SAGA OF SAINT CHAVARA VICE PROVINCE, BHAVNAGAR
The association of St. Joseph Province, Kottayam with the mission of Saurashtra and Kutch started in 1973, when the then Prior General, Fr. Theobald Pothanikat CMI sent a team of six priests to Gujarat. Among them, Frs. Joseph Vempala and Modest Purathayil, were from St. Joseph Province, Kottayam. Fr. Mathew Kalathoor, the veteran missionary of Saurashtra and Kutch, joined them a year later.
On July 16, 1974 - the feast of our Lady of Mount Carmel - the CMIs officially took over the civil districts of Jamnagar, Kutch, Junagadh and Surendranagar from the Society of Jesus at a simple function, held at St. Xavier's School, Jamnagar. Fr. Joe Aizpun S.J., the Jesuit Provincial, Fr. J. Arana S.J., the Administrator of Ahmedabad Diocese, Fr. Antony Narithookil CMI, the Vicar-General and Fr. Liguori Mundackal CMI, the general mission secretary, were present on the occasion. There were twelve priests working in the region at that time. Among them, five priests namely, Frs. Melanius Arayathinal, Reynolds Chempakassery, Joseph Vempala, Modest Purathayil and Mathew Kalathoor, were from Kottayam Province.
On June 2, 1975 the CMI General Council by its Act 284/75 instituted the CMI Mission of Saurashtra and Kutch and Fr. Modest Purathayil was appointed the first Mission Superior. Besides, St. Xavier's Jamnagar was declared as a CMI house, enshrined with the rights and privileges of a canonical house.
On February 25, 1977, Pope Paul VI by the Papal Bull, De Recta Fidelium, established the Eparchy of Rajkot, comprising the seven civil districts Amreli, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Rajkot, Surendranagar and Kutch. Mar Jonas Thaliyath CMI was appointed as its first bishop on March 2, 1977. After the formtion of the Diocese of Rajkot in 1977, the CMI General Synaxis in a decision in April 1978 entrusted the entire mission territory to the Sacred Heart Province, Kalamassery. In this context, most of the members of Kottayam Province gradually withdrew from this mission. However, a few continued to work here at the request of Bp. Jonas.
Later in 1981, during the term of Fr. Colombier Njavallil CMI as the Provincial, Fr. Mathew Cheeramkuzhy CMI, the Provincial Councillor for Pastoral Ministry and his team were appointed as the representatives of the Provincial Synaxis of St. Joseph Province, Kottayam to work out the future modalities of the involvement of the province in the mission. But the sad demise of Mar Jonas Thaliyath, the first bishop of Rajkot, on November 7, 1981, delayed the process. Bishop Mar Gregory Karotemprel CMI succeeded him on January 22, 1983.
During the tenure of Fr. Thomas Aykara CMI as the Provincial, a new phase of St. Joseph Province's missionary presence in Saurashtra began with the establishment of Saint Chavara Sub-Region, Bhavnagar on 3 January, 1985. This was made possible by the generosity of Bp. Gregory Karotemprel who earmarked two districts, Bhavnagar and Amreli, for St. Joseph Province, Kottayam for evangelization. Fr. Modest Purathayil CMI was the first Sub-Regional Superior. In 1987, the district of Junagadh was added to the territory of Saint Chavara Sub-Region. During that time a small house bought by Fr. Modest at Jail Road served as the Regional House. St. Thomas School, Mahuva, established and nurtured by Fr. Ignatius Plathanam, was the first institution of the Region.
When Fr. Job Vallipalam was the Provincial, the Sub-Region was raised to a Region on 9 September, 1996 with Fr. George Areekuzhy as its first Regional Superior. A spacious Regional House was constructed at Merubaugh, on a plot of land donated by Bp. Gregory to the Region. In the successive years, the Region witnessed rapid institutional expansion with the establishment of schools at Junagadh, Chitra, Porbandar, Botad, Morchupana, Palitana and Motasakhpur, due to the dynamic leadership of the Provincials and Regional Superiors. The social apostolate of the Region also got organized in a commendable way through the activities of Samagra Vikas Trust, Amreli and the Old Age Home at Fuljhar. By 2004, the Region established the aspirants' house in the Regional House and in 2006 a new building, designated as Devashish, was built for the same.
The talk of raising the Saint Chavara region into a Vice-Province was in the offing since 2002. It received increased momentum when the XXI Ordinary Provincial Synaxis of St. Joseph Province, Kottayam authorized Fr. Sebastian Elanjickal, the Provincial and his Council decided to constitute an expert committee to study the various aspects of erecting Bhavnagar Region as a Vice-Province. The committee, after meeting the members of the Region, recommended the formation of the Region as a Vice-Province. The process happily completed when Fr.Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, the Prior General, through the decree No.GC/441/2010 dated November 12, 2010, catapulted the region to the status of a Vice-Province, opening a new chapter in the CMI missionary presence in Saurashtra.
The first provincial synaxis of the newly elected Vice-Province was held during 28-30 March, 2011 and Fr. Jose Kuzhichalil was elected as its first Provincial. The province was formally inaugurated in a colourful ceremony held on 16 July, 2011. Fr.George Areekuzhy is the present Provincial.