Fr. Felix Gonsalves SJ was born on 03 March, 1948, in Madanthyar (Mangalore Diocese), South Kanara Dt, Karnataka. He entered the Society of Jesus on 10 June, 1966, at Mount Abu, Rajasthan. He was ordained in Mangalore on 28 April 1980. He pronounced his Final Vows on 25 March, 1987. He passed away on 8 December 2019.
Three young boys Felix Gonsalves, Jerry Sequeira and Lancy Lobo from Mangalore studied since Std VIII in St. Aloysius High School, Mangalore and then did Pre-University studies in St. Xavier’s College Ahmedabad and ultimately joined the Society of Jesus at Mt. Abu, for the Gujarat Province in 1966.
Shifting from Kannada medium to English medium and then learning French was a steep climb. Professor Tus Vakil who taught us French said, “Sons, I am paid to teach you French, but I have to teach you English also!” Undoubtedly Felix was the brightest of us three. Fr. I. Echaniz took great care of our predicament and helped us. Not knowing Hindi, it was fellow student Freddy D’souza who guided us to turn right or left during NCC marches. The novice master who was new to the job had to exercise great patience with us during our novitiate.
Felix took up the challenge and graduated in Gujarati and then created history by editing the Doot (Messenger of the Sacred Heart) as a scholastic during his graduate studies. He missed his gold medal by a whisker. He changed his name from Felix to Sadanand (ever happy). Though he was never sad, some lightheartedly called him, “Hello Sad Anand!”
From mastering Gujarati, he took the next step to deep inculturation by living with people in villages. He felt that it was the only way to bridge the distance between an outsider and an insider. Knowledge of culture and society of people can only come from the first -hand knowledge of the people. He spent a year doing just that.
After his ordination he was placed at Deesa. But his appointment to Radhanpur was most notable. Living alone in the periphery of the province, with hardly any Jesuit visitors, he labored for 17 years among the Majiranas who migrated from Sindh province of Pakistan- a tribe that had become a caste. He was tough physically and mentally. He laboured hard and developed the mission to the extent possible.
He was then transferred as Parish Priest to Zankhvav, in South Gujarat, a tribal area to live in community of young Jesuits. It was quite challenging for a man who lived alone for 17 years to live in a community. A couple of young Jesuits were somewhat rough with him but he bore them with equanimity. Later he became Superior of Zankhvav and Dhadwada. In life he had no problems of being a superior at one time, Parish priest at another, and assistant parish priest in the same place or in the neighbouring parishes.
Felix had a queer sense of humour. When Jerry became provincial, he taunted me “Arre Lancy, this Jerry has become provincial without a PhD, what’s the use of your PhD?” Later when he was elevated as the Consultor to the provincial, I meekly agreed, “Felix, it is not necessary to have a PhD to become even a consultor!” Our friends circle would ensure that Felix came for our get- togethers because they felt only, he could keep my mouth shut!
Felix was always prasanna vadan (pleasant faced). But there were furrows on his forehead. These emerged from the brief case he was carrying from place to place, lawyer to lawyer, court to court. Though he was no lawyer, he took up the numerous land dispute cases of the missions. A few times I told him bluntly, “When there are Jesuit lawyers in the province, why have you taken up these cases?” “For the greater glory of God”, was his spontaneous and immediate retort.
He was ascetic and thrifty by nature. This led him to do micro-management. He had complained of chest pain but took it lightly. Having called up Jerome his younger brother in Gandhidham at about 2.30 pm he told the cook that though he has feeling some discomfort due to pain in his chest he would drive to the local bazar to purchase some groceries. He entered the shop with his jeep and collapsed on the steering wheel due to a massive heart attack!
How did he conduct himself with the parishioners? He dealt with them on an equal basis. He showed no favouritism. Often missions are run on favouritism to a select few. The mega attendance at his funeral, the wailing of women, and tears of some fellow Jesuits are ample testimony to the texture of this modern missionary among the tribals. While he has left behind his brief case of legal disputes, I am sure he is praying for their resolution from heaven.
May he rest in peace!
- Lancy Lobo, SJ