St. Francis Xavier’s Chapel, Middle Colaba, Mumbai
The history of Colaba dates as far back as 1750, when the Hospice of the Augastinian Fathers was a rest house for the missionaries proceeding to Bengal, Madras and Daman. Since 1823, the Chapel was affiliated to the Gloria Church in Byculla and was appropriated by the Portuguese officials when the Religious Orders were suppressed in 1835. In 1886 when the diocese of Daman was created this house at Colaba became the de facto residence of the Bishop of Daman in Bombay. In 1900 the entire house and the chapel was rebuilt and today the same edifice along with an adjacent new building houses the Blessed Sacrament community at Colaba.
The Colaba Community of the SSS has started in 1964 with the invitation extended by the late Valerian Cardinal Gracias, the then Archbishop of Bombay, as he prepared for the 38th Eucharistic Congress to be held in the city that year. At that time the Indian Government was prepared to allow a resident visa to only Australians or Americans; since the American Province had already recently invested in the Philippines, it fell on the Australians to respond to the invitation of the Cardinal.
The original community of four (2priests: Fr Joe Geran sss and Paul Raper sss and 2 Brothers: Bro Francis sss and Bro Conrad sss) all Australians, came over in July of 1964 and later took up residence at St Francis Xavier’s Chapel around August 1st. The next year Fr Len McKenna sss (and Bro Alexander sss) joined the community after completing his term as Provincial.
The final Benediction of the Eucharistic Congress was given at our Chapel on December 8, 1964, and the Monstrance used on this occasion was donated to the Chapel. Initially this Chapel being the spiritual memorial of the Eucharistic Congress, the work of Adoration was taken up enthusiastically. Recruits were enlisted from all over Bombay and a rotation system was established because of which, a steady stream of Adorers were assured each day from 7 am to around 11 pm. The Legion of Mary unit of the Chapel under Fr Raper sss, assisted in maintaining this round-the-clock adoration. Several parishes sent busloads of people for special Holy Hours of prayer before the Sacrament on a regular monthly basis. Annual Lenten Adorations were held for the clergy during Lent at which the Cardinal himself made it a point to attend.
The Chapel was accorded the status of a semi-public Oratory and hence regular Eucharists (Four on a Sunday and three daily) were held. The mid-day Mass and availability for Congessions and personal counseling characterized this Chapel and was fairly well attended by officegoers, this being the only Chapel that provided this service of mid-day Eucharist in those days.
Over the years, as Television made huge inroads into all houses and the population of South Bombay began to shift northwards, the attendance of the Adorers gradually dwindled to certain peak hours. Night exposition had to be shortened from 11 pm and then eventually to 8.00 pm. Further down the line, when Adoration chapels began to mushroom all over the city, attendance became even thinner. Currently, the Chapel has exposition from 7.30 am to 12.30 pm and from 4.30 pm to 8 pm daily.
As the number of local vocations began to increase, the novitiate which was housed at ST Francis Xavier’s chapel had to be shifted elsewhere. After that, the place has accommodated different levels of formation like Aspirants, Postulants, Scholastics and so on.
Mostly for reasons of health, the Australian contingent of Fathers and Brothers returned home one by one – the last two, Fr Len McKenna and Bro Francis made their way back in 1982 and since then the community has comprised Indians only. Nevertheless, the ties with Australia were maintained. When in 1993 the SSS in India was made into a Region, but still as part of the Australian Province, this community became the Regional Superior’s residence. Later this was shifted to Annanagar, Chennai.
At present the community caters to the needs of the faithful of the Colaba area through daily Eucharist and adoration. There are also various group Eucharistic celebrations to nature the Eucharistic spirituality among the faithful. This community also serves as the media centre of the province. It is from here all the digital mission is carried out.
The community runs two projects to make difference in the lives of the poor and marginalized. The tailoring unit attached to the community helps young poor girls to learn tailoring and come up in life. The other is the tuition centre run at geetha nager for the slum students who could not afford to tuition studies.
The present community members
Fr. Christopher Ephrem sss – Chapel in-charge,
Fr. Jesu Augustine sss – Tr & Administrator and Superior
Fr. Ruban sss – Media Director.