PATRICIANS IN INDIA
Christianity in India may date from apostolic times, and the tomb of St. Thomas, Apostle, is honoured at Mylapore. Shipping contacts between Rome and India already existed and considerable Christian communities were found long the southern coast from ancient times. Missionary contracts continued through the middle ages, and especially after the early sixteenth century. In 1835 the Rt. Rev. Daniel O'Connor OSA took charge of the newly-created Apostolic Prefecture of Madras and was succeeded three years later by Dr. Patrick Carew. The Maynooth Mission to Madras was the direct rulust and when the Rev. John Fennelly went out in 1839, he took with him the Rev. Godfrey Mitchell, a founding member of the Aloysian society at Galway. John's bro, Bishop Stephen Fennelly brought the Patrican Brothers to Madras in 1875. Both were uncles of Bro Vincent Laffan of Mountrath (1857-1917)
BISHOP DANIEL DELANY (1747- 1814)
Bishop Daniel Delany, the founder of the Patrician Brothers was born in Mountrath, Ireland in the year 1747. As he lost his father early, he was looked after by his maternal aunts. As the then Ireland was impoverished and lacked basic education facilities, he was sent to France to study. Brilliant in studies and gifted in writing, Daniel became a priest in 1770 or so. Soon he returned to Ireland and was appalled on seeing the utter misery of his countrymen. He used his Sundays for exhorting the grownups and gradually gathered the children for prayer and general education. In 1784, he was consecrated as bishop and soon plunged himself deeply into improving the life of his countrymen. To continue his vision for Ireland even after his death, he founded two religious congregations namely “The Brigidine Sisters” for women on 1st February, 1807 and “Patrician Brothers” on 2nd February, 1808. Entrusting the flame he lit, to his beloved sisters and brothers, he left for his heavenly reward on 9th July, 1814. The brothers, “The Bearers the flame” of Daniel Delany works today in Ireland, USA, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Kenya, India, Ghana, South Sudan and Dubai.
St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of the Congregation of the Brothers of St. Patrick or popularly known as Patrician Brothers was born in Scotland around the year 385 A.D as the son of an influential Roman Christian family. At the age of 14 or so, he was captured by the Irish Raiders and was sold as a slave. He spent the next 6 years or so in the wilderness of Ireland, tending the sheep of his master, during which it is believed that he received an inner call to serve the people of Ireland. At the age of 20 or so he escaped to Gaul (France) and later became a priest. Soon he was elevated to be a bishop and was sent to Ireland. He is credited to have converted the whole of Ireland to Christianity. After years of toil he left for his eternal reward on 17th March, 461. His life and his prayer “Breastplate of St. Patrick” continue to inspire the Brothers and the people of Irish origin everywhere.
Our Humble Beginning in India
India or the sub-continent as she is popularly known is a home for many indigenous religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism etc. Known for deep spirituality and non-violence, she has not only welcomed but also allowed to flourish religions of foreign origin such as Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism etc. The birth of Christianity in India is believed to have taken place with the arrival of St. Thomas, the Apostle around A.D 52. The arrival of foreign missionaries at later stages not only cemented Christianity in India but also helped to establish strongly especially in the south and the western coasts.
The growth and spread of church in India was not smooth though. There were problems and trying situations everywhere especially at locations where the church was fairly strong. The claim to all missionary establishments by the Portuguese in the 19th century especially in Tamilnadu and adjoining areas, dwindling number of clergy, neglected parishes and the sad plight of the orphaned children of Irish troops prompted the newly erected Vicariate of Madras to do something radical.
Dr. Stephen Fennely, the then Vicar Apostolic of Madras invited the Patrician Brothers of Irish origin who were fairly well known in Ireland for being the beacons of hope for the marginalized, to tide over the situation. The invitation set the brothers thinking who were perhaps already harbouring a desire of reaching out to the needy elsewhere.
On 8th of October, 1875, Brothers Ignatius Price, Paul Hughes and Fintan Parkinson touched down the shores of India and took charge of the an Orphanage at Armenian Street, Madras, the second overseas adventure of the brothers, the earlier being Baltimore USA in 1848. The marriage between the brothers and India was so intimate and charismatic that it marked the birth of a new Province and India became a home for Patricians ever since, touching the life of innumerable men and women and making a difference in their life.
Life of the early brothers in the sub-continent was a gamble - a race against excess heat that were unheard of in Ireland, fatal diseases of the then typical India, the grim reality of untimely death, very frugal and meager means to live on, the pain of separation and isolation from kith and kin, the stark and glaring cultural differences etc. Although the pioneers braved the odds, sickness such as cholera, dysentery, malaria etc. were a constant threat for them. In 1885, Bro. John Maher, a brother in his twenties, enroute to Australia along with a band of eleven, contacted consumption and breathed his last in India. His mortal remains were buried in St. Roque’s cemetery, Madras and he became the first Patrician brother to be buried in India. This was a setback for the brothers as well as for the congregation but the determination to carry on the rich of legacy of Daniel Delany the founder and St. Patrick, the patron became an impetus to carry on.
In 1885, thanks to some generous souls from Ireland, America and Madras, the brothers procured a 150 acre plot for 20, 000 rupees at Adyar, Madras. Soon the brothers and the orphaned children moved into the vast campus which was then known as ‘ShikarBagh’, later to be rechristened as “Elphinstone Park’. Thus began the story of Patrician Brothers in India with ample amount of ups and downs, joys and sorrows.
The Story Of Green Sash
In 1868 when the Papal States were invaded, a group of Irish volunteers went to defend the town of PioNono, but the town fell. One of these volunteers, John Howlin of Wexford, who had experienced the PioNono battlefield and a French prison camp, heard of the Patrician Brothers when he returned to Ireland. He needed no coaxing to enroll under their flag of Saint Patrick. Later, when he entered the Congregation of the Brothers of St. Patrick, he took the name Aloysius.
In February of 1883 Brother Aloysius was in Rome on behalf of the Brothers working towards gaining recognition of the Brothers as a Religious Congregation. He was able to obtain a private audience with Pope Leo XIII who had been the Archbishop of Perugia under whom Aloysius had served as an Irish volunteer. During this audience Aloysius asked the Pope if the Brothers could have permission to wear a green sash as a part of their religious habit in honour of Saint Patrick. Pope Leo granted the petition.
It wasn't until more than five years later on the 15th August, 1888, that the Brothers wore the sash for the very first time. This distinctive badge of the Patrician Brothers is thus a souvenir, perhaps the only permanent one, of the gallant Irish swords taken up in defense of the Pope's temporal power.