MSGR. HERCULANO GONSALVES – a Dynamic Luminary from Rachol
“A Luminary emerged from Rachol Seminary who was conferred with titles of PAPAL CHAMBERLAIN and a MONSEIGNEUR”
The Archdiocese of Goa has been producing a galaxy of distinguished clergyman with their unique spirituality, far-sighted vision and great passion of mission. Goa, the Rome of the East, has given birth to missionaries who proclaimed the Kingdom of God across its boundaries. They took Christ to the remotest corners of our country and beyond it with profound joy and dedication. The history of missionary activity in Goa is still in its making and is unfolding primarily in the work of the three indigenous religious societies (The Pilar Fathers, the Holy Family Sisters, and the Handmaids of Christ) born on its soil. Along with the other religious societies, the passion for mission still burns the hearts of men and women of all the three indigenous religious societies.
The missionary fervor that continues to urge the hearts of the sisters of the ‘HANDMAIDS OF CHRIST’ is infused by our Triune God in our Congregation through the life and work of our founder, Msgr. Herculano Damasceno Gonsalves, a priest of the diocese of Goa whose passion for Christ led him to found the Congregation of the Sisters of “HANDMAIDS OF CHRIST” originally known as ‘Irmãs de Santo Aleixo de Goa.’’ As his alma mater, the great Rachol Seminary celebrates the fourth centenary of its foundation, we gratefully thank our Master and Lord Jesus for the gift of the founder.
The great pilgrimage of the Rachol Seminary in our society has been a distinctive blessing to our Congregation. As we thank God for the marvelous gift of this rock solid institution, we are feel drawn by the Holy Spirit to share the life of our founder, who was formed in the womb of Rachol Seminary so that his inspiration continues to stir the hearts of men and women in our time and lead them to the path of the Gospel.
Birth and Background
Msgr. Herculano Damasceno Olivet Xavier Gonsalves was born at Cana Benaulim, Salcete, Goa on 11th February 1868 to a devout and pious couple. His father, Mr. Remedios Santana Gonsalves and mother Mrs. Angela Fremiot Amarante were simple, religious minded and God fearing people. He was the second child in the family and had two brothers and a sister. He was baptized in his Parish Church of St. John the Baptist at Benaulim on 18th February 1868.
As he grew up he tried to live up to his name - Herculean indeed - in all his dealings. Right from his younger days he displayed those qualities that pleased everyone and was therefore admired and cherished by all those whom he came in contact with. His caring and spontaneous charity was experienced by those who entered the portals of his majestic home. Soon he felt the call of the Lord and he joined the seminary.
Seminarian at Rachol Seminary
His spiritual fervor and his earnest zeal to do well in his studies boosted this seminarian to excel both in his conduct as well as in his academic performance. He spent hours in the Seminary Library studying theology and reading the lives of the Saints. He made use of every opportunity to practice virtue and enriched his life in the sight of God and men. All these things which were done with minutest accuracy, spontaneous joy and in accordance to the instructions imparted to him by his professors helped him to prepare himself effectively for the future.
Devotion to Mother Mary and Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament which he absorbedly pursued during his youthful days would be like two hinges of the door of his spirituality. He was an exceptional and ideal seminarian and many people who saw him were encouraged and inspired to follow suit.
While preparing for his ordination, he was sent to St. Alex Church, Calangute to assist his uncle priest V. Rev. Fr. John Baptist Gonsalves. Being a brilliant student, besides catechism, he also taught Latin to the boys intending to become priests.
A Priest Forever…
On 17th December 1892, he was ordained at Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol, Goa by D. António Sebastião Valente, the Archbishop Metropolitan of Goa and Patriarch of East Indies. He celebrated his first Mass on 22nd December at the Seminary of Rachol.
Called to Excel
His talent to soar high in virtue was actualized in many ways. There are many narratives that speak about his pursuits of excellence. One such narrative speaks about his sermon proclaimed by him on Maundy Thursday in 1893 at the Calangute Church. This sermon on “Humility” was so highly applauded that even the secular Press extolled his oratorial abilities. What is striking and most important about this single sermon is that he practiced what he preached all his life and one cannot hesitate to say that he erected his spiritual edifice on the foundation of humility.
Being brilliant in studies in Rachol, he was naturally effective in pastoral ministry, as a result Fr. Herculano could rise to the heights in ecclesiastical circle in Goa itself; but his dreams were different. He showed great inclination to serve in the mission. His superiors seeing his love and zeal chose him to work in the mission at Daman on 8th July 1893 where his erudition and scholarship, led his superior to appoint him Professor of the Daman Seminary in 1895 and then the Spiritual Director in 1898 of the same Seminary. He lectured on Moral Theology and various other subjects. His method of teaching was very much appreciated by his pupils who held him in high esteem not only as a professor but also as a friend, philosopher and guide.
Appreciating his services in this Diocese [Goa, Daman and Diu was then under one jurisdiction] the Portuguese Government appointed him to be an Official Missionary on 16th December 1898.
From 1911 to 1922 he found ample opportunities to exercise his immense zeal for the conversion of sinners at Dabul Church as the assistant Parish Priest. Not very far away from the Church were a number of clubs where many Goans lived. The moral standard of some of the residents of the clubs was embarrassingly low and Fr. Herculano boldly went there to wean them away from their bad habits and like tendencies.
In February 1923 he was posted as the Chaplain of the Chapel of Our Lady of Seven Dolours Chandanwaddi, [now a church]. At the pulpit he was vigorous, forceful and severe. In the Confessional his mind-set and approach towards the penitent was altogether special. He proved to be very compassionate, mild and gentle. When someone confronted him for his contradictory behavior, he gave a philosophical answer, “We are fishermen: from the pulpit we beat the waters and drive the fish into the net. In the confessional we collect them.”
While at Sonapur, this great Visionary started Little Flower School at Princess Street, for the children of the poor living in chawls and slums as they could not get themselves admitted in other Schools which were conducted on commercial basis. Under precarious financial conditions, he performed the Herculean task of pulling the strings so gracefully for the Little Flowers in his School through the generosity of several charitable people.
Herculean and all round in his capacity and sagacity for pastoral work and his missionary dynamism as made him a true luminary. He had the unique privilege of being the Spiritual Director of the Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters at Bandra, Mumbai. He was their confessor and conducted spiritual exercises to these Sisters for almost twenty four years.
Practical in his Spirituality
He spent hours before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament from where he drew all consolation in times of his failure and encouragement to move ahead. Wherever he went he would spread the aroma of his piety and moral excellence. He deprived himself of even the necessities of life and gave whatever he saved to the helpless beggars. He was to one and all an unfailing friend and guide. Many a weeping widows, helpless orphans or a penniless men found comfort and material help from this noble friend.
God’s Plan at work
At the age of 64 after working tirelessly in the Lord’s vineyard in Mumbai, Fr. Herculano was compelled to retire due to ill-health. In June 1930 he came down to Goa, having a vast practical personal experience with all types of underprivileged and marginalized people which made him a champion to cater to their needs. At home, in his own native place conscientiously going about his daily spiritual exercises, Fr. Herculano D. Gonsalves, Missionário Aposentado do Padroado, was appointed by Portaria dated 11th August 1930 the Parish Priest of St. Alex Church, Calangute by D. José Bento Martins Ribeiro, Bishop of Cochin and Apostolic Administrator of Goa. In obedience, he assumed responsibility within three days to replace the lost pastor of Calangute.
On 13th October 1930, he was appointed Dean/ Vicar Forane of Calangute by Bishop D. José Bento Martins Ribeiro. As he was not new to this village, he began his pastoral activities by visiting each and every home. He was soon to be admired for his endearing qualities, fatherly ways and his striking personality commanded awe and respect. His spirit of sacrifice and his unbounded love for children and women in distress forced him to devote all his energies, time, care and attention for their empowerment. The kindhearted pastor did not turn anyone away. He shared in their misery by sheltering and feeding them. As the number of needy people was increasing, the novel idea of housing the orphans was greatly appreciated by many of his parishioners. He housed the homeless in a freely rented house of Santos family at Gauravaddo, Calangute under the care and protection of young ladies who themselves desired to dedicate their lives to God.
With less than a year in 1931, he realized the need of education to the underprivileged, especially the girl child. He materialized his vision of the School under the patronage of Little Flower of Jesus at Mrs. D’Sousa’s house in Calangute, whom he knew while at Dabul. This School continues till date under the same name.
On 1st July 1932, three candidates were received in the ‘Pious Union’ with two more girls to join a month later. On 8th September 1932 he shifted the orphanage to the bungalow next to Boa Viagem Chapel, Calangute.
Vicar General of the Ghats
On 27th December 1932, he was appointed Vicar general of the Ghats. This was the time when he was very much needed in Goa to take care of the nascent Pious Association.
From 1933 to 1945, he administered that portion of the Archdiocese of Goa, situated in Belgaum and its environs. Here he worked so assiduously and indefatigably that he earned high encomiums from the Patriarch and the Bishop of Gurza.
On 16th January 1932, he was appointed a Judge of the metropolitan court. On 10th February 1932, he was appointed Member of the Commission of the Exams of Confessors and Preachers and those to be ordained with its seat at Mapusa
On 19th March 1933 laid the foundation for the construction of the Orphanage. When on 29th June the building collapsed due to defect in the foundation, Fr. Herculano, rushed in haste from Belgaum and without hesitation sold his share of ancestral property at Benaulim and erected the new building. This was the unconditional love of the Founder to his orphans.
When at Dabul he knew Sr. Theresa from Calangute a professed member of the Fransciscan Hospitaller Sisters at Mount Mary , Bandra, Mumbai. An inner voice prompted Sr. Theresa to leave the Congregation and contact the Pilar Fathers who were then re-organizing themselves into a new Missionary Society. Years later as more girls joined her, the then Rector, Msgr. Lucio Vaz felt compelled to ask them to quit Pilar as it was unbecoming in those days to have a women’s establishment attached to the Society of men religious.
Fr. Lucio, realized that Fr. Gonsalves had certain plans to cater to the needs of the poor and the abandoned and suggested him to take the ex-sister Theresa [Conceicao Rodrigues]. Her arrival was God’s providence to him to further the work for the poor.
Archbishop Patriarch D. Thetonio approved the Statutes of the Sisters of St. Alex, on experimental basis for two years on 19th September 1934 and within two years the same Archbishop Patriarch extended the approval until the permission was to be received from Rome.
Member of the Missionary Council
In 1940, Fr. Herculano was appointed Synodal Judge by the then Patriarch, D. José da Costa Nunes. He fulfilled his duties so efficiently that he won the highest esteem of the Patriarch and also his right judgement as a Synodal Judge were highly praised and appreciated by the Church dignitaries.
In January 1943 due to the vast experience gained by him in the mission field, he was appointed a member of the Missionary Council. He worked as the Vicar General of the Ghats for about 12 years until he could work no more due to his ill health and advancing age.
Through his letters, he used to give spiritual guidance and direction to the sisters even when he was far away in Belgaum. His heart and soul was with the Sisters and orphans in Goa. He loved and cared for them so much that they addressed him as ‘PAI”.
On 22nd April 1947, His Holiness Pope Pius XII in appreciation of the yeomen service rendered by him appointed him ‘Papal Chamberlain’. On 24th September 1949, his dream became a reality when the Pious Association of the Sisters of St. Alex was canonically erected into a Diocesan Religious Congregation of St. Alex when D. José da Costa Nunes was the Archbishop of Goa and Daman.
The closing years of his life were edifying. Enduring his ailment patiently, he would remain for hours kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament engrossed in intimate colloquy with Jesus. He would speak to Mother Mary in childlike devotion and confidence. During the Eucharistic Celebration he was every often lost in ecstasy.
On 21st March 1950, Msgr. Herculano breathed his last at St. Alex Convent, Calangute. Great souls like Msgr. Herculano Gonsalves never die but live forever. He was buried in the cemetery of St. Alex Church and on 11th February 1962; his mortal remains were enshrined in a monument installed in front of the Mother House.
In 1968, the name was changed to “Congregation of Handmaids of Christ”. The seed planted in 1935 germinated into a sapling, was nurtured and grows into a huge tree, a real blessing of the humble work begun by Msgr. Herculano Gonsalves. We praise God for the rich legacy bequeathed to us by our beloved Founder and pray for strength and courage to continue to walk in his footsteps.
The missionary dynamism of our founder Msgr Herculano Gosalves originates from the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that his alma mater, the great Rachol Seminary nursed, nourished and enriched it and provided him the challenge and opportunity to respond to the call he felt deep within him. The celebration of the fourth centenary of the Seminary is indeed a moment of grace to our Congregation. We the sisters of the Handmaids of Christ thank God for the gift of the alma mater of our founder and pray for God’s choicest blessings on the Rachol community.
Sr. Godwina Pereira H.C.