330 years of Milagres

By: Dr. Stany A. D’Souza, (Published in 2010-’11)

Our Ancestral Belonging

Many Mangalorean Catholics are curious to know when Christianity had first come to our place. There are no written records as per the existence of Christianity in the present Diocese of Mangalore prior to the coming of the Portuguese in the last decade of the fifteenth century A.D. But by mere conjecture we can say that some of our ancestors were probably converted by the Kerala Christians as Mangalore was just a few miles away from Tellichery, Cannanore and Calicut which lie in the northern belt of Kerala, and Mangalore was an important trading centre, occupying a place of prominence between the Malabar and Konkan Coasts, its boats sailing as far as the Gulf of Aden and Africa.

There is yet another tradition which states that ‘Kalyan’ mentioned in the annals of Christianity could be Kalyanpur where another disciple of Jesus had come and preached the good news of salvation and some living in that area had accepted Jesus[1].

After the Portuguese had established their sway over Goa, Catholicism became the prominent religion in this region. They sent their missionaries, mainly the Franciscans to the region south of Goa, during the reign of Keladi Nayaks. These rulers had already welcomed the Christians to come and settle in their Kingdoms as these migrants were talented agriculturists who could introduce new crops. Historically the Catholic community owed their security, well-being and prosperity to the goodwill, protection and encouragement of the Hindu royal family of Bednore-Ikkeri[2]and even Krishnadevarya (1509-1529), when the latter had established his suzerainty over this region and showed his benevolence towards the migrants.

These migrated Christians belonged to the Indo-European or more simply the Aryan race which had moved into India via Kashmir, Punjab and other north western passes. Later they passed through Rajasthan, and the area near the River Saraswathi .Then they settled in Goa where they came in touch with the Portuguese missionaries and accepted Christianity as their religion; their language was Konkani, closely akin to Marathi and the other Sanskrit/Prakrit languages. Finally, North Kanara and erstwhile South Kanara became their homeland.

The Early Churches: The Portuguese Franciscan Missionaries who had pioneered into the Kanara coastal regions built three small churches at Bolar Fort (Rosario), Ullal-Panir and Arkula, later known as Omzoor[3] and catered to the spiritual needs of those who were already Christians.

Missionaries attached to these places covered up the entire district. Rosario Church’s territoriesextended from Mangalore to Padil, and beyond Kulur, Suratkal to Mulki, and Moodbidri; Arkula (later Omzoor) Missionaries looked after the spiritual welfare of the people of Kudpu, Paldane, Kelarai, Adyar and they covered the areas towards the east, touching the foothills of the Western Ghats. At that time, there were no bridges; people as well as the missionaries used boats to cross the Nethravati to reach Ullal. This centre catered to the spiritual needs of the people on the other side of the river.

An Italian traveler, Pietro De Lavele (Pietro Della Valle) who visited Mangalore in 1623 says: ‘There were three churches here; one inside the Fort, one in Ullal and the third, St. Francis Church in Arkula (not the present Friary)’ and he was much impressed by Fr. Francisco Dose Neves’ sermon preached at the Sunday Mass at Arkula[4]. After a few decades, the original members of the clergy had grown old and no new missionaries ventured forth into our land. In the seventeenth century the Portuguese power declined and the Dutch appeared on the scene, who were not too kindly to any Catholic cause. The British East India Company was established in 1600 A.D. and soon they established their supremacy over the Arabian Sea and India which resulted in an era of uncertainty as the Portuguese and Goan priests were recalled to Goa. Subsequently, the faithful in Kanara were left with no sacraments and the sacrifice of the Holy Mass. However, the devotion of the holy rosary kept them united with Christ and they remained firm in their faith.

The birth of Milagres:

In 1658 the Carmelite Missionaries of Verapoly (Kerala) sent a representation to the Holy See stating the plight of the Christians in Kanara, and the latter sent Father Thomas de Castro, a native of Salsette, who as a teenager had accompanied his uncle to Rome; later he became a Theatine priest and worked as a Professor in Rome. The Propaganda appointed him as the Vicar Apostolic of Kanara and Malabar.

Now onwards the History of Milagres is intertwined or has become part of the History of Mangalore. When BishopThomas de Castro, who was born in Goa, but educated in Rome,arrived in 1677 from Rome he first went to Malabar and then came to Mangalore in 1678-80. The little town of Mangalore or a large village then was supposed to have only one church at Bolar. Bishop de Castro made his residence at Milagres, got a grant of land from Queen Keladi Chennama of Bednore and built the first church in 1680 in the place of the present cemetery; the Portuguese Padroado meaning ‘protectorate’, as was to be expected, resented the appointment of De Castro and from the start questioned the ‘right’ of the Propaganda (Rome) in their domain; however, Bishop Castro died in 1684 and the arch Bishop of Goa once again asserted his jurisdiction over Kanara.

The Milagres Parish in the Eighteenth Century:

In 1700 King Basappa took the Milagres land back but Fr. Lawrence Pinto, the Vicar at Milagres petitioned to King Somasekara II who had succeeded Basappa and got the possession of the land after a lapse of fourteen years in l715. In 1756, during Fr. Lawrence’s nephew Fr. Antony Pinto’s tenure as the Vicar, funds were available and a new church (second) was built on the spot where the present church stands. During the next eighty years claims and counter claims arose for the land as well as the right to collect rent, and in 1831 by the court decree the matter was set at rest in favour of the confraternity.

The vast parish of Milagres at Hampankatta had within its folds all the present Wards, including Valencia, Jeppu, Angelore upto Padil, Bendore, Bondel and beyond– Vamanjore, and parts of Kulsekar. The present roads including the Mangalore-Bantwal high-way never existed at the time or even at the time of the captivity in 1784. That is why the ancient churches were established close to the rivers like the Rosario, Milagres, Omzoor, Kulur, Mulki, Bantwal, Agrar and Mogarnad as they could be reached by sailing in local boats. All these churches were destroyed by Tippu Sultan in 1784.

You will find the brief synopsis of the Milagres Church history in Milarchem Milan of December 2009. So let me dwell on the present building of which we are celebrating the Centenary this year.

Milagres in the nineteenth Century:

After the downfall of Tippu Sultan, a Certain Bello had erected a chapel in 1800, that being the third church, spending Rs. 400. As the parishioners were in need of a permanent house for God, in 1811, a big church building was erected, with generous donations of stones, timber and iron girders donated by the local Catholics; it was erected at the same place where the present church stands, this being the fourth church. We are told that as the walls rose, tier by tier, tears of joy were shed by those who contrasted their present happy state with the horrors of captivity.[5]

Rev. Fr. Mendez who was the parish priest then, became the Vicar Vara. He was succeeded by Fr. Manuel Cajetan Gomes 1810-15 as the Vicar at Milagres. The priests who ministered at the Milagres church till 1865 were mainly of Goan origin and since they had no knowledge of Kannada and Tulu, they could conduct services in Latin and preach in Konkani. During their priestly ministry many Portuguese words which the Goan clergy had adopted into their local language, became part of our Konkani, like Escola, Kumgar, Kumsar, Besav, Podorn, Modorn, Egargia, Pirjent,Vara, Muddhom, Tidrer, Miron, Chamadore, Sarti etc..

In 1848, when Rt. Rev. Bernardine was the Bishop of Mangalore, Milagres Anglo-Vernacular School was established in the Milagres Parish with the support and labours of Peter V. Coelho and Peter Vas, two of its worthy parishioners, and entrusted to the care of Fitzgerald, an Irish gentleman and Monsieur Dupert, a Frenchman. This school later became a H. School in 1944[6]. To mark the tri-centenary of the Church, a new and spacious building was erected demolishing the old one. In 1982 it was upgraded into a P.U. College; finally the time is ripe to have our own college, running the degree classes.

It is only befitting to mention the service rendered by ‘Farad Sahib’: Fr. Alexandre Dubois, who was a scion of a wealthy family of Rouen, France; later in God’s plan he was to be our Vicar (1865-1877). Though Secular, he wore a Carmelite cassock and practiced austerity like St. Francis of Assisi. This saintly priest for reasons of his own, and those were quite valid ones, had set his heart on Kulshekar which he had named as Cordel (heart-valley) where he had begun the construction of the church. This ‘Hermit-priest’ died on 11 Dec. 1877 on the day of our Parish Feast which was then celebrated on the second Wednesday of December.

There were two administrative bodies in the parish: the Fabrica (small body) and the Junta, the larger group.

Jesuits in Mangalore:

Mangalorean Catholics after seeing the success of the Jesuits in the field of education at Bombay, Calcutta and Trichi requested the Holy See to send Jesuits to our town.[7] Thus came the Jesuits from the Venetian Province and landed at Bunder on 31 December1878.

However, the priests belonged to different nationalities; on the very same day of their arrival, Very Rev. Msgr. Nicholas Pagani was made the Vicar Apostolic of Mangalore[8]. Three of the Jesuits were destined to be our Vicars; even the Milagres school was handed over to them for some years;

and one of the illustrious Vicar was Rev. Torri S.J.(1881-86) during whose stewardship the Christian Mothers’Sodality was instituted (1883) and much to their satisfaction, a side wing was added to the already existing church, namely the Monica Chapel. (MonicaePatronae Matrum Catholicarum) It was solemnly blessed on 4 May 1887. Its three chief benefactors were Mrs. Josephine Saldanha, Mrs. Anne Mary Coelho and Mr. Casimir Britto.[9] Many others had contributed their mite to this worthy cause.

Nine years later a beautiful altar and the painting of St. Augustine receiving baptism were added. This priceless piece of work was by Guadagnini, an Italian artist whose work on the Cupola of Bergamo Cathedral had given him a celebrity status.

The Church itself was magnificent; Mr. Nicholas Britto, a Tashidar of the 19thcentury purchased a monolith in Carrara Marble and donated it to the Milagres church to be its high altar; this piece of art had won the first prize at the Paris exhibition and originally bought by and sent to Mangalore by Madame Dubois. The Saldanhas had generously supplied the railings that adorned the sanctuary and the Paises had given a generous monetary assistance.

  1. Thomas De Castro had erected a shrine of St. Antony when he had built the first church. Some years later, Anthony Coelho, an ancestor of the Coelho family of Falnir had migrated from Goa along with a statue of St. Antony which was installed in the church. Much later, in 1898, together with a native catholic civil servant Fr. M.P. Colaco, an energetic Assistant at Milagres Church with the ’s permission revived the devotion to this saint and in 1900 he imported a magnificent statue that adorns the side Altar. He secured for the shrine the status of Altare Privilegiatum which we find written on the main altar from Pope Leo XIII on 22-1-1902[10]. This revered priest was made the Director of the Shrine of St. Anthony by Rt. Rev. Dr. Perini, in 1911.

ThePresent Milagres Church:(fifth church)

(A Century old structure)

Dr. S. Patrao writes: ‘I was a boy of 7; I know the day when the old church collapsed (1906) during the rainy season; however, the Christian Mothers’ chapel was spared.’[11] He then adds; ‘Fr. Emmanuel (Mona) Rebello was a priest then at Milagres.’(1906-1910)

The work of the new church commenced soon after Rev. Msgr. Frank Pereira, the parish priest of tremendous tenacity took keen interest in its completion. After working for a number of years at Milagres (1904-1923) he became the Parish Priest of the newly erected church at Bondel, which was once a part of Milagres.

  1. Augustus Diamanti S.J. was the architect of the new church; being an Italian he had the rich knowledge of the European art. He had already erected the Seminary building with the Jeppu church which in the last decades of the nineteenth century was a magnum opus. We are told that the two front towers of the Milagres Church were so massive that no foundation could take their weight; finally, a supervisor in the person of Joachim Fernandes from Goa who had carried out such tasks of erecting towers in that diocese was called upon to give the much needed expertise.

In 1914 the time had finally come to bifurcate the Milagres church; the people of Bendur had a long cherished dream of having their own church and this became a reality with Msgr.R. Mascarenhas as its first priest[12]. With this, Milagres lost the Nagure-Padil strip as well, which later became Angelore. Bondel which was originally a ward of Milagres became an independent church in 1923 and Angelore in 1935.

The present church (1911) is decked with arches, decorative pillars, an artistically painted sanctuary, a spell-bounding canopy on Mother Mary’s life-like statue, the statues of St. Joseph and St. Francis Xavier, brought from Nardini, Italy, and the angels on top holding on to the cross and the magnificent central arch from which once hung the black curtain of Good Friday add to the grandeur of the church. Above all, to her devotees, Milar Saibeen, the wonder working Madonna, the ‘real mother’ is there at the centre.

In 1935 St. Vincent Ferrer Church was erected taking away the Valencia Ward, Fr Muller Hospital and The Cloistered Convent from Milagres.. Fr. J.S.C. Vas was the parish priest then at Milagres.

Fr. Charles B. Lobo, Director of St.Antony’s Shrine (1929-36) shifted the ‘Poor Homes’ to the present premises which he had acquired from the Brittos.

In 1942 the Coelho family erected the grotto on the left side of the church, in front of the priests’ residence.

Besides the main altar, there are two side altars; one is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the other – the Shrine of St. Antony (1900). The former was destroyed by fire on Good Friday (2009) after the evening service, but is restored almost to its old glory by the efforts of Rev. Fr. Walter D’Mello, the present Vicar and the Church Council.

The loft and the storied side wings once made of wood were renovated with ‘bricks and key stone’ structure in the sixties. The front portico was added when Msgr. Albert D’Souza, later the arch bishop, was the vicar in 1954-57.


After Vatican II, Latin worship was replaced by Konkani and English; the pulpit which was behind the shrine of Mother of Perpetual Succour, but facing the people from where our former priests preached their numerous Sunday sermons in the absence of the present sound system, was removed; so also the front railings of the sanctuary were done away with.

During Rev. Fr. Piadade Saldanha’s ministry as the Vicar of Milagres (1957-66), the Belfry was repaired and the church-ceiling was painted blue. The old Mangalore ‘factory tiles’ were replaced by mosaic tiles. Fathers’ residence was renovated, adding a mini hall. The church needed some income, so he undertook the construction of theMilagresMansion in 1959. He was instrumental in starting the Perpetual Succour Novena in the church.

Rev. Fr. C.T. Sequeira (1966-77) is another illustrious priest who after his studies in theU.S. was made the vicar of Milagres; he had the belfry renovated and new bells were installed; the old ones were donated to Allipade and Nirmarga churches. In 1967 he began the construction of the Milagres Centre.

In 1980 the Church celebrated the Tri centenary of the Church during which under the able leadership of Rev. Fr. A. D’Souza and later Rev. Fr. Denis Moras the Housing Society decided to build nearly 131 houses for the poor, a chapel, a hall, a priest’s residence, a social centre and the connecting roads in Nithyadhar Nagar. The land, 12.5 acres, for this project was donated by Mrs. Josephine

Mascarenhas of Milagres. A new Milagres School building was also needed; both the projects were completed in a short period. The Sisters of Poor Clare were accommodated in the erstwhile Holy Angels School, providing the parish a much needed prayer house.

The Stations of the Cross that we find in front of the church were erected during Fr. Harold’s tenure (1993-2000) as the parish priest of Milagres.

If the Milagres School and PU College are what they are today, the credit goes to their former stalwart principal Rev. Fr. G. W. Vas who had joined the Milagres Church as an assistant priest in 1967 and then became the headmaster of the institution and thus became a part of our presbytery for nearly 3 decades.

To mark the post-tri-centenary Silver Jubilee, in 2005 the sanctuary tiles were replaced by brown granite; a Hall Complex, consisting of Milagres Jubilee Hall, Senate Hall and Conference Hall were constructed with the expertise and experience of Rev. Fr. WilliamGonsalves and it was inaugurated much to the satisfaction and pride of this church community. The Platinum Jubilee of Fr. Gonsalves coincided with the Post-tri-centenary of the church and the parishioners celebrated the event with due pomp. Credit also goes to Fr. Gonsalves during whose tenure the Church cemetery was cleared of wild weeds and he made into a worthy burial place for the dead.

In the year, 2010-11 as we celebrate the Centenary of the present Church building, let us rejoice in the Lord, for due to the ardent work of the indefatigable Vicar, Rev. Fr. Walter D’Mello who has a rich, dynamic personality and limitless vitality, and his ever cooperating Jubilee Committee, so many celebrations and works of charity, including houses for the poor parishioners at Bondel, and renovating the front portico could be accomplished. The church pews had become old and had to be replaced by new ones. This work was carried out in 2009.

The statues of St. Antony (2000-5), of Our Lady of Miracles (2008) were placed at the north entrance and the Infant Jesus Statue at the south belfry to give the people an opportunity to pray when the church is closed.

This year our Parish Feast was celebrated on Oct.13, 2010 a Wednesday, keeping in mind the past tradition with Kompr Procession, Vespers, fire-works, and of course, the feast on Wednesday with the age old sant. Fr. Walter’s Jubilee Committee had prepared an archway to the Church with two beautiful side arches and a central gate.

This Church in the heart of the town stands tall; if it does so it is because of the industrious nature of its past parishioners and the Goan, European and Mangalorean priests who have rendered unstinted service to the church during the 330 years of its existence. It is a magnificent piece of art; but there’s more to it than just art; it is a place where Mother Mary’s devotees come from far and near to venerate her. On one side of the road, you would be able to see the city’s hustle and bustle but on crossing the road it is a totally different world altogether! Step inside the church and spend a few minutes in solitude in front of the Blessed Sacrament; then slowly cast your eyes on Milar Saibeen– her comforting gaze will soothe and strengthen you.

Parish Priests at Milagres: (1911- 2010)

Rev. Fr. Frank Pereira 1904-23

Rev. Fr. J.S.C. Vas 1923-38

Very Rev. Fr. J.L.A. D’Souza 1938-42

Very Rev. Fr. Deniz Jeremias D’Souza 1942-54

Very Rev. Fr. Albert V. D’Souza 1954-57

Rev. Fr. P. Saldanha 1957-66

Rev. Fr. C.T. Sequeira 1966-77

Rt. Rev. Msgr. A.F. D’Souza 1977-83

Rev. Fr. Francis P. Serrao 1983-85

Rev. Fr. Dennis Moras Prabhu 1985-93

Rev. Fr. Harold D’Souza 1993-2000

Rev. Fr. William Gonsalves 2000- 05

Rev. Fr. Walter D’Mello 2005-2012

Rev. Fr. Valerian D’Souza 2012-

May Our Church, beautiful to behold, and inviting to pray, continue to inspire and motivate the parishioners and all who visit it to greater love and attachment to God’s Holy Church, and urge them with the charity of Christ to build up and be a community of faithful, truly united, “A people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy spirit,” –St. Cyprian.

(Besides the books, articles mentioned at the footnote, many others have contributed to this article: They include Rev. Msgr. Denis Moras, previous ast. Priests from Vianney Home andSt.Antony’s Home, Senior parishioners, Sacristans et al.- May Mother Mary bless them all)