Themes and Trends in the Historiography of the Restored Society of Jesus in India, from 1834 until the Present
(8,501 words)

Savio Abreu, S.J. 
last edited: May 2017


To write an overview of the historiography of the restored Society of Jesus in India initially appeared a herculean task, not least because of the paucity of historical sources. The aim of this paper is rather modest. It is meant to guide scholars who want to work on the history of the Jesuits in India after 1814, the year in which the Society of Jesus was restored. At the outset it must be mentioned that there is no pan-Indian history of the Jesuits after 1814, but there are several regional histories of Jesuits working in different parts of India, leading to a plurality of historical discourses on Jesuits. Similarly, this is a historiographical account not of a uniform, monolithic Society of Jesus in India but rather of the diverse and localized Jesuit missions and provinces that emerged in nineteenth- and twentieth-century India. Jesuits were working in different mission areas in India and their mission methods and apostolic choices differed according to the directives from their respective mother provinces and the specific local contexts. At the same time this paper draws on the idea of connected histories, and it will attempt to present an interconnected and interwoven mosaic of the restored Society of Jesus in India without trying to reconcile regional differences and anomalies. In this essay, certain common historiographical themes and trends emerging from the writings on the history of the Jesuits in India will be enumerated and analyzed with the hope of stimulating further detailed scholarship on post-restoration Jesuit history.


Suppression of Jesuits in India: A Historical Rupture

Most of the historical writings on the period of suppression of the Jesuits in India, as in the rest of the world, consider it a dark period in Jesuit history. John Correia Afonso, in his seminal work on the history of the Jesuits up to suppression (1773) describes the event as the Portuguese onslaught against the Society of Jesus, and as a Jesuit, he considers it a disaster for the church.1 Among the Portuguese Jesuits arrested in Portugal in 1759 and exiled to the Papal States was José Caeiro, a historian who after meeting fellow Jesuit exiles from Portugal, Brazil, and Goa, collected first-hand information about their experiences and published them in a book entitled, Jesuítas do Brasil e da Índia na perseguiçăo do Marquês de Pombal (século XVIII). Caeiro describes the meticulous planning and strategizing by Viceroy Manuel Saldanha de Albuquerque, a close friend of Marquis de Pombal and the Portuguese authorities that went into the assault of the Jesuit houses in Goa.2 Afonso labels the viceroy Pombal’s agent in India, his henchman.3 Drawing from the eyewitness account of the German Jesuit temporal coadjutor Jacob Muller, an infirmarian who had come to Goa in 1752 and lived in the new St. Paul’s College, Gregory Naik in his monograph on the history of Jesuits in Goa describes the pitiable conditions of detention of the Jesuits in the various houses of other religious orders.4 The Jesuit wealth in India was an important factor in the entire issue of the suppression. The Marquis of Pombal had hoped to enrich Portugal with the Society’s property and money, reportedly a fortune.5 The narratives of Gregory Naik, John Correia Afonso, and Leo Fernando show that the suppression brought about a complete rupture with the past.6


Historiography of the Restored Society of Jesus in India

Concerning the field of post-restoration Jesuit history, the first thing that strikes prospective scholars is that there is no single comprehensive history of the Society of Jesus in India after 1814. Given that the history of the Society of Jesus in India is intimately connected with the establishment and progress of the church in the East after the Age of Discovery, Afonso was surprised that at least several volumes of the history of the Society of Jesus in India and several smaller manuals and monographs had not been written until then.7 The period after restoration has seen many works by scholars like Yves de Steenhault, Hosten, Henri Josson, Henry Heras, Joseph Velinkar, Devadatta Kamath and others but Afonso terms much of their work as monographical and even apologetic and few of them were trained historians.8 Publications like Henry Heras’s Conversion Policy of the Jesuits in India (Bombay: Indian Historical Institute, 1933), Anthony de Costa’s The Christianisation of the Goa Islands (Bombay: A. D’Costa, 1965) and S.G. Perera’s The Jesuits in Ceylon (Madura: De Nobili Press, 1941) are, according to Teotónio R. de Souza, typical examples of the tendency of Jesuit apologists to rise in defence with scholarly yet emotional apologies.9 Such histories seek at all costs to minimize or justify the Society of Jesus’s use of methods of conversion or other apostolic methods that seem questionable today.

In the more recent past there have been plans and attempts to embark on a project of writing a more comprehensive history of the Society of Jesus in India. In a paper presented at a symposium, “The Jesuit Presence in Indian History” in 1987 at Chennai to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the new Madurai mission, John Correia Afonso outlined his project of working on a short history of the Society of Jesus in India, with the blessings of Father General.10 He planned to write a concise history, introductory in character and yet scholarly, covering the actual territory of the Indian Union and extending from 1540 to 1965, with a possible epilogue reviewing the impact of Father Arrupe’s generalate on the Society in India. Afonso did finally write a book titled The Jesuits in India 1542–1773, which was published in 1997, but was not able to cover the period after restoration. To understand better the historiography of the restored Society in India, John Feys’s (professor of theology at St. Albert’s College, Ranchi) response to Afonso’s paper in that seminar in 1987 is reproduced here: “It is hard to conceive of a History of the Society of Jesus in India, except from a divine or possibly Roman Curial point of view; below that we have only a plethora of practically independent, parallel histories. Unless these individual histories have been thoroughly (re-) written, it will be difficult to give a unified, general history of the Society in India.”11 This difficulty expressed by Feys also found an echo in another paper presented at the same symposium by Teotonio R. de Souza criticizing the existing historiography of the Society of Jesus in India as apologetic, West-centered, and devoid of socio-economic and cultural analysis.12 His projected ten-year, three-stage plan for re-writing the history of the Society of Jesus in India first implied working out a common code of classification for the records maintained in individual provinces, secondly centralizing the historical records in a suitable place, and finally organizing a team of historians from different provinces. His ambitious project of undertaking a major multi-volume province-based history of the Jesuits in India has yet to see the day.

A detailed analysis of the reasons for the failure of such a grandiose project of writing the history of the Society of Jesus in India from the beginning until the present with their inherent theoretical underpinnings, conceptual frameworks, and methodologies is beyond the scope of this essay, though a few observations will be made in this paper, especially in the concluding remarks, which will throw some light on this issue. In any project of writing a comprehensive history of the Society of Jesus in India, its theoretical underpinnings and methodological assumptions need to be scrutinized by other social sciences. Several questions must be raised, such as the following: Are the categories of “Jesuits,” “church” “natives or heathens,” and “Christians” sociologically homogenous categories? Can the history of the Jesuits in India be woven seamlessly from 1542 until the twenty-first century? Is it methodologically sound to assume that missionary and colonial sources give a sufficiently representative picture of Jesuit history in India without the voices of the converts? More recently there has been a shift in Jesuit historical writings from what seems self-referential and internally-oriented hagiography to serious scholarly research produced for a larger academic audience.13


Historiography of Regional Histories of the Restored Society of Jesus in India

As mentioned earlier, there is no single, all-encompassing history of the restored Society of Jesus in India, but rather several regional histories that sketch the presence of the Jesuits in different parts of India. Histories dealing with Jesuit presence in eastern India will be analyzed first, since after restoration the Society of Jesus first arrived there and only later in western India. Henri Josson, a Belgian Jesuit missionary who worked in India from 1889 to 1912, brought out in French in 1921 a history of the Bengal Mission.14 His work is based on a thorough survey of mainly Jesuit sources—printed literature and documents from the archives, personal letters available at that time, and his own personal experience. Its two volumes covered the period from the sixteenth century to 1920, though the English translation starts from 1859 when the Bengal Mission was entrusted to the Belgian province. Josson’s history of the Bengal Mission is a narrative account of the heroic deeds of the pioneering Belgian missionaries, written solely from the missionary point of view, and at times hagiographical in nature.

Yves de Steenhault, who wrote the later part of the history of the Jesuits in Bengal from 1921 to 1947, was, like Josson, not a trained historian, but he researched for five years on archival material available in Goethals Library, Calcutta, and Manresa House, Ranchi.15 Like Josson, Steenhault also describes the heroic deeds of these outstanding missionaries who did not hesitate to live under the canvas or in a hut, who did not count the cost as many died at their post in their early forties from the hardships they had to face.16 Fr. De Buck, while listing the deaths of the missionaries in the first few years of the Bengal Mission, described the mission as the tomb of the province, the cemetery of the province.17 Steenhault frames his historical narrative of the deeds of the missionaries within the context of the world wars, the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre, the independence struggle, and India’s independence from the British rule. His work traces the Indianization of the church, attempts at inculturation, the intellectual apostolate of Dandoy, Johanns, Fallon, Antoine, van Exem, Courtois, and others with the birth of the Oriental Institute, Light of the East review and a movement of ideas known as the Calcutta School.

After the entry of the Jesuits in Bengal in 1834, for the first time after restoration, four French Jesuits from the province of Lyons landed in Pondicherry in October 1837 to start the New Madurai Mission. Unlike the Bengal Mission, there is no comprehensive history of the New Madurai Mission, and most of the monographs and early historical narratives are not available in English.18 Even the book Jesuit Presence in Indian History edited by Anand Amaladass in 1988, based on a symposium to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the New Madurai Mission has hardly five or six articles on the Society of Jesus in the New Madurai Mission. The passing of the Charter Act in 1813 by the British Parliament had opened the way for many Protestant denominations from Britain, Europe, and the USA to preach the gospel in India and many Catholics were being converted to Protestantism by various Protestant missionary agencies who were working in the same areas of the New Madurai Mission.19 This proliferation of Protestant missionary work coincided with the expansion of the British Empire in India. Therefore Fr. Verdier writes in 1850: “Here the Devil has powerful allies in Paganism, Protestantism and Schism. It is a hydra with three heads which never really goes to sleep.”20 The different mission tactics employed by the Jesuits to deal with the Goa schismatics and the Protestants are analyzed in detail by Lecrivain in his work. Also whereas the old Madurai Mission was mainly busy with evangelization, the New Mission was involved in various fields like education, formation of native clergy, religious formation, social reform, etc.

When the focus is shifted from the eastern coast of India to the western coast, it becomes apparent that the issues confronting post-restoration Jesuits were similar. Ernest R. Hull, S.J., The German Jesuit Fathers in Bombay (Bombay: Examiner Press, 1915) and his epic, Bombay Mission History With a Special Study of the Padroado Question, 2 vols. (Bombay: Examiner Press, 1927), were the first scholarly works that provided a detailed narrative of the work of the German Jesuits on the west coast of India from which three Jesuit provinces of Bombay, Gujarat, and Pune emerged. Other works on the Jesuits in Western India are Alfons Vӓth, S.J., Die deutschen Jesuiten in Indien: Geschichte der Mission von Bombay–Puna (1854–1920) (1920), James H. Gense, S.J., The Church at the Gateway of India, 1720–1960 (Bombay: St. Xavier’s College, 1960), which can be seen as a new edition of Hull’s book leaving aside the tedious details, and Joseph Velinkar S.J., German Jesuits on the West Coast of India: 1854–2004 (Pune: Fr. Stanislaus Fernandes, S.J. Provincial, Pune for the West Zone Jesuits, 2004), who borrows from Gense’s work without much interpretation. All these books describe how the German Jesuits, who accepted the assignment to work in the Bombay Mission in 1854 on the orders of the Jesuit general, Fr. Peter Beckx, with the collaboration of diocesan priests, religious sisters, and others opened schools, colleges, parishes, mission stations, boarding houses, etc. There is also a description of the negative impact of the two world wars on this work and the promotion and training of local vocations, especially after India became independent.

A missionary offshoot of the work of the German Jesuits was the evangelization done in the state of Gujarat; this effort eventually led to the establishment of the Jesuit province of Gujarat. There are several monographs, articles, and historical narratives on the Jesuits in Gujarat by Jesuit writers such as Manuel D. Garriz, Hedwig Lewis, Jose Panadan, Carlos Suria, Ignacio Echaniz, Joseph Valiamangalam, etc.21 These historical narratives describe the patient, systematic, and zealous work of the German missionaries from the beginning of the Ahmedabad Mission in 1893 until present times. A sample of this descriptive narrative from Valaimangalam’s work is as follows: “The main work of establishing and running the Mission Centres was the responsibility of the Missionaries. The Jesuit Brothers […] were the ones who built churches and schools. They looked after dispensaries, kept the accounts, taught in the elementary schools, repaired furniture, clothes and buildings.”22

One of the most exhaustive and detailed regional histories of the Jesuits in India is the two-volume work of Devadatta Kamath, a Jesuit of the Karnataka province, The Burning Bush: A History of the Karnataka Jesuit Province. This massive narrative history, running to 1,106 pages, deals with the life and work of the Jesuits sent to Mangalore in 1878 from the province of Venice, Italy and from which emerged the Jesuit provinces of Karnataka and Kerala. Kamath’s claim in the preface that “truth rather than edification has been his goal”23 is illustrated by his reproducing the letter of Fr. Denis Fernandes, one of the mission consultors, written on November 8, 1925, which describes the racial tensions that existed in the Mangalore Mission between the native and European Jesuits and the discriminatory treatment of the native Jesuits.24 I gesuiti italiani nella missione di Mangalore nelle Indie Orientali 1878–1923, a very early work on the history of the Jesuits in Mangalore Mission, has some rare pictures of the early Italian Jesuits and institutions, and it lists several of the works by the early missionaries.25

Remaining on the west coast, there is no comprehensive history of the Jesuits in the restored Goa province, from the time the Goa Mission was established in 1889 in Belgium, except an unpublished monograph by Gregory Naik, the Jesuit archivist of the Goa province. His work (which according to him is a narrative meant not for scholars but for the members of the Goa province, including novices) covers the period of 110 years (1889–1999) and is based mainly on unpublished Jesuit documents found in the Goa Province Archives, like correspondence between Goa and Portugal and Rome, minutes of mission consults, house diaries, and historiae domus of some houses, and news bulletins.26 A variety of apostolates like parishes, schools, works of mercy, retreat ministry, along with efforts at inculturation and inter-religious dialogues were carried out in the Goa Mission, though the lack of numbers, of quality, and of pioneering spirit affected the progress of the mission.27


History of the Madhya Pradesh (MP) Jesuit Province

In the previous section, several regional histories of the restored Society of Jesus in different parts of India have been mentioned. For the sake of expository purposes, and to illustrate some of the typical issues that are discussed in such histories, I have chosen to analyze the regional history of the MP Jesuit province.28 The reason I chose this history is that the Society of Jesus in India today is increasingly becoming indigenous and tribal in nature. The history of the MP province is a history of the Christianity of the tribal community, one of the few histories written on the Christian tribals of Chotanagpur area, and so this is a valuable resource to help us understand better Indian Jesuits today. Like many other histories of Jesuit provinces, this work too was commissioned for an occasion, in this case the occasion of the two-hundredth anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus. It was written internally for an Jesuit audience with the aim of inspiring and helping the Jesuits of the province to know the initial struggle, rapid progress, and the present situation in their mission.

Tribal culture is communitarian. It is based with the clan, the community being more important than the individual. The first thing one notices about this work is that it is not written by an individual author but compiled by a committee of five writers showing that the emphasis is on teamwork and collaboration. The chairman of the committee, Agapit Tirkey commended this team work by the following words in the introduction to the book: “They (committee members) were based in different dioceses […]. However they coordinated their work well and had their meeting at […]. The present book is the outcome of their collaborative and valuable team work.”29

The history of the Jesuits in MP, as the book recounts has been one of difficulties and persecution in both pre- and post-independent India. The tribals paid a heavy price for becoming Christians, but despite the odds, in fact precisely because of the persecution, the Christian community comprised mainly of tribals and also Dalits got liberated from the clutches of their oppressors (local feudal lords, rulers, and landlords), and they have grown in size and stature. The book documents how right from the beginning the new converts were persecuted, when all the villagers of Khaidkona in Jashpur, the place of the first baptism in the MP province, were rounded up by the police on June 17, 1906 for becoming Christians, then deported to another village, where many of them were beaten, some imprisoned, and others fined.30 This anti-Christian persecution and violence increased after independence with the MP government appointing in 1954 The Christian Missionaries Activities Enquiry Committee, Madhya Pradesh, popularly known as Niyogi committee. The Niyogi committee maligned the foreign Christian missionaries not only in MP but all over India by alleging that missionaries and their helpers were meddling in politics, offering baits for conversion, denationalizing converts and using schools as means of conversion. Though the findings of this committee were challenged in court by the church, the MP government followed it up with the “MP Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam, 1968” (Freedom of Religion Bill) which was misused to level trumped up charges against local Christians, Jesuit and other missionaries, resulting in many legal cases.

This history by emphasizing the pioneering missionary role of catechists and women religious differs considerably from many of the earlier Jesuit histories written mainly by white Europeans and focusing almost exclusively on the role of the white, male European missionary in the Christianization of India. The important role of the catechists in the history of Christianity in MP is highlighted in this book, which portrays a first-class, full-time catechist as a missionary himself. A catechist fulfilled all the functions of a parish priest except for the administration of the sacraments. They are the unsung heroes of the history of conquest by pioneering Jesuit missionaries since they took the brunt of suffering and persecution at the hands of local kings for the sake of spreading the Christian faith. The book also records the important role played by the Little Barefoot Nuns belonging to the congregation of the Daughters of St. Anne (started by Paul Goethals, the archbishop of Calcutta in 1897) in the history of the Jesuit Mission in the MP province.31 These “native nuns,” who were tribal women religious, were excellent in giving catechetical instructions to new Catholics in general and women in particular in far-flung villages, thus assisting the Jesuit missionaries in an exemplary manner particularly in the present day dioceses of Jashpur, Ambikapur, and Raigarh.


Themes and Trends in Jesuit Historiography

1. Genre of (Historical) Biographies

Many of the narratives of the works of the Jesuits of the restored Society of Jesus in India are found in the form of biographies. Often the use of the genre of biographies is meant not for historical or scholarly reference but for internal consumption and the edification of its Jesuit readers. Thus many of these biographies are hagiographical in nature, though they also provide valuable sources for history. Lawrence Sundaram’s two biographical works, A Great Indian Jesuit: Fr. Jerome D’Souza and Jesuit Profiles: Some Eminent Jesuits of South Asia are both on the lives of Jesuits in the restored Society, though very different from each other. The first book is a detailed biography of one of the most famous Indian Jesuits, Fr. Jerome D’Souza, who played a very important role in India’s transition from colonial rule to an independent republic, while his latter book, covering roughly a span of hundred years after the restoration of the Society, is a compilation of forty-five biographical sketches of selected Jesuits from the South Asian Assistancy, eminent men who have left a mark on a variety of Jesuit ministries.32 Devadatta Kamath, writer of the voluminous history of the Karnataka Jesuit province, gives biographies of nine Jesuit missionaries who worked in Mangalore in a section entitled “Giants Walked the Earth.”33 Emmanuel Banfi sketches the lives of five pioneering Jesuit missionaries in Mangalore, including the life of Fr. Denis Coelho (1861–1918), the first Mangalorean Jesuit missionary.34 Huart and Felix Raj’s compilation of sixty-five biographies, which give a good overview of the Bengal Mission, was written not to satisfy the academic audience but to elaborate the love and compassion of the Belgian Jesuits, those “Samaritans” who brought the light of the Lord to the masses of Bengal.35 Similarly, Hedwig Lewis’s collection of mini-biographies of fifty-nine Jesuits who worked in the Gujarat province is actually obituaries of Jesuits who died during the period 1983–2002, written by their close companions. The purpose of the book is to “inspire the present day Jesuits to have very positive and optimistic attitudes towards their companions and their contributions.”36

This tradition of Jesuits biographies is based on the ancient church tradition of documenting the lives of saints and especially martyrs for the promotion of the faith of the laity. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, was inspired by reading during his convalescence after the battle of Pamplona the book Flos sanctorum (Lives of the saints) by the Dominican bishop, Jacobus de Voragine. Twenty-five years after the founding of the Society of Jesus, Francisco de Borja, the third general of the Society, commissioned Pedro de Ribadeneyra to write the biography of Ignatius, thus beginning a pattern of study and presentation of the history of the Society through the genre of biographies. Initially, they were hagiographical and meant solely for the edification of its Jesuit readers, but over the centuries they reflected the growing historical awareness among Jesuit biographers whose purpose shifted from merely edification of its Jesuit audience to providing historical or scholarly reference.


2. Shifting Geographies

The shift from the pre-suppression to the restored Society of Jesus in India in terms of the geographies is only implicitly indicated in the historical narratives on the Jesuit in India. While the early Jesuits remained predominantly on the west coast and in south India,37 the first incursion of the Jesuits after the restoration in 1834 was to the east coast of India and the largest mission of the restored Society was the Bengal Mission covering the hinterland of central and northeast India.38 The Jesuits of Missouri province (USA) also moved to north India, entering Patna in 1921 and from there to Jaipur, Delhi and other parts of north India, even unto Nepal.39 This shift in geographies marked an important shift in the socio-cultural backgrounds of the natives who were converted by the missionaries, a shift that has not been adequately analyzed in Jesuit historiography. While the early Jesuits converted the people of the Konkan coast (Mangalore, Goa, and Kerala) who mainly belonged to the upper castes, though the converts of the Kerala-Tamil Nadu coast were from the backward classes, almost all the late nineteenth and early twentieth century converts were Dalits (the so-called ex-untouchables) and tribals (especially converts from northeast India and Chota Nagpur area).40

Another trend that has not been adequately discussed in Jesuit historiography is the difference in the geographies of the pre-suppression and post-restoration Jesuit missionaries. The Jesuits of the old Society were predominantly from the Iberian Peninsula and from southern Europe (Spain, Portugal, and Italy). On the contrary, the first mission of the restored Society in India, the Bengal Mission was manned by Jesuits from Belgium. Though there were Jesuits from Italy and the Iberian Peninsula, most of the foreign Jesuit missionaries were from central and northern Europe (the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland) and later from other continents like the Americas and Australia.

The significance of this shift from the old Society to the restored Society is that in the old Society, Goa, the power centre of the Portuguese rule in the Indies was the first Jesuit province outside Europe and the center of the Jesuit presence in the Indies while in the restored Society, Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, the important cities of the British empire in India became the hubs of the Jesuit presence in India. Thus, the shift in geographies from the old to the restored Society signified also an important shift in political power, state patronage, and the character of the mission work.


3. Changing Political Landscapes

Not much discussed in Jesuit historiography are the implications of the restructuring of power relations in Europe that occurred in the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) for the recently restored Society of Jesus, especially in the aforementioned shifting geographies of the Jesuit missionaries.. Myron Pereira underlines the role of Pope Pius VII’s secretary of state, Cardinal Ercole Consalvi in restoring the Society worldwide with his shrewd piece of advice: “Your Holiness, restore the Jesuits.”41 So Pope Pius VII committed the Jesuits to the task of defending the monarchical papacy against the “dangerous ideas of liberalism and republicanism.”

The idea that the restored Society of Jesus grew in British India, because with its institutional network of educational and charitable works it served the new needs of the recently emerging industrialized imperial powers, is mentioned in some works.42 The British government appreciated both the local educational efforts of the new Madurai Mission and the social service programs, like medical services, care of the handicapped, famine relief, orphanages, and poor homes.43 The perception that the Jesuits were the agents of imperialism is echoed in the works on the Jesuits in Bengal Mission that describe the cordial relations that the Belgian Jesuits at the College of St. Xavier’s Calcutta had with the British authorities.44 This linkage between the European missionary and the British authorities, the perception that the fair skinned missionary would protect the natives after their conversion from the system of forced labor facilitated the conversion of large number of Oraons in Chota Nagpur area.45 At the same time, the idea that the Jesuits were the handmaids of British imperialism is countered in the narrations of both Josson and Steenhault about the hardships faced by the Belgian missionaries because of paucity of financial resources and lack of assistance from the authorities.46 Also the lack of political patronage and state funding, unlike the early Jesuits under the Padroado, who were powerful landlords and financiers,47 resulted in the new converts facing persecution in many areas.48

Another repercussion of the changing political landscape of Europe was the Padroado–Propaganda conflict that affected many of the Jesuit missions in the restored Society and which is discussed in many of the historical works on the restored Society of Jesus in India. For a detailed analysis of the disputes and conflicts that arose due to this system of double jurisdiction in Mangalore see Kamath’s work.49 Already the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith established in 1622 (Propaganda Fidei) had tussles with the Padroado since they began appointing vicars apostolic in places in the Indies, where Portuguese influence was not felt. The situation worsened with the Portuguese authorities suppressing all religious orders and breaking off diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1833, to which Pope Gregory XVI responded with his Padroado-opposed bull Multa praeclare by which Goan ecclesiastical jurisdiction was abolished and evangelizers could be sent from Europe without the permission of the royal authorities there. This led to a protracted tug of war between the vicars apostolic and Padroado in many areas in India like Bombay, Madurai, Mangalore, where the Jesuits were working.50 In the Madurai area, this Padroado problem threatened the very existence of the New Mission and led to several legal and other battles to take possession of churches.

Besides the changing political equations in Europe and their repercussions for the Jesuits in India, there were important changes in the nineteenth and twentieth century’s political landscape of India that affected the Jesuit mission work. When the Jesuits entered India after the restoration of the Society most of India was under the British rule.51 While initially the Jesuits had to deal diplomatically with the British authorities to facilitate their educational apostolate and mission work, in the twentieth century they were suddenly faced with the rise of Indian nationalism and the Indian freedom struggle which began to grow under the leadership of Gandhi and others. The visit of Mahatma Gandhi to St. Xavier’s college, Calcutta in 1925 and the strong criticism it drew from the vicar apostolic of India, Archbishop of Tarsus, Vicar Apostolic of India, Alexius Henry M.  Lepicier illustrates the tightrope that the foreign missionaries had to walk when it came to the Indian freedom struggle.52 One of the personalities who influenced the intellectual apostolate of the Belgian Jesuits, George Dandoy and Pierre Johanns, was Brahmabandhav Upadhyay, who participated in the agitation against the partition of Bengal by the British and was arrested for sedition.53 The other major political development of the twentieth century, the two world wars, also had a big impact on the Jesuits in India. The repercussions of the two world wars on the Bombay Mission (including Gujarat and Pune) manned by the German province, are mentioned in several of the historical narratives.54 The deportation of the German Jesuits caused immense hardships in the Bombay Mission and this led to this mission being assigned to the Jesuits of the American Maryland Province, but they were denied visas by the British government and finally the Spanish Jesuits from Aragon province took charge of the Bombay Mission, including Gujarat in 1921, though the German Jesuits, belonging to the South German Jesuit province, were allowed to return after the end of the war to work in Pune diocese and its hinterland, Ahmednagar.55 Then the independence of India dawned in 1947 and the uncertainties faced by the foreign missionaries are described by Steenhault in these words, “What was the future of the Church in India?”56 Thus the shifting geographies of the Jesuit missionaries in the restored Society and the changing political landscapes provide interesting possibilities for research on the changing nature of the church in India.


4. Shifting Missiological Trends from Salvation of Souls to Education

Unlike the early Society, in the post-restoration period, Jesuits were called to various parts of India for educational purposes, especially to start colleges. Whether in Calcutta, Bombay, Trichy or Mangalore, Jesuits were invited not for evangelization work, but for educating the native Catholic youth. In Mangalore the people, who were disenchanted with the Padroado politics of Goa and with the pious and ascetical disposition of the Carmelites that was ill-suited for educational ministry, sent repeated petitions to Rome asking for the educational apostolate in Mangalore to be entrusted to the Jesuits and this resulted in the Jesuits arriving in Mangalore in 1878.57 Bishop Joseph Hartmann, a Swiss Capuchin who became the vicar apostolic of Bombay in 1850, keeping in mind the desperate need of the Catholic community in Bombay for education requested and succeeded in persuading the Jesuit general Peter Beckx to entrust the Bombay mission field to the German Jesuit province.58

But the Jesuit missionaries who came to India in the nineteenth century were keen to work for the salvation of souls, inspired as they were by the examples of Francis Xavier and the early Jesuit missionaries to India. This explains why though the Belgian Jesuits began and put much effort into St. Xavier’s college and other educational institutions in the city of Calcutta, their mind was always on venturing into missionary areas like twenty-four Parganas and even further into Chotanagpur and beyond the British territories to neighbouring independent states of Jashpur, Udaipur, etc. In fact the works of Josson and Steenhault describe the heroic deeds of the Belgian missionaries, who did not hesitate to live in difficult and at times treacherous conditions in the missions with many of them dying at their post in their early forties. At the same time the Jesuits realized the importance of education for the socio-economic advancement of the people and started schools in most of the mission areas where they were working. Initially, Jesuit education in the restored Society in India was mainly for the elites but since the Jesuits got involved in mission work, they were forced to open schools for the poorer and middle classes.59 As they got more involved in running the ever increasing number of educational institutions, the work of direct evangelization and salvation of souls took a back seat. This shift from direct evangelization to the educational apostolate is seen in Steenhault’s history of the Bengal mission where the intellectual apostolate of George Dandoy, Pierre Johanns, Pierre Fallon, Robert Antoine, Celest Van Exem, Victor Courtois, and others developed and gained prominence with the birth of the Oriental Institute in 1945, Light of the East review, and a movement of ideas known as the Calcutta School. The rapid growth in the educational ministry of the Jesuits in India is illustrated by the following statistics: in 1900, there were sixty-five schools and fifteen colleges of the Society of Jesus catering to 41,250 students, while in 2014 there were 295 schools and ninety colleges and one university catering to 324,538 students.60 Also the strong anti-conversion and anti-missionary mood after the independence of India, especially with the Niyogi committee was not conducive to any evangelization work and this led the Jesuits to concentrate more on education and from the 1970s onwards, after GC 32, on social issues. Today, the missiological thrust of the Society of Jesus has shifted from the understanding of mission as solely the salvation of souls to mission as service of faith and the promotion of justice with dialogue and reconciliation. In this understanding of mission education plays an important role.


5. Indianization of the Society of Jesus and the Ministries of Inculturation and Social Justice

Indianization of the Society of Jesus does not only imply native vocations, but also that the entire process of formation, the decision-making processes and structures, the nature of ministries undertaken, the cultural practices, and social norms are indigenized. This theme of Indianization of the Society of Jesus is mentioned only in some of the historical narratives of the restored Society in India. Afonso in an article on Indian Jesuit vocations mentions that though St. Francis Xavier and others had prejudices against local vocations, others like St. Ignatius supported them.61 Though by 1560 the Society of Jesus in India had its first Indian Jesuit, Pedro Luis, a Malabar Brahmin convert, from 1579 the door was shut for native vocations since the Society did not share the vision of Ignatius regarding native vocations. In the restored Society, at least till the independence of India in 1947, most of the Jesuits were whites and it is only the political event of the independence of India and the resultant restrictions on the entry of foreign missionaries that facilitated the process of Indianization both in the Protestant and Catholic churches.62 Statistics of Jesuits in India in 1989 show that after around 150 years of Jesuit presence in India after restoration, 3,059 out of 3,451 Jesuits or almost eighty-nine percent are Indian-born.63 In an empirical analysis of the Jesuit recruits in India from 1978 to 1988, Anthony da Silva discovered that the new recruits from the tribal belt and from Tamil Nadu were substantially increasing, while recruits from the traditional Christian communities of the West Coast and Kerala were on the decline.64 The changing nature of the Society of Jesus and the church in India with an increasing indigenous, tribal, and Dalit demographic profile has important methodological implications for future studies on Catholic religious orders and on Christianity in India in general.

Steenhault writing about the future of the church in India in the wake of India’s independence, described the church in the northeast as still very much a foreign mission, largely dependent on foreign funding and missionaries.65 Vocations among the sons of the soil were slow to come and this lacuna remained a drawback on future developments. Kamath in his history of the Karnataka Jesuits mentions the reluctance of the Italian Jesuits to accept local vocations.66 They were also reluctant to share with the native Jesuits the important decision-making offices such as superior, rector, principal, etc., while the European Jesuits were accorded facilities, privileges, and better living conditions compared to the Indian Jesuits. The Goan Jesuits fared better with Fr. Antonio Pereira (1817–76), the first Jesuit of Goan origin in the restored Society and a member of the Madurai Mission, who had become the novice master at Tiruchirapalli in 1848 and held other important posts besides.Fr. Joao A. de Miranda became the first Goan superior of the Goa Mission from 1943 to 1950.67

Indigenization and inculturation gained momentum with Maximum illud, an important apostolic letter by Pope Benedict XV in 1919 that stressed the training of indigenous clergy with the goal of assuming the government of their own people in the course of time, and knowledge of local languages. This directive to local mission superiors to train an indigenous clergy, not just to assist missionaries and be appointed in low office, but to assume the government of their own people, was reiterated by Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Rerum ecclesiae issued in 1926. In the Bengal Mission a language school was started in 1937 and the superior of the mission John Baptist Moyersoen decreed that no one would be ordained unless he had studied Bengali for a year.68 Also several Jesuits like Dandoy, Johanns, Fallon, Antoine, and others mastered Hinduism, Bengali, and Sanskrit and the Oriental Institute was started in 1945 for sympathetic study of things Indian.69 In Gujarat, the Jesuits used the following methods of mission work to build an inculturated local church: education, human promotion, inculturation, social action, and intellectual work.70 Naik in his history of the Jesuits in Goa describes the Swami experiment, where several Jesuits of the Goa Mission starting with Fr. Armando Alvares (became Swami Animananda) from 1948 onwards adopted the Lingayat Swami style of life and worked among the Lingayat Hindus in northern Karnataka.71

Besides indigenization and inculturation, Jesuit historiography on the restored Society in India reveals the rise of the social apostolate. Historical narratives of the Jesuit impact on Chota Nagpur document the struggle for social justice by Constant Lievens, John Baptist Hoffmann, and others.72 In the narrative of the restored Society of Jesus in Goa, Gregory Naik documents the work of Jana Jagran founded and animated by Fr. Joseph Chenakala that benefited and empowered thousands of rural men and women.73 The social center in the semi-arid and drought-prone district of Ahmednagar started by Fr. Hermann Bacher in 1966 with the objective of alleviating the poverty and hardships of the small and marginal farmers through development of water resources and increased agricultural productivity is described in an article by Crispino Lobo.74 While tracing the Jesuit contribution to social change in India from the sixteenth century onwards, Walter Fernandes characterizes the attitude towards social change of the Jesuits in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a choice made in favor of the oppressed without questioning the system itself and in the recent past there has been an analysis of the structures that perpetuate injustice and a conscious option for the oppressed.75


Concluding Remarks

A major concern of the post-restoration Jesuit historiography in India is the lack of scholarly and comprehensive histories of the entire period from 1834 up to the present, histories which are not hagiographical, self-referential, and produced for internal consumption, but which serve as a lens to view the broader history of modern India. Any such history would require that its theoretical underpinnings and methodological assumptions be scrutinized by other social sciences and that such a narrative be based on sources other than merely missionary and colonial sources. From the historiography of the restored Society of Jesus in India, it is clear that due to the province administrative structures of the Society which led to fragmentation and localized structures and ministries, there emerged several localized, regional histories of the Jesuits in India. Thus, instead of trying to weave a seamless, chronological missionary history of the restored Society of Jesus in India, it may be better to write a thematic history that includes the voices of all sections of society influenced by the Jesuit work and that describes important themes and ministries that run across the several regional Jesuit histories. Several of these themes have been discussed in this paper while others like “Dalit & Tribal Issues,” “Higher Education,” “Restructuring Process,” etc. have not been dealt with in this essay for lack of space. Though India has been relatively neglected when it comes to Jesuit studies, there has been some change with several seminars on Jesuit history being organized in 2014 on the occasion of the bicentenary celebrations of the restoration of the Society of Jesus. Also, the Xavier Centre of Historical Research, in Goa, is organizing a seminar on the history of the restored Society of Jesus in India in 2017. This gives hope that the lacuna in the field of the history of Jesuit presence in India will be filled in the near future.

For more bibliographical information, consult Boston College Jesuit Bibliography: The New Sommervogel Online (NSO).


^ Back to text1. John Correia Afonso, The Jesuits in India 1542–1773 (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1997), 243–52.

^ Back to text2. Jose Caeiro, Jesuítas do Brasil e da Índia na perseguiҫăo do Marquês de Pombal (século XVIII) (Bahia: Escola Tipografica Salesiana, 1936), 629–777.

^ Back to text3. Afonso, Jesuits, 248, 253.

^ Back to text4. Gregory Naik, Unto the Indies: A Historical Narrative of Jesuits in Goa; Their Call, Expulsion and Recall (1890–1999) (Panjim: Jesuit House, 2015, unpublished monograph), 18.

^ Back to text5. Dauril Alden, The Making of an Enterprise: The Society of Jesus in Portugal, Its Empire and Beyond, 1540–1750 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996); Afonso, Jesuits, 254.

^ Back to text6. Leo Fernando, “Socio-Political Context and Causes of the Suppression and Restoration of the Society of Jesus in India,” keynote address at the seminar, “Closure of Existing Paths and Opening up of New Avenues: Historical Explorations of the Society of Jesus in Western India, 18th–20th C.,” at Goa, India, May 22–23, 2014; Afonso, Jesuits, 255–56; Naik, Jesuits in Goa, 17.

^ Back to text7. John Correia Afonso, “A History of the Society of Jesus in India,” in Jesuit Presence in Indian History, ed. Anand Amaladass (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1988), 3–13.

^ Back to text8. Ibid., 7.

^ Back to text9. Teotonio R. de Souza, “Rewriting the History of the Society of Jesus in India: Questions of Facts and Relevance,” in Amaladass, ed., Jesuit Presence, 19.

^ Back to text10. Afonso, “History,” 10.

^ Back to text11. Ibid., 13.

^ Back to text12. De Souza, “Rewriting,” 19–21.

^ Back to text13. Anand Amaladass, ed., Jesuit Presence in Indian History (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1988); Teotonio de Souza and Charles Borges, eds., Jesuits in India: In Historical Perspective (Macau: Instituto Cultural de Macau & Xavier Centre of Historical Research, 1992).

^ Back to text14. Henri Josson, La mission du Bengale Occidental (Bruges: Imprimerie Sainte Catherine, 1921), 2 vols. Part of this work covering the period from 1859 to 1920 was translated into English by Albert Huart & Lucien Clarysse, History of the “Bengal” Mission 1859 to 1920 (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 2009).

^ Back to text15. Yves de Steenhault, History of the Jesuits in West Bengal, Part I: 1921–1947 (n.p., n.d).

^ Back to text16. Ibid., 104–5.

^ Back to text17. Josson, Bengal Mission, 34.

^ Back to text18. Philippe Lécrivain in an unpublished monograph, The French Jesuits in Madurai (1837–1860) lists in French several works and compilations on the New Madurai Mission.

^ Back to text19. Savio Abreu, “The Making of a Christian Minority,” Seminar 602 (October 2009): 64–69.

^ Back to text20. Lécrivain, French Jesuits, 2.

^ Back to text21. For a detailed list of works on Jesuits in Gujarat see Joseph Valiamangalam, “History of Jesuits in Gujarat,” paper presented at the seminar, “Closure of Existing Paths and Opening up of New Avenues: Historical Explorations of the Society of Jesus in Western India, 18th–20th C.,” at Goa, India, May 22–23, 2014.

^ Back to text22. Joseph Valiamangalam, The Mission Methods of Fr. Joaquin Vilallonga, S.J. (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1989), 46.

^ Back to text23. Devadatta Kamath, The Burning Bush: A History of the Karnataka Jesuit Province of the Society of Jesus, Part One 1878–1955 (Bangalore: Loyola Mandir, 2006), 1: xi, xii.

^ Back to text24. Kamath, Burning Bush, 2: 447–52.

^ Back to text25. La missione di Mangalore, 3 vols; The Mangalore Magazine; P. Angelo Maffei, Konkany Grammar; Kittle’s Kanarese-English Dictionary, etc.

^ Back to text26. Naik, Jesuits in India, 2.

^ Back to text27. Ibid., 32, 34, 37,47, 58, 71.

^ Back to text28. History of the Madhya Pradesh Jesuit Province, 1905–2014 (Ranchi: Madhya Pradesh Province of the Society of Jesus, 2014).

^ Back to text29. History of the Madhya Pradesh Jesuit Province, xvii.

^ Back to text30. Ibid., 16–17.

^ Back to text31. Ibid., 186–87.

^ Back to text32. V. Lawrence Sundaram, A Great Indian Jesuit (1897–1977): Fr. Jerome D’Souza: Priest, Educationist and Statesman (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1986) and V. L. Sundaram, ed., Jesuit Profiles: Some Eminent Jesuits of South Asia (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1991).

^ Back to text33. Kamath, Burning Bush, 1:479–606.

^ Back to text34. Emmanuel Banfi, Among the Outcasts: A History of the Pioneering Jesuit Missionaries in the Diocese of Mangalore (n.p., n.d.).

^ Back to text35. Albert Huart and J. Felix Raj, eds., Discovery of Bengal: The Jesuit Design (Kolkata: The Goethals Indian Library and Research Society, 2014).

^ Back to text36. Hedwig Lewis, ed., Gujarat Jesuits Remembered (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 2002), vi.

^ Back to text37. For a precise history of the Jesuits in the early Society see Afonso, Jesuits.

^ Back to text38. See Peter Tete, A Short History of the Expansion of the Catholic Missions in North India (Ranchi: St. Albert’s College, Pontifical Faculty of Theology, 1997); Josson’s and Steenhault’s works; History of the Madhya Pradesh Jesuit Province.

^ Back to text39. Henry Pascual Oiz, Blessed by the Lord: A History of the Patna Jesuits 1921–1981 (Patna: Patna Jesuit Society, 1991).

^ Back to text40. Savio Abreu and Rowena Robinson, “Social Development of the Christian Community in India,” in India Social Development Report 2012: Minorities at the Margins, ed. Zoya Hasan and Mushirul Hasan (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013), 264.

^ Back to text41. Myron J. Pereira, “When the Jesuits Returned to Bombay, from 1853 to the Present: A Historical Sketch,” paper presented at the seminar, “Closure of Existing Paths and Opening up of New Avenues: Historical Explorations of the Society of Jesus in Western India, 18th–20th C.,” at Goa, India, May 22–23, 2014.

^ Back to text42. De Souza and Borges, eds., Jesuits in India, 18.

^ Back to text43. M. X. Miranda, “The Social Apostolate of the Jesuits of the New Madurai Mission 1838–1938,” in Amaladass, ed., Jesuit Presence, 130–45.

^ Back to text44. Huart and Raj, eds., Discovery, 9.

^ Back to text45. Josson, Bengal Mission, 495.

^ Back to text46. Ibid., 14, 16, 17, 284–85. Steenhault, History, 71–72.

^ Back to text47. For detailed descriptions of the economic status of the Goa Jesuits before the suppression, see Charles J. Borges, The Economics of the Goa Jesuits 1542–1759 (New Delhi: Concept Publishing Co, 1994) and Teotónio R. de Souza, Medieval Goa: A Socio-Economic History (New Delhi: Concept Publishing Co, 1979).

^ Back to text48. Josson, Bengal Mission, 492–97.

^ Back to text49. Kamath, Burning Bush, 1:9–22.

^ Back to text50. S. Rajamanickam, “Madurai Mission – Old and New,” in Amaladass, ed., Jesuit Presence, 311–14; Velinkar, German Jesuits, 8–12; Naik, Jesuits in Goa, 28–29.

^ Back to text51. British rule in India is conventionally described as having begun in 1757 with the decisive victory of the British East India Company over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies at the Battle of Plassey. Steenhault, History, 6–7, analyses the impact of the British rule and freedom struggle on the Belgian Jesuits.

^ Back to text52. Steenhault, History, 97–99.

^ Back to text53. Ibid., 87–89.

^ Back to text54. Velinkar, German Jesuits, 64–83; Carlos Suria, “Jesuit Presence in Gujarat,” in Amaladass, ed., Jesuit Presence, 99–115; Valiamangalam, “History of Jesuits in Gujarat.”

^ Back to text55. The American Jesuits who applied for visas had Irish names. The Irish nationalist movement against the British government made the authorities cautious and they did not want any sympathizers for the nationalist cause to create further trouble in India. So the American Jesuits with Irish names were denied visas (Suria, Catholic Church, 215).

^ Back to text56. Steenhault, History, 191.

^ Back to text57. Kamath, Burning Bush, 1:27–28.

^ Back to text58. Hull, Bombay Mission History; Gense, The Church at the Gateway of India.

^ Back to text59. Walter Fernandes, “Jesuit Contribution to Social Change in India (16th–20thC.),” in De Souza and Borges, eds., Jesuits in India, 157–93.

^ Back to text60. J. Felix Raj, “Jesuit Contribution to Education in South Asia,” paper presented at the Jesuit South Asian Assistancy International Seminar, “Jesuit Contribution to Nation Building in South Asia, from the Nineteenth Century till Today,” at Pune, India, November 27–29, 2014.

^ Back to text61. John Correia Afonso, “Ignatius and Indian Jesuit Vocations,” in De Souza and Borges, eds., Jesuits in India, 73–82.

^ Back to text62. For an analysis of the process of Indianisation see Abreu, “Christian Minority,” 64–69. Also Velinkar, German Jesuits, 90–92, describes the Indianization process in the Bombay and Pune areas.

^ Back to text63. Afonso, “Jesuit Vocations,” 80–81.

^ Back to text64. Anthony da Silva, “S.J. Recruits in India: Patterns, Questions and Implications of recruitment, 1978–1988,” in De Souza and Borges, eds., Jesuits in India, 83–98.

^ Back to text65. Steenhault, History, 191.

^ Back to text66. Kamath, Burning Bush, 2:95–99, 447–52, describes the struggles of Fr. Denis Coelho, the first son of the soil from Mangalore and the lack of support from his European superiors, and reproduces a letter written in 1925 by Fr. Denis Fernandes, a mission consultor, stating clearly the unequal conditions between European and Indian Jesuits.

^ Back to text67. Naik, Jesuits in Goa, 34, 96.

^ Back to text68. Steenhault, History, 177–78.

^ Back to text69. Ibid., 210–14. Huart and Raj, eds., Discovery, 162–94.

^ Back to text70. Valiamangalam, Jesuits in Gujarat, 13–19.

^ Back to text71. Naik, Jesuits in Goa, 48–49. Lingayat, also known as Virashaiva, is a Hindu sect with a wide following in southern India that worships Shiva as the only deity. For more details see (accessed April 4, 2017).

^ Back to text72. A. van Exem, “Jesuit Impact on Chota Nagpur,” in Amaladass, ed., Jesuit Presence, 78–98; Josson, Bengal Mission, 309–70.

^ Back to text73. Naik, Jesuits in Goa, 91–92.

^ Back to text74. Crispino Lobo, “The Social Centre: An experiment in Advocacy,” in De Souza and Borges, eds., Jesuits in India, 253–74.

^ Back to text75. Fernandes, “Jesuit Contribution to Social Change in India,” 157–93.

Cite this page
Savio Abreu, S.J., “Themes and Trends in the Historiography of the Restored Society of Jesus in India, from 1834 until the Present”, in: Jesuit Historiography Online. Consulted online on 26 June 2017 <>
First published online: 2016

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