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Fr Carlos Suriá, SJ, of happy
memory, was an outstanding Jesuit and an “intrepid missionary” – to borrow a
phrase from his own accolade of the men in the Mission who could not contain
their zeal and enthusiasm to reach out to all people and to “save” as many souls
as they could. Personal care, like dress or appearance, eating routines, sleep
and relaxation needs... were not found on his list of priorities in life.
Fr Suriá was drawn as it were like a magnet to the heart of God and the heart of
humankind, and he could not resist the call of Love and Service, night or day.
He did not wait for conveyance; he used his sturdy and eventually shaky legs to
get him places. He possessed the heart of an Apostle eager to reach the ends of
the earth with the torch of Faith held high and his lips proclaiming the ‘good
news’ of God’s Salvation. I revered Fr Suriá and felt inspired by my rare and
brief encounters with him toward the last years of his earthly existence. His
spirit still hovers over the Church in Kheda... and in other places where ‘his’
people ventured out to better their prospects.
I have been ‘in touch’ with a ‘facsimile’ of Fr Suriá as I carefully handled his
dog-eared manuscripts containing the history of the Missions. This book uses
them as its main source.
When Fr M. Díaz Gárriz, SJ, offered me the precious manuscripts he had
religiously preserved, he amply warned me about what to expect. Fr Suriá wrote
from his head and heart; he was involved in communicating what he had seen and
heard and felt. He trusted his diary (if he had one) and his memory more than
the research he did into the matter he was directly dealing with. Unfortunately,
he often got so enthused about describing an event that he missed out on a very
crucial cue to any historical work – the day/date.
Fr Suriá’s manuscripts were typed on the reverse side of an old draft of some
discarded manuscript – as most of his religious contemporaries used to do in
order to save paper. They are marred by corrections – typeovers, careted
insertions, black-outs... and the contents appear to be like the tracings of his
own life – darting from one place to another as duty calls (or memory prompts)
on the drop of a hat (the British kind they used to wear), spontaneous overflow
of emotions, asides, and a ‘living in the present’ (without a care to mention
where and when). To use a crude example, his notes are like a jigsaw puzzle, and
one gets the larger picture only when the pieces are neatly put into place.
But I enjoy jigsaw puzzles! And more, I love the Church/Society of Jesus in
Gujarat. I was only too happy to be given an opportunity to recreate a ‘picture’
of a significant period of its history. I realized it would involve researching
its past, delving deep to trace the roots of our present ministries. I believed
that the process itself would be spiritually enriching, whatever the cost and
outcome. I felt it would be worth my steam in spite of the physical
Using Fr Suriá’s yellowing, dog-eared pages as my compass, I traversed the reams
of The Ahmedabad Missionary (1937 to the present), which, for all practical
purposes, was my main point of reference – to cross-check names and dates and
find details – and faces or facades! I fine-tuned the data with information from
The Ahmedabad News Letter (which started in 1951, and is a precursor of the
Gujarat Jesuit Samachar).
I must confess that I began the work with the intention of placing myself as the
“co-author”. However, as I progressed it became apparent that the original
manuscript of Fr Suriá provided the ‘direction’ but left me to fill in the
content through my own research. As I went along with the research, I found
myself ‘re-writing’ the old manuscript. All the “references” in this volume are,
for instance, the fruit of my own labour, meant to substantiate and elaborate
the points taken from Fr Suriá. So, after consulting some responsible people, I
decided to take the responsibility of full authorship for this work.
I am not a ‘historian’ by profession. I am a painstaking, persistent and
conscientious researcher, as was Fr Suriá. However, his worn-out typewriter is
no match to my state-of-the-art computer. His busy schedule and the constant
interruptions justify his harried inputs on paper as against my leisured pace
and undisturbed music-enriched ambience.
The manuscript came into my hands at a time when I was most susceptible to
accepting such a gigantic venture. I had recently completed Profiles in
Holiness, Brief Biographies of Jesuit Saints, which entailed extensive research.
It prepared the ground for a similar type of work, for I hold all the
Missionaries featured in this work as saintly men in their own right. Moreover,
in 2002 I had compiled the obituaries of Gujarat Jesuits in Gujarat Jesuits
Remembered, It had provided me powerful insights into the calibre of priests and
brothers who had contributed so whole-heartedly to the growth of the Church.
In a nutshell: This volume is an interpretation and re-structuring of historical
data based on the manuscripts of Fr Carlos Suriá [1900-1991]. It covers two eras
of the Catholic Church in Gujarat. First, that of the “Ahmedabad Mission” as an
Ecclesiastical Unit under the leadership of Fr Joaquin Vilallonga, SJ –
1934-1949. Second, that of the Ahmedabad Diocese under Bishop Edwin Pinto, SJ –
1949-1973. It is a continuation of the previous volume: HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH IN GUJARAT, [Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1990] by Fr Carlos Suriá, SJ, which
deals with the beginnings of the Gujarat Mission (1891-1934), and provides a
backdrop of the Church’s institutional presence in Gujarat from the 14th century
I undertook this historical research as a labour of love, for the Church, for
the Mission in particular, and for our pioneers very specially. I hope my
efforts will be a source of inspiration to many.
Hedwig Lewis, SJ
Fr Hedwig Lewis has done the job! I knew he would do it. I knew that probably no
one else would have been able to do it.
As Fr Hedwig says in his Foreword: “the original Ms of Suriá provided the
direction, but left to me to fill in the content through my own research.” And
he adds “I undertook this as a labour of love for the Church, for the Mission in
particular and for the pioneers very specially”.
In this book we finally have a
readable, reliable and fairly comprehensive historical narrative for the four
decades running from 1934 to 1973. I hope one day Hedwig will undertake the next
step: To continue the narrative for the next 3 decades, until the centenary year
I had worked with Fr Suriá for almost two years (1988-89) going every month for
a couple of days from Mehsana to Anand, to help him in the task of completing
his first part of the history (1320-1893-1934). He was already 90 years old and
was in no condition to undertake the editing of the second part, 1934 to 1973.
And so he entrusted to me his manuscripts, pleading that they should be
“handled” either personally by me or by some one who would be able to understand
his ethos. I promised him to do so.
I realized however that I would
not be able to undertake the work myself, as I was then a full-time PP in
Mehsana. Some time later came my appointment to the Gujarat Secretariat in
Spain. I was looking for someone… On two occasions some Superior had “tempted”
me to hand over the Suriá Ms to NN or to XX. Finally the right man appeared.
Fr. Hedwig’s first spiritual best-sellers had been in the field of the Spiritual
Exercises. Then he gave us his historical work “Profiles”, a real gem on its
own. (Just a few days ago I received a letter from a Benedictine monk of the
Abbey of San Salvador of Leyre, at Navarra, Spain, Rev Fr F.X Fortún. Fr Fortún,
himself the author of several books on the spiritual life, writes in his letter:
“I have read Hedwig’s Profiles in Holiness. I have richly profited by its
reading. I have got the impression that the author must be a man deeply
spiritual…Please convey my warmest greetings to him”). When I read “Profiles” I
thought that from heaven Suriá was urging me to do something about his
And so I approached Fr Hedwig. I was confident but not sure that he would accept
the work. I was in fact relieved and delighted when he sent me an e-mail: “after
a preliminary perusal of the Ms, I think the task is going to be tough, but I
feel that I shall be able to find my way…”
I have it from Fr Joseph Braganza that some years ago he gave up his efforts “to
correct” an Ms of Suriá. Good Fr Joe Braganza pleaded that Suriá’s style was so
complicated that trying “to correct” it would be fair neither to Suriá nor to
himself. Something similar I heard also from Fr Ignacio Echaniz. So, we can
fully appreciate the value of Fr Hedwig’s efforts.
And here we have this truly new and truly precious book of Hedwig. Suriá had
provided the “direction”. Hedwig Lewis has filled the content through his own
research. And I rejoice in the Lord for the inspiration I got to hand over the
Suriá’s papers to him.
M. Diaz Garriz s.j.