THE BOMBAY SEMINARY: H.E. Valerian Cardinal Gracias
‘The Seminary is the gift of the present generation to the generations that follow, and posterity will gaze with pride on this mighty structure and will bless the great builder, Cardinal Gracias who worked hard and long, planning this gigantic project and mastering its infinite details, who undertook arduous journeys to distant lands to secure the sympathy, goodwill and financial cooperation of the prelates and the peoples of other lands. The Seminary will be a lasting memorial to the wisdom and foresight of our beloved Cardinal Archbishop, his Auxiliary, his Vicars-Generals and his priests who labored in the great cause and brought this grand work to full fruition.’ – Mr Leo Rodrigues K.C.S.G
We can state without any fear of contradiction that the Bombay Seminary at Goregaon stands testimony to the practical genius and vision of the first Indian Cardinal – Valerian Gracias. His Eminence was closely connected with the Seminary since its inception at Parel in 1936. It is worth noting that as secretary to Archbishop Lima, Fr. Valerian Gracias helped to draft the inaugural speech and the outline of studies of the Parel Seminary. Around a quarter of a century later, at the inauguration of the Bombay Seminary at Goregaon, His Eminence, as Cardinal heartily addressed the audience for fifty-three minutes. Who can forget those opening words?
‘Mine is not a mere speech, but a full-length Address. This unique occasion demands it. I would beg you, therefore, to suffer me patiently, if only because I spent a full year preparing this speech!’ – Valerian Cardinal Gracias
The Cardinal walked the talk. The foundation stone laid by his predecessors was dear to him. Post his consecration as an auxiliary bishop of Bombay, he was put in charge of the Seminary. He visited the institution frequently, noting its problems and achievements, presiding over talks, academics, functions, examinations, etc. He often addressed the seminarians and spoke about the Seminary in his column in the Examiner titled ‘Talks to My People’. In October 1947, he placed before the public the need to build a new seminary. His vision, which the architects translated on paper, was famously called ‘City Set on a Hill’.
Undoubtedly, the ‘City Set on a Hill’ was too ambitious for the slender resources of the Archdiocese. But in hindsight, we can simply admire the courage and the foresight of the Cardinal. He dared to dream the impossible and he did all that was possible to make this dream come true, of course with characteristic faith and unbounded trust in the Almighty and his people.
‘He did not expect to finish the whole plan in his lifetime; for a seminary, like a cathedral, is a work of generations. He would be satisfied, he said, if he could see only the central block constructed while he was yet alive; he did not, however, entirely exclude the possibility of seeing the whole plan completed.’
‘The City Set on a Hill’ was the title of the article in which he sought to explain the details of his dream seminary. Back then, Archbishop Roberts had traveled to America in the interest of the Seminary but the response was not very encouraging. Bishop Gracias was not disappointed.
‘Some benefits’ he wrote, ‘we have already received; others will follow in God’s time; for the seed sown through sermons, lectures, articles, contacts must fructify someday. I can do no better than walk steadily in the footsteps of my Chief – not by a trip to America (alas!) but by broadcasting the Chief’s message throughout the Archdiocese and interesting the clergy, nuns, laity, school children in the great cause.’
Seven years later, providentially, it was given to Bishop Gracias, now Cardinal, to go to America and champion the cause of the Seminary. ‘When in October 1955 His Eminence Cardinal Gracias went to the United States, accompanied by Msgr. V. Dyer, he got a wonderful reception all over the country from the American hierarchy who had invited him. A memento of this visit is the offer of help towards the building of our new seminary.’
With promising aid, the Cardinal felt confident to embark upon the Seminary building project. Several meetings were held. The Cardinal, as was necessary, left the exploration for the site in the hands of qualified men; but he took the trouble to go to every suggested spot evaluate the pros and cons until the most suitable was found. And then it came to pass. The Cardinal writes – ‘Actually, I was in Burma at that time. On arrival at the airport, I was whisked off to inspect the site. My reaction was that of love at first sight, which though in most cases is blind, in this is not.’
H.E Valerian Cardinal Gracias regarded the fulfillment of this dream of the Bombay Seminary as his Nunc Dimittis! But the Almighty had great plans for the Archdiocese. In the years to come, this humble seminary would host two Holy Fathers (now saints) while nurturing and inspiring many more dreams and vocations. The Bombay Seminary continues to serve as ‘love at every sight’ to all who behold it.
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© – Archdiocesan Heritage Museum
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