A growing history in India

Mass in India

As noted earlier, Fr. Tom Cassidy helping with the formation program in India until early March. In the following post he reflects on the history of the SCJ presence in the country:

I think it was in 1994 that the invitation came to the SCJs from the Bishop of Cochin to establish our presence in India. It was not an easy process. Foreign Missionaries are not granted access to the country and as a result, SCJs from around the congregation would move in and out of the country. India does grant a six-month visa for foreign visitors. As a consequence many SCJs have come to India on a short-term basis to help build our presence, and that has included a number of Americans.

I don’t think I can recall all those who have been here but a few stand out in part because they are remembered so well here by the Indian SCJs. I believe the first American who came to India was Fr. Rick Dileo. Rick was on sabbatical when Fr. Virignio Bressanelli, SCJ, our superior general at the time, encouraged Rick to spend six months of his sabbatical in Cochin. Maybe it helped that Rick’s family came from Argentina, Fr. Virgnio’s native land, but in any case Rick agreed and became one of the first SCJ vocation recruiters.

Without a doubt the American SCJ who has had the biggest impact and is best remembered is Fr. Tom Garvey, SCJ. Just as in the case of Rick Dileo, Tom was on sabbatical. Once again Fr. Virginio worked his charm and asked Tom to spend part, if not all, of his sabbatical helping develop our SCJ presence in India. It did not take too much convincing as Tom’s sense of SCJ availability was always strong.

There was another advantage for him as an American: he could apply for a five-year visa making it easier to come in and out of India. Once Tom arrived to spend his sabbatical year I think he fell in love with India and the challenge of forming a new SCJ entity. His sabbatical turned into his ministry as he spent the rest of his life working to develop a native SCJ community. Sadly, he died following minor surgery and has become revered among those Indian SCJs who knew him and a legend to those who entered after his passing.

Another SCJ who is truly held in high honor for his simplicity and holiness is Fr. Tom Fix, who actually went through the US formation program at the same time as Tom Garvey. Following his ordination and a few years working in the United States, Tom volunteered to go to Indonesia as a missionary. He became a member of their province and when the government demanded missionaries either leave the country or apply for citizenship he became an Indonesian citizen.

In many ways our expansion in Asia came about through the request by our Indonesian  Province that we expand in Asia beyond our Indonesian presence. That expansion began in 1988 when we opened our Philippine mission on Mindanao. Indonesia has sent its members to each of the new missions in Asia and Tom was asked to work in the formation program here in India which he did until 2011. He was slated to return to India following his home leave in the US. However, upon returning to Indonesia in order to apply for a new Indian visa it was discovered that he had cancer which could not be treated and so he spent his remaining days among the Indonesian people he served so well. Tom is especially remembered by Indian SCJs as a wonderful spiritual director and a man with a smile on his face.

Finally there is Fr. Charles Bisgrove, SCJ, who came to India on a number of occasions to help in one formation house or the other. He’s remembered for his hearty laugh, his love of peanut butter and for his wonderful singing voice. Many of the SCJs just finishing their formation hold Charlie in high regard as he worked with them at the novitiate as well as after they entered theology at Eluru. Charlie was supposed to come with me in 2011 when the region was set to ordain a large group of SCJs to the priesthood. About a month before we were to travel to India he suffered a massive stroke and died several days later.

There are other American SCJs who came for a time to lend a hand and although I don’t think I can recall them all several do come to mind. Frs. Jan de Jong and Mike van der Piet, two Dutch American SCJs, both gave some time to India. Fr. Dominic Peluse, SCJ, often talks about his sabbatical when he ask asked to come to India to work for Tom Garvey as his “secretary.”

I would certainly be remiss if I forgot Fr. Wayne Jenkins, SCJ, who worked very hard to establish the SCJ Indian archives and guidelines on how to keep it up-to-date. Even our US director of communications, Mary Gorski, came to India to assist in establishing good communication policies to better inform the congregation of what is happening in India as well as for their internal district communications and for SCJ promotion in India.

I’m sure there are others but without the means to recall or verify who they are I can simply say that though the US no longer has a mission it can call its own (South Africa) and though we have not sent permanent missionaries anywhere for many years, India has helped keep our mission spirit alive. In closing I certainly would be remiss if I did not point out our financial support for India and our other Asian entities has been vital to their development.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fr. Tom noted several SCJs from the US Province who have gone to India over the years. However, as he indicated, there were certainly others. One of them was Br. Leonard Zaworski, an SCJ from the United States who spent 10 years in India. He is now retired and living at Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake in Franklin, Wis. Always the risk in naming a few people is the possibility of missing others — even someone like Br. Lenny who devoted so many years to the Indian District. 

3 responses to “A growing history in India

  1. Brother Leonard is missing in this article……….. Brother worked longer than any American Missionary in India and He is still alive and i am surprised to see him missing in this article about American missionaries to india.

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