Jan 10, 2009
Rated as the best Arts College and one of the top 10 colleges in India and being re-accredited A+ in 2007 by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), St Xavier’s College, Mumbai is one of the oldest and the most coveted educational institutions in Mumbai. January 2009 marks the 140th year of this prestigious Jesuit College which has been providing quality education along with other extra-curricular avenues shaping the career and future of thousands of young men and women of the city and the country.
Like every great institution having a small beginning, St Xavier’s College was started by the German Jesuits with just two students in 1869. Fr Joseph Antony Willy, the first principal of the College from 1869 to 1873 and three other Jesuit fathers actually began to lecture to the two students on January 7, 1869. The Bombay University granted recognition to St Xavier’s College on January 30, 1869 with retrospective effect from January 1 of that year. The first three graduates of the college (one student had joined in 1870) received their degrees in 1871. These first three students became the vanguard of an educated army of thousands of citizens among whom many distinguished themselves in various fields such as administrative, military and police service, industry, literature, sports, journalism, show business, legal profession and even politics.
From its humble origin, St Xavier’s College registered remarkable growth under successive principals who expanded the college by constructing new buildings and adding new courses. The college administration took the bold step of admitting female students from 1912 which added spice and vigour to the campus life.
The First World War (1914-1918) had an indirect effect on the fortunes of St Xavier’s College. Following the outbreak of the War, the German Jesuit priests were detained in 1914 and eventually repatriated in 1916. The enforced departure of the German Jesuits led to the dislocation in the administration of the college. However, other Jesuits from Switzerland, Luxemburg and England managed to hold on and succeeded in preventing the decline in academics and discipline of the college.
One important development from the time of the withdrawal of the German Jesuits in 1914 to the arrival of the Spanish Jesuits in 1922 was the increase in the number of lay professors. What had to be tried as a temporary measure in view of the shortage of Jesuit teachers, turned out to be a successful experiment and the system has been maintained to the present day.
Since 1920, St Xavier’s College began to assume a cosmopolitan character. Students came from as far East as Calcutta and Rangoon, as far South as Mangalore and as far North as Sind. Besides the study English and classical languages such as Latin, Sanskrit, Persian and Pali, six new languages were gradually added to the list, namely, Marathi, Gujarati, Urdu, Arabic, Hebrew and Portuguese.
Though St Xavier’s College had its beginning as an Arts College, by the 1920s science was also becoming popular among the students. Besides Natural History other departments such as Chemistry and Biology came to be established. Fr Ethelbert Blatter who was the principal of the college between 1919 and 1924 was himself a scientist. Along with his associates and fiends he collected a large number of plants for the Herbarium that was named after him in 1941 as the Blatter Herbarium.
Fr Henry Heras from Spain who took up the charge as the librarian of St Xavier’s College was fascinated by Indian history and culture. In order to promote authentic historical studies and research among the students, Fr Heras founded the Indian Historical Research Institute in 1925. Students were encouraged to do research in history for their MA and Ph D degrees. The institute was later renamed as the Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture after his death in 1955.
Over the years St Xavier’s College has excelled not only in academics but also in extra-curricular activities. Besides preparing the students for arts, science and commerce degrees and post graduate courses in Ancient Indian Culture, Islamic Studies, History, Chemistry, Geology, and Botany, the college organises cultural festivals including ‘Janfest’, an Indian classical music event, ‘Malhar’, the St Xavier's inter-college youth festival, and ‘Ithaca’, the annual dramatics event. Students of the college also organize hobby clubs like the Philately Club and the Star Gazers Club to pursue their individual interests. The Xavier’s Knowledge Centre, initially built to spread computer literacy, now has broadened its horizons and offers many useful courses.
Besides academics and extra-curricular activities, this coveted institution is also known for its brilliant indo-gothic architecture. It has been declared a Grade II heritage structure by the Indian Heritage Society. Large arches, lofty towers, open quadrangles and the green stained glass exterior of the chapel adorn St Xavier’s College.
St Xavier’s College had provided an excellent atmosphere to all those ex-students who distinguished themselves in various fields. The famous alumni of St Xavier’s College include Violet Alva, who was the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Adi Godrej, Sunil Gavaskar, Michael Ferreira, Roger Pereira, Soli Sorabjee, Charles Correa, Alyque Padamsee, Zubin Mehta, Rajdeep Sardesai, Shabana Azmi, Farooq Shaikh, Anil Kapoor, Rohington Mistry, Shobha De, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Ismail Merchant, Vidya Balan, Zakir Hussain, Suneeta Rao, Cyrus Broacha, Ashok Kamte and many others.
As St Xavier’s College celebrates 140th anniversary beginning in January 2009, it has adopted ‘Celebrating Diversity’ as its theme. This theme sums up in two words the essence of this secular educational institution that shaped the lives and destinies of thousands of people irrespective of their religion, caste, race, region or language. Fr Frazer Mascarenhas, the present principal of St Xavier’s College said: “One of the primary reasons why students are drawn to our college is the diversity. We will strive towards celebrating this diversity in a world that seems to be growing intolerant.”
With ‘Celebrating Diversity’ as its theme, the college has a number of events lined up for its anniversary. The calendar year 2009 will see a series of celebrations, spread through the year, for alumni and present students and for all well-wishers. The 140-year celebrations began with an alumni dinner on 3rd January and will end in December 2009. Special festivities will be held for those who graduated from St Xavier's College 25, 50 or 60 years ago. Speaking on this occasion Fr Mascarenhas said: “We are especially pleased to welcome back to the College our alumni, spread all over the world, to relive their days at St. Xavier’s College and to savour the nostalgia of those enriching experiences on campus, which several have generously called, the best years of our lives”.
St. Xavier’s College has always embodied diversity in its staff and students – creating a rich microcosm of Indian society. They come from all religious groups and from several regions of India, displaying the cultural and ethnic richness of the country, interacting on campus in an environment of intellectual honesty, love of learning, critical thinking, creative expression and commitment to God and country.
As St Xavier’s College ventures into 140th year, it strives to celebrate this diversity, in a world that seems to be growing intolerant of ‘difference’ and with violence of all types against ‘the other’. The principles of social justice, equality of opportunity, genuine freedom and respect for the religious and moral values enshrined in the Indian Constitution need to be reaffirmed, to enable all women and men to live in keeping with their human dignity.
Dr Eugene D`Souza - Archives:
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