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OSCAR SEVRIN (1884 – 1975)

Posted on: 17 Jan, 2024 | Modified on: 28 Apr, 2024

Oscar Sevrin was born at Neuville-Wanne on November 22, 1884. Entered the Society of Jesus on September 23, 1903. Arrived in India on October 31, 1908. Ordained a priest on July 01, 1919. Took his last vows on February 02, 1923. Bishop of Ranchi on June 24, 1934. On December 13, 1951, he resigned the See of Ranchi in order to open the new diocese of Raigarh-Ambikapur. Died at Kunkuri on April 30, 1975.

Oscar Sevrin was born on 22 November 1884 in a modest family of Neuville-Wanne, as isolated hamlet in the wild marshy upland, South-East of Liege (Belgium). One of his brothers became a diocesan priest; his eldest sister educated the children of another-widowed-brother and later generously helped Oscar in many ways. Oscar went to the diocesan St. Roch's secondary boarding school, which offered a sober solid education and built up his self-discipline and good judgement. He was 19, when he joined the Society at Arlon (Belgium) on 23 September 1903. After one year of Juniorate at Drongen (1905-1906) and two years Philosophy at Louvain (1906-1908), he was sent to the Mission of West Bengal. In October 1908 he arrived at Colombo and followed a third year Philosophy at the Papal Seminary Kandy.

For one year (1909-1910) Oscar was posted at Rengarih under Father L. Cardon, the apostle of Biru. Oscar Sevrin saw Fr. Cardon at work, instructing catechuments, touring the villages on horseback, strengthening the spirit and practice of Christian life. The Rengarih experience became for him a life-long inspiration; it gave him a knowledge of Sadri and realistic insights in tribal society, primary education and the problems of church-expansion.

At the beginning of 1911 Oscar was transferred to St. John's School, Ranchi where he stayed for 5 years. Oscar laboured in his own systematic sober way to make St. John's the equal of the leading school of Ranchi - Zila, Gossner and St. Paul's. he worked overtime in preparing and giving classes, correcting assignments and supervising the well-balanced time-table of study, manual work, religious and cultural formation and games of his eager first generation learners.

At the age of 31, Father Oscar went to St. Mary's Kurseong for Theology where he stayed for 4 years. The emphasis in St. Mary's lay on solid knowledge, a regular prayer life, and sensible self-denial. Oscar Sevrin made not only a deep personal study of the main theological issues of the day, he also improved his Hindi and read classic texts in Hindi literature. Ordained priest on 01 July 1919 at Kurseong, he returned to Ranchi in 1920 as class teacher of Class X and in charge of the Junior Sodality of St. John's School. He started Nishkalanka magazine which he edited for many years. He also published Dharmopadesha and Bible Itihas. Later he became the Headmaster of St. John's.

In 1923 Father Oscar was also made Inspector of Catholic Schools in Chotanagpur. He multiplied the number of the Catholic Schools. He was full-time Inspector of Schools only from 1931 to 1934. He visited and inspected the schools, would question the children with simple pedagogical skill and would encourage the brightest lads to come to St. John's.

Apart from his regency at Rengarih (1909-1910), Bishop Sevrin had never been posted in a rural mission-station; but his yearly tours as Inspector of Schools had given him practical insight into the actual working of the parishes. After the death of Bp L. Van Hoek in 1933, Oscar Sevrin was appointed Bishop of Ranchi on 24 June 1934 and was consecrated in the Cathedral on 25 July 1934. Sevrin worked steadily at the consolidation and spread of the Catholic Church in his vast diocese. He built 18 new parishes, mostly on the outskirts of the area of the established church. Education progressed at all levels; in 1951 the Diocese had 855 Primary, 65 Middle and 14 High Schools. He was deeply concerned about the health of the tribals; Holy Family Hospital was established, small hospitals and dispensaries came up in most established parishes.

For a long time, he had advocated the partition of his vast Ranchi Diocese, which in 1950 had about 350,000 Catholics, 47 parishes with 46 diocesan priests and 61 Jesuit priests engaged in the parish and mission apostolate. After World War II, Gangpur mission was entrusted to S.V.D. Fathers and became in 1951 the Sambalpur Diocese. Singhbhum district was handed over to Maryland Jesuit (Jamshedpur Mission; Diocese in 1962). The Australian Jesuits moved in 1951 into the Daltongunj Diocese. On 13 December 1951 Bp Sevrin handed the remaining Ranchi Diocese (200,000 Catholics, 13 High, 35 Middle, 550 Primary schools) over to his ex-student Nicholas Kujur, S.J., and he himself became the first Bishop of Raigarh-Ambikapur Diocese in Madhya Pradesh.

For 6 years Bishop Sevrin led his diocese from a single room in the parish-house at Ginabahar; this room served as bedroom, office, library and archives. In his first meeting with his two dozen men, he told them: "The task before us is immense .... Raigarh, Surguja, Udaipur with thousands who never heard about Our Lord; we have to bring the good news to all...."

He toured the parishes and new mission stations. First he still cycled, a bag with his mitre, cross, and the top of his crozier tied to the handle, when he set out for confirmations. Later he bought old army vehicle which was usually filled with school children or people whom he gladly gave a lift.

Bishop Sevrin was not only an outstandingly caring Bishop of the Church among the tribals; his apostolic wisdom and zeal were also highly appreciated in the meetings of the Bishops of M.P. He was also very active in the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, and was for some years Chairman of its Educational Committee.

After 6 years he left the Raigarh-Ambikapur Diocese in the hands of yet another ex-student of St. John's School, Bishop Stanislaus Tigga, and, at the age of 73, went to live retirement in the Jesuit community of Loyola School, Kunkuri, as treasurer and Spiritual Father of the Apostolic School there.

The old Bishop embodied the traditional missionary spirit and zeal and his men looked up to him, for he was always clear and, with a touch of stubbornness, determined in what he wanted. His steady point of reference was his continuous awareness of God's providential presence: in the work of his mission, God and he were one. This sense of mission had mounded his human qualities into a crystal clear resolve to make Jesus Christ known, to spread His Church; he had become a totally supernatural and integrated Jesuit.

Such was Bishop Sevrin, the founder and first Bishop of the Church of Raigarh-Ambikapur. He died at the age of 91, at Loyola, Kunkuri on an exhausting evening in the hot season after supper; he lies buried in the imposing cathedral there.