Santal Mission

The Jesuits are a religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church,

committed to the service of Christ and his people.

☇ Santal Mission

When the Jesuit General entrusted the Hazaribag- Palamau Districts (with the borders of 1951) to the Australian Province, the eastern section included the whole of the present Giridih District. The vast majority of the tribal people there were Santals, but the Catholic Population had largely immigrated from the Ranchi Mission and was Uraons, Mundas and Kharias. The Santals had never really been contacted, and were virtually all illiterate.

Then the dynamic Fr. Eduard De Meulder arrived in 1952 and set up the beginnings of a parish near Maheshmunda Station with Sisters running schools there (Holy Cross) and in Giridih (CSST Carmel). Almost all the boarders were Santals, but actual work in the Santal villages had hardly begun.

In April 1965 Fr. Leonard Forster had taken over and Fr. Hans Hendriks joined him there after his theology. He had picked up some Santali during his regency there and found that many of his former boarders had remained in contact. In fact some of these boys and a few family members (from Chankiari village) then made up their minds to become Catholics and were baptised in that first Easter (1965).The family of Fr. Vincent Hansdak S.J. were among them.

For the next three years, for two weeks of every month priests were out in the villages; and the next two weeks there were catecumenates in the centre, with Sisters, catechists and others instructing the neophytes in the centre, ending with a large Baptism/Confirmation ceremony in the church. Also at this stage the Jesuit missionaries took our first tentative steps towards full "inculturation" especially the marriage and funeral ("um saoha") ceremonies, where Christians and non-Christian alike offered animals at Mass.

During 1969, news came that the Nunciature in Delhi had proposed the transfer in the then Giridih sub-District to the Bhagalpur Diocese. The administrative reasons were that Bhagalpur had many more Santali-speaking clergy and other resources too. At the Province Christmas Meeting a vote was taken, and the Hazaribag Province voted (36 to 2) to keep Giridih part of the Hazaribag Province/Diocese. However Delhi proceeded with the transfer. In the event, Bhagalpur really moved in with great largesse, both men and money. There were some separation pains, but at this time of writing there are some 12 well established parishes throughout the area, and new schools in many places. It is unlikely that at the time Hazaribag had the means for such developments. Another more delayed after-effect is that Hazaribag could now begin to concentrate on the Santals within its own borders people who had not really been contacted before.

In 1972 Hans Hendriks was relieved of his parish duties in Hazaribag and, began a full-time apostolate in the Santal villages near Charhi. Others became interested in this Santal approach and they were joined by Holy Cross Sisters, SCN Sisters, and even occasional Clarist Sisters from Kodarma, and Medical Mission Sisters from Mandar joined in the evangelization work.

The original group worked out a kind of experimental apostolic life style. It basically involved living full time in the Santal villages, with the people in their houses - and so, not owning any land or houses for themselves - and sharing their food, style of dressing, travel etc. After some years it became obvious that the absence of some centres or institutional structures was apostolically just not practicable. So it was the Regional Superior, R. C. Chacko, who decided to open some centres, principally in Charhi from where Sr Gemma MMS had moved to Kasiadih. That tiny school has now developed into Masi Marsal High School. The Holy Cross Sisters followed up expansion into education by opening Marsal Mandir School in Kuju.

Eventually the work among the Santals moved into the Bisungarh area to the east of Hazaribag where a second parish was set up in Kajarkilo with its own High School in 1992 and the FCC Sisters undertook to run a dispensary. From there the work expanded and a third parish was established in Patki with CMC Sisters running the High School which opened in 1998. The Sisters opened their own dispensary and grihini/sewing school.

There are now four parishes with large Santal majority congregations; Charhi with 262 families in 50 villages; Kajarkilo with 260 families in 70 villages; Patki with 80 families in 30 villages. Altogether these number some 1500 Catholic families, served by 7 Jesuits, several part time Sisters and 11 full time Catechist. The importance of catechists is a feature of this apostolate. The four High Schools have a total of 3800 students, of which 1634 are boarders.

The apostolate of the Santal people has focused on three areas: inculturation, evangelisation and education.

“For Ignatius being a Companion of Jesus in His Salvific mission gave direction and purpose to life. Companionship with Jesus in Mission is Central to Ignatian Spirituality.”

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