‘March from the Marshes’ is perhaps the apt phrase that can describe how the journey began in Bandra East about five decades ago and today, with the journey still on, we have three shining landmarks managed by the Norbertine Community (4th Institution) – The Church of St. Joseph the Worker, Cardinal Gracias High School and Bandra East Community Centre underlining what perseverance can achieve.

Thanks to those who took part in this momentous march – the illustrious members of the clergy, the passionate parishioners and all those well-wishers, transcending their religious affinities, bonded for a cause that truly reflects Christian values.

March Begins

Until the mid fifties Bandra East was synonymous with marshes and mosquitoes. Across the dividing line – the railway tracks – the human habitation consisted of a few clusters of huts, known as Behrampada, Navpada, Kherwadi and Jawahar Nagar.

In the midst of these shanties there were about a hundred Catholic families. They went to St. Peter and St. Theresa in Bandra West to attend Sunday masses and other religious services.

In the latter part of fifties the Government of Maharashtra put up a township of 35 buildings, known as Kher Nagar, with low cost tenements to house industrial workers. This township was within the vicinity of Bandra Railway Station. Among the allottees were 60 Catholic families. Inevitably they too attended to their religious duties at St. Peter or St. Theresa.

Obviously the Catholics of Kher Nagar were not happy with the ongoing constraints of having their religious duties performed and were intent on finding an easier alternative. Some stalwarts among them formed an association and approached His Eminence Valerian Cardinal Gracias.

The Cardinal was quick to respond. He placed the matter in the able hands of the Dean of South-West Salsette, Monsignor Henry Remedios who was the vicar of St. Andrews, Bandra West. Mgr. Remedios visualized a plan. As a first step it was decided that the three parishes of St. Peter, St. Theresa and Sacred Heart of Santa Cruz would provide spiritual ministrations by catechetical instruction to Catholics residing at Bandra East.

First Sunday Mass

In the meanwhile the restive Catholics of Kher Nagar went a step further. They convinced Fr. H. D’Silva, S.J. of St. Peters to celebrate an evening mass on June 8, 1958 at Building No.1. This was the first mass celebrated in Bandra East. On following Sundays the evening mass continued, priests coming from any one of the three parishes in the West. The venue also was rotated from building to building each time.

On Sunday, August 15, 1958 Fr. Gereira, S.J., St. Peters celebrated a morning mass. Thereafter Fr. Peter Garcia, S.J. from St. Peters, Fr. John from St. Theresa continued to say Sunday morning mass in rotation.

However, soon came objections from other communities to holding masses in the colony buildings. But the authorities overruled them. Sunday masses continued. In the same year the midnight Christmas mass was celebrated in the open space in front of Building No.2 with St. Cecilia’s Musician’s Association Choir in attendance. Some 2000 non-Catholics also attended this service.

In May 1959 His Eminence Valerian Cardinal Gracias visited the colony and obtained permission from the Chairman of M.H.B. to put up a small shed in the open space near Bldg Nos.15-34. A shed of 50’ x 25’ was built by the Catholics of Bandra East with their own hands and was blessed on August 8, 1959.

Birth of a Parish

Foreseeing the rapid development of the area the Cardinal issued a decree carving out a new parish for Bandra East, on May 1, 1960 and named it the Parish of St. Joseph the Worker. Rev. Fr. Macario Pereira of St. Andrews, Bandra West, was appointed the first parish priest. By now the Catholic population was about 3000.

Fr. Pereira resident at Bandra West trekked across to Bandra East, braving heavy rains and floods, often crawling under the stationary wagons at the siding, to keep up his pastoral commitments. He soon put up an altar, a pulpit, a few statues and pews in the pandal church.

In due course Sunday masses were increased to two, morning and evening. Kerala Catholic Union (KCU) also started conducting catechism classes in Malayalam in the pandal church. The plot on which the Church and the School now stand was surveyed and registered in the name of the Archdiocese on November 18, 1960.

Soon the threshold to the East, the Western Express Highway was opened and a bus service between east and west started by BEST. This meant more settlers at Bandra East. With the growth of population, including Catholics, facilities for children’s education became a necessity. There was only one Marathi medium school in the area, then.

Important Milestones

Date Contact Person
1950 Realisation of a vision
8th June 1958 First Sunday Mass
1960 A Parish is Born
1961 The Journey begins
1963 Hurdles and rewards
1965 God’s Providence : The Norbertine Community
1969 God’s Abode : Cementing the Efforts
1970 Blessings of the New Church
1973 Birth of BECC
1984 PM Indira Gandhi visits our Parish
2000 Carrying on the mission on to the 21st Century