Spiritan Features

Tombs of young Irish Spiritan Brothers who died in India in the 1860s

Tombs of young Irish Spiritan Brothers who died in IndiaIn 2017 Serge Ballanger, Pat Palmer and I set off to Kolkota in search of the tombs of the early Spiritans in India. Trained in the Holy Spirit Seminary in Paris while Fr. Schwindenhammer was Superior General of the Congregation, Spiritan missionaries were sent from France over a period of some 60 years to India, a country which was very close to Libermann’s heart. Many died in their twenties or thirties, and were buried in Chandannagar or Pondicherry, then small French colonies in what was otherwise part of the British empire. To concentrate on the work of evangelization in Africa, the Congregation withdrew from India in 1888; confrères eventually returned in 2010. 

With much uncertainty and with none of us able to speak Bengali, the local language, we landed in the city formerly known as Calcutta, so closely associated with our beloved St. Teresa of Kolkata. I was thrilled to pray at the tomb of ‘Mother’. From there we made the one-hour, 35-kilometre journey by crowded train to Chandannagar, named from the Bengali words for moon and city. Its large church was built in the 1860s under the leadership of Msgr. Barthet C.S.Sp. Both the presbytery and Chandannagar College retain their ancient beauty and art. We reached our destination with the help of the parish priest Fr. Wells, who has a keen sense of history, playing a prominent role in discovering the tombs, and who took an extra interest in repairing the very old ‘French’ cemetery. Tombs were everywhere, some in good shape, others damaged and dilapidated. 

The tombs of the missionaries were located in a small chapel. After a long search, Fr. Pat (pictured right) discovered the word frère almost concealed under the thick yellow paint on the wall. The paint was quickly removed, revealing the three graves. Brother Francis Joseph (John) Carey, from Kilfinane, Co. Limerick was the first to die, in 1865 at the age of 30. Brother Samuel (Daniel) Keating from Cashel was aged 19 when he died of cholera, three years later, while Brother Samuel (Cornelius) Naughton, from Mount Plunkett (Co. Roscommon,) was 20 on his death in 1869. 

Words fail to describe our joy at discovering the tomb of the early Spiritan missionaries in India and to know that now they will always be remembered. What an amazing and joyful experience to find our brothers’ tombs! Indeed, it was a beautiful and faith-filled event for us.

Sebastian Samikannu C.S.Sp.