar in Punjab and in Jammu Kashmir. All these institutions came under the Northern Region in 1997; and on 2nd July 2004, the whole area has been constituted into the Delhi Province with the Provincial Superior’s residence in Jangpura Extension, New Delhi. At present in the educational field, the Province has 3 Higher Secondary Schools, 6 High schools, 1 Hindi medium High School, 1 Primary, 5 orphanages and 9 Coaching centers serving a total of around 12,000 students.

Kolkata Province: In 1964, two members were sent for training in languages to Ranchi, as pioneers of the mission of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Society took over that mission in December 1965, nursed it from the grassroots, and twenty years later, Pope John Paul II erected it into the diocese of Port Blair with the first Pilar Father, Msgr. Alex Dias, consecrated as the Bishop of the new diocese on 20th January 1985. Meanwhile, since 1977 mission work was taken up in Agharma (Ranchi), in 1986 in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh), in 1988 in Kolkata (Calcutta) and from 1994 in Nagaland and the North-Eastern States up to Manmao diocese in Arunachal Pradesh, bordering Burma.  The Society started a number of High Schools and Primaries, a handful of Orphanages, a leper asylum, a few transit houses in Kolkata and Andamans, and two dozen parishes and mission stations. A good number of bonded laborers have been freed and the members have helped the rehabilitation of the victims of the gas tragedy in Bhopal and of the Tsunami havoc in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. By 1997 all these institutions had become the Eastern Region of the Society; and on 2nd July 2004, this whole area has been constituted into the Kolkata Province with the Provincial Superior’s residence in Andul Road, Kolkata. Presently, the Province runs 3 Higher Secondary Schools including a Hindi medium, 10 High Schools (including 2 Hindi Medium), 2 Primaries and 37 Nurseries and Balwadis, 3 Orphanages, 4 Hostels and one non-formal education center catering to a total of around 9, 000 students.

Agnel Region:

In 1957, the Society put up the Fr. Agnel Ashram in a rented house in Bandra (Mumbai) to conduct the devotion of Ven. Fr Agnelo, in view of his process of beatification introduced in Rome, for the propaganda of the Society and also as a transit house for the missionaries. In 1959 a large plot with two houses was purchased in Bandra for the same purpose and an Orphanage, a High School, ITI and Junior Technical College were gradually put up. The unit has grown rapidly into a full-fledged Technical College with modern sophisticated machinery, catering to the education of future engineers and builders of our country, with placement services abroad. From 1978 it has expanded its branches with Technical Colleges and other educational services and orphanages in Ambarnath and Vashi (Mumbai), Verna and Assagao (Goa), Delhi, Noida and Pune. In 2007, all these houses have become the Agnel Region of the Society with the Regional Superior’s office at Fr. Agnel Ashram, Bandra. Presently the Region runs 3 Engineering Colleges, 1 Management College, 1 Catering College, 4 Polytechnics, 3 Community Polytechnics, 3 ITI, 6 Higher Secondary Schools (including 1 Marathi medium), 9 High Schools, 5 Orphanages, 2 dozen short term courses catering to a total of 29,000 students.

Units Abroad: In neighboring Nepal the Society runs a School at Pokhara mission station from 2005.  The Society has also taken up apostolate in a few places abroad. It runs parishes in Rome, Germany, Austria, London and USA.

Society of Pontifical Right:

Right from the initial stage, the Reorganizers had envisaged and made efforts to get the Society recognized as a Missionary Society of Pontifical right, in 1942, when the Constitutions were submitted for the approval of the Ordinary. The approval of Constitutions came only in 1946 after dropping such provisions, as by that time, the Society had only 11 professed members. The second time the Superiors tried to get it in 1968. But soon the Society went through ups and downs, coping mainly with internal conflicts, to the point of threatening a division. However, time and efforts at dialogue and intervention of the Holy See through the good offices of Oswald Cardinal Gracias, brought in the desired Reconciliation and unity on 30th November 2006. After this, the Superior General made another request in this direction, and the Pope Benedict XVI by decree dated 30th September 2010, granted the request as a “Society of Apostolic Life for mission ad gentes of Pontifical Right”.

Pilar Sisters’ Association:

It was the cherished vision of the Reorganizers that the Society should redouble itself by having its own branch for women associates. They tried it in 1942, but did not succeed then. The General Chapter of 1975 in which three Reorganizers participated (namely Fr. C. Rodrigues, Fr. F. Sequeira and Fr. F.Albuquerque), gave the vision a momentous push. The dream was finally realized in 1988, when five Pilar Sisters made their first profession, after having undergone intense training for several years in the missions. As associates, they work in the missions of the Society, but in terms of Canon Law, they have their own independent administration. At present they number has crossed 51 spread out in 15 communities with their main house in Orgao, Loutolim

About Author:

Fr. Cosme Jose Costa s.f.x., M. A., B.Ed., member of the Society of Pilar, Goa Province, is the one whose birth has been accepted as a miracle to complete the process of beatification of St. Joseph Vas, Apostle of Kanara and Sri Lanka. Born on 27th November 1938, by the leg after constant hemorrhages of his mother due to Placenta Praevia, in the 7th month, only 2.5 pounds (1 Kilo 100 gms) in weight, the boy had a difficult childhood but survived due to intercession of the Saint and became a missionary priest, ordained on 21st December 1966. Fr Cosme’s dad Joaquim Damiao da Costa died at the age of 87 in 1987); and mom Quiteria C.P. Noronha e Costa expired at the age of 94 in 1999). He had only one sister: Estefania H N Costa , married to George P.da Silva (both 77 years old in 2006 and 2009 resp.)

Fr Cosme was Vice-Principal and teacher of Fr. Agnel High School, Pilar, Goa for 10 years and then Internal Auditor (1976-1987) and General Treasurer (1987-92) of the Pilar Society. He was Professor of Church History of India and of the World in the Pilar Seminary from 1983 to 2005. He continues teaching Indian Church History to date. At the Pilar Seminary, he has set up a Museum, which projects the over 2000 years old history of the place.

He was a special invitee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka and met Pope John Paul II on 20th and 21st January 1995, at the venue of the beatification of St Joseph Vaz, in Colombo, Sri Lanka (and again for the Canonization held on 14th January 2015 by Pope Francis). On 27th April 2001, he discovered the St. Thomas Cross bearing Pahalavi script of the 7th century AD at Agasaim – Goa, thus proving that Christianity existed in Goa long before the coming of the Portuguese, as confirmed by the Arab traveler, Ibn Batuta in his writings, when the latter visited Goa in 1342 AD.

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