Fr Jerome D’Souza: A pioneering Mangalorean Jesuit
Mangalorean Catholics can be proud of the fact that Fr Jerome D’Souza (1897-1977) a Jesuit priest who hailed from Mulki, near Mangalore, was one of the key persons in the drafting of the Indian Constitution in his capacity as a member of the Constituent Assembly.
Fr D’Souza ensured that the rights of minorities, especially of worship and education, were fully protected by the proposed Constitution and the right to practice and propagate one’s religion is included in the Constitution as a fundamental right.
He was committed to political action, social issues and national welfare. He was respected among fellow nationals of all faiths.
Fr Jerome D’Souza was born on 6th August 1897. He was the second of four brothers and one sister who was the youngest.
His sister Apostolic Carmelite would later recall that Jerome was the most alert and intelligent of the children, but also the most difficult to bring up.
In school, though he was not studious, he was very intelligent and a voracious reader. He had a strong aversion to strict discipline and was unpredictable in his ways and behaviour. He was ever ready for mischief and adventure. He was extraordinarily lively and friendly and had a remarkable ability to make friends. All these qualities put him in good stead as a leader and a pioneer.
Jerome had a great flair for languages. In his youth, he could speak seven languages – Konkani, Marathi, Tulu, Hindi, Urdu, Kannada and English. Later he learnt Tamil and a number of European languages.
In his later years, his command over French, Spanish, Italian and German languages, besides English opened him many doors and he was often invited to give talks and lectures on Indian culture, history and politics in various parts of the world.
After Jerome finished his studies in the local school, he went to St Aloysius College, Mangalore for his secondary schooling. From there he went to St Joseph’s in Tiruchirapalli, and finally to Presidency College, Madras (now Chennai), where he completed his BA (Honors) with a first class in English literature.
After his graduation, he went back to St Joseph’s as a lecturer. The example of the priests in the college inspired him towards a religious life. After a discernment retreat, he joined the Novitiate of the Society of Jesus on May 28, 1921. The Novitiate was not an easy time for him. He struggled with temptations and depression.
In 1926 Jerome finished his Novitiate and philosophy. In 1928 he was sent to Belgium for his theological studies. He was ordained a priest on August 30, 1931. Jerome finished his 4th-year theology and his Tertianship in France. Tertianship is the final formal period of formation in the Society of Jesus. The Provincial usually invites men to begin Tertianship three to five years after finishing Formation or Graduate studies.
Back in 1933, he was appointed a professor in his Alma Mater, St Joseph’s College, Tiruchirapalli. After a little more than a year, he was appointed its principal to his own surprise and to everyone else’s.
This period marks the beginning of Jerome’s contacts with political personalities like C Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru among many others with whom he made friends.
In April 1938 Jerome became the first Indian to be named as its Rector. What helped him most in all this was his courage, optimism and trust in the Divine. He proved himself to be a man of profound learning, administrative acumen and deep insight into human nature, sympathy, bold vision and a driving force.
Fr Jerome was transferred to Loyola College, Chennai in 1942. He took over as both Rector and Principal, again the first Indian to be given such a responsibility.Besides his many duties at Loyola, several other demands were made of him. Jerome became the member of the War Reconstruction Committee, especially in the planning of the post-war education. In 1946 he was appointed by Madras University to form a part of the Decennial Inspection Committee.
Jerome was made a Member of the Constituent Assembly which had to frame the Indian Constitution. His name was proposed by Rajagopalachari, the then President of Indian National Congress, to the Madras Legislative Assembly and was elected to represent them at the Constituent Assembly in Delhi. This was a unique task for a Catholic and a Jesuit who hailed from Mangalore. He worked from 1946 to 1949. As soon as the Constitution was framed he resigned immediately though the Assembly continued.
In the second sitting of the Assembly in January 1947, Jerome made a strong plea for balancing carefully the Rights of a Minority Community with the imperative need to build an integrated nation. He played a key role in the discussion and passing of Article 25 that guarantees a Fundamental Right, Freedom of Conscience and the Right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion. He also made an important contribution to the whole question of Minority Rights.
In 1949 Jerome was nominated by the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to be one of the five members of the Indian delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations. He attended four such sessions: the first in 1949, second in 1951-1952, the third in 1955 and the fourth in 1957. He gained the trust and admiration of Nehru, who often consulted him on educational matters.
A great orator, in 1951 during his tenure as the member of the Indian Delegation to the United Nations, he was accorded the honour of preaching the sermon at a special mass held in the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Members of the 43 nations of the U.N. attended the mass conducted by a member of the Dutch delegation.
Father D’Souza’s sermon was devoted to the idea of fostering world peace. He told the gathering, “The establishment of peace in society and between nations must take its origin from the interior of our hearts. Those who seek to establish peace in the outside world must know how to attain first the gift of peace internally. The confirmation of internal peace is a moral and religious problem, and unless Governments and world leaders take note that the problem of world peace rests in its deepest foundations and ultimate implications on the moral and religious question, they can make no appreciable progress in this superhuman task. …. Peace and universal human understanding can be brought about only by the recognition of a law that is beyond man’s power to make or destroy. All our efforts to achieve peace will be in vain if, in the final analysis, we have not placed ourselves on God’s authority.” In 1951 he established Xavier Board of Higher Education in India, the only association of all the Catholic institutions of higher education in India. Its national office is located in Bangalore.
In the same year, Fr General asked him to start a social institute in Pune to deal with the many social problems of India, and the new venture was launched with the name Indian Institute of Social Order in Pune, later named as Indian Social Institute. It is now located in New Delhi at 10, Institutional Area, Lodhi Road and publishes a journal called ‘Social Action.’
Jerome attended the sessions of the UNESCO to which the Government of India had appointed him as an adviser. The sessions lasted till December 1956.
In January 1957 Jerome was elected by the 30th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, General Assistance to Fr General. He was made the Assistant and adviser of the Superior General for Indian and Asian Affairs. This appointment lasted till 1968. His stay in Rome was very enriching and put him in contact with great personalities of the church. In a meeting of Jesuit rectors and principals of Jesuit colleges held in Bandra, Bombay (now Mumbai), he emphasised, “Balance between our educational and missionary work, diversifying educational work by increasing attention to technical training in industrial and agricultural fields, direct apostolate among workers.”
At the instance of Nehru, he was engaged in delicate diplomatic negotiations. He negotiated with the Vatican the termination of the Portuguese Padroado system which gave Portugal and undue say in the appointment of Bishops in India. He was also engaged in the negotiations with the French Government leading ultimately to a peaceful transfer of the French colonial settlements such as Pondicherry and Chandannagar( Chandernagore) to the newly independent India.
The Vatican made Jerome a member of the Ecclesiastical Commission for the Permanent Committee of International Congresses; Consultor of the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith; Member of the Pontifical Commission for Mission. These appointments involved a lot of meetings and correspondence with the Pope, bishops, Papal Nuncios, and religious superiors all over the world.
He retired to Loyola College, Chennai after his return from Rome in 1968. He spent his last years writing articles and books, delivering lectures and conducting courses. His books include ‘Sardar Panikkar and the Christian missions’, Tiruchi, 1957; ‘The church and Civilization’, Garden City, 1967; ‘Speeches and writings’, Madras, 1972.He finally left this world for his heavenly reward on August 12, 1977.
Honour came to him two decades later, when the Indian Government issued a postal stamp on the centenary of his birth in 1997 depicting his portrait. He is described as a “Statesman.” The First Day cover and Cancellation features the coat of arms of Loyola College, Chennai with the inscription, “Luceat Lux Vestra” (Let your light shine). The Loyola Church can be seen behind the portrait of Fr Jerome in the stamp.