A Province of Society of Jesus in South Asia Assistancy
FATHER CONSTANT LIEVENS (1856 – 1893)
Posted on: 4 Jun, 2019|Modified on: 1 Dec, 2014
Constant Lievens was born on April 11, 1856, in the west Flemish town of Moorslede, in Belgium. In October 1876 he started his philosophy at Roeselare in order to become a diocesan priest. He joined the Major Seminary of Bruges on September 30, 1877, but after a year he left the seminary to join the Jesuits. He entered the Novitiate of Drongen on October 21, 1878. Arrived in India on December 2, 1880. he was ordained a priest on Jenuary 14, 1883, in Calcutta. Arrived in Doranda on march 18, 1885. died at Louvain on Novemeber 07, 1893.
Fr. Lievens born on April 11, 1856, in Moorslede, Belgium was the 7th of the 11 children from a hard-working farmer. Although very large, the Lievens were a closeknit and harmonious family where everyone worked and cared for the other members, spontaneously and without fuss. A deep Christian faith was an integral part of their lives.
He went to school, a good distance away, at the age of 7 and stopped going to school at the death of his mother 4 years later (1867) to stay at home and help bear the burden on the farm. But the Providence had other plans for the promising farmer boy. The Parish Priest of Moorslede found young Constant Lievens fit material for the priesthood, and questioned him about joining. The old father Lievens would not put obstacle in the way for Constant to change from “farming” to “learning”, provided the parish priest would answer for the school fees. A year later Constant joined the minor seminary of Roeselare. At the end of 6 years secondary school, this shy and timid boy had developed into a young man, determined, strong of will, unafraid, ready for higher things. He joined the Seminary at Brugge to become the diocesan priest but he left and joined the Society of Jesus on Oct. 21, 1878.
Constant Lievens did his 2 years novitiate (1878-1880) in the way he was already accustomed to, fervently and determinedly. Not only the novitiate a time of testing and mouldering his character and considerable talents, but the fervent novice became a man of prayer and animated by high spiritual motives. After his first vows he was missioned to Bengal Mission. After a short home visit on Oct. 22, he left Belgium for England the following day and thence sailed for Calcutta a few days later and arrived at Calcutta on December 02, 1880 together with 2 priests, 1 Scholastic and 1 Brother.
At the end of January 1881, Constant Lievens arrived at Asansol to begin his 2nd year theology. Together with Theology he set himself to the study of languages, English, Hindi and Bengali, with considerable success. He was ordained priest in Calcutta on January 14, 1883. he spent the rest of the year at St. Xavier’s, Calcutta to learn college life, to teach, to study and to get by experience a somewhat closer knowledge of the world.
Fr. Lievens was missioned to Chotanagpur by the Superior of the Bengal Mission, Fr. Sylvain Grosjean, who would be Lievens’ Major Superior for the next 7 years as well as his strongest supporter. Grosjean had seen Lievens at work in Calcutta in 1883 and was deeply impressed by the young priest and found in him the man for what he had in mind for the Mission.
While Lievens was in Jamgain, he spent 8 months touring the whole area, getting into closer contact with the people, their conditions, customs and language. After much exploration, touring, observing and learning, Lievens decided with the approval of Fr. Grosjean that Torpa was a suitable place to establish himself.
Lievens lit the fires that soon spread over the whole of Chotanagpur and would go on blazing. Early in 1886 the movement towards “the mission” began, and there was no stopping it. People came from all sides wanting instruction. They wanted to learn more about their religion and legal affairs. In 1888, Fr. Lievens established himself at Ranchi, more central than Torpa and more accessible to the growing stream of village delegations who came to see and consult him, asking also for a visit from him. he toured Lohardaga, Biru and Barway. Lievens preached, gave instruction and advice, went to see for himself, touring on horseback whole areas or with one or two Fathers, directed affairs, listened, inspired and organized. His success in establishing the Church in Chotanagpur inevitably brought opposition, which he faced with determination and firmness.
Two factors led father Lievens not to preach the Gospel message directly. One was the actual condition, especially socio-economic, of the people. They were in such a state of economic exploitation that direct preaching and instruction about God and His salvific plan would have no effect on them and would be a sheer waste of time and energy. The second factor was that these people needed help, immediate help to be able to live in hope and not in fear.
He began by studying the law more thoroughly. He learnt more about the traditional rights of the Mundas, and about their dues sanctioned by law. He also came to know more details about the details about the illegal practices of the landlords in exacting rents without giving receipts, extravagant and excessive beth-begari (forced labour) etc., as well as about the illegal practices of the police.
When he settled at Torpa he was already well known to the Mundas. In his meetings and contacts with the people he had listened and listened with sympathy. From the beginning he seems to have established a special rapport with the people, touched their hearts, and the people themselves responded sympathetically to his endless enquiries and questions, and they hastened to him from all sides.
Father Lievens’ initial successes in favour of his clients in their court cases, created a universal stir and movement among the Mundas to the law courts and to the mission. It became a real mass movement. The main channel by which Father Lievens brought eternal happiness or conversion was his help for happiness in this life. This assistance was so spectacular and successful that it stole the limelight from the real objective, and to all appearances overshadowed it.
The root cause of Father Lievens success in bringing a whole people to Catholicism, was the grace of God, as he himself repeatedly affirmed. Unless this be accepted, the success cannot really be explained. Grace of course is gratituitous. But in His mysterious ways God uses His instruments of grace as he finds them and shapes them. The result of this divine-human collaboration bear all the traces and characteristics of human endeavour, imperfection and achievements. Father Lievens was a missionary, a man sent with a mission. Sent to establish the kingdom of God, to bring God’s salvation and love to men, the missionary consoles and protects, teaches and baptizes and leads men to Christ, building up a Christian community.
The personality of Father Lievens is perhaps the main visible factor in understanding his work and success. A gifted man, with an alert and versatile mind, a penetrating intellect with solid peasant common sense, he was a natural leader to whom others could look up.
He was a simple man. All he wanted to do was to do the will of God called him to be his priest and missionary, and Constant Lievens wanted to be just that, at whatever cost.
Lievens was a man of God and man of people. Following in the footsteps of his Master, Father Lievens gave himself whole-heartedly and completely – he was a man of charity. It was through his selfless love for the people, individually and communally, that he won the hearts of those who came to him. he loved them all with a love sincere and burning. His love for the people was the source of his amazing empathy with the tribals, Mindas, Kharias and Oraons. Everyone without exception, was astonished at his extraordinary understanding of the people and his unquestioned hold and authority over them.