Rev Fr Sirinus Topno S J: The Story of a Foot Soldier
10 October 2012 was a black day for the province of Jamshedpur as on this day it lost one of its most dedicated and illustrious men, Sirinus Topno, at the very prime of life. For him it was “a time to deliver” as he used to say. And he was precisely doing that at CENDRET, Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, at the time of his death. Fr Sirinus was the administrator of CENDRET.
He called himself “a foot soldier” and that is what he was always. Born in a humble poor family in village Digri under Torpa Parish, on 2 May 1964, Sirinus was the fifth child among six children of late Paulus Topno and late Xaveria Topno. His mother died when Sirinus was still a child. Like his other siblings Sirinus had to work hard in the fields for livelihood and also to get himself educated. All this hard work and experiences had really made Sirinus a “foot soldier” from his childhood on. He was down to earth and a hard working man and it showed in the manner he carried out all his responsibilities in the Society.
From the very early years of formation Sirinus showed his leadership qualities in the formation houses. He was a highly spirited person and had the never-say-die attitude. Ready to do the hard work, in a typical manner he used to raise his hands in the air and say “let us do it.” And he used to take lead in doing all kinds of hard work. No wonder, the then Novice Master and the present POSA, Fr Edward Mudavassery, made him the beadle in the novitiate. This indomitable spirit remained in him till his death.
The XIMB community members who found him dead on his bed due to brain hemorrhage tell that an open book and a notebook had fallen on the either side of his bed and he had struggled to get up from the bed for help. Sirinus was undoubtedly a studious person. Due to his sheer hard work he was good at studies and the results showed it. He was sent for his first year regency to Claver Bhavan, Amda, Rajkharsawan, to work among the lepers and poor in the year 1993-94. During that one year his leadership qualities and managerial skills were noticed by the then Provincial, Fr Joseph Kalathil, and he was sent to prestigious Management Institute XLRI from where he finished his PM&IR studies in the year 1994-96.
Soon after his Management studies he was sent to Tribal Research and Training Center (TRTC), Lupungutu, Chaibasa in the years 1996-97. There again Sirinus lived out his inner calling of being , “a foot soldier”, as he extensively toured the villages of Chaibasa area working among the youth and village folk, creating awareness among them, uniting and empowering them. Sirinus very well made use of his acquired managerial skills in his work. At TRTC his special love for the poor tribals and marginalized people came to the fore. He fought for their rights and justice.
His fighting for justice continued even during his diaconate ministry in the years 2001-2003 once again at Tribal Research and Training Centre, Lupungutu, and later at its changed location Pata Guira, Chaibasa. The then director of TRTC and presently the Provincial of Jamshedpur, Fr Mike T Raj, had united the youth of the area under the name “Yuva Jumur” (The conclave of youth) those days and he asked Sirinus to mentor it.
Those days poor tribal ladies were being killed on the pretext of being accused as witches in practically all the villages around. Sirinus took the challenge to stop the evil practice of “witch-hunting’’. He took the help of “Yuva Jumur” to do that. As a result this youth organization became a household name not only among the villagers but even among the government officials in Chaibasa town. Sirinus used to be in touch with the government officials with regard to stopping the ‘witch-hunting’ and also for keeping track of governmental welfare schemes for the tribals. After returning from Tertianship, Sirinus was given a tough task of being the Headmaster of De Nobili Hindi School, Digwadih in February 2006. This school stood on shaky ground. A committee was set up to study its viability. It recommended its closure. However, Sirinus’ presence was like a shot in the arm of the dying school. Within 2 years of his Headmastership Sirinus brought the school on the right track with a good number of students taking admission and achieving good results in Board Exams. Even today the staff, students and poor parents remember Fr Sirinus with gratitude.
His long acquired managerial skills at XLRI helped Sirinus to create wonders in the school and that is why once again he was brought to XLRI in the year 2008 to join a Fellowship Program leading to Ph.D. He successfully completed the course requirements but by then the “foot soldier “in him felt that it was the time “to deliver”. He remained at XLRI and worked also as the house Treasurer and Minister of Tome Jesuit Residence, XLRI, Jamshedpur between the year 2008-10. Here he complained of a ‘burn out syndrome’ and wished that he get involved himself in some active ministry. He was then to XIMB where he first worked as the house Treasurer and Minister and later was appointed as the Administrator of CENDRET which ran its development projects all over Odisha and conducted the Research and Training programs for the NGOs and Government officials.
According to two of his batch mates Tony Uvari and George Joseph, ‘Sirinus did not have the desire for any degree, he believed in work.’ Sirinus seemed to have told his companions that ‘this is the time to deliver.’ No wonder then that Sirinus did not pursue his Ph.D. and fully immersed himself in the Development and Training works at CENDRET.
Sirinus was from the beginning a ‘foot soldier’ and in his last sharing with the ‘on-going formation group members’ he had openly said, “I am not in the race for power and position. I don’t want power and position. I am a foot soldier.” No surprise then that this ‘foot soldier’ died fighting and carrying out his duty at the relatively young age of 50.
Fr Joseph Surin SJ
Rev Fr John Guidera SJ :
Friday 18 May – the day we designated to bid a final adieu to Fr. John Guidera – was another summer scorcher with the mercury touching 45 degrees Celsius. Nothing could deter our spirits to give John a perfect send off for a man who had given his best to developing Jamshedpur Province during the 60 years he spent in this vineyard. Everything was set: the fruit of the combined efforts of the community of XLRI, Jesu Bhavan and Loyola Niwas (the Curia Community).
However, with less than an hour to go, we had a sneaking suspicion that John Guidera was still in-charge, still in control. There was such a dust storm, strong winds that brought down trees and broke off branches, followed by a heavy down pour of rain. In less than 30 minutes the venue that was so well laid out for John Guidera’s Farewell and for us to beat the summer heat —was a shambles. The covering put up for the altar was blown off – plastic moulded chairs were sent tumbling – pedestal fans knocked down. We had no option but to shift the venue to the chapel where the Late John Guidera , dressed in priestly vestments, was already lying in state.
The huge gathering of 600 plus could not fit in the narrow confines of the chapel and overflowed into the corridors and lawn. Though a majority of us could not see what was happening in the chapel, the sound system compensated. Out in the open it was pleasantly cool and just ideal for putting everyone into a prayerful and attentive mood: whether it was to take-in the crisp and informative introduction on John Guidera by Fr. S Tony Raj – the hymns that one could sing along with the choir led by the Novices, – the heart moving eulogy delivered by Fr. Emile Coelho where John was revealed as truly human and always thinking of others, the Liturgy presided over by Rt. Rev. Felix Toppo and assisted by the Provincial, Fr. Mike T Raj, S. Tonyraj, the Odisha Mission Superior, C.L. George the Superior of XLRI, where John was a member of the community, and Fr. C. R. Prabhu, who kind of represented the Diocesan clergy for whom John had a soft corner and for whom he always found time to visit and encourage.
By 5:30 in the evening, John had come to the end of his final journey which began almost 70 years ago.
As we gathered around counters where students of the Community College served light refreshments, we felt overwhelmed by what had happened in the 90 minutes we were there. Yes, it could not have been better – as we mingled and chatted – and felt it was an afternoon well spent.
Br. Oscar (16 Mar 1934 – 08 Dec 2011) was unique – singular – outstanding with God- given talents that made him a ‘man for others”. He came from a deeply religious family that gave one son, Joseph, to become the second Bishop of Jamshedpur; a daughter, Margaret – to become Sister Margaret and later the Provincial of the Sisters of Nazareth. Br Oscar seemed to be able to handle anything he was asked to do, and that with a smile.
He entered the Society of Jesus on 10 June 1956, at Vinayala, Mumbai. Already from Novitiate days, he became proficient in skills of all types that would make him an ideal Community man, able to carry burdens in many different fields. He did further training in mechanics at Pune, and so was able to keep the Mission vehicles on the go and rescue many a companion stranded on the road after a break-down. But his specialty grew as his skills increased as an efficient Minister and Treasurer. It is mind boggling to just merely to glance at the kind of posts Oscar held – both far and near – which included
St Xavier’s High School, Lupungutu Minister (1968-1970)
Bishop’s House, Jamshedpur Minister, Treasurer (1971- 1978)
Pontifical Biblical Institute, Jerusalam, Israel Minister, Treasurer (1978- 1981)
General Curia, Rome, Italy Treasurer’s Office (1981- 1983)
XLRI, Jamshedpur Financial Controller, Minister (1983- 1985)
Loyola School, Jamshedpur Minister, Revisor (1985- 1988)
De Nobili School, Digwadih Treasurer (1988 -1991)
XLRI, Jamshedpur Minister, Financial Contrl-LCE (1992 -1994)
XIMB, Bhubaneswar Minister, Financial Controller (1994 -1996)
Vidya Jyoti, Delhi Treasurer (1996 Mar -1999 May)
De Nobili College, Pune Minister, Treasurer (1999 Jun- 2002 Apr)
XIMB, Bhubaneswar Minister, Treasurer (2002 Nov -2004 Apr)
Loyola Bhavan, Bhubaneswar Treasurer-OJS (2004 Jun -2008 May)
Loyola School, Jamshedpur Treasurer (2008 Jun- 2011 Dec)
In discharging his duties, he meant business when it was business and humour when it was humour. He was the no-nonsense type, a man of discipline and principles.
What then was special about Br Oscar? It’s his readiness to do anything for his great Love – Jesus. That “anything” could mean running off to the bazaar, off to pick up someone from the railway station or airport; endless trips to the bank … and what was to be a culmination in the degree of his generosity – taking pictures for families on the occasion of First Holy Communions. In November 1975, on his way back from such a photo session, driving his Bullet motorcycle, a taxi suddenly stopped in front of him without notice. Br Oscar swerved, but as he did so, his leg was pinned against the bumper of the taxi and the motorcycle battery. The bone was crushed. What followed were the heroic efforts at Mercy Hospital to save his leg – but the bone was so badly crushed that no pin would take hold, and an amputation of the lower leg and foot was required – to which he readily consented. “Take and receive, Lord, my liberty …. Finally, the Lord took his right leg that was amputated 6 inches below the knee. And that’s the way he lived – limping away – for the past 36 years!
His courage, stamina, cheerfulness in the many years that followed since the amputation of his leg, have been an inspiration for everyone. He not only overcame the handicap, but managed to go on driving cars, jeeps, scooters as though nothing had happened. It is no wonder then that the Society so deeply appreciates all the sacrifices Br Oscar has made – limping along like Ignatius of Loyola; struggling against so many odds – but always with an open heart, a big smile to welcome all in the name of Jesus!
Wherever Oscar went he managed to spread joy … even to the bereaved members of a family. His infectious smile that stretched from ear to ear and his warm hand shake was enough to drive the blues away. He was a voracious reader, well abreast of the teachings of the Church and the Society, enjoyed viewing a movie and was always there when you needed a “fourth” to play bridge. You wouldn’t need to search for him. Trace the sound of loud laughter and you knew for sure Oscar had to be there. Oscar was such a lovable guy. He made everyone feel loved. Nobody felt that he/she was less loved by him. He had a big body and a big heart.
On the occasion of his Golden Jubilee in the Society five years ago, Father General Peter Hans Kolvenbach had this message conveyed to him; “What is most appreciated about you is not so much what you did which is truly considerable and valuable, but the spirit of generosity, combined with spontaneous joy that you manifested in every little detail of your ministry and service”. With such glowing words flowing from Father General, what more can we add, except to say “Wah, Oscar, wah!”
Today there’s one less plate on the table but one more saint in Heaven!
Fr. John Deeney was born in Philadelphia, on July 22, 1921, joined the Society of Jesus in 1939 and was ordained a priest in 1952. He came to India in January, 1950. He had long had an interest in the problems of India and the adaptation of the missionary to the new surroundings. He had a sharp and logical mind. His Theological studies were partly in Pune and Kurseong. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Ferdinand Perier in Kurseong. Fr. Deeney appeared in the Chaibasa scene on July 11, 1955 as Headmaster of the High School and Assistant Parish Priest, and later, for a short time, Pastor. During these years he undertook extensive research into the life of the Ho people around, their culture and language. He also prepared many liturgical and catechetical works for use in the villages. The whole liturgy is now conducted in the Ho language. He prepared and published the New Testament in Ho, as well as a pictorial life of Christ, wrote a Ho Grammar and Vocabulary and a Ho English Dictionary. His prolonged requests to the Government of India for Indian Citizenship, were granted on February 20, 1991. The treasured document reads:
“Fr. John Joseph Deeney is entitled to all political and other rights, power and privileges, and is subject to all obligations, duties and liabilities to which an Indian citizen is entitled or subject, and he has to all intents and purposes the status of an Indian citizen.” It was issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs of India. This honour is perhaps the highest testimony to the Incarnational dimension of the life of the Church in himself and his work.
Fr. John Deeney was admitted at Mercy Hospital, Jamshepdur for his treatment for cancer of gall blander on 12 January where he was visited by Jesuits and others constantly. He always looked looked happy and grateful. He breathed his last on 18 January at 7.30 pm. The body was kept in Tata Main Hospital morgue for 4 days.
On 22 January the ornately -decorated ambulance with a bust size coloured photo of Fr John Deeney mounted in the centre of the windshield, left the hospital in Jamshedpur at 9.30 a.m .to Chaibasa. It took 3 hours to cover 70 kms of the worst possible roads one could ever find – bumps and pot holes galore!. Another forty-seater-bus from XITE carried some of our Jesuits, novices, sisters and there were others who also accompanied the ambulance in 4-wheelers.
The Parish Priest of Chaibsa together with the faithful waited patiently for the ambulance half a km ahead of the Chaibasa Parish Church in order to greet Fr. John Deeney on his final journey. There was a contingent of 80 or more from the school band who provided the beat for the slow march as the body made its way towards the Parish Residence. It was so truly moving that it brought tears to our eyes.
At the Presbytery the body was taken out of the mobile mortuary (which was constructed by the carpenters as no air conditioned ambulance was available) and the body was prepared in the traditional Ho rituals and taken in procession to the school ground for the faithful to view. The parishioners had put in a lot of hard work setting up a massive shamiana to accommodate 2000 people.
Fr Robert Sequiera, born at Mangalore on 02 Jun 1924, entered on 10 Jun 1944, ordained on 24 Mar 1958, Final Vows on 02 Feb 1961, died at Bhubaneswar on 04 Aug 2009.
Fr Eugene Welch, born in Pittsburg, USA, on 11 Sep 1928, entered on 30 Jul 1947, ordained on 24 Mar 1960, Final Vows on 15 Aug 1965, died at Jamshedpur on 22 Oct 2009.