The mission eparchy of Satna is situated in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India. It is spread out over the northern part of the state, including the portions of Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand divisions of extinct Vindhya Pradesh which was merged into Indian Union in 1956. These two historical divisions of old Vindhya Pradesh still remain economically under- developed, even in the post-independence era. Roughly hilly areas, fertile valleys, the forest ridges of the Vindhyas, the narrow valleys of the Narmada and parts of the Indo-Gangetic plains present more challenges than opportunities to the tribal inhabitants in their efforts to sustain themselves and flourish. Undeveloped agriculture, high rates of illiteracy, misuse and suffering from the caste system, spates of drought, lack of health care establishments, inadequate sanitation, unhygienic conditions and few opportunities for employment add to their miseries.
The eparchy of Satna, spread out in the heartland of India, belongs to the Syro-Malabar Church. Its territory is comprised of the eight civil districts of Madhya Pradesh, namely, Tikamgarh, Niwari, Chhatarpur and Panna in Bundelkhand Division and Satna, Rewa, Sidhi and Singrauli in Baghelkhand Division, covering an area of 41, 118 Sq kms. The total population of these districts is 1,11,20,815 as per the 2011 Census.
The history of the eparchy of Satna speaks of volumes about the missionary enterprise of the Syro-Malabar Church in North India. It is the result of bold steps taken by the Holy See to give the ever-vibrant Syro-Malabar Church, an opportunity for mission work as a Church sui uris.
Prior to the establishment of the eparchy of Satna, there was only one church in the whole region – at Rewa, situated at a beautiful site on Bodabagh Road. Till the time of independence, the Christians in Rewa and adjacent states did not enjoy religious freedom. These states were under the rule of different kings; one prominent princely state of the time was Rewa. The Christians in this area practiced their religious faith privately. Occasionally, the priest of the neighbouring parish, Katni, under the Latin diocese of Jabalpur, would come to Rewa to offer the 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 Patashala. They agreed to do so on condition that they be allowed to have a Catholic priest as their chaplain. Thus a Catholic priest reached Rewa and stated to reside there. A plot of 6.17 acres of land was bought for the church in 1957 as Bodabagh. But in 1962, the Sainik School of Rewa acquired the greater portion of the land, with only a tiny portion left over for the parish church.
Rev. Fr H Van Engleen was the first priest appointed to Rewa. He served as the chaplain, as well as the parish priest. The parish was comprised of six civil districts of then Vindhya Pradesh, namely, Sidhi, Rewa, Satna, Panna, Chhatarpur and Tikamgarh. The priest in charge of Rewa occasionally visited all the places entrusted to him, offered Holy Mass and administered other sacraments. The priest used to visit Satna on every Sunday; while Birla, Panna, Majhgawan were visited once a month and other places infrequently.
One Norbertine priest, Fr H B Manders O Praem looked 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, comprised of a few migrant Christians, were employed at different places. When a proposal came 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 eparchy 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. Rt Rev. Msgr Abraham D Mattam was nominated as its Apostolic Exarch. The exarchate was made a suffragan ad instar to the archdiocese of Bhopal.
On 20th October 1968, the Apostolic Exarch-elect Msgr Abraham Mattam and Very Rev. Fr Jacob Kallarackal VC, the Superior General of the Vincentian Congregation, together with two other priests, namely, Fr John Rathappilly VC and Fr Augustine Vallooran VC left Kerala and reached Satna on 28th October after visiting Raipur and Jabalpur Bishop Leobard D’Souza, the Bishop of Jabalpur, accompanied them to Rewa. The Christian community and Fr James Edavazhithra VC who had been in Rewa for a few months, welcomed the exarch-elect and the first missionaries. Fr Thomas Kuzhippala, Fr Joseph Peechanat, and Fr George Vempilly who were working in the diocese of Raipur, were also present on the occasion. To begin with, the missionaries had practically nothing to work with, except a small building at Rewa. Msgr Mattam and the priests found themselves accommodated in the small building at Rewa which they received 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 Giuseppe Caprio, the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio. On this occasion Rt Rev. Leobard D’Souza, Bishop of Jabalpur, Msgr, John A Weidner, SAC, Prefect Apostolic of Raipur, Msgr Januarius Palathuruthy CMI, the Apostolic Exarch of Chanda, Msgr Clemens Thottungal CMI, the Apostolic Exarch of Sagar, Very Rev. Fr Jacob Kallarackal, a few priests and a small Christian community were present. On the official inauguration of the exarchate, the Apostolic Exarch Abrahma D Mattam announced St Vincent de Paul as the patron saint of the exarchate.
Erection of the Mission Stations
The mission territory covered a vast area of 14,188 sq. kms. The main challenge faced by the missionaries was to work in a new missionary context, to learn the new language and culture and to begin their work from the ground-up. To begin their mission work, the first order of business was to establish some primary contacts among the local people, which would do a lot of good for the opening of the new centres. By the end of November 1968, Msgr Mattam started to stay in a rented building – 59, Master Plan, Civil Lines in Satna and made Satna a permanent mission station. Fr Thomas Kuzhippala VC took up residence there, looking after the pastoral needs of Satna and Birla stations. As a result of personal contact and divine providence, on 26th January 1969, Msgr Mattam shifted his residence from Satna to Rewa. From that time on, the house at Rewa was considered the ‘Ashram’ of the Vincentian Fathers working in the eparchy. Later, an ashram was constructed at Padra, Rewa. After two-year stay there, Msgr Mattam, moved his residence to another rented house – 21, Master Plan, Civil Lines, near the Satna Railway Over Bridge.
In 1969, Msgr Mattam and Fr Thomas Kuzhippala VC went to Sidhi, made contact with the people there, and bought a land with two small buildings near the Collectorate. Fr Kuzhippala was appointed priest-in-charge of both Sidhi and Singrauli mission stations. In April 1969, Msgr Abraham Mattam and Fr John Rathappilly VC went to Nowgong in Chhatarpur district, made contacts among the people and bough ten acres of land. Fr John Rathappilly was appointed the priest-in-charge of Nowgong. He oversaw Chhatarpur and Tikamgarh as well.
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 religious sisters to the exarchate reached Sidhi. The Franciscan Clarist Sisters who came on that day were Sr Boniface (Superior), Sr Beena and Sr Mariusha. Thus, the first convent was opened and the school was entrusted to them. In October, same year, the Gandhi Centenary Memorial Home for the destitute and an orphanage for the girls were opened in Nowgong. These were the first charitable institutions, opened in the exarchate. By the year 1970, the work expanded to all six districts, entrusted to the new mission venture of Vincentian Congregation, opened a number of mission stations on the ‘virgin land’ of the exarchate of Satna, and the Christian presence was slowly felt.
On 24th June 1971, the foundation stone was laid for the present Bishop’s House. It was blessed on 25th August 1972. As the territory of the exarchate was vast, it demanded a number of priests and religious for its momentous undertakings. There was a constant need to be on the move and to meet the people. On 1st February 1975, an Inter-religious Dialogue Centre and a library opened at Satna. Evangelisation was given prominence in the eparchy, not excluding other priorities, however, like the formation of clergy, health and education.
Erection of the Eparchy
On 26th February 1977, the exarchate was raised to the status of an eparchy by the Papal Bull Ecclesiarum Orientallium of Pope Paul VI. Mar Abraham Mattam was appointed the first bishop of Satna. On 30th April 1977, in the presence of the bishops, priests, religious and a large number of faithful, Mar Abraham D Mattam was consecrated bishop. His Grace Eugene D’Souza, Archbishop of Bhopal was the main celebrant; he was assisted by His Grace Leonard D’Souza, Archbishop of Nagpur and Rt Rev. Theophine Thannickunnel O. Praem, Bishop of Jabalpur. After the consecration and the concelebrated Qurbana, a small congregation of the faithful gathered to felicitate the newly consecrated bishop. Installation and erection of the eparchy of Satna took place on 31st July 1977. At the beginning of the concelebrated Holy Mass, Rt Rev. Theophine Thannickunnel read the papal Bull, appointing Mar Abraham D Mattam VC as the first bishop of the eparchy of Satna.
At the inauguration of the exarchate, Fr John Rathappilly VC was appointed Pro-Exarch. On 6th February 1971, Fr Jacob Athickal VC was appointed the Procurator of the exarchate and the parish priest of Satna. On 19th July 1971, Br Joseph Naduvileparambil VC was made the procurator. Fr John Rathappilly VC was made Vicar General in 1977.
On 17th March 1985, Fr Job Vallianal, the first priest for the eparchy of Satna, was ordained. On 31st December 1991, the St Vincent de Paul Cathedral was blessed. The Golden Jubilee of the priestly ordination of Mar Abraham D Mattam was celebrated on 15th February 2000.
Mar Abraham D Mattam served the eparchy for thirty two long years in his capacity both as the Exarch and the Eparch. After the retirement of Mar Abraham D Mattam, Rev. Fr Mathew Vaniakizhakkel VC was appointed the second bishop of the eparchy of Satna on 14th January 2000. The episcopal ordination of Mar Mathew Vaniakizhakkel took place on 12th April 2000 at St Vincent’s Cathedral, Satna. His Beatitude Mar Varkey Vithayathil, the Major Archbishop of Syro Malabar Church was the main celebrant.
Mar Mathew Vaniakizhakkel completed 14 years of shepherding the eparchy as a zealous eparch and pastor. He renounced his office of the eparch on 27th August 2014 due to health reasons. Very Rev. Fr George Mangalapilly served as the administrator of the eparchy for one year. Rev. Fr Joseph Kodakallil, a priest of the diocese, was appointed the third bishop of the eparchy on 22nd July 2015. He was consecrated and installed on 15th September 2015 by His Beatitude Mar George Cardinal Alencherry.
Progress of the Mission
Given the small number of Catholics, it would be unrealistic to expect missionary personnel to do all the charitable works on their own. Hence as a matter of fact, the eparchy depended and continues to depend almost completely on outside resources. All the missionary personnel are from Kerala, the mother church. Since the mission was entrusted to the Vincentian Congregation from the very beginning, the congregation provided necessary missionary personnel to the eparchy. When the mission expanded and the need for more missionary personnel was felt, the bishop contacted many congregations, diocesan priests and sisters and made them aware of the demanding situation in the Satna mission. New mission stations were opened one by one, depending on the availability of personnel and resources. The opening of the educational institutions, dispensaries and other charitable institutions provided a chance to offer valuable services to different communities and at the same time to fulfil the missionary responsibilities.
As a great visionary, reading the signs of time, Mar Abraham D Mattam foresaw that the eparchy could progress only with the integral development of the poor, who are generally denied access to public amenities. Mar Abraham D Mattam is of the opinion that unless there are schools of our own, the standard of education and its values cannot be fully achieved. Thus, the eparchy started both Hindi and English medium schools. Balawadis for pre-school children, functional literacy programmes, non-formal education for the rural women and the grihini training are all new ventures launched in the eparchy on a large scale.
Health awareness and the general development of the people are given due importance in the eparchy. The eparchy encourages as many religious congregations as possible to open rural health centres with out-reach programme for community health activities within the eparchy. Community health workers, trained and placed in interior villages, are of great help to the rural people who have other medical facilities within their reach.
Uplift of the poor and the neglected tribal in the rural areas remains one of the major foci of the mission. A number of mission stations have been developed, even in the far-off villages. One mission centre was set up at Karimatti, in the tribal belt of Sidhi district, in 1974. The Catholic Ashram at Dewra and church at Kailaspur were set up in 1975. The year 1976 saw the erection of mission station at Odgady. Gijwar and Prithvipur mission stations were established in 1979. Many mission stations like Koond (1987), Deosar (1996), Kothi (2002) and Lavkushnagar (2007) arose to advance the rural mission by showing compassion for all and by preferentially serving the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised.
The eparchy of Satna placed equal emphasis on urban development. Education centres were set up in all prominent urban localities of the eparchy, like Chhatarpur, Jayant, Khajuraho, Maihar, Nowgong, Panna, Rewa, Sidhi, Satna, Singrauli, Tikamgarh, Vindhyanagar and Waidhan.
The eparchy of Satna always envisaged a healthy society where people, especially the poor and the marginalised, attain and maintain holistic well-being. To make quality health services available, affordable and accessible to all, especially in the undeserved areas, namely Karimatti (1975), Odgady (1976), Gijwar (1977), Dewra (1979), Kailaspur (1979), Pateri (1979), Singrauli (1979), Koond (1988) and Panna (2018), the eparchy established dispensaries and hospitals.
The eparchy paid special attention to the care and upliftment of the different-abled of society. Missionaries work relentlessly to facilitate a better life by bringing differently-abled children into the mainstream of society. Asha Bhawan, a centre for the physically challenged, was established in 1999 at Panna. Sneh Sadan (1999) and Prem Sadan (2000) are the other two special schools which cater the needs of the visually-impaired, hearing-impaired, physically-challenged and mentally-challenged.
Ever since its inception, the eparchy of Satna has made rapid strides in the progress of the church in this non- Christian area. The destiny of any new eparchy depends ultimately on the devoted hands of its missionaries. The eparchial bishops were keen on opening formation houses for both men and women. There are fourteen religious congregations for men and women working in this eparchy. Realising the need for missionary formation, some of these religious communities have arranged at least a part of the formation of their candidates in the mission itself. It helps the candidates to have a picture of their future missionary responsibility well in advance. Moreover, being convinced of a formation suitable to the missions, different houses of formation have also sprung up in the eparchy.
St Ephrem’s Theological College, the Syro Malabar Synodal seminary, is one of the institutions that will stand out as witness to the missionary zeal and the farsightedness of Mar Abraham D Mattam. It had its humble origin in the Eparchial Pastoral Centre (Edessa) at Pateri, with just seventeen students from various mission dioceses and congregations. Trusting in the ever bounteous providence of god, it was inaugurated on 3rd July 1992, under the patronage of the great eastern sage, St Ephrem, with the prayers and hope that it might be the nourishing ground for many zealous missionaries to serve the mother church. It was elevated to the status of Syro Malabar Synodal Seminary on 29th March 2010 by His Beatitude Cardinal George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of Syro Malabar Church.
Mar Mattam was eager to open a minor seminary for the eparchy in the mission itself with a view to proper missionary formation. Hence, the St Thomas Minor Seminary was inaugurated on 3rd July 1996. Christu Vidya Niketan (Regional Minor Seminary, Madhogarh, 1982), Regional Minor Seminary (Padra, Rewa, 2017) and Vincentian Study House (Ephrem Nagar, Kothi, 1997) are the houses of formation of the Vincentian Congregation.
Bethania, a theological institute for religious sisters, was opened on 15th July 1998, with the aim of providing missionary and theological formation to the religious sisters who are in the mission field. The institute was later entrusted to DST Congregation, which started four month intensive theological courses coupled with mission experience for the pre- novices of different congregations at Bethania on 3rd July 2009. Professors from St Ephrem’s Theological College render their service with other theological experts to ensure that the future missionaries are theologically equipped and sound.
The other houses of formation for candidates and sisters are:
- SH Novitiate House (for the common canonical novitiate for the three mission provinces of Assam, Delhi and Ujjain of SH Congregation, 1994)
- SH Formation House (for the aspirants and postulants of Jeeva Jyoti, Delhi Province, 1991)
- SD Formation House (for the postulants belonging to the Pushpadham Province, Delhi, 1995)
- CSN Formation House (for the candidates and postulants of Christ Jyoti Province, Prayagraj, 1997)
- CSN Novitiate House (for the novitiate of Christ Jyoti Province, Prayagraj, 1999)
- SABS Formation House (for the aspirants and postulants of Christu Jyoti Province, Satna, 1997)
- CSN Formation House (Psycho-spiritual Integrative Training programmes for religious and those who are in formation, Kothi, 2014)
Focus areas of the eparchy
The eparchy of Satna has focused on providing quality education in urban and rural areas to meet the educational needs of the poor and underprivileged population. Over twenty six schools, from kindergarten to higher secondary schools in the rural and urban areas are the vehicles of change. These schools strive to offer quality education, affordable to the poorest, which is otherwise often unavailable. Our non-formal educational programmes include balawadies, remedial classes for weaker students, literacy programmes, adult education and more.
The eparchy of Satna, from its very inception, has initiated social development activities and been committed to sustainable development with the motto – upliftment of the poor. In order to coordinate the social works of the eparchy, Samaritan Social Service Society (SSSS) was started in 1993. The major focus areas of the society are health, education, agriculture, women empowerment, child care and protection, community health, etc. Over the years, Samaritan has been successful in rendering services to the poor, marginalised and deprived of the society.
Though the number of the faithful is a few, the eparchy of Satna has had the prime focus on the spiritual nourishment of the people of God. Rakshadham, the spiritual renewal centre of the eparchy, was started on 29th June 2016. The most fundamental aspiration of the centre is to preach the Good News to people in a missionary context and to anoint and heal them through the power of intercessory prayers and Eucharistic adorations. Irrespective of caste and creed, people turn to the centre for healing and deliverance.
The catechetical mission of the eparchy aims to help the faithful of all ages to grow in both human and Christian maturity, enriching the whole of life with the leaven of the Gospel. Indeed, they are assisted through different departments and associations such as, Catechism, Family Apostolate, Youth Ministry, Legion of Mary and Altar Boys.
The eparchy of Satna is getting ready to widen its missionary activities by opening new mission stations at Sohawal, Baliyari (Waidhan), Amarpatan, Nagod and Rampur Naikin; among other locations, under the able leadership of Mar Joseph Kodakallil, who has been shepherding the eparchy since 2015.
Over the past fifty years of evangelisation and through various missionary activities, many have been drawn to Christ. They come for the prayers, participate in the liturgical services of the mission centres and experience the love and healing touch of Jesus.
The heart of the eparchy of Satna brims over with joy as she celebrates her fifty years in the heartland of India. The eparchy has made stupendous development in all fields. And it will continue to carry on its missionary works with the motto that has blazed in the hearts of the missionaries since the very inception of the eparchy of Satna.“पर्याटन जनहितम अकरोत – Go around in order to do good for the people”.