Fr LEO D’SOUZA- A Wise Jesuit Priest Truly Learned & a Eminent World renowned Scientist who is 90 Years Young – An Exclusive Interview by Team Mangalorean
Mangaluru: 28 February 2022 is a BIG Day when a Wise Jesuit Priest, Truly Learned, a Eminent Scientist, a nonagenarian with Intellectual Brilliance, Human Compassion, Innate Simplicity, Absolute Authenticity, Love for the Marginalized, Unsurpassed Humour and Great Common Sense, all finely combined in this versatile personality, will be celebrating his 90th BIRTHDAY. It is only very rarely that one comes across people in whom many facets of human personality are finely balanced and blended. One such is Father Leo D’Souza, belonging to the Society of Jesus, a Jesuit Congregation, is today’s (28 February) Birthday Boy! .
Father Leo is one of those about whom we can sing songs of praise and time would stand still and the end would never be in sight. Fr Leo, the name resonates in the corridors of St Aloysius, the name that brings joy to those who have been touched (they are innumerable), the name that brings memories of yester years to his many colleagues, the name that creates a deep sense of reverence to his many scholars, the name that inspires many a young Jesuits and above all the name that exemplifies simplicity and hard work. It is a feeble attempt to demonstrate that at St Aloysius Institutions, Mangaluru loves him dearly and admires him for what he has been to everyone all these years.
And this Tribute article is my Birthday Gift to Fr Leo, who was my Principal in 1980, the centenary year of St Aloysius College, Mangaluru when I completed my B Sc that year. Prior to Fr Leo taking up the Principal post, we occasionally met and said Hi to each other during my college days, but during my final year in B Sc, and also being at the helm as Secretary and Chief Editor of Co-Life Association cum Wall Magazine, and also secretary of Biology Association, me and Fr Leo had constant interactions in Principal’s office discussing various issues of College Life and in Biology, together with a touch of humour. On the outset before going further into my article I would like to express my heartfelt wishes to fr Leo D’souza Sj on his 90th Birthday.
Fr Leo has been a source of encouragement to a younger generation of priests and scholars who are seeking to preserve a rich and much-needed intellectual patrimony. Fr Leo encourages the present generation to pursue the intellectual apostolate, and while the journey of research and reflection requires a readiness to live in a certain solitude, it is indeed a rewarding life. He has been a fixture, a very valuable fixture, at St Aloysius Institutions in various capacities for so long, and he is still going strong. Fr Leo is not seen in a sober or dull mood, he always has a bright smile on his face, and shows a friendly nature, for which he is admired for his love and friendship.
His vibrant personality and love flowed throughout all functions, may it be college or church events. His nature of closeness and friendliness endeared him to all. He always created a welcoming atmosphere-he represented humility and had a way of making his acquaintances feel equally important. People were attracted to him since he was kind and friendly, together being gentle and cheerful, and with a touch of humour always. . Always warm, compassionate and with a smile on his face, people have seen Fr Leo’s journey in his walk with God, and so many people were blessed to be on that path with Fr Leo and his smile that transcended any barrier. Fr Leo has a reputation as a “true pastor”.
Smart, active, intelligent, energetic, social, friendly, and a spiritual Catholic priest, Fr Leo has won the hearts of everyone who came in contact with him. Today faithful expect their priest to be a dynamic preacher, impressive celebrant, effective healer, sensitive listener, able administrator, friendly person, dedicated caretaker of the administration, sounding board and even, sometimes a punching bag-and Fr Leo has all these qualities and has kept his promises to serve as a good, God-fearing priest. People compliment him for his loyalty to the Jesuit community, his wonderful gentleness and humor, his smile and friendliness and for the wonderful things he has done for the Jesuit congregation and the community.
Fr Leo is truly an inspiration to many people, young and old, in his daily interaction with them. The inspiration one gets from a humble person’s declaration of humanness and frailty is taken from Scripture’s words, ” Man does not live on bread alone but by the words of God”. Fr Leo has a special way that warms the hearts of everyone who knows him. He respects everyone with dignity and pride, and is courteous and kind to all. He never acts proud of his designation, his achievements, his awards instead leads a very simple life..
Fr Leo’s life well-lived is a precious gift of hope and strength for someone who has made our world a better, brighter place. It fills us with sweet and bitter memories, with smiles and tears, with friendships formed and good times shared and laughter through the years. It is a pleasure to greet him on his 90th birthday, and just magine the memories and joys that must be in his heart today as many relatives and friends join him in thanking God for the countless moments of grace that have come together to make up decades of Jesuit commitment. His continuing witness as a religious testifies that the Lord who is mighty has done great things for Him. On this auspicious occasion, I recall with admiration and gratitude his devoted and devout parents who provided a family atmosphere that helped siblings in the family, including himself, to respond generously to God’s call to priesthood and religious life.
In his own religious and apostolic life, as a former college professor and principal of St Aloysius College, as a former Rector of St Aloysius Institutions, and presently as director of research in Applied Biology at St Aloysius College, Mangalore. And also as a founder director of St Aloysius Industrial Training Centre and director of Aloysian Boys Home, he has succeeded in combining serious intellectual apostolate with keen interest in social service, making his research useful to the common man. Further, by his fine sense of humour, evident even in the articles that he contributes to magazines, he has succeeded in putting across effectively his ideas and Gospel values.
There is so much to say about Father Leo that space would not suffice to put all that into black and white. Many call him learned because his interest and knowledge is not limited only to his pet subject of Botany. Whether it is philosophy, theology or spirituality; or art, song, music or drama; or again history, politics or economics; Father Leo is well informed, up to date and articulate in all topics of interest. That is why he is a wonderful companion at table and in recreation. He is an interesting conversationalist, an irrepressible humorist and a storyteller without equal. Much more than this, Fr Le is a wise man. In difficult times and crisis moments one can always depend upon him for sage counsel, unbiased advice and concrete suggestions. Wisdom born of experience, maturity, reflection and prayer are the hallmarks of his rich personality.
Most of all Father Leo carries his learning lightly. He puts on no airs, stands on no ceremonies, and insists on no protocol. His simplicity, affability, approachability and availability belie his years and his degrees and his accomplishments. Without making much fuss or seeking the limelight he has been extremely creative and innovative in his chosen field of research. Always in search of new. It is mainly due to his initiative and enterprise that the Laboratory of Applied Biology has been so successful. Father Leo could have just followed the beaten track, avoiding the road less travelled, ploughing the much ploughed fallow fields of knowledge and science and trying to invent the wheel all over again. But then it would not have been true to his character.
Many say that there is only one Father Leo. There can be no duplicates. He is unique and unrepeatable. He is original in his ideas and opinions. He is original in his vision and mission. He is original in his methods and means. He is original in his ideals and achievements. He is original even in his jokes and anecdotes. Whether as a lecturer or a research guide, as an academic administrator or religious superior, as the director of Aloysian Boys’ Home or of St Aloysius Technical School, Fr Leo has brought in his originality to make everything new, so that the poor may have the best for their development. No doubt he is an eminent world renowned scientist of national and international repute. The first thing that strikes everyone is Fr Leo’s commitment to research. The quest to unravel the mysteries of the cells and the tissues began in Fr Leo more than 60 years ago. This quest blossomed when he was in Max Planck Institute, Cologne Germany and has produced a rich harvest at the LAB at St Aloysius College (Autonomous) Mangaluru.
We all know his fame in the development of TISSUE CULTURE but what we may not know is that a cashew tree was produced through Tissue Culture in the LAB for the first time in the World. Later this tree was planted in the field and is yielding fruits. What is amazing is that the ‘quest’ is still growing strong in Fr Leo even at the age of 90. His greater achievement is motivating and encouraging youngsters to take up research. The LAB is a beehive of activity with budding scientists seriously engrossed in research. It is not only in scientific research that Fr Leo has excelled in; no less are his achievements in the Academic and Administrative fields.
As Principal of St Aloysius College (1980 to 1990) Fr Leo was innovative, and that year (1980) he was my Principal, before I passed out from the College. The academic system was strengthened. Girls were admitted to the College for the first time in the history of the College. Basic Sciences received a big boost. The word ‘Retirement’ does not exist in Fr Leo’s dictionary. Two years after ‘retirement’ as Principal, Fr Leo was appointed Rector of St Aloysius Institutions. This assignment was very challenging but Fr Leo discharged his responsibilities with his usual cheerfulness and to the satisfaction of all. It was as Rector of St Aloysius that Fr Leo fell in love with the children of Aloysian Boys’ Home.
Fr Leo took upon himself the task of converting this home really a ‘Home Away from Home’ for the children. He raised funds so that the material needs of the children were met. That a scientist of repute can talk and laugh with children, 6 to 15 years old is a secret which only Fr Leo can explain. What strikes most to all of us is Fr Leo’s simplicity and a sense of humour. These put at ease all those who come to meet him. While relating to people the ‘human’ in Fr Leo blossoms and the ‘critical scientist’ retreats. In a phrase Fr Leo is approachable and lovable. Rarely do we come across a personality like Fr Leo who has integrated the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual dimensions of one’s personality.
Leo D’souza was born in Kadri Kambla, Mangaluru to Cyprian and Teresa D’Souza of Kadri Kumbla.. Among the 7 brothers and 4 sisters- Rev Fr Dr Valerian D’Souza, was Rector of the St Joseph’s seminary; Austin D’Souza, Proprietor, Pharma Promoters, Mangaluru; Dr Stan D’Souza Scientist at Bombay Atomic Research Centre,Mumbai; Rev Sr Dulcina AC, Rev Sr Geralda former principal of college,Calicut, presently superior of Christ King Convent Tambaram, Rev Sr Vincent AC, Superior General of the Apostolic Carmel.
Fr Leo did his early studies in St Aloysius College; B.Sc from Madras University ( St Joseph’s College, Tiruchirapalli) I Class, I Rank; M.Sc from Madras University.(St Joseph’s College, Tiruchirapalli} I Class , I Rank, Palni Andi Medal; Ph.D from Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding, Cologne, Germany; Post Doc studies in Institute of Biochemistry, University of Cologne. And Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding, Cologne, Germany. He did his Religious studies in Calicut: Novitiate, Juniorate; Shembaganur: Philosophy; In Frankfurt:Theology; Ordained priest in Frankfurt.
He was Principal and Professor of Botany St Aloysius College, Mangaluru; Member of Board of studies in Botany, Board of Examiners in Botany; Academic Council, Senate and Syndicate, Mangalore University. Presently he is the Director of Laboratory of Applied Biology, Research guide. Has guided already 6 Ph.D’s, He has done numerous researches on environment, etc; Several papers published in international journals. He is a Member of several National and international scientific bodies, and has attended International seminars at Munich, Cambridge, Amsterdam, Florence, Tokyo and Bangkok. He has done his doctoral studies at the Max Planck Institut für Züchtungsforschung, Köln specialising in wheat breeding; and also trained in tissue culture at the same institute during his postdoctoral studies.
Presently in the Laboratory of Applied Biology at st Aloysius College, fr Leo has worked with : 1. Tissue culture of coconut and cashew. In cashew we have got plants from juvenile tissues and these have been transferred to soil and are already flowering and bearing fruit; 2. Forest trees: Butea, Ailanthus have been successfully micropropagated and transferred to the field; 3. At present we are working with ornamental and ( Ayurvedic) medicinal plants. Has micropropagated several plants of the region which are endangered.
Following are the excerpts from the exclusive interview with Fr Leo d’souza SJ :
Q : I just want to ask first of all your calling to the priesthood, at what age did you become aware of it ? What were your thoughts of what you would be as an adult at that time?
I must have been around five years old. I was inspired to be a priest by an uncle of mine who was a priest of the Calicut diocese.
Q : When did you tell your parents about wanting to become a priest? What was their reaction, and also from your family members?
When I finished my intermediate (present PUC), It was not easy for my parents to say yes as my elder brother had joined the Jesuits. But my father said “ If you feel that God is calling you, then go.”
Q : Has anything changed in your personal life as a priest, as a man of God and Church?
My outlook on life has changed. I wanted to study physics but was asked to study biology. Today, I am happy that I am a biologist.
Q : What should be the qualities of a good Catholic priest?
He should be a man of prayer and ready to serve others.
Q : If someone would ask you to say one sentence about Mangalore Catholic Diocese, what would be that?
It is vibrant, innovative and in the service of the people.
Q I know you still look young, active and quite energetic at 90, what’s your advice to those seeking a vocation for priesthood?
Decide whether you are ready to give up conveniences to be of service to others, especially the poor.
Q You have been a priest for 57 years, what would be your advice for young priests today?
Don’t forget to pray everyday. Set your priorities right.
Q How does your experiences as a priest to date fit you having various designations while at St Aloysius Institutions?
I don’t find difficulty in being a priest and having various duties given to me. The old adage ora et labora pray and work given to monks, hold good for priests also
Q: How do you share your experiences with your colleagues?
I share the responsibilities with colleagues and trust and encourage them to give their best.
Q : What other improvements and developments could be done at St Aloysius Institutions, Mangaluru?
Just now we are waiting it to be a deemed to be university-more has to be planned once we get that status
Q What could strengthen the faith of Catholics in Mangalore and around?
Regular attendance at weekly mass and sacraments. Daily family prayer and reading and reflecting on a bible passage in the evenings
Q :What’s your opinion on Roman Catholic priests and celibacy?
Celibacy is a help to give yourself totally to service.
Q What’s your perspective on the Pope and Bishops that handle the Catholic Church?
The Pope is a very good leader with a lot of love and concern for the poor and marginalized.
Q: There has been a lack of praying practice. How can Catholics learn to pray better?
May be making a retreat will help
Q In some Western Countries they are pushing to have women ordained as priests-what is your opinion on that?
That will be a good thing.
Q What’s your message to the Catholics who are losing faith in their religion, and joining other Christian organizations?
The Roman Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ and Peter was authorized to be His successor. The others, however good and attractive they are, are founded by human beings.
Q : What is your message, especially to the young generation ?
Remain young at heart.
In conclusion, I pray, therefore, that Fr Leo’s past and present apostolates bring Him the Lord’s consolation especially at this time. May his years as priest and Jesuit continue to be rewarding and effective, both for himself and to those to whom he ministers. It is clear then that he has touched many lives, and they have succeeded in life. And so, dear Father D’Souza, I join your many friends and relatives in wishing you the full joy of this 90th birthday, praying that your ministry continue to give both you and them much consolation and joy in your Jesuit vocation. While thanking God for all his blessing to Fr Leo I wish him many more years of fruitful ministry. Team Mangalorean extends heartfelt Birthday wishes to Fr Leo D’souza Sj, and many more happy returns of the day.