Saturday, 21 November 2009

Fr Joseph Velinkar and Thomas Stephens

Fr Joseph Velinkar, SJ, Director of the Heras Institute at St Xavier's College, Mumbai, just dropped in. He said some interesting things. He - or his students - have collected matter on Rudolph Acquaviva, SJ and Thomas Stephens, SJ, for PhD theses in the University of Bombay, but the topics were not approved by the University on the grounds that the matter had to be available within India. So the theses are blocked. Fr Velinkar himself could go ahead and publish something, but he says that would be cutting off his students....

He is also working on the history of the Jesuits in India during the period when the Society was suppressed. Some of those in Goa were deported in chains to Europe. Some managed to escape out of Goa, and made their way to Agra, where there was a Jesuit house given by Akbar (or perhaps by Jehangir); they remained there till they died, after which the Jesuit house was taken over by the diocese; the present day Bishop's House is really the Jesuit House of those times. It has a graveyard attached, which contains the graves of the Jesuits who died there.

When the Society was revived, Fr Velinkar says there were three centres, or at least three places where documents were found / gathered: Trichy (these documents were later shifted to Shembaganur, where they may still be found), Calcutta (in the Goethals Library), and Mumbai (very few documents, according to Velinkar). Research would have to be done in all these places for the history of the Jesuits during the suppression.

What happened to the Jesuit Archives of Goa when the Society was suppressed? Velinkar had gone to meet Fr Gomes Catao, history professor at Rachol Seminary, in retirement in an old age home. Gomes Catao narrated to him the 'oral tradition' about the archives. It seems that the Marquis de Pombal, thinking the Jesuits had plenty of gold, ordered all the archives and stuff to be sent to him in Portugal. But the gold was mainly the sacred vessels and something on the vestments. Still, the documents from the archives were also sent to Portugal. When nothing 'worthwhile' was found, the whole lot was ordered shipped back to Goa 'to be returned to its proper place'. But in Goa they did not know what to do, since the Society had been suppressed; so they sent it back to Portugal. The story goes that the captain of the ship, fed up with this back and forth, dumped the boxes into the sea.

At any rate, Velinkar says that the Jesuits had the habit of always making 2 or 3 copies of documents. These are the copies, he says, which found their way to private libraries or individuals. That is why we find stuff in Belgium, or London, and so on.

The real place to search, according to him, is the Jesuit General Archives in Rome. There are plenty of papers there, and they have been researched only up to 1595 or so.

Velinkar also said that some years ago, doing his research in Salcette, he had found an MS of the Khristapurana in the Verna church; but later, when he went to have a look again, it was not there.

Fr Velinkar is almost 80 now; he is still guiding research students for the University of Mumbai, and is in charge of the Heras Institute and of the Indica magazine. He has lots of plans for research.... Let's hope he finds the time and energy for all this, and also some enthusiastic students to carry on his work.

Some of Velinkar's bibliography:

"Jesuit Educational Style." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 13/1 (2002) 59-72.

"Village Communities in Goa and their Evolution," Goa and Portugal: History and Development, ed. Charles J. Borges and Hannes Stubbe 124-132.

India and the west, the first encounters: A historical study of the early Indo-Portuguese cultural encounters in Goa. Mumbai: Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture, 1998.

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