Bishop Bhai Home Page
This is the original site first published on the Web in December 2004. It has been updated occasionally over the years, most recently on October 31, 2010. ihs
Editor's Comment (21 December 2004): This site serves a double purpose. It is both a website to feature some of Archbishop Leobard D'Souza's thoughts (edited by Catherine Berry Stidsen and Ingrid Shafer) and a birthday tribute to him by friends and family. The site is arranged by categories, such as "birthday" and "homilies." In this page, clicking either on the links in the left navigation bar or the top navigation bar will bring up further pages that link to more specific content. In the subordinate pages, the top navigation bar will always connect readers to the main categories, and the buttons in the left navigation bar will link to homilies, articles, interviews, tributes, and so forth.
Like our ecclesia semper reformanda, this site is a work in process and will be regularly updated as more publications become available.
Here, as introduction to this site, is a brief biographical sketch of Bishop Bhai by Catherine who has known Leobard D'Souza for forty years, since they first met in 1965, during the last session of Vatican II. ihs
Update December 31, 2004
January 3, 2005
January 8, 2005
January 15, 2005
6 30 p.m., Indian Time, January 21, 2005
March 21, 2005
April 6, 2005
December 19, 2005
Ad Multos Annos, Bishop Bhai!
Catherine Berry Stidsen, Ph.D.
When people ask me how I first met Archbishop Leobard D’Souza, I enjoy telling them, “I picked him up outside a bar in suburban Rome during the last session of Vatican Council II.” It is special fun to do this in Leo’s company, because he will grin and shake his head in affirmation, since this is the literal truth. Eventually I get around to telling the inquirer that the bar was in a retreat house (ah, those happy, happy Italians) that was then the headquarters for the International Movement for a Better World in Rocca di Papa , Italy .
In the summer of 1965 I made the Retreat of the Christian Community offered by this organization. I was astounded to begin with that for all but one of the eight days we were together, we spoke to each other rather than kept silence. We were laity, male and female religious, and priests, together. A team began the retreat meditations based on a version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and we continued the reflections together, an incredible way to access the wisdom of the entire group.
At the end of that retreat I was invited to a five-month course in Rome to prepare for becoming a retreat facilitator. The course was to coincide with the last session of the Council and some of the experts at it were going to be invited to speak to us. I borrowed the money to go, took a leave of absence from my job, and joined sixty more or less English-speaking persons in this incredible venture. One of the experts to address us was Monsignor Ivan Extross of happy memory, the Indian bishop’s peritus at the Council. Leo came along with him to the Centre during one of the Council breaks.
Leo was consecrated bishop at the Eucharistic Congress in Bombay in 1964, by Pope Paul VI. He was then thirty-four and the youngest bishop in the world church. This last session of Vatican II was his first. To this day I don’t know where he was headed but I saw him as I made my way to the bar before our evening meal, as many of us were wont to do, and asked him to join me. He did and it began a special friendship which has lasted to today.
It was Leo’s sense of humour and sense of service that appealed to so many of us in Rome . I think it’s fair to say that those same qualities make for his attraction today. Leo and the then Archbishop of Bhopal, Eugene D’Souza, invited several of us to their pensione and served us dinner themselves. (+ Eugene figures prominently in Robert Kaiser’s Clerical Error, well worth the read for anyone who wants a special view of Vatican II.) The North Americans among us were deeply touched by the Indian priests’ and bishops’ dignity during worship and the bishops’ accessibility to us. It was foreign to our experience, to say the least.
Leo kept in touch and in 1968 visited Philadelphia, my native place, and stayed there with the Norbertines who had been his elementary and secondary school educators. By then he was no longer coadjutor but bishop of Jabalpur in India . It was then that I learned a great deal more about him, how his father, a famous educator, had died when Leo was six, and eventually at the age of eight he went to boarding school in Jabalpur run by Dutch Norbertines. I learned, too, that when Leo told Bishop Conrad Dubbelman who was in charge of Jabalpur that he wanted to be a priest that he was told that he was going to go to university first. He went to St. Xavier’s in Calcutta where among other things, he joined the Jesuit Sodality, and met up with Mother Teresa. He was there in 1947 when Indian independence was declared.
He was sent to Ranchi for philosophy and although he had been raised in an Anglo-Indian environment developed a tremendous respect for India ’s tribal peoples. Subsequently he was sent to Propaganda Fide in Rome for the completion of his priestly studies. Here he encountered the universal church in a special way, studying with men from Australia , Uganda , Japan , Greece , Thailand , and even one from Buffalo , New York ! In 1957 he returned to work in a mission station called Junwani, traveling for nine months from mission station to mission station and in his spare time working with the boys in the boarding school there who were having difficulties with their studies.
To his amazement this pastoral work which he thought would be his life’s effort came to an abrupt end when he was called to be the personal secretary to Archbishop James Knox, the papal nuncio to India . He moved to New Delhi and began to work in the rarified atmosphere of the Vatican diplomatic corps, eventually refusing to make that his career when offered that opportunity.
Instead, Leo traveled to Ireland to study at University College , preparing to become principal of St. Aloysius, the school where he had studied. He relished Ireland and coached boys’ football there, delighting at once having beaten the Cathedral Altar Boys’ Team! He was at Roe Hampton in England , about to work on his Master’s thesis at the British Museum when his career was once again cut short. He was called back to Ireland to discover that he was being asked to become Coadjutor of Jabalpur. As he is wont to say, “Once again, Fate or Providence decided otherwise than what I had anticipated.”
When he became bishop. Leo asked his people to call him Bishop Bhai, which literally means, Bishop Brother. He wanted to make clear that whatever he was about he wanted to walk shoulder to shoulder with them in their life’s journeys and his. He determined to be their good friend, walking neither before nor behind his people, but with them. One would perhaps have to know Indian culture to know how exceptional this commitment is now and even more so than when he made it all those years ago.
What I remember more than anything else about that 1968 visit was hearing on the news that Humanae Vitae had been published. Leo literally jumped up from the sofa on which he was sitting and said, “Get me the papers.” I ran out to do so and returned with all that I could find that had the story of the encyclical in them. Leo paced up and down the room saying, “Who asked me about this? What happened to collegiality? Who has done this and why?” He and his classmates had determined to be “People's Priests”, much to the confusion of their seminary teachers and how clearly I saw that commitment in action that summer day in Philadelphia .
It would be eighteen years before I would see Leo again. In that interim he moved to Nagpur in central India as archbishop there. I married in 1969 and lost my husband in 1981. Leo and I stayed in touch periodically. I had always wanted to visit India but my summer holidays coincided with the worst time of the year weather-wise in India and he recommended that I not come. It was December of 1987 before I finally got to Nagpur . I went, among other things, to be the facilitator of a week’s diocesan seminar for his priests and religious. He did that annually for ten years and wanted me in January of 1988 because of the synod on the laity that had just taken place in Rome .
I wanted to go to India because in 1986 I had begun doctoral studies and discovered that William Ernest Hocking about whom I was writing my dissertation had come to his insights about the potential reconception of Christianity while on a visit to Nagpur in 1930. Fate or Providence seemed at work again. I wanted to see first hand what Leo was working on in terms of neighbourhood and village communities in his archdiocese that would serve as catalysts for integral human development based on inter-religious collaboration and prayer. It was an incredibly gratifying and humbling experience for me.
On that first trip I learned of Leo’s extensive service to the church in his own diocese, nationally and internationally. He had experience in catechetics, labour, and Caritas India to name just a few areas of his service and expertise. I read everything I could get my hands on especially about contemporary mission as dialogue. Through his kindness I had access to the wealth of information provided by top notch Indian theologians and by those working with and for the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences. I had the opportunity to meet with several of these men and women as well.
I have returned thirteen times since and in December 2004, God, Air Canada and Lufthansa willing, I return for my fifteenth visit. Over the course of the years I have helped to establish a professional library and resource centre and a computer assisted learning laboratory in Nagpur in my husband’s memory, but that is too long a story to tell here.
In 1998, Leo retired from administration because of ill health and now teaches in St. Charles Seminary and provides a variety of tutorials mostly for young religious especially those in need of learning English which is India ’s link language. He gives retreats and writes more and more for a variety of publications. Above all, he refuses to “rust out”. A fan of action, espionage, and mystery novels, which authors include Louis Lamour, Leo says that like a good cowboy, he wants to die with his boots on!
As I re-read this I see how inadequate words are to express an almost forty-year friendship, granted that we were present to each other some years far more than others. What Leo offers me personally above all else is the lived witness that absolute power need never corrupt absolutely. His lifelong aim has been power for people and power with people, not power over them. His quest for truth, for Truth, has gone on all the years I have known him and I know preceded our meeting. He once told me that reading Maisie Ward had made an enormous difference in his life and put him on this path of service and appreciation for the lay vocation. His laughter is infectious. When I am in his company Leon Bloy’s comment that “joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence” becomes palpable.
Leo has on some occasions made me the gift of his tears and I have on many occasions trusted him with mine. We have shared our dreams, stunned at times that a widow educated in North America and a cleric educated in India , Rome , and Ireland can so much want the same things for our world and for our church. We have lost patience with each other and sometimes have been truly angry with each other but have again and again discovered how much conflict and the resolution of it has help us to grow individually and in all our efforts with others. Without him in it, my life would be greatly diminished in ways too many to mention.
With his family, friends, and associates throughout the world, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Leo’s birth, I say most sincerely, Tanti Auguri and Ad Multos Annos, Bishop Bhai.