An Ode to the Fathers of St. Lawrence

Nipon Haque

The school years are the best years as they say! :D And as I look back, let me remember the Fathers we had in St. Lawrence, the great missionaries who renounced material life, came to our country and added so much value to our society. We were one of the last batches to be taught by Fathers from abroad. In later years we got Indian fathers too.

Father C. Bouche. A legendary figure. Remembered by generations of students of St. Xaviers and later St. Lawrence. Father was the Primary Prefect in St. Lawrence. Rightfully so for Fr. himself was a kid at heart, a delightful soul! Outside the class, during the assembly prayers, the lunch breaks and even the short breaks he was always seen among the students, making merry with them. Father was like our best friend and we would look forward to meet him. Father’s classes were most interesting where he would often reward us with chocolates. He taught us English Grammar in class 4. Father mainly concentrated on tense and by the end of the year tense was our forte! The man who built the very base of our grammar is no more. May his soul rest in peace.

Fr. Ramidius. Amazing person. Used to teach English Grammar in class 5 & 6. Few teachers have such dedication and teach with so much energy! There used to be pin-drop silence as we watched with rapt attention as this great teacher gradually unfolded the mysterious ‘parts of speech’ before us! A strict disciplinarian, he never tolerated the slightest talk in his class and boys would freeze to hear his ominous warning – ‘2nd last bench, mind now!’ The naughtier ones would get the beating. Whack! That was the sound the wooden scale made when it came down in a large swinging motion to the poor chap’s calf. The very strict man was a very amiable person outside the classroom. He would be seen smiling during his afternoon walks and on the occasion of Rainbow he actually asked me if I was having a good time! I was a huge fan of Father’s teaching and my disappointment knew no bounds when Father went to another school towards the end of class 5 and we were also not lucky to have him as our grammar teacher in class 6.

Fr. Adrian Wavreil was our Rector cum Headmaster almost through the entire part of our school years. Father taught us in class 8, the subject of Moral Science. Although Father taught us really well and went deep into topics like theology, concepts that I would jot down real quick and try to reproduce in the exams and score somehow, this was one course in the entire school life that really went over my head! In one of these Moral Sc. classes, my good friend Subhodip and I were upto some mischief – we were playing something in a copy. Father came, closed the copy and told Subhodip to meet him at his office after school. Both of us were really scared! After school, Subhodip went to meet Father with phobic apprehension. Much to his relief, Father asked him to recite the prayer ‘Our Father in Heaven’ and let him off. Really, Father Wavreil was always this friendly and lenient with us, the best headmaster we could have. And how can I forget this? In class 8 only, I went to Max Mueller Bhavan from school to participate in a contest. It was late evening when we came back to school and Father reached me home on his scooter!

Father Deepak joined as the secondary prefect when we were all in class 6 sending terror waves among the secondary student population. We dreaded him and his sharp cane like anything! Father enforced new rules, tightened discipline and rounded up the students at the slightest mischief. In class 7, a new trend had become popular – pen fighting. One day in an off period, everyone was busy playing pen fighting. Like a bolt from the blue, Father Deepak stormed in and slapped whoever happened to be nearby! Phew! Those were days.

Parting shot (added by Rajarshi):

The crux of the ongoing discussion leads to a greater realization embroiled in the essence of the history of the colonial rule that India was subject to till 1947. A close observer of Indian history can’t forget the contribution of James Augustus Hicky, who published the first newspaper of India, the Bengal Gazette, also who can forget Marshman, the missionary behind Serampore Mission, who tried to enunciate Western Education among the Orientalist Masses of Bengal? Missionary activities have been garnished with malicious prejudices by a section of our society; even some urban urchins still feel that these missionaries had only one purpose to serve in this country, that is, forced conversion of the natives into Christianity. But very few people know that these same people have contributed immensely to the westernization of the Orientalist section of the society, more so, the Bengali Society (Please don’t forget that Bengal was the epicentre of all intellectual, political activities in Pre-Independence India till 1911) and majorly to the education sector of a country when it was suffering from an identity crisis. We have been lucky that we also became a part of this ‘institution’ in St. Lawrence. The essence of this occurence will achieve it’s totality only when we understand the true meaning of what Tagore wrote in his celebrated ode to the Indian Land, ‘Bharat – Tirtha’: “Dibe r nibe , milabe milibe , jaabe na fire, ei Bharoter Moha-Manob er sagorotire.”

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  1. Im deeply moved by this write-up.It rejuvenated the old memories of school.
    Thanks Nipon for bringing the nostalgic me.I almost forgot what punishment I got from Fr. Wareil,I wonder how u still remember he asked to recite the prayer.Lolz.But i thoroughly enjoyed those days under the days of reign by foreigner fathers even after getting beated by the cane sticks of Fr.Bouche.he was a sweetheart,was one of the most loving and caring father i had ever met in my life.Those were the glorious days of St.Lawrence.Im delighted to be a part of those days.keep such good work going best wishes with u.

  2. You have pointed out every aspect of the word ‘Fathers’ in your tribute to the great human beings to whom we were fortunate to meet in our childhood days.The discipline and strictness although used to be pain at times in school,but we can realize how meaningful it is.I am moved by your gesture making us nostalgic.Also,thanks to your knife sharpen memory for it.
    Adieu is what we have left for them,but reaching the highest peak in our respective lives would make their renouncing attitude towards life more justifiable.
    Thanks a lot.We really forget to thank the unsung heroes but your well quoted words give us a sense of respecting them all over again.

  3. Thanks Nipon for the astounding write-up..The ‘Father’ is an institution as far as Missionary education is concerned..and that’s where the Lawrence or the Xaviers people are different from the languishing rest! Most of the fathers whom we came across were very interesting thing I would like to share with you all..Father Wavreil even represented Belgium in the World Cup Soccer..and Father Bouche was in the Belgian Army in one of the Great Wars! To be very frank , I personally did not like any of the Indian Fathers..Father Deepak was mired in controversies which were nothing short of mid-day scoops..and Father Xalxo and Father Benny were pathetic..and never forget Father Mitra..the worst father we got..I still remember how he used to sing the National Anthem..

  4. Really man, all of a sudden it felt like father Bouche’s gonna call me in his room, pout, scold and then caress like never before. Few years back I read in a newspaper article that Fr.Bouche was associated deeply with Mother Teressa Foundation and works. Fr.Wavreil was another perfectionist, the person whom I met first in St. Lawrence and I still feel proud that I could live up to his expectations in my first year. I completely agree with Rajarshi, that’s what keeps us apart from the regular rest. But coming to the other fathers, namely the Indian ones, I better not write as I have to stress myself too hard to think and find something positive about them. Eventually these hypocrites tried to commercialize our thought process, our learning process with the petty target of basket-full of numbers in exams !! And as correctly said they were real entertainers with bag full of controversies !!
    Anyways… Long live Lawrence !!

  5. Last i heard, spreading a religion is imposing on an individual’s free will to decide the religion they want to follow. Ways religion has been/is being spread:
    1. Crusades
    2. Jihad.
    Is it really an individual’s right?

    1. Imposing? Every individual has the right to choose. Fair enough.

      As long as it is in a peaceful way, I see no problem with one preaching his religion.

      And if you look beyond conversion, you will see what greater good the Western Fathers did for the society. Read the addendum to this post, added later – Parting Shot

  6. 2 things:
    a. if every individual has the right to choose his/her religion, then conversion goes against this right? Because when you convert someone you are taking away that freedom.

    b. If the missionaries want to benefit society (which I don’t deny they do) why can’t they do it without hanging the carrot of Christianity in front of them. Why do you have to be Christian to get the benefits of good education and their other social work initiatives? BEcause Hindus/Buddhists/Bahais dont derserve good education?

    1. a. In a democratic secular setup, everyone has the right to preach his religion. That was my point. I am not going into whether conversion sucks or rocks! In any case, if one converts on his own will I got no problem. And if a religious teacher encourages someone to convert, hey I am okay with that.

      b. But I get your point. In the rural/backward belt it is often complained that a scope of good education/opportunities is used a bait for conversion. I would not comment on the veracity of it since that is quite another topic! The talking point is the Fathers of St. Lawrence, a missionary school in Calcutta where majority students are not Christians. In St. Lawrence, not just not-well-to-do Christian students studied on scholarships – many non-Christians did as well.

  7. I don’t know exactly how the St. Lawrence fathers function, all my comments are pertaining to missionaries in general.

    i don’t know what to say Nipon, we agree on one point and not on the other. i guess its stalemate.

    Well at least dexter can no longer accuse you of agreeing to whatever i say… lol!