The Early Years of the Church in Chittagong Diocese
First Part: 1537-1927
Dates and Events of Historical Importance
Some of the main dates, events and names that appear in historical writings are recorded here in chronological order. This short summary is written in order that they become point of reference for our gratitude, reflection, inspiration and future commitment when celebrate the Fourth Centenary of Evangelization in Chittagong during this Great Jubilee Year 2000.
1518 The first Arrival of Portuguese traders in Chittagong: (Compos, p.27)
1537 The first Portuguese Settlement in Chittagong (Compos, p.66)
Jurisdiction of Cochin Diocese (India)
1598 Rev. Fr. Nicolau de Pimenta, the Metropolitan of the Portuguese India, sent two Jesuit Priests from Cochin to Chittagong: Fr. Francesco Fernandez, S.J. and Fr. Domingo de Sousa, S.J. (Compos, p. 101). The Diocese of Cochin (est. 1557) was the head of the Missions in Bengal. “The two priests… arrived in Chittagong in the year 1598. On reaching Chittagong, the two preachers” declared to the chief inhabitants of the town that the only reason o their coming was to administer the Sacraments and preach the World of God both to the Portuguese and to the native Christians and also to bring to the knowledge of the faith of the infidels they could win over.” (Qanunga, p. 515-516 quoting Du Jarric) (See: Josson, Vol. 1 p. 51+).
Before going to Chandecan (presently Jessore) at the invitation of the King of Chandecan, Fr. Francesco Fernandez and Fr. Domingo De Sousa “first went to Chittagong”. But Josson gives another route of the Missionaries. He said that they from Cochin, first went to Hugli, then to Chandecan, Sripur and then to Chittagong and Diang. (Josson, p.53).
Fr. Fernandez and Fr. Sousa “sailed from Cochin on 3rd May 1598, and arrived in eighteen days at the Little Port (Porto Pequino). From there they sailed up the river to Gullo Goli, (Hugli) where they arrived in eight days after leaving Porto pequino, that is on 21st May, 1598” (Beveridge, 156), (Josson, p. 52).
Beveridge writes: “From Hugli they have gone on to Chittagong. While at Gullo (Hugli) they received an invitation from the King of a place called Chandecan (present Jessore) to pay him a visit. They did not go then, but as Fernandez afterwards heard that the King was angry at their not coming to him, he sent Sousa to Chandecan sometime in 1599 and he met with a favourable reception. Afterwards Fernandez himself went to Chandecan in October 1599, and got letters-patent from the King authorizing him to carry on the mission. In December 1599 Fernandez was at Sripur, and on 22nd of that month he wrote a letter to Nicola Pimenta giving an account of the mission. On 20th January 1600 Fonseca wrote a similar letter from Chandecan. On his way from Chittagong to Chandecan Fonseca traveled through Bakla (Presently Bowphol thana, Patuakhali) and met its young King and the Portuguese Christians who did not have a priest for the last two years.” (Beveridge, p. 156-57).
“In 1598 there were 2500 Portuguese and their descendants in Chittagong and Arakan.” (Campos, p. 105).
1599 Two more Jesuit Priests came to Chittagong (Diang): Fr. Melchior de Fonseca, SJ. and Fr. Andre Boves, SJ. (Campos p. 101). Fr. Andre Boves writes to the Father General from Chittagong on 25th November 1599: “We have arrived in Diang or Chittagong, which is the “Porta Granda” of this country on 17th September. Our journey took 25 days from San-Thome.” (LePailleur, Vol. 1, 56) Fr. Fonseca went to Bakla (Bakerganj) (Campos p. 101-2).
1600 The First Jesuit missionaries erected in Chittagong two Churches and a residence”. (Campos, p. 101). The first Church in Chittagong was dedicated to “John the Baptist” on 24th June, 1600. (LePailleur, Vol. 1, 58).
The Second Church in Chittagong built in the same period was in Jamalkhan, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception where Fr. Fernandez said Mass for the first time on December 8, 1600. (Richer, ibid) (LePaileur Vol. II, 87).
The Portuguese demanded land from the King of Arakan to build a Church in Diang. The demand was granted and the Church was built in Diang in 1600. The size of the Church was 80×40 square feet. Two weeks after arrival of the Dominican Monks the Church was destroyed by fire caused by the war. (LePailleur, Vol. II, 87).
1600 Two Dominican Priests, Fr. Gasper d’Assumption, O.P. and Fr. Belchior de Luz, O.P. came to Diang and built for the first time a “hermitage” in Diang with help of the people. (Campos, p. 268).
At the place of embarkation of the Portuguese, called Koukac, one chapel was erected but washed away in the Karnafuli. (LePaileur, Vol. II, 87).
1602 An attack was made by the Arakanese who drove out the Portuguese from Diang and ransacked the place on November 8, 1602 (Campos).
1602 Fr. Francesco Fernandez, SJ. died on November 14, 1602 after being captured, his one eye being plucked and physically tortured in prison (Campos p. 102). He is buried by Fr. Boves inside the ruins of the first Church dedicated to St. John the Baptist (on the ruins of which the present Holy Rosary Church was built in 1843, which is the present Cathedral) (LePailleur Vol. I, 67). He is the first Christian Missionary who suffered martyrdom in the soil of Bengal. “Fr. Andre Boves was also cast into prison with chains round his neck and legs”. (Campos p. 102).
1602 Jesuit missionaries, Fr. Blasio Nunes and theree others went to Sandwip and started building a church and residence but abandoned the work after being captured by Arakanese in 1603 A.D. (Campos, p. 72).
1603 Dominicans left Chittagong. (LePailleur, Vol. 1, 74).
1605 Franciscans came but for a very short time and were chased away from Chittagong. (Bp. LePailleur, 74).
Jurisdiction of Mylapore Diocese (India)
1606 The Church in Bengal was placed under the Jurisdiction of the newly erected See of Mylapore. (C.L).
1607 As many as 600 Portuguese residing peacefully in Diang were put to the sword by the Arakanese King and murdered in cold blood. The women, children and missionaries were not spared. (Campos, p. 78, 80).
The names of some other missionaries mentioned during this period are: Fr. Blaise Nunes (1612), Fr. Caputti (1617), Fr. Jean Cabral (1620).
1611 The end of the Mission in Sandwip with the departure of Fr. Nunes and Fr. Saleme, s.j.
1621 Arrival of Augustinian Missionaries: Fr. Domingos de la Purification, “Vicar de la Vara Ordinary” for Chittagong. Fr. Ector de Los Angeles, Fr. Francisco de Las L1agos and Fr. Mathew.
1625 In Chittagong fourteen Portuguese Christians were beheaded for the religion of Christ and for the defense of their faith. In an another event 13 local Christians and 4 Portuguese Christians preferred to undergo harsh torments than to give up faith in the true religion. (LePailleur, Vol. I, 77).
1622-1635: Within thirteen years Augustinian Missionaries baptized 28,497 of which 5,110 were natives and the rest were Indian slaves. (LePailleur, Vol. I, 75).
1629-1631: Fr. Sebastian Manrique, Augustinian monk, stayed in Diang and traveled many places including Arakan and wrote many documents of historical importance. His companions were: Fr. Manoel de la Concepcion and Fr. Dioggo Coulan. Three of them baptized 11,407 persons. Fr. Fernao Guerreiro also visited Chittagong in 1929.
Fr. Manrique found a church in Diang built by the Augustinians (LePailleur, Vol. 1, 74).
Manrique expresses his high estimation for an Augustinian sister, “a member of the girdle’ named Monica de la Cruz, “a native of the country”. He praises her as “a most virtuous women and of high repute for her blameless life, and well versed in the foundations of our scared faith”. Manrique makes Monica a model of virtue and surely, here was not the solitary case. (Quanunga).
1666 The Nawab of Dhaka annexed Chittagong to his Kingdom. During this time there were 3 to 7 thousand Christians in Chittagong (LePailleur, Vol. I, 77).
1676 Fr. Manuel de Rozario, (Aug) was in charge of the Mission in Chittagong.
1713 In the Middle of January 1713, Mgr. Fancois Laynes, S.J., the Second Bishop of Mylapore came to Chittagong, the first Bishop to visit the Christians in Chittagong. The Bishop found the biggest number of Catholics under the care of Fr. Claude Barbier in Chittagong. Bishop Laynes stayed nine months without interruption, instructing people, administering sacraments, encouraging people, meeting the officials, and so on. (LePailleur, Vol. I, 78-81).
Fr. Barbier reported that the Christians of Chittagong had theree colonies, “at a half-league from one another. Each of these colonies had its own church, priests and soldier-leaders to look after its interests”.
From Chittagong Mgr. Laynes went to Bhulua at the North-West of Noakhali where about 400 Christians did not have a priest for the last five years. At the occasion of his visit spiriutal retreat, sacramental care and baptisms were given. (Le Pailleur, CRR 7).
1764 The foundation of Padrishibpur Mission in 1764. The name of the first Priest is: Raphael Das Anjos. The first Church was built by Pedro Gonsalves.
1819 Gournadi: The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was established in 1819. The present Church was built in 1913.
1823 In accordance with the will of Domingo de Silva, his son Manuel pulled down the old church of Padrishibpur and built in 1823 the present enlarged edifice with is still existing.
During the long epoch of about hundred years, the withdrawal of the Jesuits the mission work suffered in India. Moreover, in the beginning of the 19th century, political and social agitation in Europe made the recruitment of missionaries very difficult. The churches were without priests and pastoral care and the faith of the people and the religious practices degenerated. Finally Pope Gregory XVI took steps to establish Vicariate Apostolic in Bengal. (Le Pailleaur CRR 7-8).
Vicariate Apostolic of Bengal under the Propaganda Fide
1834 On April 18, the Vicariate Apostolic of Bengal was erected under the Jurisdiction of the Sacred Congregation for Propaganda Fide. (C.L 17). Fr. Robert de Leger, S.J. was named the Vicar Apostolic of Bengal. He was succeeded by Mgr. Taberd in 1838 then Mgr. Carew in 1840.
1843 The Benedictines came to Chittagong in 1843. Fr. Jean Barbe, OSB, a Benedictine joined Fr. Augustus Goiran, Aug. in Chittagong in 1843. Fr. Barbe visited Noakhali where there were already 633 Christians living. He purchased land for the purpose of the Church, priest’s house and school in Noakahli (CL). A small church was built in May/June of 1843. Fr. Thomas Zubiburu, a Carmelite priest was sent to Noakhali who baptized a farmer and his son in 1844.
In 1861 the church of Our Lady of Assumption was built but river eroded it away. The present Church was built 1962 and dedicated to our Lady of Lourdes.
1843 In Chittagong Fr. Goiran built a bungalow which served as school for the girls (CRR 8). The Church of our Lady of the Holy Rosary was built by Fr. Goiran in 1843 and picture of that Church is available at the Archives in Chittagong. (C.L 17).
On August 26, Fr. Thomas Oliffe, s.j. was nominated and ordinated Coadjutor to the Vicar Apostolic of Bengal.
Vicariate of Eastern Bengal (Benedictine Fathers)
1845 The Vicariate Apostolic of Bengal was divided into two in February 17: the Vicariate of Western Bengal headed by Mgr. Carew, and its Seat was in Calcutta, and the Vicariate of Eastern Bengal under the responsibility of Coadjutor Mgr. Thomas Oliffe, S.J. Chittagong was the Seat of Eastern Bengal Vicariate. Mgr. Thomas Oliffe , s.j. took up residence in Chittagong. He gave confirmation to 120 Catholics who never saw a Bishop in their life. (CRR 9).
1846 In Chittagong the Convent of Bethlehem, famous for its poverty, was founded by Mgr. Oliffe on February, 1846 and the Loretto Nuns from Calcutta and Chandernagore convents took the responsibility. They were the pioneers among Sisterhoods in the Vicariate of Eastern Bengal.
1850 Bishop Thomas Oliffe, s.j. was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Bengal on February 15th. (CL 17). At this time in Dhaka, Chittagong and Shibpur there were about 8000 Catholics with 3 priests: Fr. Goiran, Aug., Fr. McGirr, OSB and Fr. Ignatius Storck, OSB.
Vicariate of Eastern Bengal (Holy Cross Congregation)
1853 The arrival of the Holy Cross Missionaries: Priests, Brothers and Marianite Sisters in Calcutta on 19th March; they received assignment at Noakhali in June. On December 8, of the same year Chittagong became the headquarters of Holy Cross Missionaries . (CL 17).
1853 St. Placid’s School: The first School in Chittagong was called Catholic Free School, directed Bro. Benedict (Patrick Fitzpatrick) and later Roman Catholic Day School; the Benedictine Fathers renamed it St. Placid’s School. The first lay director of the School was Mr. Felix Fernandez (1878-1883 and 1885-1899).
1854 The Sisters of Loreto withdrew from Eastern Bengal on January 7. (CL 17).
1855 The Holy Cross missionaries were taking care of Noakhali, Chitagong, Jamalkhan, Katholia, Bakolia and Sylhet.
Death of Brother Benedict, csc. On June 20/ July 8 and Fr. Voisin, csc., the first Religious Superior in Bengal on August 14; drowning of Fr. Alexander Montigny and Sr. M. Des Victoires on August 29. (CL 17).
On December 17, Mgr. Oliffe, s.j. became the Vicar Apostolic of West Bengal and Mgr. Augustus Goiran, Aug. succeeded him as Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern Bengal.
1859 Fr. Verite, csc., the Pro-Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Bengal died on April 26 and buried in the Sea. (CL 17).
1860 On November 25, Fr. Pierre Dufal, csc. was consecrated as Vicar Apostolic of East Bengal.
1862 Visit to Chittagong by Mgr. Charbonneaux, Visitor Apostolic of the Holy See to encourage the Christians of Chittagong.
1871 Sisters of the Marianites of the Holy Cross withdrawn from Eastern Bengal. (CL 17).
1873 The first Church of St. Peter’s in Barisal was built in 1873 although a chapel existed from 1864 which is now the rectory. The present Church was rebuilt in 1901.
1876 Missionaries of Holy Cross were recalled from Eastern Bengal on August 4.
1876 The Monks of the Anglo-Belgian Province of the Cassinese Benedictines took over the Mission in Eastern Bengal and Dom Cuthbert Downey, o.s.b. was appointed pro-Vicar Apostolic in October and took the charge from Bishop Dufal, csc.
1877 A fire destroyed the Priests House and the Orphanage in Chittagong and all the archives were destroyed on 9th December.
1878 Dom Edward Jordain Balseiper, O.S.B. was named Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Bengal on March 28 and was consecrated as Bishop.
1883 St. Scholastic’s Convent: The arrival of five Sisters of Our Lady of the Mission from Lyons in Chittagong led by the Mother Founder of the Congregation, Rev. Mother Marie of the Heart of Jesus. The foundation date of the Convent is March 25, 1883.
Rt. Rev. Bishop Balsieper, OSB placed the parochial house at the disposal of the Sisters, while the Fathers occupied the house which now forms the middle of the group of buildings comprising St. Scholastica’s. The main building of the one today was completed on 15 August, 1886. The Sisters began with an orphanage and school. A Novitiate was established in 1889.
Jurisdiction of Dhaka Diocese
1886 On September I, the Diocese of Dhaka was canonically erected and Bishop Balsieper was the frist Bishop of Dhaka, and Chittagong was under the Jurisdiction of Dhaka. (Le Pailleur, CRR 14).
1888 The Holy Cross came back to Eastern Bengal and Fr. Michael Fallize, csc. was appointed Superior and Administrator.
1890 There were already three chapels at Sikarpur, Dhandoba and Airkandi from 1884 and a Church was built in Gournadi dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on December, 13, 1913.
1891 The Second Bishop of Dhaka: Rt. Rev. Augustin Lougae, csc., (1891-94).
1894 Mgr. Louage writes that at this time he had 15 priests and one catechist. He built 3 Churches, 4 chapels, two residences for the missionaries. He rebuilt the Orphanage in Chittagong.
1894 The Third Bishop of Dhaka: Rt. Rev. Peter Joseph Hurth, CSC (1894-1909);
1901 The opening of the Mission in Narikelbari. The first Church of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus was built in 1921.
1909 The Fourth Bishop of Dhaka; Ret. Rev. Francis Fredrick Linneborn, csc (1909-1915).
1910 Mr. Richard George Brown from Barisal was decorated with “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice”.
1916 The Fifth Bishop of Dhaka: Rt. Rev. Joseph Armand Legrand, csc (1916-1929).
1924 At Pahartoli, a Church dedicated to St. Joseph was built by and for the railway people who were mostly from Goa.
1927 Dhaka Diocese was divided and the Diocese of Chittagong was erected.
BEVERIDGE, H., B.C.S, The District of Bakarganj: Its History a Statistics; London Trubner & Com.,
Ludgate Hill, 1876. Reprinted by Bakarganj Districk Coouncil, Habib Press & Publications, 88, Sadar Road, Barisal, 1970.
D’COSTA Mr. Jerome, Bangladesh Catholic Mondoli, Vol. 1. Dhaka, 1988.
CAMPOS, J.J.A., History of the Portuguese in Bengal, Calcutta & London, Butterworth & Co., 1919. Reprinted with an Introduction by B.P. Ambashthya, Pub. by Janaki Prakashan, Ashopk Rajpath, Chauhatta, Patna 800004, 1979. Campos heavily relies on information given by Joao De BARROS, Decade de Asia, Lisboa, 1777. Barros wrote voluminous history which contains events in Chittagong under Arakan and Mughal regime.
JOSON, H, S.J., La Mission de Bengale Occidental OU Archdiocese de Calcutta, Vol. Bruges, Imprimerie Sanite-Catherine, 1921.
LePAILLEUR, Bishop Alfred, the first Bishop of Chittagong, Le District de Chittagong et Notre Mission Catholique, Vol. I, and Le Diocese de Chittagong au Bengale, Vol. II, Manuscript, written in 1943, Bishop’s House, Chittagong.
For early History of the Christianity in Bengal Bishop LePAILLEUR heavily depends on the brochure nemed “Premiere Missio organisee au Bengal” by Rev. Fr. Theo Richer, s.j.
——-, “Compte-rendu du Diocese de Chittagong”, Envoye a Rome, Ie 8/1/1929
QANUNGO, Dr. Sunity Bhushan, A History of Chittagong, Vol. I, Pub. by Dipankar Qanungo, 1988.
The Chittagong Letter: Historical Notes, compiled into two volumes, Bishop’s House, Chittagong.
Second Part: 1927-2000 (PDF Version in Bengali)