THE BOMBAY SEMINARY: Luncheon with the Parel Seminarians – PART 2

September 5, 1949

The green path led us to the Seminary porch supported by two columns. As was common, a square balcon rested atop the entrance. Pointing to the adjacent building, Fr Rector informed us that the original structure is single-storeyed while the new building had two storeys. The architecture was simple yet functional. It was marked by the low-pitched gabled roofs, large doors, long windows with canopies, carved grills, etc. The old outdoor staircases were made in both metal and wood.

As we gazed at the Seminary structure in silence, we were caught off-guard by the prolonged pealing of bells. Startled we jumped and turned to Fr Rector. He smiled and explained ‘Post the morning session, the seminarians gather together at the Chapel to examine their conscience. Next, they pray the Angelus after which they proceed to the refectory.’ Then gazing at his watch he exclaimed, ‘We must hurry’.

The main hall led us directly into a passageway around which various rooms were placed. The roof was held by wooden joists and rafters. Large Gothic windows with wooden shutters fringed the edges. The pilasters that segregated the rhythmic repetition of windows were decorated with picture frames and prayers.

As we walked down the sun-lit passageway, the aroma grew delectably richer. Fr Rector ushered us into a rectangular room with square windows and open grills. Six tables, neatly cloaked with linen dominated the space while foldable wooden chairs leaned against its sides. The walls were bare except for the well-anticipated painting of the Last Supper.

Three cabinets were placed against the entrance wall – the first open-cabinet held cutlery, the pigeon-hole cabinet held napkins while the third closed cabinet could have held……our thoughts were interrupted by the rustling sound of nearing footsteps. Seminarians in white cassocks entered the room with discipline. Muffled conversations could be heard as they took their seats at the dining table. Several acknowledged our presence with a courteous wave and a smile.

Soon there was absolute silence. A seminarian walked up to the lectern placed at the center of the room to lead us in prayer. Food was served. ‘The daily bread’ was accompanied by food for the soul. As Fr Rector informed us: ‘Meals were usually accompanied by a reading from a book on the life of a Saint or some other inspiring religious literature. Silent mealtimes also provided an occasion for oratorical declamations in English or Latin (for the Latinists), and for the delivery of sermons (for the Philosophers and Theologians). And these were observed and evaluated by a member of the staff who made it a point to be present for the exercise.

Well, imagine the challenge faced by the reader who had to compete with the clatter of plates, forks, knives, and spoons! What demands of concentration were made on the hearers as their attention was divided between the fare that came in through their ears and the food that passed before their eyes! And what diligence was demanded of the ‘Corrector’- that student whose job it was to strike knife or spoon or whatever came to hand against the water glass before him whenever he caught the reader mispronounce a word and then proceed to give the right pronunciation on the spot.

With a beaming, smile Fr Rector continued, ‘Good readers among the students were chosen to read in the Fathers’ Refectory where meals were also eaten silence.’ Just when our curiosity led to inquiry, the seminarian announced aloud – ‘Deo Gratias!’ At that moment the air was rent with human chatter and unending clatter. On every face was a smile and every table laughter. The room was far from luxurious but just being together was the treat. 

With wide eyes we instinctively looked around with wonder…What was life like within these walls? Fr Rector looked back at us and smiled for he had witnessed these storeys of stories!

Please feel free to share this story with others and your story of the Seminary with us! You will get regular updates at this blog site on this exhibition.

Please note: The above article includes a lot of facts and a little fiction.

© – Archdiocesan Heritage Museum

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