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THE BIRTH OF A NEW PARISH

The history of Sacred Heart Parish, Andheri East is full of events, struggles, and achievements from its conception till date. Today, we can proudly say that it is one of the best and vibrant parishes in the Archdiocese of Bombay, in all spheres.

Our Parish was conceptualised on June 21, 1987 by the Archdiocese of Bombay, and entrusted to the pastoral care of The Society of Divine Word [Societas Verbi Divini (SVD)] Fathers. Prior to June 1987, many of the parishioners were members of Holy Family Parish, our Mother Church and in fact till recently, we were allowed to use the cemetery as a final resting place for our deceased. The parish today is contained within the boundaries of the new parish unit, the Sacred Heart Chapel, proposed by Fr. Frederick Sopena S.J. in his communication dated 14.12.1982 to the Episcopal Vicar of the Holy Cross Church, Kurla.

The very idea of Sacred Heart Church in our area emerged out of a decision taken in 1979 by the erstwhile Parish Priest of Holy Family Church, Fr. Frederick Sopena S.J. He gave up his position as parish priest and moved into a chawl in Achanak Colony to cater to the pastoral needs of the parishioners staying there. A part of his residence in the chawl was converted into the Sacred Heart Chapel where Holy Mass was celebrated on June 1, 1979 for the first time. This can be treated as the real beginning of our Parish, although then it was only a chapel of the Holy Family Church.


During the late fifties, Fr. George Proksch SVD (Guru Gyan Prakash) came down to Bombay and tried to set up an ashram in this area. Impressed by the richness of Indian culture he decided to totally identify himself with India even to the extent of Indianising his name. He set up the Gyan Ashram in 1958 on a piece of land purchased on the hillock by the side of the present church building complex. He continued his efforts to acquire more land to fulfill the vision he had. Meanwhile the Hindi Sanskriti Sangam Trust was registered on 1.9.1955 and in 1962, another Charitable Public Trust was registered under the name All India Soverdia Sangam. Through these trusts, and organizations like Gyan Ashram, The Institute of Indian culture etc. constituted under them, various activities were undertaken by the SVDs in the area, and the city of Mumbai. These activities gave tremendous impetus to other Catholic Institutions and various other religious orders to move into this area. As a result, Carmel Monastery, Home for the Aged, Holy Spirit Hospital, Dominic Savio Boy's home, Cheshire Home, Canossa Convent etc. were established in the area. Gradually the number of catholic families settling down in this area began to increase.

Towards the late seventies, spilling into the early eighties, more and more housing colonies like Gracious, Takshila, Sher-E-Punjab, MHADA, Poonam Nagar, Namaskaar and Greenfields at the farthest end came up and middle class and even upper middle class families began to move in. Among them were many catholic families. Fr. Sopena's foresight to set up the Sacred Heart chapel at Mahakali Caves Road stood in good stead to meet the religious and pastoral needs of all the Catholics who had moved into the area. In true spirit of the IInd Vatican Council, Fr. Sopena encouraged participation of laity in the affairs of the Parish to the fullest extent. Fr. Fredrick Sopena led the people by his own example, and he can truly be called the founding Father of Sacred Heart Parish, Andheri East.

With so many activities, the need for land and a proper church building thereon became very urgent. The SVD congregation by 1985 showed interest in taking over the parish in this area, and the Bombay province of the Society of Jesus, who was taking care of the pastoral needs, wrote to the SVD provincial in a letter dated Oct 21, 1985 expressing happiness over the development. On September 7, 1986 it was officially made known to the parish council of Sacred Heart chapel that the Archdiocese of Bombay would constitute a separate Parish, to be under the pastoral care of the SVD Fathers at Gyan Ashram campus. It was on June 21, 1987 that Sacred Heart parish was born at a concelebrated mass held at Canossa Basement Hall. The main celebrant of the mass was Bishop Ferdinand Fonseca. While the Bishop announced the birth of the parish, Fr. Joseph Panthalathy, the then Provincial superior of the Southern India province of SVD, announced that one acre land of SVD will be earmarked for the use the Parish.

Fr. Joseph Lopez, the first Parish Priest together with two young trainee priests, Fr. Augustine Rodrigues and Fr. Joseph Kalanchira. deputed to the parish for one year began their work of setting up the new parish office. The parish Fathers and parishioners of Sacred Heart acquired a place which was once a poultry shed. With generous donations from the SVD Provincial and from parishioners, well-wishers and friends, the necessary changes including re-wiring, painting etc, of the structure was carried out and all necessary items of a parish chapel and office incorporated. The first mass in this modified structure was celebrated by the Parish Priest Fr. Joseph Lopez on December 8, 1987 concelebrated by 10 other Priests. By then the number of catholic families in the area grew to about 800. The parish set out to form the Sacred Heart Church Trust. Demarcation of one acre of land allotted for the parish use from AISS Trust land and fencing it etc., itself was a time consuming process. Fr. Lawrence Correa SVD who was the then Administrator of AISS Trust did a commendable job by his constant efforts to overcome all difficulties in demarcating the plot of land for the parish. The main hurdle in this regard was the difficulty in surveying the land. A court order had to be obtained for the same as a court case was pending since 1986 due to the encroachment of the land by a builder. Fr. S.M. Michael SVD the secretary to HSS Trust made every effort to get the court order for the survey.

Since 1992 up until 2000 the Parish concentrated on the building project of the church, as per the guidance and direction of Fr. Sylvester Rego the Administrator of All India Soverdia Sangam. At the same time a building committee consisting of parish Fathers, Fr. Rego and a few parishioners was constituted for this purpose. Thanks to the SVD authorities, our parish could get such a vast and beautiful piece of land at such a prime location for our use. Mobilization of funds for the construction of the Church began in right earnest.

Fr. Anthony Furtado SVD, the then parish priest took steps in early 1994 to centralise the liturgical services at the Parish itself. In January 1994, the west side wall of the chapel was demolished, and the location of the altar on the north side was shifted to the east side and an open shed was built to accomodate the congregation. With this all parish masses celebrated outside the Church premises could be stopped and the whole commnunity could be brought together at the Church.

Fr. Walter Mendonca SVD, took over the reins of the parish. During this time an advisory committee was constituted to manage parish affairs till formal parish elections were held and Building Committee re-constitued. New Architect was appointed. On May 17, 1998 the foundation stone of our Church was laid. The transformation of the exteriors and interiors of the church from a poultry shed to the present structure of elegance was amazing. Finally the day dawned. The inauguration and blessing of the magnificent Church building built on the foundation stone laid by Fr. Sopena S. J. took place on 8th Sept.2000. with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist by his grace, Archbishop Ivan Dias.

The essence of all these efforts helped create the vision mission statement of the parish "Vibrant with the Spirit of the Risen Lord, towards a community of deeper faith, worship, love and service" and published and adopted by the whole parish in June 2002.

Today, we have 29 small Christian communities and 34 cells and associations attending to the specific needs of target groups of parishioners or carrying out certain specialized tasks in the service of all the parishioners. In all this, the parish pastoral team under the dynamic guidance of Fr. Cyprian Lewis, our Parish Priest has made invaluable contribution to the Parish and its surroundings.

The hectic pace of activities of all these vibrant communities, cells and associations, called for providing more infrastructure. Thus the construction of a community centre with meeting halls became an urgent necessity. The Parishioners, through their generous contributions and undaunted faith in the Parish team made this dream a reality. On June 6th 2004 the project was completed and inaugurated by Fr. Gregory Pinto SVD, Provincial Superior of Mumbai Province of the SVDs.

Another urgent and necessary project was our own cemetery. The Parish was already on an extension of period under notice of termination for use of the Holy Family Parish cemetery. By acquiring land admeasuring 1200 sq. yards from All India Soverdia Sangam the plan for 380 graves surrounded by a 6 feet wall with provision for individual niches in the wall, was finalized. This was completed in the year 2005, and the parish cemetery was blessed on 2-11-2005 by His Grace Archbishop Ivan cardinal Dias.

The compilation of full and comprehensive data of all the parishioners was a long felt need and on 27th January 2008, the Parish released its first Parish Directory. Several attempts made with regards to Parish Data Compilation could not be completed, ever since the first census compiled in 1990 of 1268 families divided into 20 zones on the basis of rudimentary data. So in September 2002 our parish began collection of comprehensive data of each parishioner, family wise. During the period between December 2005 and April 2006 the Parish Pastoral Team visited all the families and updated the family records. In July 2006, the parish issued family cards to all the registered families. As of 11th December 2007, we have 2025 families spread across the length and breadth of the Parish.

Due to the large influx of Christian families into various housing projects in our parish area the number of parishioners has doubled since the 1990 census. Hence we had to put to use our parish grounds on important occasions to accommodate the full congregation. Thus the need for levelling the grounds and paving it with interlocking concrete blocks became a necessity. Hence this project was undertaken in January 2006 and was completed in 3 months' time.

The successful completion of various projects would not have been possible, had the parish not given adequate attention to the spiritual growth of the parishioners.

We began, by dedicating each calendar year to the spiritual development in different areas as under:

Year         Dedicated to
2003        The Family
2004        Word of God-Holy Bible
2005        Peace & Reconciliation
2006        Youth and children
2007        Marginalized & poor
2008        Small Christian Communities
2009        Peace and Harmony
2010        Making a House a Home
2011        Year of Prayer
2012        Silver Jubilee Of the Parish
2013        Faith
2014        Family


Thus our parish is well equipped spiritually and infrastructurally to accomplish great tasks for the glory of God and in His precious name, in the days ahead.

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