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Constant Lievens, S. J., Apostle of Chotanagpur, India

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

Constant Lievens was born at Moorslede, Belgium, 10 April 1856. After secondary education in Roeselare and theology in Brugge he entered the Society of Jesus in 1878. Two years later he was sent to India. On 10 January 1883 he was ordained priest in Calcutta.

In March 1885 he started the mission of Chotanagpur (nowadays Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa). He became the defender of the local Adibasi families, which were exploited by landlords and landed gentry.
Totally wasted by tuberculosis he had to return to Belgium in October 1992. He died in Leuven on 6 May 1993.

Lievens' Period
This name was used both by friends and opponents of his apostolate in India for the movement the Flemish Jesuit missionary Constant Lievens started in Northern India. He died as a victim of tuberculosis, aged only 37, in 1893, technically as a Scholastic as he had not made yet his last vows in the Society. His exceptional work was named "a mass conversion", the only known precedent being that of Francis Xavier in Southern India. (The Apostolic Delegate of the time ordered his letters to be studied as a modern example!).

His work
His religious Superior sent him to try a distant region of rural India, west of the "centre", being the archdiocese of Calcutta. Imitating a Lutheran example of assisting the poor in their claims against the landlords (zemindars), he succeeded in helping them to assert their rights: he himself gave only advice and eventually defended them in the courts. The justice was a British colonial one that Lievens learned and encouraged. His "period" lasted four years only, finished by a first attack of throat disease in 1892.

He seldom baptised people, leaving them with the request to learn by heart the catechism, and to refrain from Sunday work and the invocation of spirits. Officially he had the power of a director of missionary work, orally given by his regular Superior (never confirmed by a Jesuit catalogue). As a member of the Belgian Jesuit Province he got the help of forty older and younger fathers and brothers to help in "the harvesting".

The end
Mainly for lack of financial means, the Archbishop of Calcutta stopped supporting the expansion of the mission. But later developments were such that now (2001) houses of the Society in the region number sixty, and several dioceses replace the then archbishopric of Calcutta.

His biographer (A. Marlier S.J., 1939; second edition 1951) firmly wrote as a defender of his sainthood: in fact Constant Lievens seemed familiar speaking to the Virgin Mary and receiving her response. He was a man of prayer. Important relics are: his autographed diary, his letters and his crucifix.