Bishop Bhai Home

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

Update December 31, 2004
At 1 p.m. Indian Standard Time on Christmas Eve, Bishop Bhai had a stroke. He was rushed into hospital within an hour and treated successfully by his cardiologist. The prognosis is for a complete recovery. His mind is perfect, his memory is intact, his reflexes are excellent. The current challenge is transient aphasia which the doctor has said must be dealt with by periods of reading aloud. There is no indication about how long this will last but the doctors are saying in general that the surrounding undamaged cells will take over the functions that have been diminished. The plan is for him to return to St. Charles Seminary on New Year's Day. Please keep him in your hearts that he will have the courage, grace, and wisdom to cope with this new challenge, that his mind, body, and spirit be cured and healed, and that he be surrounded by wise and compassionate caregivers and visitors. CBS

January 3, 2005
[T]his morning ... he prayed the Our Father with absolutely no difficulty, from memory, and with all the intonations of the old Leo.CBS

January 8, 2005
For the past week Leo has been doing intensive work on re-acquiring/re-activating his reading/speaking/writing skills. I admire his courage, stamina, and good humour in the process of this very difficult task. He has asked visitors to stay away. He sees a special few now and then. This is to conserve his energy for the task at hand. All the literature says that the more he does this now, the better in the long run. Yesterday he asked me to "Speak not read", the paper on Francis Xavier [at a major seminar at St. Charles on the history of Christianity in India]. He produced a much shorter version of it [than the one in this website]. I did so in a black silk Indian saree embroidered in silver made especially for me in Bangalore. I must admit I was rather successful to his absolute delight. It was lovely to be able to be of service to him in this way after all these years of our assorted kinds of collaboration. CBS

January 15, 2005
The week has been a very good one. His reading/writing/speaking skills are improving. Sometimes I feel there are quantum leaps. What was taking us 20 minutes to read when he returned from hospital is now accomplished with prompting in normal times. He is speaking more in general and things are become more and more clear.

We're working now on the birthday celebrations. He's looking forward to this on January 18th. There will be visitors all day and a dinner with the priests at night. He wants to go ahead with it and I'm delighted. Sending out the invitations to the fathers was the very last thing he finished before he had the stroke.

My prayer for him these days, which I pray aloud at the end of my reading morning and evening prayer to him, is that he be surrounded by wise and compassionate caregivers at every level who help him to get done what HE wants and needs not what they think he ought to want and ought to need. His mind is perfectly clear and he really does know what he wants. CBS

6 30 p.m., Indian Time, January 21, 2005
This is my last entry from Nagpur. Leo is improving day by day. The reading is still a major challenge. He's working hard now on the mass, something which he wants to be able to do once again smoothly, and that really is his major priority. I've done what I can given the time constraints. I have seen major improvement and am hoping for more and more. I know there are people here with English language skills they can put to use for him and I'm hoping that many of them will work with him to get done what he wants and needs. This has been an incredible experience which I am still sorting in my head and heart. I am overwhelmed with the expressions of gratitude for what I have done from priests, people, Leo's family and friends. It's almost too much for me to take in. May they continue what I have just begun. Please continue to pray that he be healed and cured and above all keep his sense of humour which is such a gift in this situation. It has been a special boon to me. CBS

March 21, 2005
Easter Monday, 2005
Bishop Bhai leaves today for a one to two month residence in an ayurvedic centre in Calicut. Ayurvedic medicine is some 5,000 years old and homeopathy and naturopathy derive from it. This centre has had especially good results working in holistic ways with persons with speech disorders resulting from stroke and other trauma. He is expecting to return to Nagpur in mid-June. His cardiologist feels that this will be a good addition to the allopathic treatments he is taking with him. His morale and good humour continue to be great. CBS

April 6, 2005
A week ago today Bishop Bhai had a second stroke which has left him paralyzed on the right side of his body and unable to speak. He is in Kerala but not in the ayurvedic hospital he was supposed to go to. I am still not clear as to why he was not there. His former chancellor and personal friend, Father Stephen Moniz, arrives from Nagpur today to take over his health care. Stephen is an exceedingly competent, no nonsense individual who will help Leo get done for himself what he wants and needs. I am relieved to hear that he will be in charge. In many ways in the past and especially during Leo's first stroke when I was providing a variety of therapies, Stephen was a great gift to me personally. Please pray that Leo continues to be surrounded by wise and compassionate caregivers, family and friends. CBS

December 19, 2005
Bishop Bhai died today at 8:00 p.m., Indian time, 10:30 a.m., Eastern Standard Time. I was finishing a letter tape to him exactly at this time. The details of his death are sketchy. From what I know his large and loving heart simply gave out. He will be buried on December 22nd, the forty-ninth anniversary of his priestly ordination. That funeral and his place of burial is not what he wanted. I have explained that to the powers-to-be arranging all of this but the bulk of them did not share his vision of episcopal service during his life so why would they honour his wishes at his death. I am not going because we promised each other that we would not do so. We wanted to be there for each other in life and we have done that as much as time and distance made that possible. I do not believe that love like Leo's for the world and for the potential of the church can ever die. But the sadness of the loss of his physical presence to us all, especially those who love him, is almost unbearable. CBS


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.

Contact Web Editor | Site Contents | content ©2005 Leobard D'Souza | electronic edition ©2005-2010 Ingrid Shafer