Patna: Bishop Anastasius Hartmann was born February 24, 1803 in the Swiss town of Altwis. Having felt the call of God to serve as a religious, he joined the Capuchin Order and was ordained priest on September 24, 1825 at Friburg in Switzerland.
From his novitiate he nourished an ardent desire to go to the foreign missions of the Order and frequently asked his superiors, permission for the same. But his superiors felt that his service was needed in his home country, and so he continued to work there for about 16 years, as master of novices, spiritual director of nuns, and professor of philosophy and theology.
A very endearing personality, he won the love and admiration of his fellow priests and the people at large. Perceiving his missionary qualities and unquenchable desire to go to the missions, his superiors, at last, granted him permission to go the missions.
Though he set out for Rome as the first stage of his missionary journey to India, he was assigned jobs in Rome, for another four years: as acting-director and professor of the missionary College of St. Fidelis. Finally he was allowed to proceed to the missions in India and in 1844; he reached Agra, headquarters of the Capuchin Mission in India.
In September 1845, he was appointed Titular Bishop of Derbe and first Vicar Apostolic of Patna, which was separated from the jurisdiction of the Hindustan–Tibet mission.
On March 15, 1846, he was consecrated Bishop of Patna Vicariate and worked hard in founding a strong local Church in North India. Patna Vicariate, spread over 150,000 square miles, had a population of 20-30 millions, of whom only 2,700 were Catholics, under the care of only four priests. Having established in 1849, an orphanage for girls at Bankipur, Patna, he handed it over to the management of the Sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (now called Congregation of Jesus-CJ), in 1852. They are still doing yeoman service in Patna Archdiocese.
Before he was to fulfill his mission in Patna, he was transferred in December 1849 to the Vicariate of Bombay while remaining the Vicar Apostolic of Patna. The Church in Bombay was beset with Church’s jurisdictional problems created by the Portuguese Padroado which continued to control the Church without obeying the authority of the Pope.
Reaching Bombay in 1850, he took several steps to reconcile the people and clergy who were torn between the authorities of the Padroado and the Pope. Slander, threats, apostasies filled the Bishop’s cup of sorrow to the brim. He was partially successful in bringing the faithful of the Portuguese Padroado under the authority of the Pope.
Despite problems, he was able to do much for the Church. He founded the “The Catholic Standard” a periodical to meet the need of communication among the Catholic communities. But in six months it was catering for his enemies. Undaunted, he founded another diocesan newspaper “The Bombay Catholic Examiner,” which he kept supplied with editorials and articles.
“The Examiner” is still in existence and is perhaps the second oldest English-language paper in India. He also wrote a Catechism of Christian Doctrine, and made plans for the establishment of a mission in Nepal. He was responsible for creating Poona as a separate Vicariate, of which he became the first Vicar Apostolic, and entrusting the Bombay Vicariate to the Jesuit Missionaries from Germany, who founded the St. Xavier’s College in Bombay.
Probably problematic pastoral work exhausted him and an intestinal disease nearly incapacitated him. On July July 29, 1856, he was forced to return to Rome to recuperate, but was later appointed Assistant to the Papal Throne and a Roman Count. While in Rome, he was appointed Director of the Foreign Missions of the Capuchin Order.
On January 2, 1860, he was re-appointed Vicar Apostolic of Patna where he re-started his pastoral works: establishing many church institutions, founding Christian communities and so on, till his death on April 24, 1866. A scholar in Hindustani, he translated the Gospels into Hindustani, and even influenced the British colonial government in India to legislate the Christian Marriage Act.
Today, Bishop Hartmann is venerated as a “Servant of God”. Though nearly 150 years have passed since this heroic missionary-bishop left for his abode in Heaven, his indefatigable zeal for souls continues to inspire missionaries in North India, to work for the creation of a just and humane society.