St. Pius X Church – A Brief History

Till late 1968, Mulund was an outpost of the extensive parish of St. John the Baptist, Thane. The Catholic population was sparse and scattered on either side of the Central Railway line. Through the courtesy of the Asbestos Cement Company (ACC), situated about a furlong from the railway station, Masses were celebrated by the priests of Thane at its sports centre, which was referred to as the ACC Chapel. At that time, there were a few Catholic families in the company’s residential quarters.

The place where St. Pius X Church stands now, and the area around it, extending from the railway tracks to Lal Bahadur Shastri (LBS) Marg, was jungle and marshy land, filled with mangroves. In the distance, one could see the outline of the hills, beyond which lies Powai Lake.

Fr Valerian Godinho

In 1969, Fr Valerian Godinho, the enterprising and visionary parish priest of St. John the Baptist Church, undertook the herculean task of setting up an independent parish in Mulund. A large plot of land was bought in the village of Nahur, on the west side of the railway tracks. On this land, Fr Godinho planned to build a housing colony, two schools, a church and a parish house. In 1970, a few other societies outside the proposed colony had already come up, and the Catholic families residing in the vicinity either went to the ACC Chapel or all the way to St. Joseph’s Church, Vikhroli, for Sunday Mass.

By 1971, a building that housed the primary school and some of the residential buildings of the proposed colony had been erected. The number of Catholics in the housing colony of St. Pius X and the neighbouring colonies was large enough to merit a change. Sunday Mass was now celebrated in the St. Pius X primary school. The shutter partitions between the classrooms on the first floor were opened to form a small hall to accommodate the people. The priests from Thane continued to serve the emerging parish community in Mulund. The Christmas midnight Mass of 1971 was celebrated on the grounds of St. Pius X ‘A’ Society, opposite the church.

Beginning with Fr Godinho, the priests who initially served the community by celebrating Mass and as school principal were Fr Joseph Vincent, Fr Bosco Remedios, Fr Lawrence Monteiro, Fr Leslie Ratus and Msgr Vincent Gonsalves. Fr Lawrence Monterio, who belonged to the archdiocese of Indore, had come to Bombay to study for his B. Ed. degree, and resided in the primary school building.

Parish Priests

On 7 July 1976, the new parish at Mulund under the patronage of St. Pius X was created by separating it from the parish of St. John the Baptist, Thane. Fr F. X. Lobo, who had been appointed as priest-in-charge in June 1974, became the first parish priest of this fledgling parish. Fr Lobo had a great love for the Latin Mass and St. Pius X was one of the few churches where the choir still sang four-part harmonies in Latin, under the direction of Succoro Fernandes. From 1975 to 1980, Sr Juliana Moozhayil, IBMV, from St. Mary’s Convent played the harmonium purchased by Fr Lobo for festive occasions, with Hazel Toscano (presently choir director) as her young page turner. Fr Lobo resided in one of the primary classrooms with minimal facilities. He would visit all the families in the neighbourhood – both Christian and those of other faiths. By then, the housing colony and two high schools in Fr Godinho’s original plan had been constructed. Archbishop Simon Pimenta laid the foundation stone of the new church and installed the time capsule on 20 April 1981.

Principals

In the meantime, St. Pius X School, which was functioning under Mr Ratus (father of Fr Leslie Ratus) as headmaster, got its first priest principal, Fr Lucian Fernandes (1975–1982). Fr Lucian suggested that the parish have a hymn to its patron saint. The words of the St. Pius Anthem were written by Glenda Viegas, and the music composed by Fr Lucian.

Fr F.X. Lobo and Fr Lucian initiated the process of raising funds to build the church and the secondary school building. Several initiatives were undertaken – concerts, souvenirs, dances, whist drives, auctions, running the school canteen, brick donations and individual donations. A ten-day fete was held, with all the parishioners volunteering, and a substantial amount was raised to commence work. The compound wall was built. The 14 Stations of the Cross were marked on the wall, and during Lent, the stations were conducted on the grounds.

Next, the ground and first floors of the secondary school were built; however, there were insufficient funds for the church building. Fr Lucian was succeeded by Fr L. M. George as Principal (1982–1985). By now, the primary school space was not enough for the growing congregation, and the venue of the temporary church was shifted to the secondary school hall. The altar and tabernacle were set up on the school stage. A curtain was drawn to separate the altar from the rest of the hall, which was used for kindergarten classes. The parishioners sat on the tiny kindergarten chairs during Mass. Soon, the kindergarten classes were shifted and Fr George was instrumental in getting each parishioner to contribute for a more comfortable folding chair. The school hall served as the church for five-and-a-half years.

Assistant Parish Priests

On 27 September 1983, Fr F. X. Lobo passed away. On 5th October, Fr Trevor Zenon D’Souza, then Episcopal Vicar of S. E. and N. E. Salsette and Andheri, took charge as Parish Priest. Fr Godfrey Remedios came in as Assistant Parish Priest in June 1984, followed by Fr Christopher Alvares in June 1987. Fr Richard Misquitta succeeded Fr George as Principal in June 1985.

The school hall served the school during the day, and as a church in the evenings and on Sundays. Fr Trevor furnished the stage carefully so that it resembled a sanctuary. Weddings, baptisms, First Holy Communions and Confirmation Masses were celebrated in the hall. The church office was set up behind the stage, below the staircase. Fr Trevor invited the Congregation of Teresian Carmelites to work in the parish. Sr Mariella and Sr Shobana set up the congregation in Mulund, in an apartment in Hira Nagar, and since then, the Carmelite sisters have been serving the parish and school. Bishop Bosco Penha introduced the Basic Christian Communities (now Small Christian Communities), and Fr Trevor, Sr Mariella and Glenda Viegas formed these communities in the parish. Sr Lucia from St. Mary’s Convent and Glenda Viegas were the BCC coordinators during the initial years. Fr Trevor then formed the parish youth group. He invited the Salesian priests to conduct summer camps, during which the musical ‘The Prodigal Son’ was staged by the youth of the parish.

The parish was expanding and the need for a church building was greatly felt. A new dynamism surged within the parishioners with Fr Trevor at the helm of affairs, and soon, what seemed like a distant dream began to take shape again. Fund-raising began in earnest. Fr Trevor started a unique ‘coin collection’ after communion at Mass. Children would go around with baskets and the people would put in the coins they had in their pockets. The coin collection was continued even after the church was built, and the money used to purchase furniture for the church. When the church was self-sufficient, Fr Ivo D’Souza discontinued the collection.

As the contributions flowed in, committees were formed, responsibilities shared, fund-raising programmes organised, and on 3 January 1987, Archbishop Simon Pimenta attended the memorable event of the ‘breaking of the sod’. Fr Trevor visited many churches in Bombay along with the architect, Madan, and a few parishioners, so that the best features could be incorporated into the design. After studying the landscape, the architect drew up the plans for the church building.

The large open space that was used as the school playground was soon a scene of hectic activity. Work got underway and there was no looking back. Cement and steel meshed into concrete reality – the work supervised by a parishioner, Mr D’Silva, and structural engineers Edgar D’Souza and Associates, went on at a quick pace.

On 8 January 1989, Cardinal Simon Pimenta inaugurated and consecrated the new church building – the fulfilment of a much-felt need and a long-awaited dream. It was a wonderful feeling in the heart of every parishioner – a homecoming. From the widow’s mite to the king’s ransom, the people had pooled their resources, efforts, sacrifices, time, ingenuity, thoughts and love for the project. The parish choir, directed by Fr Christopher Alvares, sang for the solemn inaugural Mass, with renowned maestro and liturgist Fr Aniceto Nazareth at the keyboard.

The beautiful church building of St. Pius X as it stands today is the culmination of these tremendous efforts and sacrifices. Fr Trevor, who had masterminded the project, worked extremely hard, day and night, planning, designing and negotiating for the very best that the available money could buy.

St. Pius X Church is a building that makes every parishioner proud. Visitors are impressed by the simplicity and beauty of the structure. Some of its distinct features are the glass dome above the altar that allows light into the sanctuary, the tabernacle, stained glass panels at the front and back, and the stained glass Stations of the Cross that were specially designed and transported from Rajasthan. The adoration chapel and the wayside grotto were also Fr Trevor’s creations.

In June 1990, Fr Joaquim D’Costa was appointed Parish Priest (1990–1996). He purchased pews and other furniture for the church, and undertook the task of constructing the second floor of the secondary school building. With his great love for music and singing, Fr Joaquim initiated the children’s choir with three students of St. Mary’s Convent. Despite his busy schedule, he taught the children to sing hymns from the parish hymnal compiled by Succoro Fernandes. Over time, the choir grew with more children from the Sunday School joining in. Fr Joaquim endeared himself to the parishioners, not only because of the innumerable things he did for the parish, but also with his firm but gentle nature, personal interest in the lives of the parishioners, and the numerous fellowship activities that he organised to bring people together.

Fr Joaquim was followed by Fr Ivo D’Souza as Parish Priest (1996–2002). The parish was growing steadily and the various church associations were taking shape. There was a great need for a cemetery. Back in the eighties, Fr Trevor had composed a prayer for the cemetery to be recited after every Mass. Fr Ivo started in earnest the task of coordinating with government officials for the cemetery, and finally, during the tenure of Fr Rufus Pereira (2002–2007), the cemetery was inaugurated by Bishop Agnelo Gracias at Mulund East on 31 May 2006.

Silver Jubilee

The silver jubilee of the church building, which coincided with the ruby jubilee (40 years) of the parish, was celebrated with a four-day programme from 8 to 11 January 2014. The celebration began with a half hour of prayer and adoration in the St. Pius X secondary school hall, which had served as the church till 1989. This was followed by a candlelight procession from the school hall to the present church, symbolic of the transition 25 years before. 25 senior members of the parish handed over their candles to the younger generation, blessing them to nurture the parish in its future endeavours. The Holy Eucharist was celebrated by Bishop John Rodrigues.

The second day began with the Eucharist celebrated by Fr Allwyn D’Silva (now Bishop), followed by a fete on the grounds organised by the SCCs. Fr Felix D’Souza celebrated the Eucharist on the third day of the jubilee celebrations, which was followed by a cultural programme on the school grounds. On 11 January 2014, the grand silver jubilee Mass on the school grounds was celebrated by Cardinal Oswald Gracias and concelebrated by Bishop Dominic Savio Fernandes and the many priests who had served in the parish over the years. At the start of the Eucharistic celebration, the 22 SCCs of the parish symbolically built up the church while pledging to commitments that would enable the parish to grow and flourish.

Fr Cleophas Fernandes

In June 2014, Fr Cleophas Fernandes, former Rector of the St. Pius X Seminary at Goregaon and former Director of the NBCLC, Bangalore, was appointed Parish Priest. Known for his creativity, foresight and effective administration, Fr Cleophas immediately immersed himself into the life and activities of the parish and also undertook the huge task of refurbishing the church building, parish house and school property.

Exploring and engaging talent from within the parish, he personally oversaw the repair and maintenance, cleaning, waterproofing, painting and polishing, plumbing, electrical rewiring, carpentry and many other works over several time periods. Under his supervision, many old and worn-out fixtures were removed, the altar marble and beams strengthened and the much-needed holy water fonts installed at the church doors. The CCTV cameras and ramps have made the church safer and more accessible. The beauty of the altar has been enhanced with subtle lighting at the main cross and tabernacle. The overhead halogen lamps, which were prone to overheating, have been replaced with milder LED lights.

One of the major tasks accomplished was the complete overhaul of the fans and sound system. The industrial blowers that were initially meant to be temporary installations were removed. Observing the setup at St. John the Baptist Church, Fr Cleophas installed a state-of-the-art cooling system with a huge central fan and two smaller fans. They are almost soundless and also conserve electricity. This massive task involved studying the church structural plans and working with architects, electricians and several other support teams. Keeping with the times, Fr Cleophas also installed a high-tech wireless sound system and audio-visual projector in the church, which has immensely helped the people’s participation in the services.

In addition to the enhancements he has made to the church building and its surroundings, Fr Cleophas has infused many creative ideas into the celebration of the liturgy, and a spirit of humble service and effective functioning in the community, which has instilled new life into the parish. The parish continues to flourish under his pastoral care, as he leads and serves his flock with spirit and enthusiasm.

Today, 47 years since the first Catholics settled in the area, St. Pius X is a vibrant parish with about 7,000 parishioners and 22 SCCs across five geographic areas. The many active lay ministries and associations contribute to the overall functioning of the parish, working to fulfil its mission statement of being a Christ-centred evangelising community in selfless service.

 

Editorial Board
ComUnion – St. Pius X Parish Newsletter
Excerpts from the article by Charles Borromeo & Collette Sequeira
ComUnion – Special Commemorative Issue Vol. 5 No. 1 (January 1989)
Adapted for ComUnion – Silver Jubilee Issue Vol. 30 No. 1 (January 2014)
Adapted for the update of church records (August 2017)