Dr. Regi, S.

Assistant Professor of History, Holy Cross College (Autonomous), Nagercoil-4.


Ancient India was not a stranger to the lands of Christian antiquity.  Jawaharlal Nehru explains that “few people realize that Christianity came to India as early as the first century after Christ, long before Europe turned to it and established a firm hold in South India”.1  They are called as Syrian Catholics because of the support they received from the Syrian Churches of West Asia.  Further, they called themselves as St. Thomas Christian.2


The Christian faith of these early Christians and other people were confirmed after the arrival of the Portuguese in India in 1498.  The Missionaries who came to India during the sixteenth century were patronized by the Kings of Portugal.  This period was known to historians as the “Padroado”.3


During the time of Padroado, many Portuguese Missionaries, particularly Jesuits came to India to spread the message of Jesus Christ.  When they came to India, the education was given using the Filtration Theory.  As per this theory, the light must touch the mountain tops before it could ignite the bottom.4  So as to ignite the light at the bottom, the Christian Missionaries gave new education to the common people.  They were the pioneers to establish the first modern schools and colleges.5  Among the Christian Missionaries, the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits had become the most powerful instrument for the dissemination of modern higher education to the common people.6


The Jesuit contribution to education can be traced back from 1544 onwards.  St. Francis Xavier, who was an accomplished educator, true to his Jesuit heritage wanted to start schools along the coast of Travancore.7 This could be revealed from his letter to Mansilhas which he had written in December 1544.  “ I earnestly ask you for the love and service of God our Lord that as soon as you have read this letter, you get ready to go to visit the Christians on the coast of Travancore, whom I have already baptized and in each village set up a school for the children with a teacher to instruct them”.8


In 1567, Fr. Henry Henrique, a companion of St. Francis Xavier, had started a school at Punnakayal to which boys came even from Goa.  There was also a Seminary at Thoothukudi, where the Indians studied Portuguese, Latin, Moral, Theology and Vocal Music.9  Fr. Fernandez, the founder of the Madurai Mission, also built a school at Madurai.10  Thus the new learning of the Jesuits began to spread to other centres like Tiruchirappalli and Palayamkottai.11  Further, the Jesuit Missionaries like Fr. Joseph Constantine Beschi, popularly known as Veeramamunivar did a tremendous work for the promotion of Tamil language and literature.  Fr. Beschi was the compiler of the first Tamil Dictionary, the first informer of the written script, the first Grammarian of the spoken word, the first anthologist and the first prose writer.12


As the situation changed Europe during the 17th Century, Papacy wanted to have superiority over the Catholic Churches established in India from Portugal.  So there was an unpleasant relationship between Rome and Portugal.  Therefore, the Padroada was taken away by Portugal13 and all the Jesuit Missionaries were recalled back by the Portuguese Government during the end of the 18th Century.14  Because of this the Madurai Mission suffered a lot.  However, the New Madurai Mission which was manned by French Jesuits started work in 1838.15  The New Missions’ contribution to Education is far reaching.


Value of Jesuit Education

Among the Congregation of Priest, pride of place may be given to the Society of Jesus whose members have played a decisive role in the Church of India as Evangelisers, Teachers, Writers and Pastors of Souls.16  The Society of Jesus has played such a large part in building up a network of educational institutions all over India especially in Tamil Nadu.17  The value of Jesuit Education is two-fold.  First those that spring from the ideas of Jesuit order and secondly those that spring from the double background of Indian Culture and National Development.  These two values are well synthesised in the words of the General of the Society, Peter Arrupe, S.J.  The Society must cooperate to the best of its ability of free the people from their burden of poverty and illiteracy, but at the same time and primarily it must strive to preserve  this freedom and the sense of true spiritual value.18  Following this, the Jesuit Missionaries made their educational institutions purely Indian in outlook.  They had no temptation to impart what has been called a western education.  The Jesuit institutions were geared to the needs of ordinary, mostly poor Indians, but their standard of academic excellence, discipline, decency was found sufficiently high for richer Indians.19  Declaration of Vatican-II on Education says, a true education aims at the formation of the human person with respect to his ultimate good and simultaneously with respect to the good of those societies of which as a man, he is a members and in whose responsibility as an adult, he will share.20  The Jesuit institutions are famous for the inculcation of moral values and they give all round formation to the students.  The Society started the following schools and colleges at various times to spread the good odour to Christ.21


School Education

St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School, Madurai traces its origin to 1863.  The School came under grant-in-aid system in 1879.  In 1904, Secondary Education was started by Fr. Talon.  It sent the first SSLC in 1908.22 It not blossoming into a Higher secondary School attracts students from all over South.  Another outstanding school of the Madurai Mission is the St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School, Tiruchirappalli which was added to the College in 1884.23 St. Xavier’s Higher Secondary School, Palayamkottai originated as a Middle School in 1880 and became a Matriculate in 1884.24  St. Xavier’s Higher Secondary School, Tuticorin traces its beginning in 1600.  It was an Elementary School in the beginning and in 1972, the school was raised to a Middle School by Fr. Everard and in 1884 Fr. Laventine made it into a High School.25  St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School in Dindigul was started in 1903 by the Jesuit Fathers and since its beginning it has enjoyed a very high reputation in the locality.26


St. Arulanandar’s High School, Oriyur, Ramnad District was opened as an Elementary School in 1908.  The school was upgraded into a High School in 1963.27  Carmel Higher Secondary School, Nagercoil was founded in 1922 by the Bishop of Quilon.  It was handed over to Jesuits in 1949.28  It enjoys a high reputation in the Kanyakumari District.  De Britto Higher Secondary School, Devakottai, Ramnad District was founded in 1943 by Rev. Fr. Bonhoure, S.J. for the benefit of the people of Ramnad and it was recognized by the Education Department in 1947.29  St. Stanislaus Basic Training School, Sattur, Ramnad District was started in 1945 as a non-basic training school.  In 1953, it was turned into a Basic Training School.30  Now, it is managed by the Diocese.  Loyola Technical Institute at Madurai was started in 1952 as a Preparatory School for the aspirants to the Jesuit Brotherhood.31  Campion Higher Secondary School started by the Jesuit Fathers in 1935 is now managed by the Gabriel Brothers.


University Education

Among the Jesuit Colleges, St. Joesph’s College, Tiruchirappalli stands first.  It’s pride is set upon something that transcends all material and intellectual achievements.32  The College was opened in 1844 at Nagapattinam for the benefit of the European failies.33  The College expanded rapidly under the principalship of Fr. Jerome D’Souza, Fr. X. Ehrhart and Fr. C.K.S. Swamy.  Under the dynamic leadership of Fr. C.K.Swamy, the College attained the ‘Autonomous’ states.  Fr, C.K.Swamy’s meritorious services are from 15th December 1967 to 15th May 1970 and 19 May 1973 to 31st May 1982.  His untiring efforts to realize the values of Jesuit Education made St. Joseph’s College rank high in the educational field.  He embarked upon new innovations and constructive programmes in a planned manner.  Fr. C.K. Swamy’s successful responses to the challenges, made the people think that the College is still on the path of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s norms of education.


St. Xavier’s College, Palayamkottai grew out of the school which was founded in 1880.  The College itself was begun in 1923 for the uplift of the Catholic boys and also for fostering education among all communities.  Loyola College, Madras was founded by Jesuit Fathers in 1925 with the primary object of providing University Education in a Christian atmosphere for deserving Catholic students.  Others are also admitted without distinction of caste or creed.  The College also aims at fostering an atmosphere of intellectual vigour and moral restitute in which youth from India and various parts of the world may find their fulfilment.34   St. Xavier’s Teacher Training College was started in 1950 to help meet the need for trained teachers in Secondary  Schools.  Arulanandar College, Karumathur, Madurai District was taken up by the Jesuits from the archdiocese to improve the rural areas.  Upliftment of the rural areas is the primary motive of the College.


Spiritual Education

The New Madurai Mission’s contribution to spiritual education is based upon the Biblical verse: “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?”.  In 1838, the Jesuits of Toulouse took charge of the New Madurai Mission.  They felt the need for the formation of the native clergy for the Gospel work.  For a long time efforts in this direction did not bear fruit.  But only in 1893, a Junior Seminary had been established under the guidance of Fr. La Combe in St. Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli.  This infant seminary could not prepare the candidates for priesthood fully as it needed the services of the seminaries of Kandy (Ceylon) up to 1910 and of Mangalore from 1914 to 1921.  Having felt the need for a Major Seminary for Tiruchirappally Diocese.  Msgr. A. Faisandier, S.J. decided to establish a Major Seminary.  Therefore, on 8th June 1921, St. Paul’s Seminary was started in a house at Pandamangalam, lent by the Rector of St. Joesph’s College, Tiruchirappalli.  In the same year, the Seminary was shifted to the present site.  Fr. Varin became the first Superior.  In 1957, new buildings were constructed.  This seminary was managed by the Jesuits till 1978 and was handed over to the Diocese in the same year. It was shifted to Madras in March 1980.  Now, it is renamed as ‘Satya Nilayam’.  The young Jesuits, who were (and are) the products of this institution are famous for their devotion and dedication.  The adaptation and accommodation methods of Fr. Robert De Nobili are still popular among the Jesuits of the Madurai Province.  The Beschi College at Dindigul was started three decades ago to give spiritual formation to the members of the Society of Jesus.


The church and the society have a role to play in the cultural renewal of the nation.35  The Jesuits in Tamil Nadu fulfiled it through educational institutions.  Tied to the wheels of the Government or University, the Jesuit  Schools and Colleges have been content to do better than most other both in teaching and in discipline.  Admission to the Jesuit institution is desired owing to the devotion of both the Fathers and the Staff.  In general, the legal status of Jesuit Educational Institutions today is very sound.  First of all, they enjoy minority rights as per Article 30(1) of the Indian Constitution.  Secondly, majority of Jesuit Educational Institutions are registered either directly or indirectly under the Societies Registration Act of 1860 and enjoy the protection of this Act.  Thirdly, the ownership of the Institutions of Society of Jesus is vested with the Society itself managed by the Fathers.36  On the whole the Jesuits contribution to education created an elite group which was responsible for the cultural renaissance of Tamil Nadu.  The same function, these educational institutions continue to do for the dawn of  a New Society.




Jawaharlal Nehru, “An Autobiography”, Bombay, 1962, p. 273.

Narchison, J.R. et. al., “Called to Serve”, Nagercoil, 1983, p.2.


Education Commission Report of the Madras Presidency, Madras, 1882, p. 6.

Ibid., p.7.

Sundararaj, T., “Social and Cultural Aspects of Tamil Nadu”, Sundar Publications, Tiruchirappali, 2006, p. 181.

Narchison, J.R. et al., Op.cit., pp. 16-17.

Geor Sschurhammu, “Francis Xavier: His Life, His Time”, Vol. II, Rome 1977, pp. 473-474.

Directory of Jesuit Education in India, Delhi, 1970, p. 164.

Chandler, J.S. “History of the Jesuit Mission of Madurai”, Madras, 1909, p.11.

Directory of Jesuit Education in India, p. 145.

Subramonian, Ka. Naa. “The Catholic Community in India”, Madras, 1970, p. 30.

Narchison, J.R., et al., Op.cit., pp. 35-37.

Subramonian, Ka. Naa., Op.cit., p. 310

Directory of Jesuit Education in India, p. 164.

Subramonian, Ka. Naa. Op.cit., p. 84.

T.A. Mathias (Ed.), Educational Perspective in Modern India, Delhi, 1967, p. 2.

Directory of Jesuit Education in India, p. 20.

Ibid., p. 166.

Quoted in the Documents of the XXX, Jesuit General Congregation Decree on Education No. 1 and 7.

J. Murickan, Catholic Colleges in India, Bangalore, 1981, p. 45.

Ibid., p. 19.

Directory of Jesuit Education in India, p. 186.

Ibid., p. 183.

Ibid., p. 192.

Ibid., p. 195.

Ibid., p. 185.

Ibid., p. 180.

Ibid., p. 171.

Ibid., p. 169.

Ibid., p. 172.

Ibid., p. 188.

St. Joseph’s College Centenary Volume, Op.cit. p. 5.

The petition submitted to the Collector of Tanjore by Fr. Audibert, dated 17thAugust 1845, Madras State Achieves.

Directory of Jesuit Education in India, p. 174.

Jesuit Survey Report on the Indian Assistancy, New Delhi, 1969, p. 82

Directory of Jesuit Education