Speaking about Seminary and Seminarians, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says: “The seminary is a community journeying towards priestly ministry... One does not become a priest on one’s own. The ‘community of disciples’ is essential, the fellowship of those who desire to serve the greater Church. The seminary is a time when you learn with one another and from one another. In community life, which can at times be difficult, you should learn generosity and tolerance, not only bearing with, but also enriching one another, so that each of you will be able to contribute his own gifts to the whole, even as all serve the same Church, the same Lord. This school of tolerance, indeed, of mutual acceptance and mutual understanding in the unity of Christ’s Body, is an important part of your years in the seminary.” (Pope Benedict XVI, letter to seminarians Oct 18, 2010)
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the St. Joseph’s Regional Seminary in Allahabad (Prayagraj), with its 100 year-long experience of formation, can bear witness to the pope’s reflection on Seminary formation. As the Seminary completes ten decades of its existence in February 2019, it is worthwhile to stop for a while to look back at its long eventful journey, happily yet critically, so that the journey ahead could be undertaken more meaningfully and fruitfully.
It was venerable Bishop Angelo Poli, OFM, Cap., who started the Seminary with just two students in 1919 at Kurji, Patna, as if responding to the prophetic call given by Pope Leo XIII: “ Filii tui, India, administri tibi salutis.” Three years later, when Patna was established as a separate diocese, Bishop Poli had the Seminary shifted to Allahabad. Thus it came to be situated in the heartland of Hinduism, Indian culture and traditions. As the Church in the Gangetic Plains is very much missionary, the Seminary has always given a missionary slant to the formation of priests.
From its inception until 1949 the Capuchins, who alone were working in the Northern territories, looked after the Seminary. Bishop Leonard Raymond invited the Society of Jesus to take up the rectorship and spiritual care of the Seminary and accordingly, from 1949 to 1973, the Jesuits served the Seminary as Rectors and spiritual directors. The year 1969 marked the Golden Jubilee year. Day scholars from Society of St. Paul, the Indian Missionary Society and the Norbertine Order came to the Seminary as they had their study houses in the vicinity.
In 1973, under the Chairmanship of Bishop Alfred Fernandes, St. Joseph’s Seminary was raised to the status of the Regional Seminary and since then the Seminary has been governed by the Board of Bishops of the Agra Ecclesiastical Province and administered by the diocesan clergy. Msgr. Vincent Castellino, Fr. Dhiranand Bhatt, Fr. Henry Patrao, Fr. Joe Castellino, Fr. Joseph Kaithathara (Bishop Emeritus of Gwalior), Fr. Roque D’Costa, Fr. Raphy Manjaly (Bishop of Allahabad), Fr. V. Sebastian and Fr. Francis D’Souza were the diocesan priest-rectors the Seminary has had so far and Rev. Fr. Ronald Tellis is the present Rector. Late Rev. Fr. Joe Castellino was instrumental in getting the Seminary affiliated to the Pontifical Urban University, Rome in April 1989. Therefore, the students of this Seminary have the opportunity to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology.
So far 910 priests have come out of this Seminary and it also has the joy of giving 10 bishops to the Church. It is indeed a heartening experience to look back at the different epoch-making developments that have come about in the course of its journey of 100 years.
First and foremost, this Seminary is fully committed to the mission of Christ entrusted to the Church more specially through the life of witness and proclamation. Along with the required training imparted for priesthood, St. Joseph’s Regional Seminary is known for its mission of Inter-Religious dialogue, Inculturation, Ecumenical promotion and Ecological care.
The Catholic Church teaches that there are ‘Seeds of the Word’ and ‘Rays of that Light which enlightens all’ in other religious traditions as well. Hence the exhortation of the Church is to come out to search for and to discover such Seeds and Rays in other cultures and religions, critique them and to promote them for/by building bridges of relationship, harmony and friendship. Inculturation is recommended in the teaching of Second Vatican Council and is, time and again, emphasised in the papal exhortations. It would not be inaccurate to say that St. Joseph’s Regional Seminary has been a trailblazer in this field. In accordance with the Council’s direction St. Joseph’s Regional Seminary has the joy of being one of the earliest institutions to use Hindi language and many other approved Indian symbols and cultural idioms in the Liturgical celebrations and in the proclamation of the Good News. The mission of Inculturation can be seen in the external structures, in the methods of communication, in the very lifestyle of priests, parish and convents.
The beatitudes (Luke 6:20-23), the teaching with regard to one’s enemies and the command to be merciful just like the Heavenly Father (Luke 6:27-36.) are some of the teachings of Jesus which remain ever inspiring and challenging. All the Christians and much more the Seminarians in the seminaries are expected to take this teaching seriously and regulate their lives accordingly. Hundred years old St. Joseph’s Regional Seminary has not only the satisfaction of having the mission thrust in its formative schedule but also the joy of living in evangelical poverty, friendship and love. We aim at being faithful to the command of being compassionate by our regular sacrifices, organized charitable labours and more specifically in this centenary year the practice of feeding the poor with our limited resources and also trying to help our support staff to find some affordable houses. We the JOSEM (Joseph’s Seminary) members not only pray for all those who may not be in good terms with us and the Church but come forward to extend our friendship, help and motivate them to shed off the prejudices and do good to them in our simple and humble ways. We not only try to live this great teaching of Jesus but also try to mediate the same in the midst of our neighbours.
The command of LOVING, with sacrifice and forgiveness as its components, translated in SERVING all especially the marginalized and those at peripheries and thus being led to SEE God in their midst and on their tired, worn out, dishevelled and distorted faces is the criterion that Jesus establishes as qualifying standard to become worthy of the Kingdom of God. (Cfr. Matthew 25:31-46). Propelled as well as empowered by the demand of ‘Last Judgement’ we Josem members at least once a week go out to serve the poorest of the poor, living in inhuman conditions such as those living in the slums, highways and street corners, at the railway platforms and those discarded ones living in the leprosy centres and at other such shelters. In this year of centenary we took upon ourselves to motivate families living in the slums. By meeting and talking with the children and parents regularly, organizing camps for them and providing the children with the needed learning tools, we were successful in enrolling the children in schools. We also helped some senior students to complete their training and find jobs by paying their fees from money saved through our tiny sacrifices. A group of Josem members regularly visit the centre for leprosy patients and serve them by helping them to clean their surroundings, feeding them, cleaning and bandaging their wounds and thus alleviating their sorrow to the extent possible. Like St. Mother Theresa we also sincerely seek to find our Lord Jesus in midst of these ‘ anawim’ of the Lord.
Working for peace and harmony and thus bringing about friendship, unity and brotherhood is yet another uncompromising demand that Jesus places before anyone who may desire to know God and to be known as Child of God. (Matthew 5: 3-12). Inspired and enabled by this Call of Jesus to mediate and to work for peace and harmony, the Josem members not only call for but also engage in dialogue with all. With conviction, the ‘Josemites’ move out, establish contact with different religious centres and relate with different religious leaders and the followers of different faiths. In this centenary year we have arranged a number of inter-religious and ecumenical gatherings both in the seminary premises and (also) in other religious centres. This year we arranged a special programme known as ‘Inter-religious celebration’ which differed from the regular inter-religious dialogues. This gathering is aimed at critiquing one’s own and speaking well of the other. Every religious group demonstrated the need and the method of building brotherhood from their respective religious traditions and Scriptures. We invite other religious leaders to our Seminary regularly in order to listen to them, to learn from them, to relate and to share with them our belief and faith. This inter-religious programme has done such recognizable good in our neighbourhood that people with certain prejudices were able to see the truth and find goodness in others too.
Ecology is another important area of concern in the formation-schedule of St. Joseph’s Regional Seminary where the encyclical ‘ Laudato si’ is well known, well received and acclaimed. In this encyclical Pope Francis writes extensively drawing the attention of the people towards contributing our mite in order to save our Common Home, Mother Earth. Josem family, being committed to save the mother earth, has taken extensive steps in this regard. The Seminary decided to spend quality time in the garden with the nature. ‘Eco-healing, a step towards entire (holistic) healing’ was the slogan for the centenary year. The activities witnessed the participation of the entire community in some way or the other. We conducted and keep organizing seminars on preservation of nature, promote ecological awareness in us and in those whom we meet and thus have made it our mission as well as part of our spirituality.
Another noteworthy point is that this Seminary is open to all and welcomes every one. In humble and simple ways this Seminary has served Prayagraj; it has the joyful memory of receiving some well-known Hindi literary stalwarts such as Suryakant Tripathi Nirala, Sumitranandan Pant, Mahadevi Verma and others under its roof. This has had the honour of being a home to great Hindi Scholars and thinkers like Fr. Camil Bulcke, Msgr. Extross, Bp. Baptist Mudartha, Fr. Bhatt and many others.
The Seminary began its centenary celebration last year with the opt theme, “Shepherd after God’s Heart: to Witness and to Proclaim.” Jesus claims to be the “Good Shepherd” who lays down his life for his sheep (Jn 10:1-18). He goes after the strayed ones and when he finds them carries them back to the fold on his shoulders. Pope Francis explains the meaning of being a good shepherd in today’s context. According to him “Being good shepherd means “meditating on the Gospel every day to pass on its message through one’s life and preaching.” It also means experiencing God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” It means feeding on faith and love of the Eucharist in order to provide nourishment to the Christian people.” “It means being men of prayer so as to become the voice of Christ that praises the Father and constantly intercedes for their brothers” (to seminarians from Pontifical Leonine College of Anagni, 15th April 2014). It has been our endeavour to live the Good Shepherd-paradigm more intensely during this centenary time with an ardent desire to make it our regular lifestyle.
As we celebrate the centenary year of our Seminary, we thank God for this great institution, and for all the wonderful services done in and through it. As we look back gratefully we also look forward hopefully with the determination that the values which this great Institution has lived and spread joyfully and happily in its journey of 100 years may continue to be our basis, so that guided and enabled by the same, we may, like good shepherds, march ahead serving all the people especially those at the periphery and thus bearing witness to our Lord and Master. “Russian mystics used to say that in moments of spiritual upheaval we must take refuge under the cape of the Holy Mother of God”: as Pope Francis says, we must go out “wearing Mary’s cape.” At the culmination of the centenary celebration we ask for the blessings of all especially for the intercession of our beloved Mother Mary, our Patron St. Joseph, all the saints and all the angels. God be praised.(Published on 18th March 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 12)