Dr Eugene D’Souza
Daijiworld Media Network - Mumbai (GA)
Mumbai, Nov 22: In recognition of his dedicated service to the Church and society in the Aurangabad diocese, the Catholic Priests’ Conference of India (CPCI) has selected Fr Valerian Fernandes, a native of Kundapur along with other 15 priests from all over India for the prestigious CPCI National Award for Excellence for the year 2008. The award will be presented by Archbishop Bosco Penha of Mumbai Archdiocese on December 4, 2008 at St Pius X College-Seminary, Goregaon, Mumbai.
The honour conferred on Fr Valerian is indeed a matter of great pride to the Fernandes family and people of Kundapur and an occasion to celebrate for the people of the Aurangabad diocese to whom he has been rendering pastoral service for the last 30 years. Though Fr Valerian has received a number of other awards, the CPCI National Award for Excellence is quite significant as it is in recognition of his exemplary service in diverse fields such as pastoral work, academics, education, health, alternative ministry, socio-economic developmental work, etc.
The journey of pastoral mission and achievement of Fr Valerian Fernandes from Kundapur to Aurangabad has been quite challenging and interesting. Fr Valerian was born on August 10, 1950 in the distinguished Fernandes family in the parish of St Pius X of Hanglur (Piusnagar) near Kundapur. His parents were the late Julian Fernandez, a well-known school-teacher affectionately referred as ‘Jillu Master’ and Pauline Fernandes. He was 6th in the large family of 14 children, five brothers and nine sisters.
The Fernandes family was the nursery of religious vocations. Besides Fr Valerian, three of his sisters have dedicated themselves to the service of the Church and society. Sr Millicent and Sr Noreen have joined the Apostolic Carmel (AC) Congregation. Sr Millicent who is proficient in music is presently in the Apostolic Carmel Convent, Nagpur. Sr Noreen has been serving as the Principal of KUV Inter College, Ashok Nagar in Kanpur, UP. She was the proud recipient of the National Award for Best Teacher in the year 2006. Another sister of Fr Valerian, Sr Caroline is the member of the Holy Cross Congregation and is presently in charge of the formation of the sisters of the congregation at the head quarters based at Geneva, Switzerland.
One of Fr Valerian’s brothers, the late William Fernandes was quite active in promoting the cause of the Konkani language and culture in Mumbai.
As a young boy, Valerian had his lower primary and higher primary education in St Joseph’s Convent School, Kundapur and St Mary’s Parish School, Hanglur respectively. Thereafter he completed high school studies from the Government High School, Koteshwar.
According to his elder sister, Sr. Noreen, Valerian being a pious boy was very fond of Church activities and rendered service in the Church as an altar boy and a member of the choir.
Valerian manifested his hidden desire to enter the priestly vocation right from his childhood. Sr Noreen says that on Sundays the main entertainment of the siblings was to prepare ‘communion’ and offer ‘mass’, young Valerian invariably being the main celebrant.
Being born and brought up in pious surroundings, young Valerian fulfilled his dream of dedicating himself to the service of the Church and society by joining the seminary at Lucknow after completing SSC. He chose Aurangabad diocese for his pastoral work and was ordained a priest on December 4, 1979 by Bishop Dominic Abreo, the first Bishop of the Aurangabad diocese.
Fr Valerian’s first appointment was as an Assistant Parish Priest at St Francis De Sales Cathedral, Aurangabad. Meanwhile, he was also assigned the additional responsibility of supervising the administration of the Little Flower School at Aurangabad.
Realizing his ability to mobilize people and galvanize them in faith, a couple of years later, Fr Valerian was sent to the mission center at Bidkin. Besides reviving the spiritual life among the faithful he took up measures to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people in general through education and social service.
Appreciating Fr Valerian’s dedication to mission work, innovative practices and leadership qualities, the diocesan authorities assigned to him the mission center of Paithan, a place of historical importance around 56 kilometers from Aurangabad.
Paithan, situated on the bank of Godavari River was the capital of the ancient Satavahana Kingdom. It was the home of the great Maharashtrian saint Eknath, whose ‘samadhi’ is situated there. Paithan had been also famous for its 6-yard silk brocade sarees known as ‘Paithanis’. The Jayakwadi dam and the Sant Dnyneshwar Udyan developed on the model of the famous Mysore Udyan have been important tourist attractions of Paithan.
Paithan became the chief center of Fr Valerian’s pastoral mission work for over two decades. During this period he not only revived the dwindling faith of the Catholics but also started an English medium school named after St Paul which gradually developed into a full-fledged secondary school imparting quality and value-based education with consistently good results and grades at the SSC.
In order to enable children from distant regions to attend the school, Fr Valerian constructed two separate hostels for boys and girls attached to the school. St Paul’s High School at Paithan is the living testimony of Fr Valerian’s dedication to the promotion of education among backward communities with a view of improving their socio-economic conditions.
Besides catering to the spiritual and educational needs of the people of Paithan, Fr Valerian implemented a number of developmental projects with the help of NGOs such as Caritas India and Rotary Clubs. These developmental projects include Percolation Tanks which provided the villagers with employment opportunities, eased drinking water scarcity and created awareness among the people for the protection of the environment. Fr Valerian also helped a number of farmers to deepen their wells and constructed low-cost houses for the poor.
In order to enable the Catholics to attend regular church services, Fr Valerian took initiative in setting up mission centers in different villages of the Paithan taluka. These include: St Paul’s Mission Center and St Anne’s Church at Paithan, A church and presbytery at Dorkin, church in honour of Our Lady of Fatima at Kharaj Kheda, Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel and presbytery at Padoli and St Pius X Church and presbytery at Gavrai-Basi.
Fr Valerian was convinced of the dictum: ‘Healthy mind in a healthy body’. Realizing the need for the improvement of the health of the people he established two primary health centers in the Paithan taluka with the help of the nuns. Because of his efforts a 25-bed Mission Hospital was set up at Dorkin which was inaugurated by the union labour minister Oscar Fernandes. As the president of the local Rotary Club, Fr Valerian conducted a number of free medical check-up and blood donation camps. Presently, Fr Valerian is the Assistant Governor of Rotary District 3132 for the region of Aurangabad.
In spite of his busy schedule in pastoral service and other socio-economic and cultural activities, Fr Valerian strived to achieve excellence in learning and knowledge. While being immersed in pastoral mission work, he acquired M.A., B.Ed., and Ph. D. degrees from the Aurangabad University. His Ph.D. thesis “A Study of Catholic Missionary Institutions in Vidharbha and Marathwada: 1846-1996” is an in-depth and meticulous research work that enabled him to formulate and implement a number of measures for the improvement of Catholic missionary institutions in the Marathwada region.
Fr Valerian’s dedicated mission work in pastoral, educational and socio-economic spheres was recognized and appreciated by the Church and civil authorities. Various organizations and Government bodies honoured him with a number of awards such as Ideal teacher Award, Eminent Educationist Award, Rajiv Gandhi Shiromani Award, etc.
Realizing the ability and managerial capacity of Fr Valerian, the Bishop Edwin Colaco of Aurangabad diocese appointed him as the Vicar General, Chancellor and Procurator of the Aurangabad diocese in 2007. With vast experience and knowledge in various spheres of mission work, Fr Valerian earned the trust and confidence of the Bishop by streamlining and improving the overall activities of the Aurangabad diocese. Within a short period he revitalized the Basic Christian Communities (BCC) in each parish of the diocese, improved the functioning of the educational institutions and strengthened the finances of the diocese.
Fr Valerian was instrumental in organizing a massive peace rally and ‘dharna’ in front of the District Collector’s office, Aurangabad against the attacks on the Christians in Orissa and other parts of India. He also organized a huge Youth Convention recently in order to bring together youth from various Christian denominations on a common platform.
By conferring the CPCI National Award for Excellence, the Catholic Priests’ Conference of India has recognized the pastoral and other humanitarian services rendered by Fr Valerian Fernandez to the Church and society in the Aurangabad diocese.