Dr. Alphonsus D’Souza S.J. : The Bishop who made a difference in the Diocese of Raiganj

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By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network

Kolkota, 13 March 2011: His religious life has been an example of spirituality, academic work, administrative responsibility, social service and Episcopal calling. On 13 July 2011, he will be completing forty years of his priesthood and on 17 May 2012, he will be celebrating the Silver Jubilee of his Episcopal consecration.  To be appointed as a bishop within fifteen years of being ordained a priest is not a mean achievement. Besides during the fifteen years as the member of the Jesuit Order to be appointed as a professor, principal and rector and eventually a provincial  speak volumes of the ability, sincerity, dedication and sagacity of a person who was born in a  large and devout family of Kattingeri in Moodubelle that has been known to have produced  two bishops, two priests and two religious women, one of them being the Superior General of her congregation. This is the story of Most  Rev. Dr. Alphonsus D’Souza, S. J. the Bishop of Raignaj,  who made a difference in his diocese.



Alphonsus was born on 4th July 1939 as the seventh child in a large family of 13 children, nine sons and four daughters of late Emmanuel(Monnu Master) and Magdalene D’Souza of Kattingeri. After completing the  primary and higher primary education in the Church school Moodubelle, Alphonsus proceeded to  St. Mary’s High School, Shirva for further education where he completed  SSLC in 1956. While attending St. Mary’s High School, Alphonsus had to get up early in the morning and prepare his own breakfast and carry tiffin for lunch. As there was no transport facility he had to walk bare feet daily about six kilometers from home to Shirva and back. While in school, Alphonsus took part in sports and athletics, cricket being his favourite game.  Meanwhile, he also  joined altar servers sodality at Belle Church and every Sunday would regularly attend meetings.



It was a period when young boys used to dream of becoming priests, some of them having a desire to serve in remote areas as missionaries. Alphonsus was also nurturing a desire of becoming a missionary in the near future and serving somewhere in northern India. By that time two of his elder brothers, Mathew and Edwin had already been undergoing training for priesthood in Allahabad.


The urge of Alphonsus to join priesthood was strengthened when  a Jesuit priest from the Calcutta province, Fr. Henriques S.J. visited St. Mary’s High School to motivate young students to join the Society of Jesus. Alphonsus who was studying in the 11th standard at that time and was entertaining a desire to join priesthood  was so impressed with  Fr. Henriques’ motivational interaction with the students that he volunteered to join the Jesuit Order. When he informed about his intention of joining the Society of Jesus, his father, Monnu Master was very supportive. Thus, soon after completing SSLC, Alphonsus went to Mangalore to continue PUC education in St. Aloysius College staying in  the Gonzaga  House, a hostel for the students who had volunteered to join the Jesuit Order.


Following the completion of PUC  in 1957, Alphonsus left home for the novitiate studies  at St. Stanislaus College, Sitagarha, Hazirbagh in 1957. Recalling the day Alphonsus left home to go to Sitagarha, his elder brother Bernard said that, Alphonsus cried a lot as he had to leave his family and go to a far away unfamiliar place without knowing when he will return. A large number of villagers and his schoolmates had come to Naalkubeedi road junction to bid goodbye to him.


After two years of novitiate and one year Juniorate at Sitagarha, Br. Alphonsus went to  De Nobile College at Pune for three years licentiate in  Philosophy which was equivalent to MA. Thereafter he went to Calcutta in 1963 and studied for two years for the M.A. course in Indian Philosophy from the Jadhavpur University.  From 1965 to 68, Br. Alphonsus concentrated on research for the  Ph.D. in Indian Philosophy while staying in St. Xavier’s  College, Calcutta and helping in St. Xavier’s Collegiate School Department.



In 1968, Br. Alphonsus underwent a four months German language course in Max Muller institute, Pune in anticipation of him being sent to Austria and Germany by his superiors for the Theological studies. In August 1968, Br. Alphonsus was sent to  Austria, where he did first year of  Theology (1968-69) in the University of Innsbruck while staying in the Jesuit College at Innsbruck. In 1969, he was deputed  to Tubingen in  Germany for  the second year Theology course. In 1970, once again Br. Alphonsus went  back to Innsbruck University for the third year Theology studies.


Having completed three years of the Theological studies, Br. Alphonsus was  ordained a priest on 13 July 1971 in Augsburg Germany. It was a momentous day in the life of Br. Alphonsus. His dream of becoming a priest was fulfilled. However, he missed his beloved family on that significant day, but had the satisfaction that his eldest brother, Thomas was present at the solemn ordination ceremony as the representative of the family back home.


After his ordination, Fr. Alphonsus went back to Tubingen  and continued the study for the fourth year Theology course. Then again he went back to Innsbruck  University in Austria for the final examination in Theology for the  Masters degree as well as Licentiate in Theology.



While in Europe for four years for the Theological studies during which he was ordained a priest, Fr. Alphonsus had the opportunity to learn many European languages and visit various European countries.


Fr. Alphonsus, returned to Calcutta in 1972 to serve in the Jesuit Province and was appointed as professor at the Morning Star College, Barrackpore where Philosophy, Theology and BA courses were thought. While Philosophy and Theology were under the Ecclesiastical domain, BA courses were affiliated to the  Calcutta University.


For a period of nine years from 1972 to 1981, Fr. Alphonsus, besides being a professor was appointed as the Dean of Studies and later as the Principal of the College and during the  last four years he was  the Rector of the College and  was also the  Prefect for the Deacons.


Within ten years of his ordination, in 1981, Fr. Alphonsus  was appointed as the Provincial of the Calcutta  Jesuit Province by the then General  of the Jesuits-Fr. Perdo Aruppe S.J. Fr. Alphonsus  was the Provincial for six years till 1987. During this period he established a number of institutions and invited many religious congregations especially the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Chavanod to work in different parts of the province.


In the final year of his term as the Provincial,  the decision for the future assignment of Fr. Alphonsus had to be taken by the Jesuit authorities of the Calcutta Province. While the Archbishop of Calcutta, Most. Rev. Dr. Henry D’Souza wanted Fr. Alphonsus  to go back to the Morning Star College as a professor,  the Jesuits wanted him to be the novice master in the Dhyana Ashram  novitiate in Calcutta. As this tug of war was going on, the then Pope,  John Paul II appointed Fr. Alphonsus  as the Bishop of Raiganj to succeed  Bishop Leo Thigga SJ who had passed away on 30 January 1986.



When he received the letter on 4th February 1987 from the Papal Nuncio in India appointing him by the Pope as the Bishop of Raignaj,  Fr. Alphonsus was not only surprised but was also quite sad. Unlike  the appointments in the Jesuit Order, the appointment as the Bishop meant for the whole life and Fr. Alphonsus felt that he would be tied down with the responsibilities as a Bishop. It was a pontifical secrecy and he could not share his feelings with anyone until the official announcement was made on 18 February 1987.



Though Fr. Alphonsus  was not very keen in becoming a Bishop, as he had taken the vow of obedience to the Pope and other higher ecclesiastical authorities, he had to accept the new assignment with great  humility and a sense of responsibility. The consecration and Installation of Dr. Alphonsus as  the Bishop of Raiganj took place on 17 May 1987 in  Raiganj.  All his brothers and sisters except Bernard  and his wife Regina attended the Consecration ceremony as the latter had to stay back to look after their aged parents.


The Diocese of Raiganj in West Bengal was constituted by Pope Paul VI on 8 June 1978. It was earlier in 1952, a part of the West Dinajpur and Malda was detached from the Diocese of Dinajpur, presently in Bangladesh, and the Prefecture of Malda was erected under the care of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missionaries of Milan. However, in 1962, when the Diocese of Dumka was created, the Prefecture of Malda was abolished. In 1978, the districts of Malda and erstwhile West Dinajpur, which was divided into North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur districts were bifurcated from Dumka diocese in order to form the Raiganj Diocese. Most Rev. Dr. Leo Thigga S.J.  who was then the Bishop of Dumka, was appointed as the first Bishop of Raiganj Diocese in 1978. Following his death in 1986, Most Rev. Dr. Alphonsus D’Souza S.J.  was appointed as the second Bishop of Raiganj.



While Bishop Alphonsus was installed as the Bishop of Raiganj in May 1987, there were only 11 parishes and 14 priests.  Bishop Alphonsus had the great responsibility of increasing the number of parishes and priests.  It was chiefly due to the efforts of Bishop Alphonsus, year after year new parishes were established and the number of priests also gradually increased. After 24 years of sustained efforts of the Bishop the number of parishes has reached to 33 and the total number of priests has reached to 102.


Soon after assuming the responsibility as the Bishop of Raiganj, Dr. Alphonsus realized the need to have more priests and established a  minor seminary St. Leo in 1988 at Raiganj, out of which more 85 have become priests during the last 23 years.  Each parish has at least one convent some even more. The diocese runs hostels for tribal children studying in the primary school practically in each of the parishes. The sisters look after the girls hostels and the priests run the boys hostels.



Each parish has many sub-stations and the priests visit these substations at least once a month. Some villages have chapels where the priests offer Masses. In whichever villages there are  no chapels , the priests offer masses in the houses of the catechists. Each parish has one or two full time catechists who are being paid. There are also many village Catechists who have been provided certain basic amenities such as cycles and gifts for their mission work.



The Social Welfare Institute (SWI), a familiar name for many in Raiganj, is a centre of multifarious activities. It has been popularly known as Caritas. The history of this institute can be traced to the overwhelming influx of thousands of homeless Bangladeshi refugees who had taken shelter in the border districts of Malda and West Dinajpur. In response to this situation, the Diocese of Dumka began a large scale relief operation under the enthusiastic leadership of late Fr, Y. La Ferla S.J., the founder director of SWI. He contacted the Catholic Relief Services and Caritas India which responded to his appeals generously and mobilized the operation of the civil authorities of the two districts. This was the beginning of the SWI. After the formation of the Raiganj Diocese, it became the central coordinating agency in the field of social and developmental activities of the new diocese. From 1985 until 2003 it was nurtured by Fr. S. Santhappan with developmental activities and many outreach programmes. Presently, Fr. Herman Kindo is the Director of SWI.



There are around 95,000 Catholics in the Raiganj diocese. As most of the people are Santali tribals, they are generally illiterate and poor. They are not aware of their rights and privileges due to illiteracy and lack of education. Soon after taking over as the Bishop of Raiganj, Dr. Alphonsus realized the need to provide basic education to these people so that the they  can read and write and know their rights and privileges and defend themselves against any kind of injustice.  Besides primary schools in most of the parishes there are six Bengali medium  high schools in the diocese-two at Rajibpur one for boys and one for girls and  one each  at Chotparua, Majlispur,  Rahutara and Nichitpur. There are three English medium high schools-St. Xavier’s at Chotparua, St. Claret’s at Bisroil and St. Mary’s at Malda.



In November 1996, the Silver Jubilee of the priesthood of Dr. Alphonse D’Souza S.J. was celebrated by the Diocese with a grand function.  As part of the Sacerdotal Silver Jubilee, Bishop Alphonsus had outlined a project of providing houses for the homeless for which people had donated considerable amount of money. However, in the month of December a group of dacoits entered the compound of the Bishop’s house after midnight, gagged his driver, Benjamin and entered the room of Bishop Alphonsus. They woke him up at  gun-point and pinned him down to the floor, one dacoit holding a country made bomb over his head and the other pointing a gun at his chest.


Though shaken, Bishop Alphonsus did not panic and asked the dacoits not to take his passport. The dacoits plundered everything that they could lay their hands on including the money which he had collected to build houses for the homeless and other church valuables such as gold plated chalices, Episcopal Ring that was prepared out of the gold of the Bishop’s  mother, silver cross given by his father and other gold plated rings that were presented to him by the people of the diocese. While, the dacoits were about to leave with their plunder, the Bishop just requested them to return his watch, which the Bishop says that they obliged. In spite of this shocking incident, Bishop Alphonsus kept his appointment of administering the Confirmation sacrament in one of the parishes the next day. However, as the dacoits had taken away his Episcopal Ring, he had to borrow a ring for the official visit.


In 2001, Bishop Alphonsus met with a personal tragedy which shattered him for some time. While attending the Conference of the Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI meeting at the Morning Star College in Calcutta, he had cerebral hemorrhage and was unconscious for two weeks in a nursing home in Calcutta. After partial recovery in the hospital, he was shifted to St. Xavier’s College Jesuit Community residence where   he stayed for two months and gradually recovered and resumed his apostolate at Raiganj. In spite of being bogged down by the stroke, the spirit and enthusiasm of Bishop Alphonsus have been quite high.



Dr. Alphonse used to visit his native village, Kattingere for family functions and on vacation every two or three years. He came home last time in August 2004 for the funeral of his father late Emmanuel D’Souza. He also went for the last time to Vatican for the ‘Quinquennial Ad Limina’ (five yearly) meeting with Pope John Paul II. Earlier he had met the Pope along with his three other brothers-Bishop Albert D’Souza-presently the Archbishop of Agra, Fr. Mathew D’Souza-presently in the United States  and Fr. Edwin D’Souza-presently in Ontario Canada. One of the sisters of Bishop Alphonsus, Sr. Eugene D’Souza is presently the Superior General of the Sisters of the Holy cross of Chavanod and is stationed at the congregation headquarters at Geneva-Switzerland. Another sister, Sr. Lucy, who had also joined the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Chavanod had passed away in 1993.



One of the greatest achievements of Bishop Alphonsus was the construction of the magnificent Cathedral dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker the patron saint of the Raiganj diocese. The construction of the Cathedral had begun in December 2006 and took three years and ten months to complete. The new Cathedral that was built under the active supervision of Fr. M.V. Sunny, the Secretary and Treasurer of the Diocese was blessed and dedicated on 17 November 2010. The dedication ceremony was attended by nine Bishops including the Archbishop of Patna, 600 priests and religious and about 30,000 faithful from all over Bengal and neighbouring dioceses of Dumka and Purnea.



With an area of 12,500 square feet and height of 95 feet the cathedral can accommodate 2000 faithful. The cathedral is extremely graceful  in its architectural and artistic features.  Beautifully designed granite and marble floors and walls, galleries, oil paintings, stained glass windows with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, huge decorated pillars, large carved wooden doors, beautiful statues and the attractive high altar with a large crucifix and the hexagonal dome above it with panels of paintings make this Cathedral one of the modern wonders not only in Raiganj and Bengal, but in the whole of North India.


Bishop Alphonsus is an accomplished linguist and knows many languages. Among the foreign languages, besides English and Latin, he is proficient in German, French, Italian, classical Greek and classical Hebrew. Among Indian languages, besides Hindi he can converse in Bengali, Santhali, Kannada, Tulu and his own mother tongue, Konkani.


According to his elder brother, Bernard, Bishop Alphonsus right from his childhood had been very much attached to his parents and brothers and sisters. He has been very sensitive and soft at heart and would become quite emotional when he used to come home during vacations. He enjoyed being in the company of his parents and brothers and sisters recalling the childhood days that they had spent together and become nostalgic.


Recently, I got an opportunity to visit personally Raiganj and interact with Bishop Alphonsus for this profile along with his two brothers and a sister-Bernard and his wife Regina, Andrew and Sr. Eugene. Though our stay in Raiganj Bishop’s House was just for two days, we thoroughly enjoyed the cool weather, wonderful hospitality of the Bishop and  had the joy of visiting the most beautiful cathedral and attending the concelebrated Mass presided over by Bishop Alphonsus on Ash Wednesday.



During my interaction with the Bishop, I found him to be quite warm and forthright. He has good memory and could recall the significant events in his life as a priest and as a Bishop. He has a good sense of history and has preserved the old documents including his baptismal certificate, mark-sheets and Papal Order appointing him as the Bishop of Raiganj. His collection of old photographs is quite interesting.


When asked about his feelings of being the Bishop of Raiganj, Dr. Alphonsus said, “We do not plan for the future but God plans for us. I had chosen to be a Jesuit missionary for the Calcutta Province but providence has brought me as the Bishop of Raiganj, a unknown place with unknown people, culture and language. Though I have left my parents and brothers and sisters, I have hundreds of parents, brothers and sisters among the poorer people of the diocese who really love me and call me ‘Bishop Baba’.”  Further he said that as Lord Jesus had said, “Leave your parents and family and follow me and I will grant you hundredfold and life everlasting…”



(I sincerely  thank Fr. Edwin D’Souza, elder brother of Dr. Alphonsus D’Souza for suggesting that I should go to Raiganj to have an interview with the Bishop. I am also grateful to Bernard D’Souza and his wife Regina, Sr. Eugene, Superior General of the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Chavanod who was in Kolkata on an official visit and Andrew D’Souza, the youngest brother of Bishop Alphonsus D’Souza who made this interview possible-Dr. Eugene D’Souza)



Comments on this Article
Subhash G. Shinde, Nanded, Maharashtra Thu, March-17-2011, 10:27
Fantastic article by Dr. Eugene D souza. The entire life story and especially educational achievements of Bishop Alphonsus D souza is very inspiring for younger paople like me.
Melwyn D Souza, Moodubelle Mon, March-14-2011, 2:45
Thank you Dr. Eugene for presenting such a beautiful article on Bishop Alphonso. I am remember him seeing around 30 years ago when he had come to Belle high school to introduce himself and about the missionary works in North India. He could speak in several Indian as well Foriegn languages. We wish Bishop Alponso a good health and peaceful missionary life. May his life be inspirational to younger generation those who want to carry forward missionary work.
Nelson, Bangalore Sun, March-13-2011, 11:31
Very happy to read the profile of a religious man fully dedicated to Gods work, for whom God work is priority. Thank you Dr. Eugene for introducing such a big tower of faith. Nice photographs also.
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