Capuchins in India

The Order of the Friars Minor Capuchin took root in Indian soil some 380 years ago, and bore fruit abundantly. It started like a small mustard seed when a band of six French Capuchin missionaries from Syria joined a group of French sailors to East India and arrived at Pondicherry, a small ham1et on the Tamil coast on January 8, 1632. This was the principal arrival of the Capuchins in India followed by the subsequent establishment of missions in Surat (1639) and in Madras (1642). The spiritual thirst of this ancient land, India, attracted other missionary endeavours as well.

In 1707, a group of Italian Capuchins ventured as missionaries in to Tibet, leading Rome, in 1832. to elevate the prefecture of Tibet-Hindustan into a Vicariate, comprising the whole of North India, Pakistan. Nepal and Tibet. The missionary need of the vast Vicariate, entrusted to the Capuchins, brought zealous Capuchin missionaries from France, Italy, Switzerland. Austria, Belgium. England, Ireland, Malta, America and Canada. The tireless labour of these first Capuchin missionaries contributed significantly to the Christian and the Catholic mission in India with the establishment of 35 dioceses by them. The Order also took strong roots in the Indian soil so that a novitiate was established at Mussoorie, North India as early as 1880 to cater to the local vocations.

The vibrant growth of the Order in India and the political situation of the Asian continent in general witnessed the establishment of a General Commissariat and an Indian Unit of the Order in 1921. Fr. John Baptist Trannanzi of Florence, from the Province of Tuscany was the first Commissary General while the first Indian Unit of the Order was entrusted to the four Superiors Regular of the North Indian Mission. namely: Agra, Ajmer, Allahabad and Lahore. The Indian Unit was later raised to the status of Custody (Commissariat) and was entrusted to the Province of Paris on February 21, 1927. The re-opening of the Novitiate in 1922 in Northern India and its subsequent shifting to Southern India in 1930 led to a rapid growth in local vocations so that St. Joseph's Friary at Kotagiri. Tamil Nadu was established in 1949 as the first house of theology for the Capuchins in India. The study growth of the Order received further impetus with the appointment of Fr. Cassian Timmins, a Canadian, 10 the Commissariat in 1957, with Shanthi Ashram at Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu becoming the curia of the commissariat.

The hand of the Lord mightily blessed the growth of the Order in India, increasing its numbers from 41 (1933) to almost 200 (1960). The growth continued unabated and the Indian commissariat was soon elevated to a full-fledged Capuchin Province in 1962 under the patronage of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Fr. John Berchmans of Chirakadavu was appointed the first Provincial Minister of the Province of India. By 1967, the Indian Capuchin province consisted of some 500 friars distributed among the 40 friaries established in five states: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. Besides, they were also working in many other Northern States of India and in Malaysia as missionaries implanting the Order. The abundant growth and the efficient organization of these fruits necessitated restructuring and smaller jurisdictions. Br. Paschal Rywalski, the then General Minister, and his definitory decided to divide the Capuchin Religious Province of India into four smaller units. This gave birth to the three Indian Capuchin Provinces and one Vice-Province: Amala Annai Province: Tamil Nadu, 51. Joseph Province: Kerala, Holy Trinity Province: Karnataka-Goa-Maharashtra (KGM), and St. Francis Vice-Province: Kerala. The decree to this effect, signed on May 09, 1972, was promulgated at St. Joseph's Friary, Kotagiri, on May 17 the same year by Br. Aloysius Ward, the General Definitor.

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