|a glimpse at the eparchy of satna|
The history of the Eparchy of Satna speaks volumes on the missionary enterprise of the Syro-Malabar Church in North India. It is the result of the stern and bold step taken by the Holy See to give the ever-vibrant Syro-Malabar Church, an opportunity for mission work, as a Church. It should not be forgotten that more than 70 per cent of the total missionaries, working in different parts of India, is from the Syro-Malabar Church.
Prior to the establishment of the diocese of Satna, there was only one church in the whole region- at Rewa, situated at a beautiful site on Bodabag Road. Till the time of independence, the Christians in Rewa and adjacent states were not enjoying religious freedom. These states were under the rule of different kings and among them, one of the prominent princely states of the time was Rewa. The Christians in this area practised their religious faith privately, Occasionally, the priest of the neighbouring parish, Katni, of the Latin diocese of Jabalpur, used to come to Rewa to offer Holy Mass.
The Mission Station of Rewa was started under the jurisdiction of Jabalpur in 1947. The Sisters of St Joseph of Chambery were invited by the Government to render their service in the P.K. 'Patasala', as well as in the Rewa Hospital. They agreed to do so on condition that they would be allowed to have a Catholic priest as their Chaplain. Thus a Catholic Priest reached Rewa and resided there. A plot of 6.17 acres of land was bought for the church in 1957 at Bodabag. But in 1962, the Sainik School of Rewa acquired the greater portion of the land; and only a tiny portion was left over.
Rev. Fr Engelen was the first priest appointed to Rewa. He served as the Chaplain, as well as the parish priest. The parish comprised of six civil districts in M.P, namely, Sidhi, Rewa, Satna, Panna, Chhatarpur and Tikamgargh. The Priest-in-charge of Rewa visited occasionally all the places entrusted to him, offered Holy Eucharist, and administered other sacraments. It is known that the priest used to visit Satna on every Sunday; while Birla, Panna, Majghawan were visited once a month and other places infrequently. One Norbertine Priest, namely, Fr. H. Manders was looking after the pastoral needs of the whole area in different periods, especially from May, 1964 to October, 1968. He had his residence in Rewa, where a small Christian community, comprising of a few migrant Christians, employed at different places. He was stationed at Rewa. When a proposal had come to the Vincentian Congregation, for the possibility of taking over the area for mission work, Fr. James Edavazhithara, VC was sent to Rewa, He stayed with the Priest-in- charge, helped him in the pastoral duties, and visited mission stations. This was the condition of the station of Rewa before the erection of the new Apostolic Exarchate of Satna.
The history of the diocese of Satna has its beginning on 29th July, 1968, when the Exarchate of Satna was erected by the Papal Bull In More Est of Pope Paul VI and was entrusted to the Vincentian Congregation. It was announced on 15th August, 1968 at the Apostolic Nunciature, in Delhi, as well as at the Vincentian Generalate, Angamaly, at 9.00 p.m. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Abraham Mattam was nominated as its Apostolic Exarch. The Exarchate was made a suffragan ad instar to the Archdiocese of Bhopal.
On 20th October, the Apostolic Exarch-elect and Very Rev. Fr Jacob Kallarackal VC, the Superior General of Vincentian Congregation, together with two other fathers, namely, Fr John Rathappilly VC and Fr Augustine Vallooran, VC left Kerala and reached Satna at about 5 p.m. on 28th October after visiting Raipur and Jabalpur. Bishop Lcobard D'Souza, the Bishop of Jabalpur accompanied them to Rewa. The Christian community and Fr James Edavazhithara, VC, who was already at Rewa for a few months, welcomed the Exarch- elect and the first missionaries. Fr Thomas Kuzhippala, Fr Joseph Peechanatt and Fr George Vembilly who were working in the Diocese of Raipur were also present on the occasion. To begin with, the missionaries had practically nothing as any asset, except a small building at
Rewa. Msgr Abraham Mattam and the Fathers found themselves accommodated in the small building at Rewa which they got as a patrimony from the Diocese of Jabalpur. The formal inauguration of the Exarchate and the installation of the Apostolic Exarch were on 9th January, 1969, by Most Rev. Dr. G. Caprio, the Apostolic Pro-nuncio. On this occasion Rt. Rev. Lcobard D'Souza, Bishop of Jabalpur. Msgr. Wcidncr, Prefect Apostolic of Raipur, Msgr. Clemens Thotttmgal CMI, Apostolic Exarch of Sagar, Msgr. Januvarius CMI, the Apostolic Exarch of Chanda, Very Rev. Fr Jacob Kallarackal, a few fathers and a small Christian community were present.
ESTABLISHING MISSION STATIONS
The mission territory covered a vast area of 45,188 Sq.k.ms. The main challenge faced by the missionaries was to work in a new missionary context, to learn the new language and culture and to start the work from practically nothing. To start with their mission work, the first thing was to establish some primary contact with local people, which would do a lot of good for the opening of new centers. By the end of November 1968, Msgr. Mattam, hired a building, 59, Master Plan, Civil Lines in Satna and made Satna a permanent mission station. Fr. Thomas Kuzhippala, V.C. began to stay there. He was looking after the pastoral needs of Satna and Birla stations. As the result of personal contact and Divine providence, on 26th January, 1969 Msgr. Mattam, shifted his residence from Rewa to Satna. From that time on, the house at Rewa was considered as the 'Ashram' for the Vincentian fathers working in this diocese. But, later, an Ashram was constructed at Padra, Rewa. After two years of stay there, Msgr. Mattam, changed his residence to another rented house i.e., 21, Master Plan, Civil Lines, near to the present over bridge.
In 1969, Msgr. Mattam and Fr Thomas Kuzhippala, VC went to Sidhi, contacted with people there, and bought a plot of land with two small buildings, just near to the collectorate. Fr Thomas Kuzhippala, VC was appointed priest-in-charge of both Sidhi and Singrauli stations. In April, 1969, Msgr. Abraham Mattam and Fr John Rathappilly VC went to Nowgong in Chhatarpur district, contacted with people, and bought 10 acres of land. Fr. John Rathappilly was appointed as the priest-in-charge of Nowgong. He had the charge of Chhatarpur and Tikamgarh stations too.
On 14th July, 1969, the first school in the Exarchate was opened in Sidhi with the name Gandhi Shishu Vidyalay. On 19th July, the first batch of Rev. Sisters to the Exarchate of Satna came to Sidhi.
The Fransiscan Clarist sisters who came on that day were Rev. Sr Boniface (Superior) Sr Beena and Sr Mariusha. Thus, the first convent in the Exarchate was opened and the school was entrusted to them. In October, the Gandhi Centenary Memorial Home for the Destitute and an orphanage for girls were opened in Nowgong. These were the first charitable institutions that began to function in the Exarchate. By the year 1970 the work expanded to all the six districts and a number of mission stations were opened on the 'virgin land' of the Exarchate of Satna and the Christian presence was slowly being felt.
On 24th June, 1971, the foundation stone was laid for the present Bishop's house. As the territory of the Exarchate was vast, it always demanded a num-ber of priests and religious for the momentous task. There was a constant need to be always on the move and meet the people. On 1st February, 1975, an Inter-religious Dialogue Centre and library were opened at Satna. Evangelization was given prominence in the diocese, not excluding, however, the rest, like the formation of clergy, health and education.
Later history with regard to the mission stations and other institutions are dealt with in the forthcoming pages. Hence we do not go to those details here.