In 1842, Monsignor Carew of Calcutta was keenly aware of the increasing number of British and European children made fatherless by disease or battle. He saw the need for Congregations of Nuns and Brothers to care for and teach these poor children who were termed 'war orphans'. Being a native of Waterford, Ireland, his immediate choice was the Loreto Sisters at Rathfarnam and the Irish Christian Brothers, founded about forty years earlier by a Waterford businessman, Edmund Rice. However, while the Irish nuns arrived in India in 1844 and took up residence at Middleton Row, the Christian Brothers were unable to spare any Brothers for the Indian Mission. As an alternative, the Brothers offered to train men who would form the nucleus of the new Congregation in India. Accordingly in September, 1847, two young men, Br.Francis Fitzpatrick and his cousin, Br. Alphonsus Tolan, having completed their short spell of training in Ireland, began their long and wearisome voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to Calcutta, arriving on 15th February, 1848.

Having brought with them the Rule Book of the Irish Christian Brothers, they immediately set up the new community of the Calcutta Brothers in the Cathedral compound, Moorghihatta. Br. Francis took charge of the orphanage at Moorghihatta while Br. Alphonsus travelled each day to look after the boys Free School in Bow Bazar. The little Congregation grew slowly but received a setback when both, Archbishop Carew and Br. Francis died in 1855. It was around this time that the De La Salle Brothers, a French Order tried to effect an amalgamation with the Calcutta Brothers but a clash of cultures, customs and language resulted in the abortion of the attempt to join the two Congregations. By 1878, neither the number of Calcutta Brothers nor their institutions had increased significantly.

It was only in January 1890, that the Irish Christian Brothers were able to set up their mission on a firm footing when four Brothers (Vincent Casey, Fabian Kenneally, Edward Aherne and Ambrose Flynn) came to Calcutta from Ireland at the request of Pope Leo XII. Br. Casey was appointed Provincial Visitor and the amalgamation of the four Irish Christian Brothers and sixteen Calcutta Brothers took place. From Calcutta the Brothers moved to St. Patrick's, Asansol the very next year. In March 1892, the Brothers took over St. Joseph's School, Nainital, which was constructed three years earlier as a Capuchin Seminary. In 1894, a new building, the present red- brick structure, was erected under the direction of Br. Joseph Moyes and is now St. Joseph's College, Bow Bazar . This became the Head Office of the Christian Brothers till it was moved to St. Columba's, New Delhi, in 1980. The work that the Brothers were doing received recognition and requests came from several Catholic Bishops for the Brothers to open schools in their dioceses. At the turn of the century there were nearly fifty Brothers in India, both Irish and Anglo-Indian, and a training house for Brothers (novitiate) was started at Mt Carmel's, overlooking Goethals.

Over the years, the Brothers opened St Michael’s School in Kurji near Patna (1894-1974); Goethals Memorial School, Kurseong (1907); St. Edmund's School, Shillong (1916) and College (1936); St Edward's, Simla (1925 -1983); St. Vincent's Asansol (1927); St. Aloysius' School in Quilon, Kerala (1931-1967); St. Mary's High School, Mt. Abu (1929); St. Columba's School, New Delhi (1941) and St Mary's Orphanage, Dumdum (1947).

Indian Independence, August 1947, caused great upheaval and change. Many of the British, Europeans and Anglo-Indians left the country emigrating to England and Australia and a fine lot of eager Indian students were admitted to the Brothers' schools. Till then, the Anglo-Indian Board did not permit more than 15% Indian students to be on the rolls. A number of Irish Brothers too went home and did not return to India. As a consequence, in 1958, the Brothers made a concerted effort to attract young men to join the Congregation. Their efforts bore fruit and from 1959 a steady stream of bright youngsters, mainly from their own schools, having completed their initial training in Mt. Carmel, Kurseong, committed themselves to service in the Brothers. St. John's School, Chandigarh (1959) was the Brothers first new opening, post Independence.

Another significant development with the Brothers in India took place when it was no longer possible to bring Brothers from abroad to work in India. The first American Superior General, Br. A. Loftus, instructed the Brothers to 'Go West' where there was a large Christian population. In 1968, a momentous move to the West Coast of India took place in the form of the Brothers taking over the management of Our Lady of Salvation School, Dadar, Bombay. Other openings followed on the West coast: Regina Mundi, Goa (1971); St. Augustine's, Vasai (1972) and St. Joseph's Junior College, Bajpe, Karnataka (1979). These schools are still doing yeoman service in the areas in which they are located, besides providing a number of committed young Catholic youngsters to follow in Edmund Rice's footsteps. Vocations to the Brothers are now all indigenous and the Irish Christian Brothers have now become the Christian Brothers.

A third shift took place in the 1980s. The idea of globalization was beginning to take root and the Brothers in India responded in 1988 by opening a mission in The Gambia, West Africa. Since then the Brothers have moved out of The Gambia into other African countries. A growing sense of responsibility towards the education of the ignored masses in rural and tribal India marked another 'first'. The Brothers took over the running of a Gujarati Medium school at Mandal in Gujarat in 1993. In 1999, an English medium School, Ane Moriam in Arunachal Pradesh, near the Indo-Chinese border was established. Since then the Brothers have experimented with other rural projects in Umarpada & Vijaywada (Gujarat), Mawjrong (Meghalaya), Bongera (Jharkhand), Saraitoli (Chattisgarh), Gevrai (Maharashtra) and Challakere ( Karnataka). Some have succeeded while many have, for one reason or another, been discontinued.

However, there is no doubt that the Christian Brothers have made giant strides in India since the intrepid duo of Alphonsus Tolan and Francis Fitzpatrick took charge of the Catholic Male Orphanage in Moorgihatta in 1848. Two hundred and fifty years after the birth of Edmund Rice, his vision for the empowerment of the economically poor and socially marginalised youth, through the medium of education, continues to flourish in a myriad ways in an India that is waking up to the potential of being a great modern nation.


Compiled by Br. Martin Fernandes cfc