The Salesian Province of New Delhi was carved out of Kolkata Province on 25 January 1997. It comprises of the present 12 States of Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, UP, Uttaranchal, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Geographically, it is the largest Salesian province in India though it is the smallest in terms of the number of confreres and houses. At present, it has 21 presences in 8 states and 10 dioceses of this region with 145 confreres of whom only 80 are in active apostolate. The States of Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Uttaranchal and Bihar (excepting the Santal belt under Kolkata Province) still do not have any Salesian presences.
(Salesian Presence in Delhi Region from 1930 to the formation of Delhi Delegation in 1992.) The history of the Salesian presence in this region can be dated as far back as to 1930. Aware of the strategic importance of having a Salesian presence in the National Capital, Delhi, the great visionary pioneer, Msgr. Louis Mathias visited Msgr. Bernaschoni, Archbishop of Agra, who had a tremendous love for Don Bosco and had invited Salesians to open a house in his diocese. The visit resulted in the opening of a house in Saharanpur in 1932 and another at Roorkee in 1937, both of which were in Agra Archdiocese. However, these were closed down in 1948 by Fr. Uguet, the then provincial, much to the chagrin of Archbishop Vanni of Agra as it appears to have been done in a hurry without sufficient convincing reasons.
Due to lack of personnel, it is only in 1971 that the Salesians could make a second entry into the Hindi heartland with the opening of Don Bosco Technical School at Okhla, New Delhi. However, one cannot fail to notice the dramatic irony in the presence of 140 Salesians with a provincial and two communities in Dehra Dun between 1940 – 48 during the Second World War internment. It is interesting to note that 40 Salesians completed their ecclesiastical studies in the camp and were ordained priests during that period.
If, before the creation of Guwahati Province in 1959, the Salesian apostolic efforts of Kolkata province were concentrated in the evangelically fertile North East, after the division, they were confined to the State of West Bengal for a decade, though the whole of North India was under its jurisdiction.
The political history of democratic India bears witness to the fact that it is the states of UP, Bihar and MP that decided who would rule Delhi. Unfortunately, it is precisely in these very states that the Christian presence has been weakest in terms of the number of Christians and Christian institutions in spite of the fact that there are around 45 Catholic dioceses in this region. Impressed with the Salesian miracle in the North East, many bishops invited the Salesians to further the growth of the Church in this region using the Salesian Charism.
However, only in the seventies did the Kolkata province break out of its Bengal confinement and respond positively to these invitations with the opening of two strategic presences: Don Bosco Technical School, Okhla, Delhi in 1971 and Don Bosco Youth Centre, Hatia, Ranchi in 1975. Strategic indeed were they if one considers the following statistics. The area covered by Delhi province contained almost half of Indian population – 480 million. A presence in Delhi could be the launching pad to the Hindi heartland. The Catholic population within this area is only 2 million, 75% of whom are in the Chotanagpur tribal belt covering the states of Jharkhand, Orissa, Chattisgarh and Bihar. Hence, the parish and the Technical School in Hatia, Ranchi Dt., Jharkhand, could be the entry point to the tribal belt composed of Uraon, Munda ,Kharia and other tribes. Besides, the aspirantate in Hatia could promote sufficient tribal vocations. One cannot but remember with gratitude the pioneering work done by Fr. Guido Colussi for both these foundations.
Soon more and more houses were opened as the number of confreres grew. Jokbahla parish with a Christian population of 15000 Uraon tribal Catholics spread out in 62 villages in the diocese of now Jashpur, erstwhile Raigarh, was taken up in 1979 under the leadership of Fr. Joe D’Souza. This was the first Salesian House in MP (at present Chattisgarh). Keeping in mind the preferential option for poor youth, the Salesians developed the parish schools and the High School run by the ‘Christian Janta’ having a total strength of about 1000 poor children. Many socio-economic developmental projects too were taken up for the welfare of the rural poor. The second Salesian house was started in Ranchi in 1985 with the shifting of the Technical School from Hatia to Kokar. Soon it was developed into a parish. The parish of Kereng in Gumla Diocese was taken up in 1987 and Jumaikela parish was divided from Jokbahla and a Salesian presence was started there in 1989. The first Salesian House in Orissa was started in Kuarmunda near Rourkela in 1988 with a Technical school, a parish and a hostel. The Salesians took special care to look after the poor children in the many Primary and Middle schools under the parishes. They also built beautiful churches in Hatia, Kokar, Jumaikela, Kereng, Kuarmunda, Najafgarh and Chandigarh.
New Salesian works were opened in the Northern part of the Province too. Recognizing the potential of an English Medium School for establishing and maintaining a rapport with the Central Government in Delhi for the promotion of our works in the various parts of our country, Don Bosco School was started in 1980. It was initially run in the ‘tent class rooms’ in Don Bosco Okhla campus and later shifted to the magnificent school building at Alaknanda, Greater Kailash II. A third Salesian presence in Delhi was begun in Najafgarh with a parish and a Vocational Training Institute in 1984.
Governing such a large province spread out in the whole of North India was a Herculean task for the Provincial of Kolkata. The need for the division of the Province was keenly felt for the effective running of the province and a commission was set up to study the possibilities. In 1991, on the basis of its findings, the Provincial Council decided to send an application to the Rector Major to start a delegation.
Meanwhile, a few more houses in the Hindi region were opened just to facilitate that division. The first Salesian House in the present Madhya Pradesh was begun in a poultry house in Jabalpur in 1991 for aspirants to do their Higher Secondary studies and as a study house for young Salesians till a proper building was constructed. In the next year, the Salesians began their presence in the most populated state of Uttar Pradesh with a Technical School in Mohanlalgunj, about 25 km away from the city.
On 5 January 1992, Fr. Thomas Polackal, the Provincial of Kolkata, announced that the Rector Major had approved the Hindi-Belt Delegation with Fr. MathaiVellappallil as the Provincial Delegate in view of the formation of a new province in the near future. Soon, the following priorities for the delegation were spelled out: strengthening the existing communities with sufficient number of confreres; expansion in Christian areas like Gumla and Jharsuguda; venturing into new areas for first evangelization; intensifying the efforts to promote vocations and setting up an aspirantate and a pre- novitiate to ensure quality formation.
The result was the opening of a number of new presences: a hostel in Kauli in Punjab in 1993 and the Agro-based Technical Institute there two years later; a Coaching Centre for school drop outs and for typing and spoken English classes in Jharsuguda (Orissa) in 1994;Don Bosco Ashalayam for the young at risk at PalamGaon in Delhi and taking over of the existing Our Lady of Snows English Medium School in Kullu in Himachal Pradesh in 1996. In January 1997 the SPCI Centre (later called the SPCSA centre) was established in Delhi as the permanent Centre of the Salesian Provincials’ Conference of India. It also housed the Secretariats of the following National/South Asian Departments: Don Bosco Youth Animation, All India Don Bosco Education Society, Salesian Family, Social Communications and Don Bosco National Forum for the Young at Risk.
On 24 December 1996, the news of the division of the Kolkata Province and the appointment of Fr. Joseph Kezhakkekara as the first Provincial of the New Delhi Province was solemnly announced. On 25 January 1997, New Delhi Province, under the patronage of ‘Jesus, the Good Shepherd’, was inaugurated and Fr. Joseph Kezhkkekara was installed as its first Provincial at a colourful ceremony at Don Bosco School Alaknanda. The presence of the then LokSabha Speaker, Mr. P.S. Sangma, a Don Bosco past pupil, together with numerous ecclesiastical and civil dignitaries at the solemn Eucharist and the Cultural Programme added colour and grace to the occasion.
The task before the new province was daunting and challenging – to take Jesus and His values in the Salesian way to about 480 million people spread out in an area of more than a million sq. kilometers of North India with just 100 confreres, 1/3 of whom were still in formation.
With the ‘Dare and Hope’ spirit of the pioneering Salesians, and with great trust in God and our Blessed Mother, the confreres met together with great enthusiasm in three