Udupi: Shirva a town of peace commended for its unique communal harmony is gearing up for the Centenary Celebrations of Our Lady of Health Church in great fervor and devotion. The town is beautified to witness the solemn celebrations of 100 years of journey of faith in Lord and devotion towards Mother Mary.
Our lady of Health Church has historical importance of both post and pre independence era. It signifies the glory of unity and struggle in every difficult phase the church suffered. A curious and interesting history lies behind the origin and spread of Christianity in Shirva. With the help of the few records available and with the prevalent tradition it has been possible to shed lights on a few topics.
It is not possible to tell exactly when Christianity originated in Shirva. But it is commonly believed that it spread here during the period from 1534 to 1600 when Christianity spread in the west coast districts of South Kanara and North Kanara.
Records confirm that Churches were founded here a few centuries back. It is certain that till 1911 two churches existed here, one upper church and the lower Church. We cannot tell definitely which of them was built earlier, but it is certain that the lower Church named N S de Saude Church was built earlier. It is said that this church was located in Kodi near the 6th milestone on Shirva Katapady Road. Nayaks of Bidanore, especially during the days of Venkappa Nayak (1586-1630) brought the whole of west coast under their jurisdiction and laid solid foundation for a strong government. As Christians were good agriculturists the Nayaks encouraged them in their territory. This resulted in the spread of Christianity from the coastal area to the interland and in the erection of a number of churches. It can be guessed that the Church at kodi was constructed at this period.
Records also mention that a Church existed in Mannettu the border of Shirva and Kuthyar village at the end of the 17th century. It is also believed that a Bishop passed away at the place and was buried there and whose remains were later taken away to some other place.
It was the time when Tippu was ruling Mysore. He suspected that the Canara Christians were helping the British in their battle against him. From 1783 to 1785 thousands of Christians of Mangalore and nearly places were massacred. Tippu’s soldiers destroyed Church after Church, which were dearer to the Christians than their own lives. Tippu’s wrath fell on Shirva also and both the Churches at Kodi and Mannettu were leveled to the ground.
After Tippu’s death in 1799 Canara Christians began to reconstruct the Churches. Before 1815 as many as 23 Churches, including four in Mulki Varado, were rebuilt. Before Tippu destroyed the churches there were four churches including the Saude Church of Shirva in Mulki Varado. It is learnt that four Churches were rebuilt in Mulki Varado before 1815. It is presumed that Saude Church of Shirva was also rebuilt before this period. It was rebuilt not in the original place Kodi but about a few meters from the present Mahalaxmi Narayani Temple. At that time the temple did not exist there. Even now this area is called as Old Church area.
The upper Church, dedicated to St Francis Xavier was built in 1859 by Fr Joachim Borges. It was located in a place where the present cemetery exists.
The place where the lower church of N S De Saude was built was a gift from a well-to do Bunt family. The ancestors of late Chandayya Hegde’s famous Kodu House hold had no girl child in their family. It may be recalled that at this time Bunts followed Aliya Santhana Kattu where only women could be the owners of the land. They offered to donate a piece of land to the Saude Church if a girl child was born in their family. God heard their prayer made through Our Lady of Health and blessed them with a girl child. The Kodu Bunt family was thrilled and donated the land willingly as they had promised.
The Church authorities of Saude Church used to honour this Bunt family every year on the occasion of the parish feast. According to the records available Fr H S Mirande was the parish priest of the lower church from 1872 to 1876. He was succeeded by Fr Francis Xavier Alemco from 1879 to 1901 Fr Gregory Anthony Menezes worked as the parish priest. At this time there were no churches in Belle, Shankerapura and Mudarangadi. The people of these places had to come to Shirva to take part in the holy mass and to fulfill the other religious obligations. Fr Gregory Anthony Menezes built a Chapel at Belle and arranged Sunday Mass there. In 1901 Fr B S Furtado took charge as the parish priest. Fr Gregory I G D’Souza who succeeded him in 1906 strived hard for the unification of the two churches.
It is already mentioned that Fr Joachim Borger was the parish priest of the upper Church. It was he who built the Church there. Fr Louis Noronha was the parish priest for two years from 1872. He built the parochial house. Fr Manuel D’Souza who came in 1882 added sacristy to the Church. Then came Fr Nicholas Cornero in 1885 and worked here till 1904. He was highly esteemed and influential and was able to get for the church many acres of land from the government free of cost. It was he who gave about 30 acres of land in Kadikambla to late Pascal Prabhu (Nazareth) and many acres of land in Kadra Hithlu (the present Majalbet ward) on moolageni. Besides he purchased a vast stretch of land for the Church.
He had to face many problems during the later part of his tenure. Fr Rosario Lewes who came here in 1904 was instrumental in starting a post office and a weekly market in Shirva. He also worked hard for the unification of the two Churches.
In 1906 Fr Casmir Fernandes succeeded Fr Rosario Lewes as the parish priest of the upper church. At that time Fr Gregory J G D’Souza was the P P of the lower Church, they were determined to work for the unification and succeeded in their efforts.
The people of the both the Churches held a general body meeting (zuntha) on 15th September 1910 under the presidentship of V Rev. Fr Sebastian Noronha, the Vicar of Kallianpur. At the meeting good council prevailed upon both the groups. As a result the historical resolution of unification was passed unanimously. According to this resolution both the Churches were to be destroyed and a new grand church be built in a neutral place. It was also decided that N S De Saude church (Our Lady of Health) should be the main patroness and St Francis Xavier the second patron. Feast of Our Lady of Health was to be observed as the parish feast. The feast of St Francis Xavier also was to be celebrated in the first week of December.
It was feared that the people might change their mind, so the location of the proposed Church was identified that day itself and a cross was erected there.
On 02-10-1910 Bishop of Mangalore published a decree. According to this decree the Chapel at Belle under the jurisdiction of the lower church was made a separate parish. Fr Casmir D’Souza of the upper church was appointed first parish priest of the newly created Belle parish. Fr Gregory D’Souza of the lower Church was made the first parish priest of the unified Church.
The efforts of the unification of the two Churches bore fruits but a difficult task lay ahead. That was the construction of the new grand Church. But people had faith in Fr Gregory D’Souza’s ability and his leadership in accomplishing their dream.
Fr Gregory D’Souza was well built and was very brave and was noted for his adventurous deeds. In those days people of Shirva were poor but they were Co-operative. Fr Gregory D’Souza began to construct the church believing in God’s providence.
On 09-11-1911 Bp Paul Perini, the Bishop of Mangalore blessed the corner stone and laid the foundation for the new Church. Mathias D’silva of Katapady Zenagudde, who had the experience of building churches, was appointed the chief mason. The laterite stones for the church were taken from the pit, which was near the present St Mary’s High school.
People had to make a great sacrifice and had to face many difficulties. Each family had to make shramadhan (voluntary work) fifty times besides contributing their mite. Each family gave their donation quite willingly and did the shramdhan with enthusiasm. Fr Gregory D’Souza worked with the people and supervised the construction work. He used to climb the high walls and walk on the horizontal iron rods.
The Church was completed in February 1915. On 9th of February Bp Paul Perini, Bishop of Mangalore blessed the Church and inaugurated it. Fr Gregory D’Souza started primary schools in Shankerpura and Mudarangadi and upgraded the Church primary school at Shirva to higher primary School. On 06-07-1919 Fr Gregory D’Souza was transferred to Pejavara, and Fr Monthu Menezes came in his place.
Fr Monthu Menezes built the buildings for Mudarangadi and Pilar schools and constructed a Chapel at Pangala with St John the Evangelist as the patron. On 14th April 1922, Fr H Gonsalves, who later became the Maker of Modern Shirva, came as an assistant. This was Fr Gonsalves first assignment. After two years Fr Gonsalves was transferred to Pangala. Fr Monthu Menezes worked here for 10 years. Thottam became his next parish.
Fr Reginald Pinto succeeded Fr M Menezes Fr Pinto constructed the beautiful main alter donated by St Mary’s club Byculla Mumbai and a fine pulpit donated by St Joseph’s club, Sankli Street, Mumbai. He also installed the new church bell donated by St Joseph’s club, Matharpakdi, Mumbai. Fr Pinto was later transferred to Fr Muller’s Hospital as the Director.
In Shirva one can find many specialities. One of them is that there are no tombs inside the church like other old churches. In other places one can see white patches inside the church. Here not a single white patch can be seen, th Holy place is kept as holy. The credit goes to our ancestors and to the priest who built this church. According to the resolution made no one should be buried inside the church. This is really appreciable.
Msgr. Hilary Gonsalves: Fr Gonsalves began to work for the progress of the parish and the people. At the young age of 42 he became the parish priest of Shirva, the largest parish in Mangalore Diocese on 31/05/1934.
During his tenure many youth joined the seminary and became priests – notable among them are Bp. Loidore Fernandes of Allahabad, Bp. Anthony Fernandes of Bareilly, Fr Julian Fernandes S G (Rome), Fr Joe Mathias S G Rector of Papal Seminary Poena, Fr Baptist Menezes, present Vicar General of Udupi Diocese and Fr Stany Tauro, present parish priest of Shirva. A good number of young ladies joined various congregations and became nuns in various parts of India.
Shirva being a vast parish the people who were far away from Shirva found it difficult to fulfill the religious obligation. So established four new parishes on four sides. Kenha (Mudarangadi) was carved out in 1942, Pernal in 1955, Pamboor in 1968 and Kalathuru in 1971. Besides he built a Chapel at Yermal, which became a Parish later.
Fr Gonsalves knew that only by educating the people there would be progress. He constructed two buildings for Don Bosco’s on the northern side of the church. Establishing St Mary’s High School in Shirva in 1947 was his greatest gift to Shirva. Because of this school many youth became priests and nuns. Youth got good jobs and improved their economical condition.
He tried to bring basic facilities to Shirva: -Community Health Centre, Co-Operative Society, Co-Operative Store, Catholic Bank branch at Shirva and bus-service to Shirva – are the fruits of his hard work. The Church was electrified and a hall was built.
He invited the Sisters of Franciscan Missionaries of Mary to Shirva who opened the Nativity Convent in 1961. In 1968 Fr Gonsalves was made “The Chaplain to the Holy Father” and was confirmed the title Monsignor. His Sacerdotal Golden Jubilee was celebrated on 03/12/1971. The next day he was given a heartfelt farewell on his retirement.
Msgr Gonsalves passed away on 26th Aug 1975 in Mangalore. He was buried in front of the Shirva Church the next day. People of all castes and creeds took part in the funeral and paid tributes to the priest who had served there for 40 long years.
Fr Aloysius Rosario: Fr Aloysius Rosario took over the charge on 09-01-1972. The financial position of the Church was not rosy when he came. He reminded the people to pay their dues again and again. He himself maintained the accounts.
He was a good orator and preacher. People of neighboring parishes used to come to Shirva to hear his thoughtful sermons. He was a great musician and restarted Choir and gave them good training. He arranged mass at Irmiz on every Friday evening. If there was a need, Masses were arranged on week – days.
Shirva is one of the oldest parishes. Some of the Church records were written in Latin and Portuguese. Some of the documents were worn out and torn. When the seminarians came on vacation he asked them to rewrite the documents and prepare the index. He was able to give any certificate within minutes.
He maintained the Church very well, cement plaster was done to the minaret (tower) solid benches were provided in the Church, he constructed the tall belfry, and solid compound wall was put up.
During his tenure St Mary’s Hr. Secondary School was upgraded into Junior College. He started St Mary’s Degree College and English Medium Pry. School. He constructed new buildings to the above-mentioned institutions. He repaired the school buildings of Don Bosco Hr. Pry. And Pilarkhana Schools.
In order to help the poor and needy he started in Shirva a Conference of St Vincent de Paul Society on 04-11-1974. He attended the meetings and regularly paid a portion of Sunday collection.
He dug a well in the school compound and improved the coconut garden. Thus the financial position improved He took care of the belongings of the Church and the presbytery.
Fr Sylvester D Souza 29-05-1987: Fr Sylvester D’Souza came here from Hale halve. Many Non-Catholics had come to reach him.
He arranged medical camps on every Wednesday. Doctors from Manipal used to come here. Poor were given green cards. Green card holders were treated free of cost at Manipal Hospital. Hundreds of poor people made use of these medical camps.
He started a tailoring class for girls who could not continue their studies. The fees were nominal. Sometimes he paid the fees himself. After the course girls were given Certificates. He helped them to get sewing machines. Thus many poor girls and women began to earn their livelihood.
The ground floor of the English Medium School and the first floor of St Mary’s Degree College were completed. He removed the wooden ceiling of St Mary’s Jr College and replaced with concrete slab. A Large open air stage was constructed for Don Bosco’s Hr. Pry. School.
He started the Parish bulletin called ‘Saude Samachar’. He himself edited it. It catered to the needs of the old students and those who had gone abroad. ‘Saude Samachar’ contained articles on the Church and all the institutions.
The greatest achievement of Fr Sylvester D’Souza was the celebration of the Platinum Jubilee of the unified Church in 1990. People contributed liberally and lent their helping hand in preparing non-vegetarian food to thousands of parishioners. A souvenir was brought out on the occasion. Fr Sylvester was transferred to Christ King parish, Karkal town.
Fr Lawrence Gomes 1994 – 02-06-2001: Fr Lawrence Gomes came here from Sasthan. He revived the parish bulletin with a new name of ‘Saude Sandesh’ with Mr Alban Rodrigues as the Editor. Swak (Shirva welfare Association, Kuwait) agreed to sponsor it. The Church was renovated. Flooring was done with Kadapa Stones and for sacristy granite stones were used. A Portico was added to the church. The Church compound was tarred. The Golden Jubilee of St Mary’s P U College was celebrated in 1998. The centenary celebration of the premier school, Don Bosco’s H P School was celebrated in Nov 2000.
To mark this occasion a new U shaped building with a storey was built and a souvenir “Vidya Sagar” was released. Many Bishop’s who were the old students of this school took part. Ward meetings were introduced in many wards. A well was dug behind the church and the II floor was added to the English Medium School. During his tenure Advocate Albert Mathias donated 2.17 acres of land in Pilar.
Fr Valerian Pinto: Fr Valerian Pinto leveled the Don Bosco’s school ground. Christmas and Easter liturgies were conducted in the open-air stage. A beautiful and elegant Mahadwara at the entrance to the church compound was erected with a solid gate. The Lourdes grotto was near the school building. It was rebuilt on the south of the Church. The height of the compound wall was increased and unwanted entrances were closed. The Cemetery was beautified with many paths. Flower plants grow there. At the entrance Velankanni Mantap was added. Blessed Mother Theresa Mantap was erected in front of the Parish House. The Statue of Don Bosco at the School and four Statues at the Church Portico. The Salesians of Don Bosco opened Don Bosco Youth Centre, Shirva in his term and they are also serving in Infant Jesus Chapel, Pilar. The Irmiz Church was renovated in his term and the Old Church was newly built.
Fr. Richard Coelho started the Post Graduation courses in St Mary’s College, Shirva. The extension building of St Mary’s College was built. He was transferred to Fr Muller’s Medical College as administrator.
Fr Stany Tauro took lead in renovating the church and initiated welfare projects for the welfare of the devotees. The CCTV’s were installed in the church and schools. The television sets were installed inside the church to follow the words of hymns and psalms. Interlocks, toilets, parking, drinking water and other facilities are introduced. The new sound system was also installed in church.
The programmes catering the devotional needs of the parishioners are organized. As the part of Centenary celebrations, Bible quiz and other programmes are organized. Retreat and confessions are organized for the parishioners and children. The statue of Mother Mary has been sent to the 38 wards compromising 1072 families which will be later brought to the church during the centenary celebrations. A project to build a house and toilet to a poor family is in progress which will be inaugurated during the Centenary celebrations. The centenary celebrations will conclude with the parish feast on February 4.
The non catholic devotees gather in large numbers to witness the special occasions and feast in the church. Their devotion is commendable. They pray for their intention and enjoy the festive mood along with the Catholics.
The Day of Remembrance of the Deceased Parishnores will be celebrated on January 29 along with Eucharistic celebration at 9.30 am followed with prayers in the cemetery. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Baptist Menezes will be the Chief Celebrant. A procession of offerings starting near Petrol Pump will be held in the evening at 4:00 pm.
The Day of Religious will be celebrated on January 30 with a Eucharistic celebration at 4:00 pm by Dr Anthony Fernandes, Bishop Emeritus Bishop of Bareilly. Fr Valerian Mendonca will preach the homily. A felicitation programme has been organized soon after the mass. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Denis Moras Prabhu will be the guest of honor.
Centenary Celebrations will be celebrated on January 31 with holy Eucharistic celebration at 10.00 am. Dr Aloysius Paul D’Souza will be the Chief Celebrant. Dr Gerald Isaac Lobo, Bishop of Udupi will preach the homily. An honoring programme has been organized following the community meal. Centenary Jubilees Finale has been organized at 5:00 pm. Bishop Dr Gerald Issac Lobo will preside over the programme.
The guests of Honour are Rt. Rev. Msgr. Baptist Menezes, Vicar-General, Diocese of Udupi; K J George, Minister for Home Affairs; Vinay Kumar Sorake, Minister for Urban Development and Minister in-charge District; Shobha Karandlaje, MP Udupi-Chikkamagaluru Constituency; Oscar Fernandes, MP (Rajyasabha); J R Lobo, MLA Mangalore South Constituency; Ivan D’Souza, MLC ; Hasanabba Sheikh, President, Shirva Gram Panchayat; Ida Gibba D’souza, Member Udupi Zilla Panchayat and Krishna Poojary, Member Taluk Panchayat Udupi.