Fr. Joswey Fernandes - The Priest who gave a new look to St. Lawrence Church Attur
By Eugene Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network
Moodubelle, 01 January 2010: “A flower does not blossom for itself or a lamp burns to give light to itself, so also living one’s life for himself or herself is not a life worth living. One must dedicate his or her life for the benefit of others.” Fr. Joswey Fernandes, the present Parish Priest of the St. Lawrence Parish, Moodubelle, thus summed up the philosophy of life which he tried to emulate by rendering dedicated service to God and parishioners wherever he went.
Fr. Joswey Fernandes is the eldest among ten brothers and three sisters-children of late Louis Fernandes and Leena Fernandes residing in the Thottam parish very close to the sea shore. Born on 1st September 1948, Joswey had initial education at Thottam and higher primary and high school education at the Government Fisheries High School at Malpe where he completed SSLC. As it was a fisheries school, an additional subject on fisheries was included in the course of study from 6th to 8th standards. Fr. Joswey fondly remembers with amusement his fisheries teacher, Kantappa Master who taught the subject on fisheries with great interest and enthusiasm providing information to the students about different types of fish, various kinds of nets and ways of catching fish and methods of preserving the fish that was caught.
Responding to his inner voice about the divine call to serve God and humanity, Joswey decided to be a member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) religious order and joined the Gonzaga House at Mangalore from where he did the Pre University Course in St. Aloysius College. However, within one year, Joswey along with few of his friends made up their mind to join the diocesan priesthood and moved to St. Joseph’s Seminary at Jeppu, Mangalore in 1966. For one year, Br. Joswey had to study Latin language in the Seminary and thereafter continued his education in St. Aloysius College and acquired BSc degree in three years with Physics and Maths as major subjects.
After completing the degree course, Br. Joswey underwent the regular training for priesthood studying Philosophy and Theology and was ordained a priest on 8th May 1976, by Bishop Basil D’Souza. It was the day of great joy for the entire family as the eldest son of the family had entered the service of God and the church. Later, his example was followed by his fourth brother, Archie Fernandes who became a Jesuit priest in the Karnataka Province and sister Yvonne who joined the Apostolic Carmel (AC) as a nun and is presently in St. Cecily Convent, Udupi.
Soon after his ordination as a priest, Fr. Joswey was assigned the post of the Assistant Parish Priest in the Infant Jesus Parish of Modankap (Bantwal) where he served for two years. The parish priest of Modankap placed him in charge of the parish substation at Bambila where a small church dedicated to St. John Marie Vinney was situated. He was required to visit the substation for weekly mass and other religious and social services.
From Modankap, Fr. Joswey was sent as the Assistant Parish Priest to St. Sebastian’s Church, Bendur in Mangalore where he served for three years and endeared to the youth of the parish by his friendly and approachable nature.
Realising his capabilities, in 1981, Fr. Joswey was assigned the twin responsibilities as the Vocational Director and Editor of ‘Amchi Mai’, a monthly Marian magazine at the Bishop’s House. After holding the post as the Vocational Director for two years, in 1983, Fr. Joswey was transferred to the Diocesan Kodialbail Press at Mary Hill, Bondel as the Manager and continued to hold the position as the editor of ‘Amchi Mai’. Before assigning the post as the Manager of the press, Fr. Joswey was deputed for a three months training course at the Society of St. Paul Press at Bandra, Mumbai.
The financial position of the Konkani periodicals and magazines in general was not quite sound at that time. The amount collected by the sale of ‘Amchi Mai’ issues was insufficient to bear the cost of printing of the monthly magazine. Realizing that mobilization of subscription to the magazine and increasing its sale can only solve the financial problems, Fr. Joswey visited a number of schools and persuaded students from 7th to 10th standards and teachers to purchase ‘Amchi Mai’ or become its subscribers. It was due to his efforts that the number of copies of ‘Amchi Mai’ jumped from 2000 when Fr. Joswey had taken up as the editor to 5000 within few years. Fr. Joswey remained as the editor of ‘Amchi Mai’ from 1981 to 1985.
As the Manager of the Kodialbail Press Fr. Joswey was faced with the problem of agitation by the workers in the press. In order to see that the work in the press would not be adversely affected, Fr. Joswey got hold of some of his acquaintances of the Bendur parish and managed to keep the press running by giving them certain amount of training. During ten years as the Manager of the Kodialbail Press, Fr. Joswey brought considerable innovations in the printing technology. He replaced the type setting method of composing to DTP computerized systems and offset printing. As a result of adopting new printing technology there was an increase in the efficiency and quality of periodicals such as ‘Rakno’ and magazines such as ‘Amchi Mai’ and other religious books printed in the Kodialbail Press. Besides printing, the Kodialbail Press was reputed for the binding technology. While holding the post as the Manager of the Kodialbail Press, Fr. Joswey had an opportunity to be a member of a group of printers and publishers from Karnataka who visited Düsseldorf in Germany to learn more about the modern printing technology.
After managing the Kodialbail Press for ten years and making it one of the reputed printing presses in Mangalore, Fr. Joswey was transferred to St. Lawrence Parish Attur, Karkala as the parish priest where he was destined to carry out one of the most challenging tasks of his life-expanding the capacity of the church and the surrounding space and giving an entirely new look not only to the church but to the entire pilgrim centre.
Many people who had visited the Attur Church prior to 1994 may still remember the narrow passage that existed between the massive hill and the old church building. As the devotion to St. Lawrence was expanding it was increasingly becoming difficult to accommodate in the church and the passages outside the multituds of pilgrims especially during the annual feast of the saint during the fourth week of January. Taking advantage of the rush and darkness, unscrupulous robbers used to deprive the people of their belongings and valuables. During the annual feast in 1994, Fr. Joswey himself witnessed certain incidents of robbery and became concerned not only of the safety of the pilgrims and their belongings, but also the reputation of the pilgrimage centre.
During the meeting with the Bishop regarding the evaluation of the annual feast celebrations, it was suggested that the space between the church and the hill could be widened to accommodate additional pilgrims by cutting the hill further.
The project was sanctioned by the Bishop and work on the widening of the outer space began with the help of earth movers. The work was temporarily halted during the rainy season. However, a massive landslide with a huge amount of mud nearly buried the extended asbestos portico in front of the church. It took quite an effort, huge amount of labour and money to clear the mud. The Karnataka State Government sanctioned Rs.10 lacs for this work. People from different parishes volunteered to help in removing the mud.
Realizing the need to have additional space within the church, Fr. Joswey thought of restructuring the front portion of the old church and extending it further with aluminium sheet-roof and a magnificent and architecturally beautiful facade in front of the new structure, thus retaining the old church building with its facade. The new facade of the church was inaugurated by Bishop Basil D’Souza in January 1996. Fr. Joswey’s responsibilities did not end with the extension and new facade of the church. As fate would have it, in 1997, once again another massive landslide knocked down the extended aluminium roof and pillars causing huge damage to the structure. However, luckily the facades of both the old and new church-buildings were miraculously spared.
After clearing the debris of the landslide, the task of rebuilding the structure began once again in 1998. This time, the roof of the old church was extended up to the facade of the new church. In this process the facade of the old church had to be removed. The work of restructuring of the entire church complex was completed in 2001. Fr. Joswey also beautified the Miraculous Lake-Pushkarini with granite stones and provided steps up to the level of the water in the lake. Two massive gates for entrance and exit in front of the church, a new Grotto and the relic stand were also constructed due to the efforts of Fr. Joswey. Once again the Karnataka Government gave a grant of Rs.10 lacs for the removal of the landslide debris and the reconstruction of the church building. People from different parts of the diocese and even outside generously contributed for the rebuilding of the Attur Church.
The inauguration of the new church complex and the bicentenary celebrations of the foundation of the St. Lawrence Church at Attur were simultaneously held on the occasion of the annual feast in the last week of January, 2001. Bishop Aloysius D’Souza blessed and inaugurated the new church building.
In May, 2001, Fr. Joswey celebrated the Silver Jubilee of his ordination. In the same year, he was transferred to Niddodi where he served for seven years. While in Niddodi, Fr. Joswey gave a new shape to the existing church by extending it on either side and constructing a new facade and tower. Incidentally, this new facade of the Niddodi Church became a model to the facade and tower of the St. Lawrence Church at Moodubelle of which Fr. Joswey is the present Parish Priest. As a young seminarian, Fr. Joswey was interested in singing and acting. He had manifested his acting talents in many plays that were staged in the seminary.
Fr. Joswey has wonderful qualities of mind and heart. He is soft spoken, simple and unassuming. Wherever he had gone either as an Assistant Parish Priest or as the Parish Priest, he had endeared to his parishioners and they still recall his name with respect and affection. He is easily approachable and understands the problems of his parishioners. He is always happy to be with the people and participates in their joys and sorrows.
As the Parish Priest of the Moodubelle, Fr. Joswey is also the Correspondent of the St. Lawrence Group of Educational Institutions. This year, St. Lawrence High School has been celebrating its Golden Jubilee with valedictory programmes in the last week of December. Next year (2010) will be the Centenary Year of the foundation of the St. Lawrence Church at Moodubelle. It will be a coincidence that Fr. Joswey who was the Parish Priest of St. Lawrence Church, Attur during the celebration of its bicentenary will be instrumental in the Centenary celebrations of the St. Lawrence Church at Moodubelle. His vast experience and leadership qualities will be of great value in the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the St. Lawrence High School this year and Centenary celebrations of the church next year.