Browsing the pages of history
“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.“ (Psalm 122:1). The people of God of the Diocese of Khandwa have all reason to sing with the Psalmist and to exclaim their gladness and gratefulness as they step into their new place of worship, St. Mary’s Cathedral at Khandwa. The inauguration and dedication of the newly constructed Cathedral is yet another noteworthy landmark in the history of the local church of Khandwa. While the cathedral stands out as a symbol of unity of the diocesan community it is also a milestone in the missionary journey tangibly set out 125 years ago. As we enter this “House of the Lord” we dedicate this realization to all those who have been journeying with us!
St. Mary’s Cathedral is located about a kilometer away from the township of the district head quarters of Khandwa (21° 49′ 60 N – 76° 19′ 60 E) in the south-western part of the state of Madhya-Pradesh. Its surrounding districts are Khargone, Betul, Dewas and Burhanpur. The district lies, for the most part, on the uplands between and valleys of the two major rivers, the Narmada and Tapti flowing parallel to each other from east to west through the district.
Khandwa is directly linked by road to Indore, Hoshangabad, Bhopal, Betul, Nagpur, Amravati, Aurangabad and Bombay. It is also connected by Delhi-Bombay broad gauge railway line and Purna (Maharashtra)-Jaipur (Rajasthan) meter gauge line of the Indian Railways.
The Church is surrounded by religious communities and centers of pastoral, youth, educational and social activities. The new Cathedral Church has its foundation on the same base as that of the first Church established at Khandwa in 1880 by the missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. Though the campus has undergone a sea of changes since then, the toil and zeal of the pioneer missionaries continue to scent the entire environment.
The history of St. Mary’s Cathedral Church, to a great extent, is the history of Khandwa Mission. Browsing the history of the diocese of Khandwa, one has to gratefully observe that Khandwa Diocese and the present Cathedral Church owe their origin to the prophetic mission of the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales who began to visit Khandwa since 1866 and enlivened it with their faith and staunch missionary fervour until 1934 when they handed over the mission to the Missionaries of the Divine Word (SVD). We thank God for leading them to Khandwa and remember them gratefully as we enter this new house of the Lord!
Fr. Amadeys Delalex, as a military chaplain of Jabalpur under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Vizakhapattanam, was the first of the MSFS missionaries who came to Khandwa. Besides him the names of Fr. Benistrand, Fr. Balmand, Fr. Montagnoux are found in the records as pastors of this area during the initial years.
The first chapel at Khandwa was built in 1870 by Fr. John Thevenet MSFS one of the French missionaries, who reached India (Madras) in 1846. Describing this small chapel Fr. Claude Montaganoux (1876) wrote, “We have a small chapel in Khandwa, like the stable of Bethlehem; it’s isolated and just a poor shelter. … I sang midnight mass and preached to the congregation of 200 Catholics.”
Finding the chapel too small, after the opening of the Bhusawal-Jabalpur railway line, the Catholics started a regular subscription in order to put up a larger place of worship. In 1877, Fr. Thevenet traced and filled the foundation of the “Gothic Church” which was blessed and dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady on 23 March 1879 by Dr. Meurin, Vicar Apostolic of Bombay in the presence of Dr. John Mary Tissot, Vicar Apostolic of Vizakhapattanam. Looking at the chapel they said “Here is a new centre for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
Fr. Adolphe Souchon was appointed as the first residential priest at Khandwa in 1880. The successive pastors were, Fr. A Souchon (1880-1888), Fr. W. Power (1888-1889), Fr. Servage (1899-1901), Fr. J.F. Foulex (1901- 1903), Fr. L. Bonnevie (1902), Fr. J. Andrews (1904), Fr. Mugnier, Power & Joseph Abraham (1903-1905), Fr. Servage (1905- 1913), Fr. L. Bonnevie (1913-1915 & 1916-1919), Fr. C.J.D Fernandez (1915-1916), Fr. E.J. Decisier (1920-1927), Fr. Mugnier (1927 -1934). The pastors ministered from this Church to the Catholics who worked in the Railways in different stations from Bhusawal all the way to Narsinghpur (Jabalpur). Fr. Mugnier handed over the mission to the Divine Word Missionaries in October 1934 when they took over the mission territory of Indore.
The arrival of the Congregation of the missionary brothers of St. Francis of Assisi (CMFS Brothers) led by Bro. Paulus and Bro. Nicholas in 1902 to Khandwa gave new momentum to the mission work in Nimar. They established their first Mother-House in the Church campus. Their contribution to the mission centres of Sirpur, Aulia as well as the villages of Khandwa, is gratefully acknowledged.
During the early times Khandwa mission came under the jurisdiction of Nagpur Diocese (1887), separated from Vizakhapattanam and later on under the Prefecture Apostolic of Jabalpur. In 1932, the Apostolic Prefecture of Indore was entrusted to the care of the Divine Word Missionaries and in October 1934 Lercher SVD was appointed as the priest in charge of Khandwa. Indore Diocese was erected in 1952, and consequently Khandwa became a parish of Indore Diocese. Both the Divine Word Missionaries and the diocesan priests continued their missionary undertaking from this Church among people of the town and of the villages which numbered between 50-60.
Though the chronological records of the parish priests from among the SVD are not clearly available till 1970, the baptism registers testify the services of the following missionaries. Fr. Knop, Fr. Brown, Fr. Graham, Fr. Borkowski, Fr. Maesing, Fr. Leo Kreminski, Fr. Joe Hubner, Fr. Reckwardt (54-), Fr. Nicolaus Jez (54), Fr. P. Connor, Fr. Hofstee (62-63), Fr.), Fr. Lobuscher (64-65), Fr. Sevald (62-68).
In 1962 the church of St. Catherine and St. Andrew with the compound (the present chapel and the compound of the Bishop’s House) was purchased from the Anglican Church by Fr. Sevald. Since then this Church served as the centre of worship for the people of the town, viz., the railway employees and the people of the locality and was known as the ‘Town Parish’ until the erection of the new Diocese of Khandwa in 1977. After Fr. Sevald, Fr. Joseph Lopez and Clement Moolankuzhy of the SVDs and Fr. Xavier Kolarickal of Indore diocese were successively in charge of the “Town Parish”.
At the same time the old church remained as the centre from where the missionaries continued their village apostolate and the church was known as the dehat (village) parish. Fr. Xavier Kolarickal was in-charge of the Church from 1969 to 1970 after whom came Fr. Aloysius Kanski svd (70-74) and Fr. Dennis D’Souza (1974-1977).
When in 1977 Khandwa was bifurcated from Indore with Most Rev. Abraham Viruthakulangara as its first bishop, this Church which had a century long mission history was made the Cathedral Church of the new Diocese. The small chapel built in 1870, which was “like the stable of Bethlehem.. .. isolated and just a poor shelter” (Fr. Montaganoux 1876) has grown into the principal Church of the newly erected Diocese which now has about 30,000 Catholic population. The “Town Parish” ceased to exist. Fr. Francis Alvares was appointed as the first Cathedral Parish Priest of Khandwa. During the course of time many of the village missions of Khandwa became independent parishes.
Since the inception of the Diocese the following were the parish priests of the Cathedral up to now (2020):
Fr. Francis Alvares (1977-1985) Fr. Xavier Valayathil (1985-1987), Fr. Mathew Kumbluvelil (1987-1996), Fr. M. Chinnappar (1996-2004), Fr. Jimmy Vayalil (2004-2010), (Fr. Philip Kaduthanam (2010-2016),Fr. Boban Philip (2016-)
The co-pastors during this period were Fr. Sudhir Shenoy, Fr. Xavier Valayathil, Fr. Mathew Patani, Fr. John Thayil, Fr. Prasad svd, Fr. Felix svd, Fr. Jose Areechira, Fr. Francis Netawat, Fr. Marcel Tanan svd, Fr. Sebastian Kaiparambil, Fr. Jose P.A, Fr. Benny Puthenpurayil, Fr. Mathew Thekkumkattil, Fr. Raju Antony and Fr. Mathew K.J., Fr. Manu John., Fr. Lowrencio Dais, Fr. Alex Paul, Fr. Stanis Tirky, Fr. Robinson
THE PRESENT STATUS:
The Church which was built in 1880, celebrated its centenary in 1980. Since then the local church has grown in all dimensions. While originally it was a village Church and the central residence of the missionaries who catered for over 50 Catholic villages, today the parish has a Catholic population of about 2500. Except for the modifications and repairs in 1932 and a small portico, which was constructed in the year of the centenary and the extended sacristy, the main structure of the Church had remained the same. The Catholic population of Khandwa, having numerically increased, the Church was found to be too small to contain the people for any meaningful celebration and the need for a modest and spacious place of worship was felt by all. In the year 2001, the representatives of the parish community along with Fr. Chinnappar, the then parish priest, made a written request to Bishop Leo Cornelio who was consecrated in September 1999, to construct a new Church. It was their wish to have this Church as a gift to the people on the occasion of the silver Jubilee year of the Diocese, which was concluded in 2002. Even though it was too short a period to plan and proceed with this Herculean task, it was really a genuine and urgent need. However trusting in the Lord and counting on the supportive assistance of our collaborators we set out with this new venture with the blessing and laying of the foundation stone for the new cathedral on October 2, 2002, the concluding day of the Diocesan Silver Jubilee Celebrations. The foundation stone was blessed by Most Rev. Lorenzo Baldisseri, the then Apostolic Nuncio and was placed by His Eminence Ivan Cardinal Dias, Archbishop of Bombay.
A committee was constituted to look into the planning and construction of the new cathedral that entrusted the supervision of the construction to Fr. John Thayil. Adequate consultations were made with the representatives of the Cathedral parish and with the religious communities of the campus. Though the historical importance of the old Church and the sentiments of the faithful, priests and religious and the diocese as a whole to this Church was acknowledged, after extensive contemplation and expert consultation, it was decided to build the new Church on the same base.
The first plans were drawn by Bro. Hans Kieras SVD a recognized engineer of the Society of the Divine Word. Mr. Conrad Gomes, an architect and Prof. Ratankumar Sachar, an experienced engineer helped in the final phases of planning and execution. At the local level, the execution of the plans was ably guided by Mr. B.C. Gaikwad and Mr. Govind Agrawal.
The new Cathedral has a total built in area of about 13,000 sq. feet. at the plinth level. The nave and the balcony together can conveniently accommodate about 2,000 people. The spacious sanctuary can seat about 80-100 celebrants around the altar. The broad veranda around the church and the elevated towers at the front convey an aura of magnificence to the Church.
The church has a beautifully shaped crypt (adoration chapel) that was blessed on 9th October 2005 on the occasion of the closing of the year of the Eucharist. Perpetual adoration, led by the SABS sisters, was begun on the same day in this special chapel which is made exactly under the sanctuary of the Cathedral. The crypt is kept opened all through the day and the faithful from all over the diocese who come to Khandwa and particularly the faithful of the Cathedral parish often visit the chapel and spend time with their Master, drawing inspiration and strength. Amidst the tribulations and troubles of the world, this unique place would bring solace and courage to the devotees to go forward in life. “For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Ps. 84:10)
Without the prayerful support and the financial assistance of many good willed people the long cherished dream of the construction of this beautiful place of worship would have remained unrealized. While the clergy and the faithful of the diocese were encouraged to make their contributions, appeals were also made to the local churches and good-willed people from India and our friends and well-wishers abroad. The contribution from the parishes, the individuals and the priests of the diocese was encouraging, confirming the foundations of a self-reliant local church. Except for the professional and technical assistance, almost all the artisans involved in the construction were from in and around Khandwa, and from different social and religious communities.
In the Catholic tradition a cathedral is the chief church of a diocese, in which the bishop has his throne (Cathedra). It is, properly speaking, the bishop’s church, wherein he presides, teaches, and prays for the whole Christian community. The word “cathedral” is derived from the Greek noun kathedra which translates as seat and refers to the presence of the bishop’s (or archbishop’s) chair or throne. Another name for a cathedral church is ecclesia mater, indicating its unifying aspect especially of the parishes and the diocesan community. Theoretically, the diocesan clergy are the clergy of the cathedral delegated by the bishop to minister in his stead to the distant members of his flock. Hence the clergy of the diocese should feel at home in their cathedral and in its sanctuary, find by right their place whenever occasion arises. Apart from the juridical nature of the cathedral, it is primarily a place of worship, a “temple of God” Throughout the human history “the house of worship” or a “temple” is considered to be central to the life of the people. It is considered to be the symbolic localization of all-encompassing God who has revealed himself in creation. A Church is not only the icon of God but also a symbolic replica of his beautiful creation. Thus it challenges us to work for the better world and restore the original, uncontaminated nature of the creation, including a self-transformation. And hence a visit to the church and worship in the ‘Temple of God’ is a call to be reborn and reinforced. As the dwelling place of God, the very sight of a Church must lead one to the “experience” or anubhava of God. It is a representation of the final vision and bliss of eternal life.
The structure of the new cathedral is not merely to be looked at as yet another piece of architecture but it validates the progress of local Church and strengthening of the Christian community, since its infancy. The real Church is not the physical structure but the spiritual unity of the diocese. It is a realization as well as an invitation – the ALREADY and the NOT YET – to build the body of Christ amidst the diversities within it.