Fr. Edwin DíSouza: From Amravati Mission Stations to Toronto Archdiocese in Canada
By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network
Moodubelle, 24 Dec 2016: Coming from a large and devout family, his vocation to priesthood was not planned but spontaneous. After being ordained a priest, he shunned the cosy teaching assignment and volunteered to work in the backward villages of the Amravati diocese. He learnt the local language, Marathi, fulfilled the religious and spiritual obligations of the faithful by visiting remote villages and mission centres, travelling first in bullock-carts and later in jeep and trains. After nearly a decade of mission work he chose to learn new changes in the church which took him to the Archdiocese of Toronto in Canada ostensibly to come back in a year or two, but he was destined to serve the community in Toronto. This is the amazing and inspiring story of the journey of Fr. Edwin D’Souza from Belle to North India from there to Amravati and eventually to Toronto in Canada.
Fr. Edwin DSouza
Parents of Fr. Edwin with twelve children
Extended Family of Immanuel DSouza (Monnu Master)
Born on 1 January 1937 as the sixth among thirteen children, nine sons and four daughters of late Immanuel D’Souza (Monnu Master) and Magdalene D’Souza of Kattingeri, Moodubelle, Edwin had his higher primary education up to seventh standard in the Church Aided Higher Primary School, Moodubelle and acquired secondary education in the Hindu High School, Shirva and completed SSLC in 1955. Incidentally, his elder brother, Mathew who also proceeded with Edwin for training in priesthood was his classmate.
When asked about his decision to join the priesthood, Fr. Edwin narrated quite interesting circumstances that led to his vocation which was not at all planned. It was a time when priests from North India used to visit different parishes in the Mangalore Diocese to find out potential candidates for priesthood to serve in North Indian dioceses. In 1955, Fr. Hugo Faustine Alva (elder brother of late Robert Alva) who had been serving in the Allahabad diocese had come to Belle along with Fr. Cassien (OFM-Cap), a French-Canadian missionary from Banaras. Fr. Cassien wanted young boys with divine call to be recruited for the Gorakhpur Prefecture. Edwin’s elder brother, Mathew who was quite impressed with Fr. Hugo Faustine Alva and Fr. Cassien, with the consent of his father, agreed to proceed to the north and completed the formalities of filling up the form.
Recalling his vocation to priesthood, Fr. Edwin said that, during the night, spontaneously without anyone’s persuasion or prompting, he decided to join his elder brother in the North Indian Mission and wrote an application on a piece of paper addressed the Vocation Director of the Gorakhpur Prefecture. As Fr. Cassien and Fr. Hugo Faustine Alva were to leave the next morning, Edwin took the application to his father, Monnu Master, for the necessary corrections. Monnu Master looked at Edwin and asked him whether he too wanted to be a priest and went through the application and suggested certain corrections and modifications.
After rewriting the application, Edwin ran to the church hoping to hand over the application. Not finding both Fr. Hugo Faustine and Fr. Cassien, Edwin ran to the house of late Robert Alva thinking that they might be there. Learning that they had already left and were on their way to Mangalore, Fr. Edwin said that he ran towards Padubelle as they had to cross the river, and fortunately he could catch them up at Puthrottu where he handed over the application to Fr. Cassien who was quite surprised at the sudden decision of Edwin. Jokingly, Fr. Edwin said that he practically ran for his vocation.
Having decided to join the priesthood for the Gorakhpur Prefecture, Mathew and Edwin along with other two candidates from Belle-Alex D’Souza and Sebastian Sequeira were sent to St. Teresa’s Minor Seminary at Mirshali near Ajmer where they spent two years in studying languages such as Latin, English and Hindi as well as humanities. Next, they were sent to St. Paul’s Minor Seminary at Lucknow where they studied for one year before undergoing regular training for priesthood in St. Joseph’s Seminary at Allahabad.
After completing three years of study of Philosophy, on the advice of Fr. Hugo Faustine Alva, Br. Edwin changed the field of his future priestly ministry from the Gorakhpur Prefecture to that of Amravati Diocese in Maharashtra. Whereas other three-Br. Mathew, Br. Alex and Br. Sebastian continued to be the candidates for the Gorakhpur Prefecture. Having chosen Amravati diocese, Br. Edwin was sent to St. Charles Seminary at Nagpur to complete the four year long Theology course.
On completion of the training for priesthood, Br. Edwin was ordained a priest on 22 December 1966 in St. Lawrence Church, Moodubelle by the then Bishop of Amravati Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Albert Rosario along with the then Bishop of Mangalore, Most Rev. Dr. Basil Salvador D’Souza.
Portraits on the Ordination day of Fr. Edwin
The first assignment of Fr. Edwin was as a teacher in the Amravati Catholic High School. While, the Bishop of Amravati wanted to make use of the abilities of Fr. Edwin as a teacher, being young and idealist, Fr. Edwin was keen to work in the mission centres in the remote regions of the Amravati diocese. When a seminarian came to the school for undergoing training of regency, Fr. Edwin convinced the Bishop that the his teaching assignment can be handed over to the seminarian and he could be relieved to work in the mission centres for which the Bishop reluctantly agreed.
Fr. Edwin served in a number of remote mission centres, the first being as an assistant to Fr. John Monteiro at Borsar a predominantly dalit village. There was a small church and a primary school in Borsar. In order to interact with the local people, Fr. Edwin picked up the Marathi language by picking up conversation with the local people and reading Marathi news papers. From Borsar as a centre, Fr. Edwin had to go to other remote regions on bullock cart carrying provisions such wheat, corn and bajra flour. As he had to spend few days in these regions, he would get his food cooked and sleep in the bullock cart. After visiting seven to eight villages meeting the religious and spiritual needs of the people in one or two weeks, Fr. Edwin would return to Borsar.
Being impressed with the spiritual and religious work of Fr. Edwin at the Borsar Mission Centre for a year, the diocesan authorities sent him to another mission centre at Ghogargaon to assist an old priest named Fr. Joseph Muntode. This mission centre was slightly better off than Borsar as there was a larger church, a high school, a convent and a dispensary. Unlike at Borsar, at Ghogargaon, Fr. Edwin was provided with a jeep to travel to distant villages for mission work.
Practically every afternoon, Fr. Edwin would visit each of the villages where the Catechists would prepare the people for the service. Fr. Edwin would hear the confession, offer mass, attend the sick and visit families before returning to the mission centre. Every village had a chowki (meeting place) for the mass and other religious activities.
The next posting of Fr. Edwin was at Jalna with independent charge of that mission centre. Jalna as the centre, Fr. Edwin had to travel to different regions such as Parbani, Purna, Nanded and Ambejogai to enable the Catholics spread across these regions to fulfil their spiritual and religious obligations. After Saturday evening mass at Jalna, Fr. Edwin would take a night train to Purna, which being a railway junction had a number of Christian railway workers for whom he would offer mass on Sunday morning. While he visited the easily accessible regions once in a week, his visits to certain remote regions were once a month.
After providing service to various mission stations from Jalna for two years, Fr. Edwin was transferred to St. Francis de Sales High School at Aurangabad to help Fr. Denis Kamath in school projects. However, Fr. Edwin was also given the additional responsibility of visiting the mission stations at Purna, Nanded and Ambejogai from Friday evening to Sunday evening. This arrangement went on for three years.
Once again Fr. Edwin was deputed as a fulltime missionary to the small town of Akot in the Berar region of the Amravati diocese. Here too Fr. Edwin had to visit mission outstations and was required to manage “Food for work” project. During the tenure of three years, Fr. Edwin set an ambitious target of digging 25 wells each year for drinking and irrigation purpose. However, he succeeded in getting only 45 wells dug during the three years tenure which was still quite an impressive work. Under this project, Fr. Edwin got the land cleared for agriculture and also promoted rain-harvesting by building bunds and creating artificial lakes.
Rasegaon in Amravati district was the next destination of Fr. Edwin where he served for three years under similar circumstances and projects. At Rasegaon, Fr. Edwin laid emphasis on agriculture by growing wheat, corn, jowar, bajra and cotton.
Fr. Edwin had been working continuously with no vacation for about 12 years from 1967 to 1979. He could visit his family only during family functions. The work in the mission centres was becoming quite routine and Fr. Edwin wanted to try some kind of challenging tasks. After the Second Vatican Council, lot many changes had taken place in the church and Fr. Edwin thought that he could do something in this direction by updating himself with these new changes. Thus, he set his eyes on the East Asian Pastoral Institution at Manila in Philippines for further study and to get himself acquainted with the changes in the liturgy and other aspects of the church.
As he was weighing his options and was about to seek permission from the Bishop of Amravati to proceed to Manila, Fr. Edwin met Fr. Reginald D’Souza, Superior of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales at Nagpur. Fr. Edwin had known Fr. Reginald since his ordination day as the latter had attended his ordination at Belle. Fr. Reginald suggested to Fr. Edwin that instead of trying to go to Manila, he could think of proceeding to the United States or Canada where he could get acquainted with the changes within the church.
Being convinced about the suggestion and advice of Fr. Reginald, Fr. Edwin approached his Bishop, Most Rev. Dr. Rosario for permission to proceed to Canada which was granted. On his part, Fr. Reginald sent a letter on behalf of Fr. Edwin to the Archbishop of Toronto in Canada who in turn invited him to come to Canada.
On 21st July 1979, Fr. Edwin left India for Canada with mixed feelings and uncertain future. He had gone to Canada thinking that he would return to India after a year or two. On reaching Canada, Fr. Edwin was sent to St. Patrick’s Church where he stayed for a week before being sent as assistant pastor of St. Jude’s Parish at Western Ontario for one year.
Fr. Edwin’s Activities in Canada
After completing two years of his tenure in Toronto, Canada, Fr. Edwin was preparing himself to come back to India, Bishop Pierce Lancey-Director of Personnel asked the former whether he would like to stay back in Canada. Taken aback at this unexpected query, Fr. Edwin replied that if his Bishop back home at Amravati allowed him to continue in Canada he did not mind to extend his stay in Canada and serve the community. Assuring Fr. Edwin that he would initiate the process for his extension, Bishop Pierce asked Fr. Edwin to write to his Bishop to send more priests like him to Canada. This shows that the priestly ministry of Fr. Edwin during his two years tenure in Toronto had been appreciated by the archdiocesan authorities.
Meanwhile, after two years being in Canada, Fr. Edwin came back to India on vacation of a month. After visiting his home at Kattingeri he went back to Canada and was deputed to St. John’s Parish in Toronto. At the same time the Archbishop of Toronto was in correspondence with the Bishop of Amravati and eventually got Fr. Edwin released from his affiliation to the Amravati diocese.
Realising that his destiny lay in serving the Catholic community in Canada, especially in the Toronto Archdiocese, Fr. Edwin continued his priestly work with sincerity and dedication and served in St. John’s Parish for six years. Later, he served for another six years in St. Mary’s Church at Collingwood, for one year in another St. Mary’s Church at Brampton as pastor and for seven years in the church of Immaculate Heart of Mary at Scarborough.
Since 2001, Fr. Edwin has been serving as a pastor in the Sts. Mary and Martha Parish at Mississauga, Ontario and has already completed a decade of his priestly service in this parish. Fr. Edwin says that he is likely to retire next year. However, whether he will continue in active priestly service will depend on the decision of the Archbishop of Toronto.
Fr. Edwin has been one among six children of late Immanuel D’Souza (Monnu Master) and Magdalene D’Souza who had dedicated themselves to the service of God and humanity. While Fr. Edwin presently serves in Toronto, Canada, his other brothers-Fr. Mathew D’Souza who had been the Chaplain in the US Navy is presently is retired and serves in the United States, Most Rev. Dr. Alphonse D’Souza S.J. has been the Bishop of Raiganj in West Bengal and Most Rev. Dr. Albert D’Souza is presently the Archbishop of Agra. Among two of his sisters, Sr. Lucy and Sr. Eugene had joined the Congregation of the Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod. Unfortunately, Sr. Lucy passed away in 1993 at Thane, Maharashtra. Sr. Eugene is presently the Superior General of the Congregation based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Rev.Dr. Alphonse DSouza-Bishop of Raiganj
Msgr. Mathew DSouza
Rev.Dr. Albert DSouza-Archbishop of Agra
Rev. Sr. Eugene DSouza-Superior General of Sisters of Holy Cross of Chavanod
Bernard and Regina DSouza with sons and daughters-in-law
Fr. Edwin loves to travel and learn new things and meet people. He had been to the Holy Land twice and intends to visit it again in the near future. He along with his three brothers-Fr. Mathew, Bishop Alphonse and Bishop Albert had an opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II in Vatican.
Msgr. Mathew, Archbishop Albert, Bishop Alphonse and Fr. Edwin with Pope St. John Paul II
During around two hours of my interaction with Fr. Edwin, I found him to be quite healthy, agile and witty. He has a very good sense of humour and said “priesthood has no retirement”. When asked about his experience in the Amravati diocese and later in the Toronto Archdiocese, Fr. Edwin diplomatically said that while doing priestly service, no questions asked and whatever has to be done in a particular place that has to be done. In doing religious and social service, the priest has to work for the betterment of the community at whichever place and situation he has been placed.
Fr. Edwin had come to Belle last time in 2005 for the death anniversary of his father, Monnu Master. He came to India again in 2007 to witness the installation of his younger brother, Dr. Albert D’Souza as the Archbishop of Agra. This year (2011) he came to Belle to participate in the centenary celebrations of the foundation of St. Lawrence Parish, Belle and is on his way back to Toronto, Canada.