Christianity in Bihar

Many misconcencptions exist in the West regarding the extent and status of Christianity in India. Hence, a special section is devoted to it, in as far as its origins in Bihar is concerned and its current extent.

Christians in Bihar, though a small minority, are yet large in number. They form a very successful and elite group in the Bihari population. They run a large number of  highly successful institutions of higher learning (where admission is highly coveted - the children of the current Chief Minister of Bihar are pupils in one such school, the St. Joseph's Convent at Patna!), several medical facilities (example: Holy Family Hospital at Patna), and many highly successful business enterprises.

The Roman Catholics were the first to arrive in Bihar. They built   a small church in 1713 at a place now  known as "Padri-ki-Haveli' (or "mansion of the padre") in east Patna or Patna City. A Father Felix of Montecello was the pastor. By 1734 the number of Catholics either living in Patna or passing through it had reportedly risen to six or seven hundred.

A most noteworthy event occurred in 1740. The Rani of Bettiah (in West Champaran) was sick and could not be cured by the local practitioners. The Raja invited a Father Joseph Mary - a medical doctor - who was settled at Patna. Father Joseph was successful, and the Raja was very grateful. In reward, the Raja offered the Father the freedom to spread his religion in the region. With permission from the Vatican, a mission was established at Bettiah in 1769 with priests coming from Rome. They extended their mission to Patna as well. By 1779 the church building at Padri-ki-Haveli was greatly expanded, and it still exists at that location. At about the same time, churches were also built at Bhagalpur, Purnea, and Monghyr.

In 1849 a Bishop Anastias Hartmann, who was responsible for the Patna-Bettiah section of the North India Mission, acquired a sizable piece of land (about five acres) in Bankipore where he laid the foundation of a chapel on September 23, 1849. In 1853 Sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Munich, Germany, consented to start a school at this location. Sisters from Bombay and Calcutta arrived and they started what is now the St. Joseph's Convent - a school so successful that it is the desire of almost every parent in Patna and beyond to have their daughter enrolled in this school!

This was followed by purchase of another tract of land, further, westward, at Kurji. Here, in 1864, again at the behest of Bishop Hartmann began a school that is currently known as St. Michael's - another school of great reputation. In the latter part of the nineteenth century numerous schools run by Catholic priests from Europe, sprang up in Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Bhagalpur, Samastipur, and many other places.

By 1919, the Vatican declared Patna to be a diocese whose jurisdiction comprised of Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Monghyr, Patna, Gaya and also Nepal. Originally, the diocese was under a Belgian Jesuit Father, Bishop Louis van Hoeck. Later, priests of the Society of Jesus from USA arrived in increasingly large numbers to join the diocese. Their work spread to far-flung places in Bihar - from Bettiah and foothills of the Himalayas in the northwest to the hills of Santhal Parganas in the southwest, and the entire territory in between.

In 1939, Father M. Moran, started his first classes of the St. Xavier's School in a rented house on the Exhibition Road. In the short span of a year, thanks to the indefatigable zeal of Father Moran, the school had a brand new building on the north-western corner of the Gandhi Maidan - in central Patna - adjacent to the Golghar - another landmark.  Father Moran, a familiar figure in Patna's educational and social circle for many years, later moved to Kathmandu, Nepal to start a St. Xavier's there. Like its counterpart, the St. Joseph's Convent, this school is a highly prestigious school for boys, and equally, it is the desire of almost all parents - who can afford the tuition - to send their son to this school! 

Among other noteworthy achievements of the Catholic missionaries during this period is the establishment of printing presses - the Catholic Mission Press in Bettiah (Father Hilarion, 1897) and the Sanjivan Press near Digha Ghat, Patna (Father John Barrett, S.J.)

The Diocese of Bhagalpur was established in 1943.

Chhotanagpur was not a field of activity for the catholic missionaries in their early days. The credit for beginning missionary work in this area is given to Father Constance Lievens, 1885-97. After the tumultuous years of the two world wars which affected the European missionaries due to their various nationalities, chiefly German, the Jesuit Mission was established in 1935 at Ranchi. By 1953, the Diocese of Ranchi had expanded to become an Archdiocese, and its first Archbishop was a son of the soil, Monsignor Nicolas Kujur, S.J.

Like their counterparts elsewhere in the state, schools and colleges run by Catholic missionaries enjoy the highest reputation. Among them are: St. Xavier's School and College, Loretto Convent at Ranchi, Ursuline Convents in Ranchi, Gumla, Samtoli, and Khunti, St. Xavier's School of Hazaribagh and Jamshedpur.

The Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chhota Nagpur

These missionaries arrived from Germany in 1845. The mission is named after Rev. Johannes Evangelist Gossner of Berlin, Germany. They came in increasing numbers and the zealous missionaries converted increasingly large number of aborigines. By 1855 they had built a massive and magnificent church building which still stands on the Main Road of Ranchi. On the property owned by the mission, a large shopping complex has sprung up which is appropriately known as the Church Complex shopping Center!

The Dublin University Mission

A special mention needs to be made about this mission because of the excellent educational institutions they run, among all the great intitutions started and maintained by the Christian mission in Bihar. The Mission was started in 1890 at Hazaribagh, under the aegis of the Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. By 1895 they had opened up the first high school, The St. Columba's Collegiate School for boys. And by 1899, again at Hazaribagh,  they started the first college in all of Chhota Nagpur. This was called the Dublin University Mission College. The first batch of thirteen students apparently were all failures (repeatedly) from other colleges in Bihar. The missionaries took "this insoluble residue of other colleges" and tutored them enough so that all but four of them passed their examination the very next year (1890)! This success stimulated generous gifts from vrious sources, including the government, and visits from the Liutenant Governor of Bengal, of which Bihar was then a part. By 1904 the college had expanded greatly in size and level of education, it was now teaching up to the B.A. level, the highest for all colleges in Bihar then, and was named the  St. Columba's College. By 1917 construction of the magnificent college building was completed. Among the many remarkable persons, missionaries and lay, tht have served the college, mention must be made of Mr. A. F. Markham. He became the Principal of st. Columba's College in January, 1930. He stayed in that position for numerous years, so much so that St. Columba's Colege became synonymous with Markham Sahib! In post-independent India, he became the Vice-Chancellor of the Ranchi Unversity. After numerous years of service in Bihar he retired to Ireland.

Other Missions and Churches

It will b impossible to give a full account of the extent of Christianity in Bihar in these pages. Mr. Horo's account, acknowledged below, runs into a full 184 pages of single spaced text! Following is a list of other churches and missions that are very active in Bihar. This list by no means is a complete list.

Baptist Missionary Society   |      Anglican Mission     |    United Free Church of Scotland     |
Fellowship of Christian Assemblies  |  Methodist Church of South Asia  |  Seventh-Day Adventist Mission    |     Brethren in Christ Mission     |      The Assembly of God Mission  |   Norwegian Free Evangelical Mission    |     The Mennonite Mission   


Historical details in the above account are based on P. C. Horo's extensive chapter - "Christian Missions and Communities in Bihar"  - (pages 109-292)  in the authoritative "The Comprehensive History of Bihar" : Vol. III, Part II. Edited by the eminent  Indian historian and a son of Bihar, Dr. Kali Kinkar Datta (Ex-Professor of History, Patna University; and ex Vice-Chancellor, Patna University and Magadh University.) This six-volume treatise is published by the Kashi Prasad Jayaswal Research Institute, located in the premises of the Patna Museum.

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