The Catholic school is located in the Alipurduar district, Diocese of Jalpaiguri. It was founded by missionaries from Lombardy (Italy), who first realised that it was necessary to start with education to change society. Later it was transferred to the local Church, which now carries on the PIME charism in the service of marginalised and tribal people.
Alipurduar (AsiaNews) – St Joseph's High School in Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal, is a symbol of the love missionaries from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) have for the poor as well as an opportunity offered to them improve lives through education.
On 2 October, more than 2,000 people came together to celebrate the school’s 50 years, including former students, missionaries and teachers. Bishop Vincent Aind of Bagdogra, Bishop Clement Tirkey of Jalpaiguri, and Fr Prakash Nallamalli, from PIME, co-celebrated the anniversary Mass.
The students thanked the Italian missionaries, who when they came to the area saw the need to develop the territory, starting with child education, in order to trigger social change.
The celebration provided an opportunity to look back at PIME’s first steps. The Institute’s missionaries first arrived in the area in 1855, setting up the historic Bengal mission that went from Krishnagar (today’s West Bengal) to Dinajpur (today’s Bangladesh), and further north from Jalpaiguri (West Bengal) and Shillong (Meghalaya).
Later, with the partition of the British Empire in 1947, some missionaries decided to stay in Dinajpur (East Pakistan, later Bangladesh), whilst others opted to boost pastoral work in Andhra Pradesh in the newly-created Dominion of India. In 2018 the institute decided to re-establish the old mission by opening a parish in the Diocese of Bagdogra.
The St Joseph’s Catholic school for boys began first in Damanpur, a small village on the slopes of the Himalayas where, in 1927 a parish was also opened. Two years later the first missionaries from the Italian region of Lombardy arrived, most notably Fr Ambrogio Galbiati, the future bishop of Jalpaiguri. In 1932 he set up a residence for priests and started teaching local children. In 1936 he opened an English medium school with 120 students.
In 1949, after independence, the ninth and 10th grades were added, making it a Hindi medium school under the name of St Joseph’s High School. In the late 1960s, under the leadership of another missionary, Fr Eduardo Tagliabue, a four-storey building was erected, and it is still standing today. At the time, it was the first school in the entire region, which provoked a jump in enrolments.
“We were at least 1,200 students, 400 living at the hostel,” said Mgr Vincent Aind, who studied here, told AsiaNews. “The young people were poor, mostly tribal and Hindu, from nearby villages.”
“Every day we went to Mass and all the kids had deep respect for the Christian religion and for priests. The missionaries were never at home; they were always visiting homes and the poor. They rested little and worked hard.”
The school was later transferred to the Diocese of Jalpaiguri, with the PIME charism to develop communities before handing them over to the local Church. Today there about 700 students.
Archbishop Aind notes that "the missionaries wanted this school not only for Christians, but for all religions. They taught everyone ethics and morality. The aim was to change society and improve the lives of children.”
At the end of the celebration, he urged all those present to keep those values in mind. "Absorb them,” he said, “so that we can create a future and a better society".
* PIME priest charged with founding the new mission in Bengal