Capuchins in India

Present status of Capuchin brothers in India

There are presently over 200 fraternities (friaries, communities or houses) in India with their presence being in some other places to. This rise in the number of brothers called to a religious way of life is in complete contrast with the scarcity of vocations in the Western countries. There are at present nearly 1400 brothers in India itself, with some others already working as missionaries in other countries. The United Indian Province of 1963 has since been bifurcated into 11 Provinces, including Goa as well as 2 other custodies in North India and the North East. The phenomenal rise in the number of vocations has made the Order and the church at large to look towards India for help to file up the vacant ecclesiastical offices in the West. It is a journey which began way back in 1632 when the first Capuchin missionaries set foot in India.

Initial presence and attempts at the Implantation of the Order

The arrival of the Capuchins in India dates back to the year 1632 when a band of foreign Capuchin Missionaries landed in Pondicherry. Their intention was to extend their missionary thrust to Tibet and Nepal; however it turned out that they continued their missionary ventures in the Vicariate of Agra and Patna. After slogging as missionaries for about two and half centuries, the idea of implanting the Order in India was considered as a possibility. Hence in 1880 a novitiate house was opened in Mussoorie. Just ten years later, however, this novitiate was closed down for want of vocations. A second attempt at beginning the Order in India was made on 26 February 1922, at the instance of the then General Minister of the Order, Br. Joseph Anthony of Persiceto. He inaugurated the novitiate personally at Sardhana, which could be said as the cradle of the Capuchin Order in India for many years to come. Two Indian novices were vested on this occasion in the novitiate named after St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, the Protomartyr of the Capuchin Order. The Superiors Regular of Agra, Ajmer, Allahabad and Lahore were jointly responsible for the success of this venture. Vocations to the Order came from many dioceses of India but more from the South than the North. To overcome many of the initial teething troubles in the area of formation, the novitiate was later placed under the care of the Superior Regular of Ajmer and to continue the post-novitiate formation, a study house was started at St. Francis Monastery, Mussoorie. The early Capuchins were then sent to Europe to pursue their further studies with the French friars at Breust, Tours and Nantes.

Movement towards South and Rapid growth

The absence of a strong, vibrant and populous Christian community in North India, even as the extreme weather conditions of the place called for a transfer of the novitiate from North to a more favourable location in the South. The Province of Paris was called upon to undertake this venture. The Capuchins were offered a little hill at Farangipet, called Monte Mariano, in the diocese of Mangalore and hence the decision to shift the novitiate was carried out in May 1930. Monte Mariano therefore can well be called the second cradle of the Capuchins in India. From then on the growth of the Capuchins was rapid and already in 1932 a study house was set up in Quilon and most of the students who had not yet finished their studies abroad were brought back to continue their studies there.

Naming of Br. Guido Le Floch as the General Commissary in 1933 marked the next phase of the growth of the Order in India. The influx of candidates was unabated and the Order grew from strength to strength. Br. Richard Brunner from Calvary Province of USA, who was put in charge of the Indian Capuchin Mission, was made Commissary Provincial in 1951, in 1954 Br. Cyril Andrade became the first Indian to head the unit as Commissary Provincial. In 1956 the Agra Archdiocese was entrusted to the Order and Br. Dominic Athaide was consecrated as the first Indian Capuchin Bishop of Agra. The number of Capuchins by now had grown from 41 in 1933 to almost 200 in 1960.

Formation of an Autonomous Indian Province

Br. Clement of Milwaukee, the General Minister, who had known the growth of the Capuchin jurisdiction in India already at the time of his first visit, during his second term as General Minister paid a second visit in 1962, expressly for the purpose of constituting the Indian unit into a full-pledged Capuchin Province. Br. John Berchmans Puthuparambil was appointed as its first Provincial Minister. Ever since the novitiate was shifted to Monte Mariano, the province had seen nothing but a steady and rapid growth, so much so that by the year 1967, just 40 years after migrating to the South, it could count about 500 friars distributed among 40 houses in the 5 states of Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Besides, they were also working in many states of Northern India as missionaries and even in some foreign countries like Indonesia, the Phillipines and Tanzania as formators. Some had reached as far as Malaysia with a view of implanting the Order. In these circumstances, the need of creating smaller jurisdictions for the sake of greater efficiency and a better implantation of the Order in various regions in India became not only apparent butalso urgent. The first discussion to this effect took place during the Provincial Chapter of 1969. Next in 1969 Br. Jacob Acharuparambil was elected as the Provincial Minister. He was also the last of Provincial Ministers of the united Indian Province as the jurisdiction had grown too big and as such stood in great need of a division, if only for the sake of sheer good administration. Meanwhile in December 1971, Br. Symphorian Keeprath was nominated Bishop of Jalandhar Diocese and a whole civil State of Punjab was thus entrusted to the care of the Capuchins in India.

Division of the Indian Province

Ever since the novitiate was shifted to Monte Mariano, Farangipet (Karnataka) the Province had seen nothing but steady and rapid growth, so much so, by the year 1967, just forty years after migrating to the South, it could count about 500 friars distributed among 40 houses in the five states of Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Besides they were working also in many other States of northern India as missionaries and even in some foreign countries like Indonesia, Philippines, and Tanzania as Formators. Some had reached as far as Malaysia with a view to implanting the Order. In these circumstances, the need of creating smaller jurisdictions for the sake of greater efficiency and a better implantation of the Order in the various regions in India became not only apparent but also urgent. The first discussion to this effect took place during the Provincial Chapter of 1969.

The General Minister and his Definitory, having taken note of the situation sent Br. Aloysius Ward to conduct an on the spot and a thorough study of the state of affairs prevailing in the Province during the visitation from November 1971 to February 1972. It was then followed up by the then General Minister, Br. Paschal Rywalski, himself.As a result at the end of March 1972, the General Minister and his Definitory took the important but necessary decision to dismember the Province into four units, namely Province of St. Joseph, Kerala, Province of Holy Trinity, Karnataka-Goa-Maharashtra (KGM), Province of Amala Annai, Tamil Nadu and the Vice-Province of St. Francis, Kerala. The decree to this effect, signed on 9 May 1972, was promulgated at St. Joseph's Friary, Kotagiri, on 17 May by Br. Aloysius Ward, along with the names of the new Provincial Superiors and their Definitory