A BRIEF HISTORY:
Fr. Bento was able to inspire several zealous priests, one of them is Fr. Agnelo Gustavo Adolfo de Souza
who is now a Venerable and whom we hope to see on our altars very soon. Fr. Bento will always be remembered not only as the Founder of the Society of Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier of Pilar, but as a man who changed the course of the history of the Church in Goa. If Fr. Bento was able to inspire several zealous priests to go on proclaiming the word of God not only to Christians but even to those who had never heard the Good News, the Pilar Fathers that followed him have left an indelible mark in the apostolic field in the decades that followed. Pilar Fathers were known to be preachers as missionaries. Venerable Fr.
Agnelo was one of those “Padres do Pilar” that touched the hearts of people from the Church pulpits, through retreats, in the confessionals and through counseling, what, at that time, was called spiritual direction.
Born in a pious and educated family, well known and respected in the village of Anjuna, Agnelo Gustavo Adolfo de Souza, lost both his parents at a very early age. However, the teachings of his saintly mother had made a deep impression on that child whom the parents affectionately called Querobin (Cherubin). Following in the footsteps of his eldest brother, Fr. Manuelinho, Agnelo too opted to be a priest and joined the Minor Seminary in Mapusa, and in his simplicity attracted the eyes of his co-villagers who pointed at him as a model to their children.
From the first days he spent in the Inter-diocesan Seminary of Rachol, where he won laurels (“accessit” was the highest distinction the students could aspire to have in their studies), to his last days in the same Seminary, where he was the Spiritual Director, when he breathed his last, Fr. Agnelo’s was an ascent in a life of Service and love
The first beneficiaries of a dedicated life of the young were school children. Fr. Agnelo began his apostolate as a teacher till one day he decided to join religious life. With the expulsion of the religious orders from Goa by the Portuguese Government, missionary Societies had tried to fill up the gap and Fr. Agnelo’s choice was the Society of
Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier, that made its headquaters in Pilar and catered to the needs of remote areas.
This is how, after a few years of silent apostole and preaching missions and retreats in parishes, the Venerable was appointed Chaplain and then parish priest in Siroda, Kumta (North Kanara) and Sanvordem, where he worked with zeal and dedication. To the poor he proved to be a father by going out of his way to meet their needs.
The Patriarch of Goa soon saw in him the qualities required for the formation of young future priests and appointed Fr. Agnelo first, the Confessor of the Seminarians of Rachol and then, their spiritual Director.
It is this unseen and unmeasurable work of molding the young people for the service of the Church that was highlighted by Holy See in the Decree of approval of the process on the life and the heroic virtues of the Servant of God. It is this work of one full decade that merited Fr. Agnelo to be held by the Holy See as a model to those who are
entrusted with the counseling of Seminarians and religious.
Frail health or weak constitution did not deter Fr. Agnelo from fulfilling his duties. It is meaningful that the crowning of a life dedicated to the preaching of the word of God should come after coronary thrombosis that came to Fr. Agnelo as he was preaching with unction and enthusiasm the glories of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
If, “He was a saint” was a very common experience heard on the funeral day of the guide and comforter that everyone was going to miss, it did not come as a surprise to those who knew him, that people in great numbers started going to Fr. Agnelo’s grave to pray for their needs right from the next day. As the crowds grew, the favors obtained through the intercession of the Venerable multiplied and the frame of sanctity went on spreading.
The long itinerary towards the Canonization of the Servant of God began with the Cause being introduced at the Diocesan level in 1947.The various processes were successfully completed and approved not only by the Archbishop Patriarch of Goa, but also by Holy See that did not hesitate to declare Fr. Agnelo a Venerable by the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Causes of saints approved by Pope John Paul II on 10th November 1986.
The frame of sanctity of this zealous priest went on spreading all over the world. People seem to have realized that there was greatness in his simplicity. Devotees, Christians and non-Christians, from all five continents have written to express their gratitude for favors received. Favors recorded in the books of the Postulation of the Cause and
published in newspapers and magazines have crossed the number of one hundred and fifty thousands.
The great hope of the millions of devotees, that include Bishops and Cardinals has been expressed in the hundreds of letters written by them to Holy See from all over the world. It is our prayers and hope to see Venerable Fr. Agnelo on our Altars. But one thing is certain. This Venerable is with a difference. His life serves as a model to all kinds of
people and history has proved that he can and does inspire people of every walk of life to witness faith in love for others.
STORY OF VEN.AGNELO DE SOUZA
Biographies and articles on the life of Ven. Fr. Agnelo Gustavo Adolfo de Souza have generally focused on his prayer life and spirituality. However due attention has not been given to his pastoral and missionary life. Even the document from the Sacred Congregation for the Canonization of Saints approving the Apostolic Process of his life and virtues, had pointed out to this lacuna . His pastoral services were especially dedicated to the Archdiocese of Goa. At his time the Catholic faith in Goa was threatened by Free Masonry ad Atheism, and Ven . Fr. Agnelo ably responded to the situation.
Born in Anjuna, Goa, on 21st January 1869, Agnelo, completed his priestly studies in Rachol Seminary with accessit (distinction) in 1893 and up to December 1896 had only received the minor orders and sub-diaconate. This was the time when all Religious Orders had been banned in Goa by the Portuguese Government from 1835 . During this ban, the Pilar Society had been founded clandestinely in 1887 (without the knowledge of the Government authorities). The founder of the Society, Fr. Jose M. C. Bento Martins, had invited Agnelo to join the nascent Society, but the latter could not oblige him immediately, as he had a three years’ teaching commitment in Calangute. Fr. Martins died at the young age of 49 on 16-8-1896. Around this time, Agnelo passed through a deep crisis doubting his vocation to the priesthood and felt complete dryness and abandonment in his prayer life. God was, perhaps, testing him to prepare him for the future. However, seeking advice from other priests, his seniors, he made a month-long discernment retreat under Fr. Lucio Vaz , and entered the Society of Pilar on 17th July 1897, was ordained a deacon on 18th December 1897, made his first commitment for 5 years, on 22nd May 1898, and was ordained a priest on 24th September 1898, at the age of 29 years and 8 months.
FIRST TEN YEARS:
Fr Agnelo spent the first ten years of his priesthood (1898 to 1908) in the Pilar Monastery , completely submissive to his Superior and in a life of prayer. He used to spend hours on end, before the Blessed Sacrament in rapt contemplation. Many a times he fell into ecstasies while celebrating Mass. This does not mean that he was inactive as regards the care of souls; for, the Archbishop-Patriarch D. A. S. Valente had established, by his decree dated 31st May 1890, a Catechumenate and a Retreat Movement in the Pilar Monastery under the care of the Superior and his confreres. Records show that many desiring adults were admitted, from 1890 to 1936, for the study of Christian doctrine and way of life, for at least a month in the Catechumenate. It is but natural that Fr. Agnelo, who from his childhood was so fond of teaching Catechism, had his hand in this apostolate during these ten years stay in Pilar Monastery. Also retreats were preached for priests, deacons and sub-deacons, either individually or in batches, often for a week and sometimes even for a month; in the same way, alternately in batches, three-day retreats were held for laymen and among them judges, lawyers, civil officers, doctors and businessmen participated . Nowhere else were such retreats preached in Goa, during that period, for lack of Religious Orders. Fr. Agnelo shared with the Superior in the preaching, especially by giving sermons on the Passion and Death of Jesus .
There were only 11 members in the Society of Pilar in 1908. They were working as Parish Priests in Valpoi, Agonda and Shiroda and as Chaplains of Panchwaddi and Caranzalem in Goa, and outside in Kumta (Kanara) . The Superior Fr. Lucio Vaz, with the help of the other 4 members including Fr. Agnelo, was conducting the Catechumenate, Retreats and other activities staying in the Pilar Monastery.
DEATH of D. VALENTE and PERSECUTION:
When the Patriarch D. Valente died while on visitation, in the Pilar Monastery in January 1908, the necrologies eulogizing his achievements, mentioned that he had brought some Jesuits to Panjim, Third Order Franciscan Hospitalier Sisters to Margao and instituted the Society of Pilar . Caught unawares by this news, the Portuguese powers started re-enforcing more severely the existing ban on the Religious in Goa. Fr Agnelo and other members in Pilar were constantly grilled by the Portuguese Government officers, to find out whether they were religious or not. Fr. Agnelo was deeply disturbed, as he had to make mental restrictions and deny that he was a religious. It is reported that he even confided to a friend that he thought of leaving the Society and going to Belgaum to join the Jesuits to avoid this constant harassing by the officers. Fr. Agnelo’s situation was saved on 18-8-1908, when D. Teotonio, Bishop of Mylapore and Administrator sede vacante of the Goa Archdiocese, on seeing his aptitudes and qualities, appointed Fr. Agnelo outside Pilar, as the Confessor of the Seminarians of Rachol and at the same time, as auxiliary to the Missionary Vicar of Shiroda. Fr. Agnelo then made his perpetual commitment in the Society of Pilar on 8-9-1908, and started living in the Shiroda mission.
At this time, most of the elite officers of the Government had ideas of Atheism and Freemasonry, and priests were ridiculed, insulted and humiliated. Their ideas penetrated the Colleges, the Schools and villages of Goa. One day, when Fr. Agnelo was walking in Panjim, a student of Lyceum ridiculed him, took the ends of his cassock, lifted them up and said, “Let us see if these priests are females or males”. A companion slapped the offender and they both started fighting. Fr. Agnelo, however, pacified them, forgave the offender and exhorted him to good behavior .
DISPERSION of MEMBERS:
By mid-July 1909, newspapers spread rumors that the Society of Pilar was to be dissolved, and the above D.Teotonio had to diffuse the situation . Matters became worse when D. Carlos, the King of Portugal, was shot dead in 1910 and the Republic was violently proclaimed in Portugal. By December 1910, the Government officers drove overnight the Jesuits from Panjim and the Hospitalier Sisters from Margao, out of Goa . The members of the Society of Pilar were not allowed to stay more than two at a time in the Monastery or hold prayers in community, and no new recruits were allowed to join the Society . Patriarch D. Mateus, created new mission stations in Kanara, where the other members of the Society too were dispersed, and Fr. Lucio Vaz had to carry on alone in Pilar the Catechumenate and the Retreats, with the help of laymen. The Patriarch appointed Fr. Agnelo as the Missionary Vicar of Kumta by his decree dated 10-12-1909.
Fr. Lucio Vaz and Fr. Agnelo were instrumental in the task of combating atheism in Goa, by conducting the retreats and spiritual exercises in the Pilar Monastery, described above. Fr. Agnelo and members of the Society, as Fr. Dulcedonio Gracias, Fr. Possidio Gracias and others also penetrated in the parish Churches and Chapels of Goa, preaching with unction, at Novenas and retreats, strengthening the faith and Christian values among the masses. After the preaching Fr. Agnelo would pass hours and hours in the Confessional, reconciling the penitents who flocked to him in big numbers. On one occasion, Fr Agnelo received a letter from his Superior go to preach in a remote village Church. He was down with high fever. Still he went, preached and returned cured. On another occasion, while preaching in Calangute, the Parish priest sensing that Fr. Agnelo was sick, called a doctor to check him. When the doctor arrived Fr. Agnelo, told him that he was perfectly all right, but that the doctor himself needed attention for his spiritual sickness of not practicing his religion, exhorted him to change his life and gave him a frame of O.L. of Perpetual Help to hang it in his clinic and invoke Her help. On a third occasion, there were two groups fighting against one another in the village of Cansa in Thivim. Fr. Agnelo was called to preach a novena of reconciliation. For eight days he preached in vain; on the ninth day Fr Agnelo cried on the pulpit and said that he was going back very sad and dejected, because after so many days of preaching to them, he could see no change. Immediately, members of the two groups started asking pardon and vying with each other in forgiving, hugging and reconciling with one another and the whole village became one thenceforth.
Fr Agnelo continued this preaching ministry in the villages of Goa, even coming from Kumta; it is said that during the 7 years of his tenure as Parish priest of Kumta, he was frequently coming to meet his doctors because of his ill – health . This may not have been the reason, as Ven. Fr. Agnelo would hardly go to consult the doctors, unless compelled by obedience; on the contrary, he would use common village remedies to get his ills redressed. It was because he was very much concerned about preaching retreats and novenas in order to strengthen the faith of the village folks in Goa, (in this difficult situation of Freemasonry and Atheism) that he constantly used to move up and down, in spite of his ill-health and the difficulties of transport, whenever invited by the parish priests. This preaching ministry continued throughout his life.
MINISTRY in KUMTA:
Fr Agnelo with his two assistant confreres carried out his mission work in the vast parish of Kumta (today a deanery), with great dedication, concern and care for seven years, 5 months and 11days. Registers in the records of the Kumta deanery Church, show that during his time, there are in all 498 baptisms (average of 68 per year). Sometimes Fr. Agnelo signed the records by himself; at other times his assistant conferred the sacrament and Fr Agnelo signed with him as the authorizer. When Fr Agnelo was out of station, one of the two assistants was placed in charge of the mission and conferred the baptism and signed the records . Besides, between 1910 and 1917, 15 adults from Kumta were admitted in the Catechumenate in Pilar and after a month of training were received in the Church.
An old man, Intru D’Souza from Mirjan narrated that as a small boy, he had gone to see Fr. Agnelo in Kumta. Fr. Agnelo had asked the little boy whether he was going to School. When the reply was negative, Fr. Agnelo took out a rupee from his pocket and gave it to him with a slate and pencil and sent him to enroll in the local school at Mirjan. The son of one Josephine Noronha whose sister was due to get married at Gokarn, narrated that at that time, this village was just a chapel of Kumta over 25 kms away. Fr. Agnelo arrived there on foot late at night, on the eve of the nuptials, and found that the Sacristian had locked the Chapel and gone to sleep. Not willing to disturb anyone, Fr Agnelo asked his attendant to bring a candle and a mat so that he could recite his Breviary, and sleep under God’s own sky, sheltered by a tree. These two incidents are pointers to the man of God who had great consideration towards others and no concern for his own needs.
As a Pastor and Guide Fr Agnelo was always ready to help those entrusted to his care, both spiritually and materially. He went out of his way to help a family in distress at the time of their daughter’s wedding, by taking a loan to help provide a dowry. He visited the houses, was concerned about the needs of his parishioners, cared for their sick and consoled the afflicted and downtrodden. One night some drunkards started banging the Church doors demanding to see the parish accounts. Fr. Agnelo calmly received them in and brought the books of accounts and placed them on the table saying, “It is your money, you have the right to know how it is spent”, His meek behavior conquered his opponents, who immediately asked pardon and left the parish house. MINISTRY IN SANVORDEM: On 21-4-1917 Fr. Agnelo was transferred as Chaplain-Curate of Sanvordem. Besides his ordinary ministry there, the 1918 records of the Pilar Catechumenate show that one adult from Sanvordem and a family of seven from Colem, which at that time was part of the Sanvordem Chaplaincy, attended the training and were integrated . Due to his next full time assignment, Fr Agnelo was given an assistant in Sanvordem, who continued in the service of the Chaplaincy till 1928 when the latter was given the full charge of it.
In July 1918, Fr. Agnelo was appointed Spiritual Director of the Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol, where he served for over 9 years, till his death. This proved to be the most fruitful period of his life, for himself because he attained a high degree of perfection and spiritual maturity, and for those who came under his guidance, for he was a father, teacher, friend and guide for them. His spiritual discourses, Catechism classes and spiritual direction carried conviction to instill in them a desire for sanctity He thus prepared a legion of future priests, who would be great preachers and pastors of souls after him. A real pastor of souls, he is a model of selfless and dedicated service to be emulated by the present and future generations. He preached his last nine-day Novena of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at that Seminary; fell on the pulpit while preaching the last sermon on the Vespers of the same, and died a few hours later at dawn of 20th November 1927. TOMB IN PILAR: Before his death, when the Society of Pilar was visibly declining and its members were dejected, Ven. Fr Agnelo used to animate them by saying “God’s finger is here …… the Society will not die!” Eleven years after death, Fr. Agnelo’s bones were transferred from the cemetery in Rachol to the Pilar Monastery on 10th January 1939. The Re-organization of the Society took place on 2nd July of the same year. His process of Canonization was started in Rome in 1947. All formalities done, he was declared Venerable after the approval of the Apostolic process of his life and virtues on 10-11-1986. The last process of Miracles is yet to be finalized.
– by Fr. Cosme Jose Costa sfx
B. Novenas to pray for the cause of Fr. Agnelo D’Souza
Every thursday masses – Mornings – 6:30, 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, 10:30
Evenings – 4:00, 5:00(English)
C. Contact the Vice-postulator:
Fr. Hilario Fernandes, sfx
P.O. Pilar GoaA. Life of Fr. Agnelo D’Souza:
INDIA – 403-203