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Indian cathedral remembers Jesuit mission among tribals in eastern India

Archdiocese of Ranchi Indian cathedral remembers Jesuit mission among tribals in eastern India

St. Mary’s Cathedral Church in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, is the mother church in the tribal belt of eastern India, where Belgian Jesuits laid the foundation of Catholicism in 19th century.

This brownish Church, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary, stands on Dr. Camil Bulcke Path and nestles between St. Xavier’s College and St. Albert Major Seminary.

Jesuit priest John McDonnel established the first church in 1847 in a thatched shed, on the north of Ranchi railway station, and named it Mother of Good Counsel Church. Decades later, the name was changed after the church was gradually developed into a better edifice in 1909 and then into a concrete structure in 1927.

The Ranchi mission hit a significant milestone when the Vatican established the Diocese of Ranchi on May 25, 1927, separating it from Calcutta Archdiocese. St. Mary’s Church became the Cathedral of the new diocese and the seat of its first Bishop Jesuit missionary Louis Van Hoeck. Until the Andaman and Nicobar Islands became a separate diocese on 26 June 1984, these islands were also part of Ranchi diocese. On 19 September 1953 the Diocese of Ranchi was elevated as an archdiocese.

The Cathedral Church gave birth to 12 dioceses – Ranchi, Khunti, Simdega, Gumla, Daltonganj, Hazaribag, Jamshedpur, Jashpur, Raigarh, Ambikapur, Sambalpur, and Rourkela – spread across a couple of eastern Indian states in the Ranchi-Choto Nagpur tribal region. Each diocese has its own cathedral church but St. Mary’s being the first and oldest church is hailed as the Mother Church of all.

The simple, brown cathedral stands in the midst of lush, green forested surrounding. Sunday is the best day to visit St. Mary’s Cathedral when several Masses are celebrated in the joyful accompaniment of tribal Catholics who give life to the liturgy with tribal language hymns, music, and dance.

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