Moodubelle: Brief history of fifty golden years of St. Lawrence High School - Part I

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By Fr. Paul Sequeira and Dr. Eugene D’Souza

Part-I: The foundation-labour of love and sweat

Moodubelle, 23 December 2009: As St. Lawrence High School of Moodubelle celebrates its Golden Jubilee in the last week of December 2009, it would be appropriate to know at least in brief, the history of this great institution that gradually transformed a sleepy village into a progressive and vibrant community. However, it cannot be forgotten that the foundation of St. Lawrence High School was not an easy task for the people of Moodubelle. It was during the most difficult times that the idea of having a High School in the village originated and in the foundation and building of this High School the entire community of Moodubelle had rendered its labour of love and sweat so that the children of the village would have their own High School.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Belle has been a fairly large village. Its topography comprised of highlands, hills, valleys and forests. A flowing river, known by different names at different places, through the village has divided Belle into two regions known as Padubelle and Moodubelle. Padubelle has been famous since the medieval period as the place of birth of Shri Madhvacharya, the proponent of the Dvaita philosophy and founder of the Ashta Mutts and the Shri Krihsna Temple at Udupi. Though agriculture has been the chief occupation of the people, many of the families had been cultivating land that belonged to Brahmin or Bunt land lords or the land that was owned by the Mutts, especially the Adamaru Mutt. The rent (geni) that they had to pay to these landowners was so much that many a times these farmers had to borrow or purchase grains for their own consumption as well as to feed their animals.

Being surrounded by rivers such as Arbi, Alevoor and Udyavara, Moodubelle had a peninsular like existence with uninterrupted approach only towards the eastern direction towards Karkala and beyond. During the monsoon season the communication with the neighbouring villages and townships like Udupi, Shirva and Katapadi used to be completely cut off and even during other seasons, residents of Moodubelle had to avail the service of the boatmen or wade through knee-deep water to cross the rivers. Lack of proper roads and bridges had imposed a kind of isolated existence on Moodubelle. At the turn of the twentieth century people of Moodubelle hardly had any facility for education.

The history of education in Moodubelle can be traced to the first decade of the twentieth century. There was lack of formal institutionalised education till Dasapayya, the grandfather of B. Sadananda Rao (Sadananda Master) started a school. Following the establishment of the St. Lawrence Church by Fr. Casmir Fernandes in 1910, a need was felt to educate the young children of the village and plans were made to start a primary school. Meanwhile, Dasapayya who had been running a primary school volunteered to hand it over to the church so that it could be managed in an organized way. This led to the beginning of the Church Aided Higher Primary School in Moodubelle.

Till the foundation of St. Lawrence High School in Moodubelle in 1959, children from the village  either had to give up education or travel long distances to Shirva, Katapadi, Innanje or Udupi to continue their studies after the 8th standard. Very few students could take up the challenge of walking long distances or taking the risk of crossing the rivers during the monsoon and going to these destinations for continuing their education. Most of the children gave up their studies after 8th standard and either helped their parents in farming activities or migrated to Mumbai in search of employment and odd jobs. Lack of higher education deprived the young children from the village in acquiring better jobs, good opportunities and adequate income.

There had been a desire among the people of Moodubelle to have a high school in the village for the benefit of their children. They made an appeal to the then Parish priest, Fr. Jerome Pinto to take the initiative in establishing a high school in Moodubelle. However, he could not muster enough courage and resolution to start a high school in the village. He might have been apprehensive of the fact that due to the impoverishment of the villagers it would have been difficult to raise the necessary funds for establishing a high school in the village as most of the parishioners depended heavily on agriculture and their income was very meagre.

Realising the difficulties faced by the children of Moodubelle and neighbouring villages in the pursuit of high school education, and respecting the keen desire of the people of Moodubelle to have their own high school, Fr. Abundius D’Souza, who had arrived as the Parish Priest of St. Lawrence Church in 1957,  following the transfer of Fr. Jerome Pinto, made up his mind to establish a high school in Moodubelle. As a great visionary, Fr. Abundius realized that providing an opportunity to the young children to continue their education in the village itself would increase the level of intelligence among the people which in turn would give them better opportunities in life.

According to some account, realising the need to have a high school in Moodubelle, in 1958 some of the prominent residents of the village irrespective of their religion and caste held a meeting in the Church Higher Primary School hall under the leadership of Fr. Abundius and floated the idea of having a high school in Moodubelle. Among those who were present at the meeting, Francis D’Souza (Sila Soz) of Kodangala promised a donation of one thousand rupees that gave momentum to the process of having a high school in Moodubelle. The other prominent persons who supported the idea of having a high school included two Immanuel D’Souzas, popularly known as ‘Bahrain Monna’ and ‘Monnu Master’, Salvador Barboza, Lawrence D’Souza (Post Master) and the teachers of the Church Aided Higher Primary School. Other persons present in the meeting also supported this idea and promised to do whatever it needed to have a high school in the village. It is also said that the members of the St. Lawrence Club in Mumbai also felt that there should be a high school in Moodubelle for the benefit of their children.

Francis D’Souza (Sila Soz) Kodangala

Being assured of moral and material support from the parishioners of Moodubelle, and confident of the assistance from his uncle-Fr. Hilary Gonslves, Parish Priest of Shirva, Fr. Abundius D’Souza approached the Bishop of Mangalore, Dr. Raymond D’Mello for necessary permission to start a high school in his parish of Moodubelle, which was readily granted.

Armed with the permission from higher authorities and support from the people of the village, Fr. Abundius convened another meeting of the parishioners in the hall of the Higher Primary School. His proposal to start a high school from the next academic year was welcomed with great enthusiasm by the people who were present at the meeting. They promised whatever monetary help they could render and agreed to contribute in terms of voluntary labour (sarthi). A building committee was constituted to initiate and execute the project of constructing a new building for the High School that was named as St. Lawrence High School.

Collection of funds for the high school building was a daunting task. It was a period of austerity and the people had hardly anything in surplus which they could spare as donation for the noble cause. Most of the villagers were farmers or landless labourers and those few who had migrated to the cities like Mumbai had meagre salaries with which they had to maintain their families back home and survive in Mumbai. In spite of these difficulties people volunteered to donate according to their capacity. Some people donated in terms of paddy or rice which was sold in the market and converted into monetary donation.

According to B. Sadanada Rao, retired teacher from the Church Aided Higher Primary School and a member of the Building Committee, some of the Hindu traders and philanthropists contributed in various ways for the construction of the building of the high school. Ninjoor Raju Shetty, who was a timber and grocery merchant was in the forefront of collecting funds in Ninjoor area. He even donated timber for the high school building. Besides, Sanoor Muddanna Shetty, Achanna Shetty of Arbi, Bailur Kalappa Shetty and others donated money and building materials. The committee members and volunteers did cover a wide area for the collection of donations extending from Palli in the east to Dendooru in the west and from Hirebettu in the north to Dendottu in the south.

Meanwhile, after acquiring the provisional government permission to start the high school classes, students were admitted to the IV Form (9th Std.) and classes were held in the Church Aided Higher Primary School premises from 2nd June 1959 as the high school building was yet to be constructed. According to Victor Castelino, the first batch students of the newly established St. Lawrence High School, the first class of the new high school started from 9th standard or Form IV with a strength of about 40 students. After a few months, a three room structure was constructed next to the primary school to be used as temporary classrooms for the high school students before the high school could have its own building. Formal inauguration of St. Lawrence High School was done a little later by Bishop Dr. Raymond D’Mello. The guests of honour included  Denis Pinto, MLA of the Kaup Constituency and T.A. Pai.

The construction of the high school building was taken up in right earnest. It was quite difficult to collect funds as money was a scarce commodity. The marble planks at the main entrance of the high school building indicate the names of persons and institutions and the amount paid by them towards the building fund. In today’s terms the amount seems to be meagre, however in terms of value of the money at that time that amount was quite significant. The highest amount of donation (Rs.2,500 and more) was given by Bishop Dr. Raymond D’Mello and collectively by the parishioners of St. Lawrence Church, Moodubelle. Original St. Lawrence Club and St. Lawrence Club, Clare Road, Mumbai and three other persons (Thomas D’Souza, Kattingeri, Fr. J.M. Pinto, Mulky and Francis D’Souza, Kodangala) made a donation of Rs.1, 000 each or more. Few parishes such as Kanajar, Pangala, Belthangady and 13 individuals including Fr. Abundius D’Souza and N. Raju Shetty made a donation of Rs.500 each or more. Sixty three individuals and other sources each made a donation of Rs.250 or more.

Writing about his experience as a student, Victor Castelino says that as the classes were progressing an earth mover was hired to demolish the hill behind the elementary school. This earth mover toppled the trees , uprooted the bushes and moved the soil in order to make an opening at the edge of the hill just behind the elementary school which extended to the west and then to the south of the hill, thus making enough space to  lay the foundation for seven rooms.

Those parishioners of Moodubelle, who could not afford to give monetary donation offered free labour in levelling the hillock that was in front of the proposed high school building. As the parish was divided into wards, residents of each ward were required to do free labour from around 9 AM till 1PM. They brought their own implements such as pickaxes, spades, sickles and baskets to dig the mud and transfer it to the lower area. Those people who were unable to give free labour could compensate with certain amount of money equivalent to one day’s labour. A number of people who had contributed their free labour in the levelling the ground and construction of the high school building recall their experiences. According to Emmanuel and Diego Alva of St. Sebastian Ward, Padubelle, they were allowed to come late and go early during the agricultural season. According to Albert Noronha, who was on the non-teaching staff of the high school from 1960, residents of Kattingeri and Pamboor Wards used to be in full number during their turn for the ‘sarthi’. Except during the rainy and agricultural season different Wards had to do the ‘sarthi’ in turns.

While Fr. Abundius D’Souza provided the much needed leadership for the establishment of the high school and construction of the building, it was Fr. Theodore Lobo who came as the Assistant Parish Priest in Moodubelle was instrumental in mobilizing funds. Visiting the houses of the parishioners, Fr. Theodore Lobo would persuade them to donate whatever they could in the name of St. Lawrence for the noble cause. If people expressed their inability to donate money he would plead them to donate anything including paddy, rice, teak or any other timber, etc. He also used to request people to set aside one fist of rice (muti thandu) everyday for the construction of the high school.

Parishioners of Moodubelle still remember the fact that Fr. Theodore Lobo did not hesitate to take up any kind of physical work related to the construction of the high school. He would join the people contributing voluntary labour (sarthi) and would dig the soil with pickaxe and even carry it in baskets. He along with some young men would accompany the trucks or bullock carts with lanterns or gas lights to the river banks at Attinja to fill and transport sand. Fr. Theodore Lobo did not hesitate even to carry cement bags on his back to the storage space. He was the right hand of Fr. Abundius while the construction of the high school building was in progress.

According to Bernanrd D’Souza, son of Monnu Master, one of the trucks that was used for transporting materials for the high school building belonged to Somnath Hedge of Palli who was a classmate of his brothers, Edwin and Mathew who later became priests.

According to Boniface Barboza (Benny Master), retired Head Master of the Church Aided Higher Primary School, the contract for constructing the high school building was given to Tamilians. Nearly thirty of these Tamilians were working on the construction project. However, after completion of the plinth work, the Tamilian contractor abandoned the work. While, most of the Tamilian workers went away, Fr. Theodore Lobo managed to convince a person named Amavasye and eight members of his family to stay back and continue the work of the building. Amavasye along with his family members and the local labourers eventually completed the structure of the building.

According to Severine D’Souza of Devaragudde, who worked as a labourer on the construction of the high school building for a wage of one rupee per day, on the request of Fr. Theodore Lobo, the family of Amavasye was given shelter by late Hilary Fernandes in his house near the church till the construction work was completed. When the labourers had to work during the night time, the contractor would provide them ‘conji’ as evening meal.  Many are of the firm belief that it was chiefly due to the hard work that was put in by Fr. Theodore Lobo in collecting funds and personally involving himself in the physical work on the construction that the high school building could be completed in time.


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