ST ANTHONY'S CHURCH
St. Anthony’s Parish in the former days comprised of four villages namely Marve, Malwani, Rathodi and Kharodi. Today it has grown in length and breadth encompassing the new areas: Jankalyan, Bhoomi Park, Alitalao and the surrounding area.
Marve Village: The people of this sandy village close to the Marve beach were originally farmers and also engaged in fishing activities. Marve is also famous for its Heavy Bridging Training Camp for the Navy.
Malwani Village: Once famous for its tall palm trees, thick jungle and creeks with its acres of land, now thickly populated with migrants. An important landmark of this place is the “All India Radio Station’
Rathodi Village: This village is famous for its vast acreage of paddy fields and mango orchards. This village is replete with East Indian culture with a happy blend of Portuguese. Walk through the village will reveal villagers relaxing in their beautiful cottages.
Kharodi Village: Once famous for its acres and acres of salt pans, now full of manmade mountains that have attracted people from all around to shift and make this place their home. In this ‘Gaothan’ earmarked area, you can witness typical “East Indian’ culture…, sons of the soil in the true sense.
Going back to the history of St. Anthony’s Church, this was constituted as a separate unit sometime around 1630. It was one of the villages that had formed part of the “Magetana
Rectorate” developed into an independent Parish as described by Paulo de Trindade. It is also mentioned that in 1680 it was referred to for the first time in the provincial statutes of that year. (The Franciscan period 1547-1739)
Fr. A. Herman in his book” “The Franciscan in Bombay” has defined the strength of the Church in just a few words. “At present St. Anthony’s Parish of Malwani counts some 1400 Catholics”
RISE FROM THE ASHES
The Church was burnt twice by the Marathas. 1739 to 1833 was a dormant period for this
Church as the parish went into a long hibernation. The year 1833-the Renaissance period witnessed a great awakening for Malwani Parish. The laity constructed a small Chapel with a cemetery (the present K.G. Class ). The people were now motivated further to build the Church. The construction of the present Church started somewhere in 1834 and it was finally completed in 1835. St. Anthony’s Statue was flown in from Portugal and installed at the main altar. It was one of the biggest statues in accordance with the wishes of the Parishioners.
St. Anthony, rightly designated as Saint of Miracles always attracts people from far and wide to venerate this statue. Devotees from early times were outsiders. People from across the ferry in Manori and Gorai flocked in large numbers. The statue was known as “Firgoshia”. On the 3 rd of March 1835, an imposing marble statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 4 feet in height was brought from Italy ( the statue is now placed in the Cemetery).it was erected in the Church and the Parish was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by His Grace, The Archbishop of Goa. The expense of the statue was
defrayed by Andrew Henriques (Patel of the Village of Rathodi).
Fr. Diago Manuel Gomes of Amboli was the first parish priest of this new Church from 1835 to 1842. The parish was completely isolated from the rest of the city as it was separated by the Valnai creek. Life here was a dull and slow, with no mode of transport. Due to the inconveniences, many families shifted to places like Orlem, Bandra, Andheri, Girgaum etc. The first road was constructed in 1854 and the very same walls of the first Church are still in existence. Then came the Malad Railway Station, which was set up in 1892.
THE JOURNEY GETS BETTER
In 1872 the present parochial house was built (prior to this the priests of this parish lived in huts). Fr. Elias Cyrillo Henriques was the Parish Priest at that time. Informal teaching started under the guidance of Fr. Joano Caetano Pereira somewhere in 1885 and continued till 1890. This was conducted in parochial house. During Fr. Crisantho Angelo’s in 1900, it was a school in the true sense. The strength of the school was 41 students, out of which 28 students were Catholic (Examiner 1916 page 84-105).
The school operated as a Parochial school till 1918. 1901 proved to be a year of great disaster, Plague the dreadful disease struck the village of Malwani and came with such ferocity that it almost wiped off the entire village. The cemetery allotted to the plague victims was insufficient and hence burials were carried out at the back of the church also. The place seemed like the ocean of the dead. Fr. Alcentara Santana Fernandes the parish priest was also a victim of this killer disease. It forced many people to flee from their homes. Malwani the parish once again wore a deserted look.
Subsequently the school progressed. The total number of students did not exceed 50 with classes being conducted in the parochial house and the present K.G classes.
School development took place gradually till 1964 under the leadership of Fr. Francis Xavier Lobo who raised two floors of the building and he succeeded in getting electricity, water, and telephone connections. He leased portion of the church land for installing electrical sub station near all India Radio with the help of which all four villages got electricity. During 1980-81, the Infant Jesus Chapel was build by Rev Fr. Simon Dsouza and a donation drive was organized by Fr. Herman Almeida and the school building was given a face lift.
In 1986 Fr. Saby Correa, a young energetic priest, took over as Principal and Fr. Vincent
Gonsalves as Parish Priest and Manager. Fr. Vincent was a lover of nature. He was popular for his gardening skills. A man blessed with ‘green fingers’ he changed the topography of Malwani Church and school and converted it into a veritable paradise. He planted a variety of fruit and flower bearing trees, many of which still bear luscious crops. He also cultivated vegetables of all types. The surroundings of the school took on a colorful look!
In the year 2000, Fr. Peter D’Mello built the new wing of the school and that was a much
needed addition-Modern with well -ventilated class rooms, it was an invitation to many fresh student to seek admission. A Fete was organized at the same time to collect funds for this expansion which received an overwhelming response.
Since that time, much water has flown through the Valnai creek and the Parish Priests and
Assistant Priests as well as school Principals have made their mark, each leaving behind their own insignia, evident in the all-round growth and wellbeing of the Parish of St. Anthony. From 2012-2016, under the dynamic Vicarship and administrator Fr. Austin Norris and his team, the parish achieved greater heights.
Under Fr. Austin’s leadership, the St. Anthony’s Church which is declared as Heritage structure, under the Government of Maharashtra, sought permission to restore the structure. It took more than 11 months of hard labour and continuous supervision, to achieve the refurbished look. All the Parishioners owe gratitude to Fr. Austin for this achievement. In 2013, Parish Vision Mission statement was reframed as– “UNITED IN PRAYER, WE BUILD THE BODY OF CHRIST, BY ACTIVELY SPREADING LOVE AND PEACE, THROUGH EQUALITY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL” – gives the parishioners new impetus to soar to greater heights.
From 2016, our new Shepherd Fr. Agnelo Fernandes has taken over from Fr. Austin as the
Vicar and Parish Priest with the same zeal and vision to strengthen the Parish with his Vast Experience and knowledge. With his team of Assistant Priests, Pastoral Councilors and through the setup of the dynamic Small Christian Communities in our Parish we are striving to lend credence to the Vision Mission Statement with the help of the enthusiastic parishioners.
IN TUNES WITH THE TIMES
This is a brief history of our Parish. The names of other Priests along the journey have not been cited, nevertheless, each one has played a stellar roles in ensuring the growth and development of this Parish. The developments have led outsiders to come closer to St. Anthony’s Parish and the migrants have been welcomed to settle in adjoining villages. The numbers have steadily burgeoned from the scattered 1400 Catholics to 6500-7000, and at present times to 14000 Parishioners.
Fields and deserted lands have been transformed into concrete jungles to make way for better housing. Most of our Parishioners travel across Bombay through different modes of transport to their work-places or for business.
The times have changed, people have changed and all Catholics around the area have amalgamated into the mainstream to form a vibrant and Model Parish of the Mumbai Archdiocese. This Parish has blossomed and grown with a variety of cells and associations functioning successfully- the RCIA, Family Cell, Women’s cell, Sodality, Society of St. Vincent De Paul, Legion of Mary, Catholic Bible academy ( CBA), Prayer group, Youth group, Liturgy cell, Lectors Ministry, Extraordinary Ministers, Choirs, Sunday school/Alter Servers, Medical Center, Balwadi, Hope and Life Movement , Civic Cell, Sr. Citizens as well as the Marathi Ministry all vibrant and active, not forgetting the resurgence of the Bombay Catholic Sabha.
The team of qualified and competent resource persons within the Parish, also cater to the needs of the parishioners by conducting training and awareness programs at Parish level to reach out to every parishioner, under the guidance of Parish team and Religious of three different Congregations -Sacred Heart, St. Joseph of Tarbes, and Helpers of Jesus. The open-door policy of the Parish Priests to discuss, counsel and assist, irrespective of office timings has helped the parishioners to come closer to the clergy and work as one large family for the betterment of the Parish. With this healthy change, one can only envisage better days and times coupled with new growth with the “Love of God our Father, the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit…..” not forgetting the intercession of St. Anthony, our blessed Virgin Mary and ever powerful St. Joseph her spouse.