St Anthony’s Charity Institutes, Mangalore, justly famed all over India and abroad had a humble beginning. 12th June 1898 may be said to be its Birthday. It was on that day the late Msgr Michael Placid Colaco, commonly known as Msgr M.P. Colaco, sowed the mustard seed which in the designs of Providence was destined to grow into proportions which the founder could hardly have conceived.
In the year 1898, when Fr John S. Abreo was the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Miracles (Milagres)Parish, situated at Hampankatta, the centre of Mangalore Town, Fr M.P. Colaco was his Assistant. With the approval and guidance of the Parish Priest, the young and energetic Assistant began to give shape to his idea of St Anthony’s Shrine. In 1680 when Bishop Thomas de Castro had build the Church of Our Lady of Miracles at Hampankatta, he had also put up a side altar dedicated to St Anthony and installed the statue of the Saint thereon. But except for the feast being celebrated annually on the 13th of June, no other special devotions were held. On 12th June 1898 evening Fr M.P. Colaco had special devotion held in honour of St Anthony and inaugurated the Shrine. From the following day i.e. from 13th June 1898, Fr Colaco began offering Mass every Tuesday on the Altar of the Saint and to have special prayers recited after Mass. The response of the people was beyond all expectations. Not only the parishioners of Milagres, but the faithful from other parishes, from even beyond the town, began to frequent the Tuesday devotions. The fast growing number of devotees and the ever increasing number of petitions was a proof of the popularity of the devotion. They brought their intentions to be prayed for, as they brought their offerings in thanksgiving. What was realized from these offerings was distributed among the poor and thus began the work of “St Anthony’s Bread” in Mangalore.
The work grew from day to day. The zealous founder wrote to the bishops and priests of India and elsewhere acquainting them with what St Anthony was doing in Mangalore. There began to flow in regular stream, intentions to be prayed for from all over India and from such distant places as Singapore, China, Japan, Federated Malay States, Africa and even Europe. Offerings followed as a matter of course and they went to succour the needy and the poor, in and out of Mangalore.
Meanwhile from February 15th 1899 there began to be solemnised a second Feast of St Anthony, that of his relics. Fr Colaco had been trying to get a big size statue of St Anthony from the Vatican, Rome. Finally in 1900 the statue blessed by Pope Leo XIII, arrived. This statue was installed on the side Altar on 22nd January 1902 and ever since it is adorning the Altar of the Shrine.
In 1904, Fr Colaco was appointed the first Parish Priest of the newly erected Parish of Cordel. His place at Milagres was taken by Fr F.M.C. Lyons for one year and then by Fr J.S.C. Vas till 1911. Both these Assistants at Milagres carried on the work begun by Fr Colaco.
On 4th December 1910, Rt Rev. Dr Paul Perini S.J. was consecrated Bishop of Mangalore. He was a man of rare vision and great trust in Providence. He brought back Fr M.P. Colaco from Cordel to Milagres and put him in independent charge of St Anthony’s Bread, the work itself being removed from the jurisdiction of the Milagres Parish and constituted as an Institution directly responsible to the Bishop.
From this time, dates the phenomenal growth of St Anthony’s Institutes. Up till then the offerings received were being distributed among the poor. But now came a new departure. The Bishop and the Director conceived the plan of starting “Poor Homes” to shelter the waifs and the orphans, the old and the disabled and all those who had no one to take care of them. First and foremost Fr Colaco bought from Milagres Church on moolageni basis the plot on the right side of the church across the road and the plot on the back side of the church. On the right side plot, where presently Raj Kamal Hotel is situated, he put up a building for an office of the Institution. Mr Sylvester Vas, a trustworthy and faithful man, was appointed as the first office clerk, who however became the right hand man of the Director. Gradually as per need other houses too came into existence.
In order to help the Director in the supervision of each house, he appointed in charge of each house, a person from among the inmates. It was at this time that he started the group of “Tertiary Sisters” to help him in the supervision of houses. They were Srs. Annie Tellis, Cecilia Castelino, Jane Coelho, Carmela Nellie Farias and Dulcine Pais. But this group later became extinct as more persons did not follow in their footsteps.
The fame of the work begun by Fr Colaco for the glory of God and the benefit of His poor crossed the portals of Vatican and the Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, on 12.6.1923 was pleased to honour the founder with the title of Monsignor. The Catholic Mangalore felt that no one could have been more deserving of the honour. It was indeed the church’s seal of approval on the selfless labour of a life-time dedicated to the service of the poor.
The hard labour of 31 years had undermined the health of Msgr M.P. Colaco. His failing powers made him seriously think of retiring from active ministry. But before he could do so his health condition suddenly worsened and and he passed away peacefully on 20th July 1929 and went to the Lord. His mortal remains are interred in front of the Shrine Altar at Milagres Church.
It was not easy to get a suitable person to carry on the work of the founder. But in the person of Fr Charles B. Lobo such a person was found. He took charge of St Anthony’s on 7th August 1929 and continued till 6th August 1936. During his time as the number of inmates went on increasing, the need arose of acquiring a more spacious plot. And the providence came to the rescue. The bungalow and the surrounding land of 27.36 acres at Jeppu, belonging to late Mr John Joseph Britto was on court auction sale. The Rt Rev. Dr Victor R. Fernandes, Bishop of Mangalore, got it on auction. Out of it he gave 24.58 acres to St Anthony’s Charity Institutes with a view of shifting the inmates from Milagres to Jeppu. Fr Charles Lobo with the permission of the Bishop, began planning to put up some urgently needed houses there. His appeal to the well-wishers abroad brought some help. But the amount was not at all sufficient. He therefore went to Europe for six months to collect funds. During his absence Fr Emmanuel L. Mathias looked after St Anthony’s.
On his return, Fr Charles Lobo tried to complete four houses. He wanted to shift the inmates from Milagres to Jeppu on 15th October 1936. But he could not do the actual shifting as his transfer came in the way. He was transferred to Bendur as Parish Priest on August 6th 1936.
In the designs of Almighty, Rev. Fr Julian Rego, his successor had to do this work. Though weak in health, but with great trust in God and with the help of many, he affected the transfer as scheduled, on 15th October 1936. On that day all the inmates were shifted from Milagres to the new houses at Jeppu, the present site. The office however still remained at Milagres. It was not easy for the Director, specially with his frail health, to attend to two places. The inmates too had to put up with many difficulties and hardships in the new place as it was still to be developed. The “Tertiary Sisters of St Francis of Assisi” were of special help at this time to the Director in managing the newly shifted houses.
During this time, with the foresight Fr Rego had, he started the bi-annual magazine”Little Visitor” as an information and contact paper between the Institutes and its well-wishers. The number of inmates was ever increasing and the congestion in the women’s house was great. In order to relieve this Fr Rego started to build “St Ann’s Home”, a new house, intending to separate the young women from the old. But it was not given to him to complete this work. His health deteriorated and on 10th July 1938 God called him to his reward.
From the death of Fr Rego, till 10th November 1938, Fr Joseph Lawrence Pais was put in charge. On 10th Nov. 1938 Rev. Fr Alexander B. Pinto was sent as Director of the Institutes. He completed the building of the House of St Ann and also constructed other new building that were necessary. He was responsible for the stone wall that enclosed the vast compound. It was during his time, from 1st June 1939, that boys and girls began attending school.
The popularity of St Anthony’s grew during Fr Alexander Pinto’s directorship.
One of the factors that contributed to this effect was the “Little Visitor”, though started earlier, which had become more attractive in his literary hand and appealed to a large circle of readers. Fr Pinto was transferred to Udupi as Parish Priest on 15th May 1941 and Rev. Fr David Coelho succeeded him.
Fr Coelho wore a serious look but his heart was kind and soft. He had a tenacity to complete the work he intended to do. It was he who got the electricity connection to the Institutes and provided electric lights to all the houses. He leveled the uneven plots and monsoon crop was cultivated for the first time. The inmates were enthusiastic to take part in this work. Proper residence for the Director and Asst Director was a necessity. Fr Coelho built a simple but decent house.
During Fr Coelho’s time and the beginning of the term of the next Director, for nearly 20 years, Fr Gregory Lobo served in the Institutes as Chaplain. He died at St Anthony’s. The next Director was Rev. Fr Marian F.C. Castelino who took charge from Fr Coelho on 9.5.1955. Fr Marian was a man for the poor. He loved them and was one with them. During his long tenure of 19 years the Institutes made all round progress. Right from the beginning he worked to instill in the minds and hearts of the inmates the thought that they are of one family and this Institute is their home. As the number of inmates increased it became necessary to put up new buildings and renovate the old ones. The spacious and airy Chapel is his noteworthy contribution. It was blessed on 1st January 1970 by Rt Rev. Dr Basil S. D’Souza, the Bishop of Mangalore.
It was again Fr Castelino, who began giving in marriage the girls desiring to marry to deserving grooms who sought their hands. Thus many orphan girls found a loving husband and a family of her own.
St Anthony’s had the priviledge of celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Fr Castelino’s Sacerdotal Ordination. On this occasion, recognizing his selfless service to the Church, the Holy Father conferred the title of Monsignor on him.
On his retirement, 21st October 1974, Very Rev. Msgr Jerome D’Souza was appointed Director. He had a talent for writing. He was so successful with his pen, that contributions increased considerably and because of this he could attend to many necessary works. He got tarred all the roads in the compound and provided electric fans to the houses of the inmates. He installed a Gobar Gas plant to provide cooking gas to the smaller kitchen. He had many plans of improvement but his sickness came in the way and he passed away on 26th June 1982. After his death Fr Robert Pinto, the Assistant, was in charge till the appointment of the new Director. He had a great interest in agriculture. During his time, as in-charge-Director for one and half years, he tried to improve the garden by planting more coconut plants and plantain trees.
On 13th May 1983 Rev. Fr Paul Fernandes was made the Director of the Institutes. He was an experienced administrator and cultivator. He worked to make the life of the inmates healthy. He added “St Francis Xavier Ward” to “Providence Home” for bedridden ladies. The smaller kitchen which was invaded by white ants was renovated by him. He retired on 27.5.1989 on completing 75 years.
The next Director was Rev. Fr Lawrence V.M. Fernandes, who took charge on 27th May 1989. Himself weak in health, he could understand the sufferings of the poor. The new southern side addition to the Director’s residence is his making. In the place of the old kitchen, he put up a modern one and equipped it with steam cooking facility. The big pigsty is another of his constructions. On 15th June 1995, his Platinum Jubilee was celebrated at St Anthony’s. On 31st July 1995 he retired from active service and went to stay at Vianney Home.
In his place Rt Rev. Msgr Aloysius D’Souza, the Vicar General of the diocese of Mangalore was appointed as the Director. He remained as Vicar General till the end of May. During this period he had to look after both the offices. One of the first things he did was to introduce two hours of regular daily prayer before the Blessed Sacrament - one hour in the morning, one in the afternoon -over and above the morning, noon and evening prayers. There hours were distributed among every house in such a way that each house gets one or two hours a week, one hour being reserved to Director and office staff. After his coming, he equipped the office with the computer. He took up the repairs and white washing of all the buildings, which was an urgent necessity. The old rickety cowshed was replaced with a new one. A room was added to the hall to stock altered and repaired clothes. He rebuilt the collapsed boundary wall of the road side to a length of 330 feet. Solar heaters were provided for four houses of the old people.
In the designs of God it was his privilege to head the celebrations of the centenary of the Shrine and Institutes.
The wheel of time keeps moving. Was it our Lord who said, “the poor will always be with you”? Was He the one who inspired the starting of orphanages and health-centres for these poor, neglected, unwanted people? Was He the one who called one by one, men and women of goodwill to spread charity among the poor? The Catholic church considers it a priviledge to pursue acts of charity throughout the world. St Anthony’s Charity Institutes is one among many such places where the blind “see”, the lame “walk” and the deaf “hear”. The diocese of Mangalore will always prize the Institutes as most dear to it, urging it to strive even more to serve these orphans. So the work at St Anthony’s Ashram will continue, ceaselessly, thankfully, hopefully. He retired on 24th May 2000.
Clifford D’Souza was the next Director. He constructed St Anne Home for elderly women, St Joachim Home for men and St Mary’s Home for women. He retired on 16th May 2007 After serving the diocese in various capacities and as Vicar General of the Diocese Msgr Fred V. Pereira was transferred to St Anthony’s as the -Director. He had immense love for the poor. So he thought the responsibility of heading the St Anthony’s Charity Institutes was nothing but an opportunity and privilege given to him to serve the poor. But due to the ill health he had to retire early on 30th April 2008.
Msgr Denis Moras Prabhu took charge of the Institutes on 30th April 2008 as the Director. He continued to be the Vicar General of the diocese. He erected the beautiful statue of Msgr M.P. Colaco the founder at the entrance of the campus. He also gave face lift to the Chapel Altar with scenes of Incarnation and Resurrection. A store room was added near the kitchen at priests’ residence. Mass and novena at 8.15 on Tuesdays at Milagres was started by him. This helped to increase the number of devotees frequently the Shrine as well as the Institutes.