The festive day of Christmas marks the end of this year and in this context, Bihar has a significant history in relation to Church and Christmas. On this day, Jesus Christ’s birthday is celebrated globally and as the whole world is illuminated with lights of Christmas, Bihar’s relation to this faith and festival needs a revisit.
The history of Catholic faith can be traced some 398 years ago when Jesuit (member of the Society of Jesus) Father Simon Figueredo SJ came to Patna in 1620 at the invitation of the Mughal Governor of Patna, Yohan Maquarrum Khan. The Jesuit priest stayed for about a year.
Experts on the history of Christianity in Bihar say that after 1713, Patna became a permanent center for religious propagation. The Roman Catholics were the first to arrive in Bihar. They built a small church in 1717 at a place now known as “Padri-ki-Haveli’ (or “mansion of the padre”) in east Patna.
In 1852, on invitation of Bishop Anastasius Hartmann, the Apostolic Vicar of Patna, a group of five Institutes of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sisters from Munich Province in Germany came to India. These five sisters were Sisters Maria Groeppner, Angela Hoffman, Aloysia Maher, Antonia Feth and Catherine Schreibman. The sisters landed in Bombay by ship and then set out for Patna.
They traveled from Bombay to Patna by bullock cart through the thick jungles. They left Bombay in early September 1852 and reached Patna around February 1853. They established the first The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) house in Bankipu (whose members are commonly known as the Sisters of Loreto, is a Roman Catholic religious congregation of women dedicated to education). Moreover, when the history of the church is pondered upon, Patna’s largest church came up at Kurji in 1855.
Pope Benedict XV on 10 September 1919 divided the Diocese (a district under the pastoral care of a bishop in the Christian Church). of Allahabad into two and thus the Diocese of Patna into existence.
Bihar’s second Church in Bettiah:
An incident led to its formation took place way back in 1740. The Rani of Bettiah (in West Champaran) was sick and could not be cured by the local practitioners. The Raja invited Father Joseph Mary, a medical doctor to treat her wife. Father Joseph was successful, and the Raja was very grateful.
In reward, the Raja offered the Father the freedom to spread his religion in the region. In 1745 Bihar’s second church came into existence just beside the palace of King of Bettiah. With permission from the Vatican, a mission was established at Bettiah in 1769 with priests coming from Rome. At about the same time, churches were also built at Bhagalpur, Purnea, and Munger.