Odisha celebrates birth centenary of first native priest
By: Purushottam Nayak
Cuttack: It is proud and glorious moment for the people of Odisha especially for the Archdioceses of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Berhampur and Rayagada.
There were about 20 priests, about 15 nuns, about 700 faithful gathered at Most Holy Rosary Cathedral Parish, Cuttack on May 27 to commemorate the birth centenary of first Odia and a first diocesan priest late Rev. Pascal Singh from Kandhamal district, a central part of the Archdiocese.
Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur was main the celebrant in the Holy Eucharist and Bishop Niranjan Sualsingh of Sambalpur was co-celebrant.
“We give thanks to God for the gift of Fr. Singh who dedicated his entire life for the equal opportunity of Dalit, Adivasi and other backward people,” said Msgr. Nayak in the introduction. The stone which was rejected became corner stone in the life of Jesus, in the same way Fr. Singh from the dalit community that was rejected and neglected in olden days, yet God made use him to care this backward class,” said Msgr. Nayak.
“Let us be influenced by the virtues, commitment, dedication and sacrifice of Fr. Singh. He was the light of Odisha specially to the tribal, dalit, backward poor and marginalized students,” said Msgr. Sualsingh in his homily.
After several preparatory meetings by the members of Fr. Pascal Singh Memorial Foundation in different places of Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Berhampur, and Rayagada dioceses, the committee organized this ceremony at Cambridge School, Cuttack which was founded by Fr. Singh and his younger brother Fr. Cyprian Singh.
“He taught me to be studious and hardworking. We are grateful to God for the gift of Fr. Singh, a man of vision and reformation,” said John Nayak (Rtd IPS), Ex-DG of Odisha, the student of Fr. Singh.
“Fr. Singh was a learned person proficient in Odia and Sankrit literature,” he added. Fr. Singh was a great visionary for the upliftment of Dalit, Adivasi and backward section of the remote undivided Koraput, Ganjam and Phulbani districts of Odisha, in particular, he believed education is the only threshold of hope to develop society along with spiritual growth, he added.
The first Odia priest and first diocesan priest, Fr. Singh, was born in May 27, 1918 in Kandhamal, village-Alanjury of Bamunigam Parish under Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese. His parents were Ramnath (Benedict) Singh and Benedicta Singh. He had one brother priest Cyprian Singh. He died on February 2, 1990 in Cuttack.
He joined the Primary School of Alanjury in 1923 and studied from Grade one to third. He was gifted with various talents from the childhood onwards. He excelled in studies and extracurricular activities as well. He then joined to study from Grade four to seven at Surada Mission Middle English School, in Ganjam district . All the teachers loved him, not only for the great talent but also for the virtues of honesty, sincerity, obedience, punctuality and good character. He was punctual and hard working boy in the schooling period.
He came to Emperor Poet (Kabi Samrat) Upendrabhanja High School to compete Grade eight to Grade eleventh residing in the Bhanjanagar Minor Seminary. He was the first Odia to secure first division in the Grade tenth. He stood first in the Grade eleventh as well.
He was promoted to do his priestly formation in Aluva (formerly Alwaye), the second biggest town of Greater Cochin City in the Ernakulum district of Kerala, South India. After theology study he was ordained as deacon in the same seminary.
It was a historic moment in India under British rule and in the time of Second World War, deacon Singh was ordained by Bishop Florence Sanz Esparza, C.M on December 31, 1945, at Kattingia, Kandhamal.
He offered first Odia Mass for the faithful on January 1, 1946 in his village Alanjury.
He was first appointed as the Assistant Parish Priest of Mohana that comprised of like one diocese. Mohana Parish included parishes of today Antarba, Birkot, Raiponka, Gunpur, Koraput, Chandiput, Chandragiri, Jubo, Liligada, Luhagudi, Adova, Alligonda, Dmadua, Panigonda, Dekaponka, Kotamaha,. He served South Odisha, Kandhamal, Phulbain, Gonjam, Boudh, Kalahandi and Paralakhemundi.
He was active in preaching and teaching to the faithful. Being first Odia priest he stressed first Odia liturgical celebration, prayer and other spiritual activities. He took initiative to translate liturgical texts from Latin to Odia. His other translations included daily prayer, sacrament of confession, Book of Baptism. Later these were compiled as `Knowledge in brief’; Gospel of Matthew, Life of St. Thomas and Imitation of Christ followed. After publication of above books he was known as `Odia poet of Balmiki’ in Odisha state.
He dedicated his entire energy and time to take care of the spiritual, social and educational needs of people. He had a heart of service. He truly loved and valued people and wanted to help others.
Agent of Reformation in Society:
Liquor was prevalent in the region. People of the area were economically poor, educationally backward and ruining their lives with habit of liquor. He strongly stood to stop brewing and consumption of liquor form the region. He also tried to correct some of traditional superstitions of the time, as they were detrimental for society at large.
Contribution to the society as a Visionary:
As the first Odia priest of Odisha, Fr. Singh has contributed immensely for the spiritual, educational and social development of the most marginalized communities of Odisha by establishing educational institutions such as Technical Mission High School, Surada and A Model Hostel for poor students in 1954-55; Vijay High School, Raikia, Kandhamal in 1957; Cambridge English Medium School, Cuttack, and many other educational institutions in different parts of the state. He was also instrumental in cultural and social reformation. Fr. Singh had a vision to provide the facility for higher education to the poor Adivasi, Dalit students in Cambridge School and that is why he established this school. “Let us give befitting homage and express a sincere gratitude to this great soul,” said Rajkishor Singh, secretary , Fr. Pascal Memorial Foundation.
A number of students who have studied in these institutions are I.A.S, O.A.S, IPS, Doctors, Engineers officers, politicians, bureaucrats, priests, Bihsops Sarat and Aplinar.
At present these institutions have still kept up a good reputation in the State.
“The committee has decided firstly a year-long Centenary Celebration in key places starting with Cuttack (place of death) and will be concluded at Alanjuri (place of birth) in Bamunigam parish, Kandhamal,” said Bijayananda Singh, convener, Fr. Pascal Singh Memorial Foundation.
“There will be celebrations at Surada, Ganjam, Mohana, under Berhampur diocese and Raikia under Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese, he added.
There was felicitation programme in the evening at Cambridge School Campus, Cuttack where many dignitaries gathered to give homage to this great soul. The students of the Cambridge school and students of slum school performed dance.
The second major activity is establishment of a Scholarship Fund in the name of Fr. Pascal Singh for the bright students from poor families of schools he established. After generating enough funds, the priests, nuns, catechists and lay people will be felicitated for their outstanding contribution in social development and the winners of Bible quiz will be awarded.
“We all express gratitude to the School Management for managing the school efficiently which the Archdiocese has assigned them,” appreciated Bijaynanda Singh.
“I shall cooperate in collecting funds from the ex-students, and admitting Catholic students with concession in the fees,” said Bro. Johnson Principal of Cambridge School.
Five slum schools are managed where 300 students study free of cost he added.
“Fr. Singh is not with us but his teaching, hope, aspiration, encouragement, dreams are with us. I salute Fr. Singh and let us be inspired by his dedicated work said, Br. Clement Kandulna, the Provincial Superior of Montfort Brothers.