Shrine of our lady of Health
Patron : Our Lady of Health
Proper Feast Day: September 8th
Parish celebration on : September 8th
Address : Khairatabad, Hyderabad – 500 004.
Parish Priest : Rev. Fr.Sunder Reddy Gopu
Asst. Priest : Rev. Fr. P. Sunil Kumar
Catholics : 3,639
Catechists : 1
Brief History :
Saifabad community was under the spiritual care of St. Joseph’s Cathedral Church. There was small community here around the year 1890. In 1898, Capt. Fallon, the then Commanding Officer of the 3rd Infantry of he Nizam’s army, permitted the construction of a chapel (vide Lt. No. A/17-7/43F/182, of Lieut. Col. Of 3rd Bn., Hyd. Infantry, dt. 20th Sept 1938) to serve the personnel in AC Guards. The letter states, “…sanction by Army Headquarters was awarded to construct the Church in the military area in 1898…”.
In the year 1903, “the 3rd Infantry returned from Sholapur and was quartered here permanently” (vide letter of Mr. Ceasar, Retired Troop Officer, August 1920). Fr. Dante Magri in his letter dated October 12, 1938 states that “…the construction of the little chapel began in 1898 and cost Rs.3,500/-; it was rebuilt by Fr. L. Malberti in May 1903 for the spiritual benefit of the Catholics belonging to the African Cavalier Guards (AC Guards) and to the 3rd Infantry.” Though the rebuilt-chapel was ready by December 1903, it was inaugurated on January 10, 1904 by Bishop Vigano to commemorate the golden jubilee of the declaration of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The chapel was originally known as the “Church of Our Lady of Divine Grace”.
According to Fr. Passoni, the first parish priest of Our Lady of Health Church (letter dated June 11, 1938 to the executive engineer), “A sum of Rs.1028 and 12 annas was the contribution received from the people (including Rs.5/- from Bishop Vigano and Rs.5/- from Fr. Vismara) towards the construction of the chapel, though the actual cost of construction was Rs.3500/-”.
The Vestry attached to the Church was built later by Fr. Cantaluppi during Fr. Pagani’s tenure as parish priest of St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Mass was celebrated in the Chapel only on Sundays.
The annual feast of “Our Lady of Health” has been celebrated from the year 1904 with ‘much grandeur’. It was during that time ‘dumb box’ collection was introduced and the first collection was Rs.50/-. “Fr. Malberti was quite surprised at such a collection as he did not know what a ‘dumb box’ was”, recalls Mr. Caesar.
Further extension was granted in 1927. All the while, Khairatabad continued to be an outstation of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hyderabad.
In 1936, Fr. Passoni PIME, who had just come from China, was appointed in-charge of Saifabad. He resided at the Cathedral and provided pastoral care to the people of Saifabad. In the letter dated October 12, 1938 Fr. Magri, parish priest of St. Joseph’s Cathedral wrote to the Commanding Officer of the H.E.H. the Nizam’s A.B.G.S., that Fr. Pagani started a chool in 1912, “for Christian education of children unable to attend a Catholic School”. It was run in the chapel till 1938. We do not know what happened to this school, since there is no mention of it later. In 1938 the parish house was built and Fr. Passoni came to live among his people. In 1939 he was interred out of Hyderabad during the war. He returned to Hyderabad in 1944. But due to certain difficulties with the Hyderabad Army he was transferred to the end of 1947.
In the ‘History of Khairatabad Parish’ Fr. Roch wrote, “Fr. Passoni was appointed Parish priest in 1939 and the parish returned to the custody of the Cathedral during his internship during the world war”. Yet, Bishop Vismara in an official letter states, “The New Parish of Our Lady of Health, Saifabad which has been separated from the Cathedral Parish of St. Joseph, Hyderabad and erected as New and independent on September 24, 1941 has the following boundaries …”.
Fr. Xavier Roch (born on December 13, 1901) then Vice-Principal of All Saints’ High School and Assistant Parish Priest of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, was asked to take charge of Saifabad in 1947. He served as Parish Priest for 27 long years. In the meantime the local catholic population increased, besides the growing number of pilgrims who came to this chapel dedicated to our Lady of Health. The ‘Small Chapel’ became too small to accommodate all the parishioners, especially on Sundays. Hence, in 1950, the grotto was built and Sunday Eucharistic celebrations were held at the grotto. With the further growth of the local Catholic Community and the increase in the number of pilgrims, the need for a bigger Church and more open land was felt.
In 1951 Fr. Roch asked for and obtained allotment of two plots of land from the government, one (in front of the present church) measuring 3413.33 sq. yards (vide Chief Secretary’s letter No. 177/GAD-G/202/51 dated May 11, 1951) and the other (where Vijaya Marie Hospital stands) measuring 2971.44 sq. yards of Army Land, allotted to the Church authorities (vide letter no. 2731/129-L-51A, dated April 12, 1952).
In 1951 a hospital with 20 beds was built and called “Vijaya Marie Hospital”. The doctor in-charge was Dr. I. De’souza, later known as Dr. Mrs. Rebello. Later the hospital was handed over to the Sisters of Charity. Since then several additions have been made to the hospital. Today it is a prominent hospital with 200 beds. Holy Mary School also was handed over and shifted to the present location after being ‘under the trees’ in the church premises for some time.
Fr. Roch’s devotion to our Blessed Mother is legendary. Thus he sold off his family property in Malaysia and after giving away proportionate shares to his brother and sister, planned a unique Octagonal Church in honour our Blessed Mother. Its foundation stone was laid on December 27, 1954 by the then Nizam of Hyderabad, HEH Mir Osman Ali Khan Fateh Jung. It took five years to complete it and was inaugurated by the same Nizam after being blessed by Archbishop Mark Gopu, on September 15, 1959 in the presence of five other bishops. The total cost of the construction was approximately Rs.1,50,000/-.
Mr. Anthony Dass Israel recalls, “In those days a mini candle factory was run by the youth, under the guidance of the parish priest. The profits were used towards the construction of the Church. People not only voluntary donated towards church construction but even offered their manual labour at times of need. Many people were under he impression that the Nizam donated a huge amount to the church, in fact, not a single rupee was donated, except some Chandeliers. In his address to the Nizam on the foundation laying ceremony, Fr. Roch said that the funds came from poor people and widows.”
Fr. Roch also initiated the “Catholic Young Men’s Club” (CYMC) for youth and adults of the Parish. The club was an asset to the parish. It also had some non-Catholics as honorary members. The CYMC organized charity and benefit shows, had Christmas hamper and ran canteen during the annual feast. The profits thus earned were used for the construction of the Church – i.e. a major portion of the verandah roofing.
The procession cart, used during the feast, was designed and donated by S & T Workshop, Mettuguda.
Fr. Roch also started the Legion of Mary presidium under the title Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He greatly encouraged children most of them became members of YCW/YCS members. Mr. Joshua was his trusted catechist for a long time.
The old church was in a dilapidated condition. It had to be rebuilt. In 1971 rebuilding work was undertaken and on June 13, 1973 the church was blessed and inaugurated by Archbishop Semineni Arulappa. The cost of the chapel was about Rs.25,000/-. About this time, there was also the need for a parish hall. Thus a first floor building was erected at the cost of Rs.45,000/-. The pilgrims’ shed costing Rs.25,000/- was also put up in the Church premises. All funds came from Church collections.
Fr. Roch wrote, “Now with an energetic and active young priest, Fr. Y.M. Joseph, this year 1974, a Vijaya Marie School, in the parish hall, has been started with only one class, the 4th standard, about 50 students are attending.” This school was later renamed “Fr. Roch Memorial High School.”
It was during Fr. Roch’s tenure that Vijaya Marie Hospital, Holy Mary School, St. Theresa’s Church, Sanathnagar and St. Anthony’s Chapel, Bazarghat were built and nurtured. “The more one loves, the more one spends himself. He gradually destroys oneself in the service of the ONE he loves, consciously and deliberately. The power of Divine Love is not hindered by anything in the world. This is how one has to characterize Fr. Roch’s life”, was the tribute given to this ‘architect’ of the parish community, in his birth centenary souvenir. He was not only a builder of buildings, but builder of people and communities. He was constantly on his feet visiting his people. It was when he was returning after one such family visits that he met with an accident at about 9.30 p.m. on August 12, 1974. He died on the 14th at 2.30 p.m. in Osmania Hospital. The artillery center sent 100 men for the supervision of the funeral. People from all walks of life paid their last respects to the ‘great son of Khairatabad’. Amidst a sea of humanity, even Muslims paid their respects, including the Mullah of the Mosque who laid a huge garland on the coffin.
Though Khairatabad Church had been a Shrine of Our Lady of Health since 1904 only attempts were made to build a parish hall and create facilities for pilgrims. One serious attempt was made in 1980 during the tenure of Fr. Benny as parish priest. Archbishop Arulappa laid the foundation stone, but the pilgrim center remained only a dream. In 1997 the parish pastoral council reminded the new parish priest Fr. Y.M. Joseph about the long pending project. Initially Archbishop promised to contribute 40% of the total cost. Though financial help was not given, the construction was undertaken with the savings of the Shrine, generous contributions of the people and a loan from HASSS. The construction of the ‘Parish Pilgrim Centre’ was completed at a cost of Rs.56,00,000/-. At the time of its erection in 1941 the area of the parish was indeed vast. After 1972 it has been a parent to St. Theresa’s, Sanathnagar; St. Ignatius, Gagillapuram; Immaculate Heart of Mary, Basuregadi; St. Agnes, Shapurnagar; Immaculate Conception, Kukatpally; St. Michael’s, Golconda; Don Bosco, Himayatsagar; St. Alphonsus, Banjara Hills and St. Anthony’s, Bazarghat.
Local Vocations from the Parish :
Fr. Michael Francis, Archdiocese of Hyderabad, Fr. Valentine J. D’mello, Archdiocese of Hyderabad, Fr. A. Dominic Sylvester, Archdiocese of Hyderabad, Fr. Vincent Arokiadas, Archdiocese of Hyderabad