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

By Fr. Alex Ekka SJ

Fr. Michael Albert Windey S.J. will be remembered as a great Gandhian Jesuit Missionary in India. He was born on April 28, 1921 in Belgium. He joined the Society of Jesus on September 23, 1938 at Drongen and took the first vows on September 24, 1940. He did his juniorate from 1940 - 1942 and philosophy from Ghent in 1942 - 1944. He came to India in 1947 and did his Regency at St. Ignatius High School, Gumla from 1946 - 1947 where he began to learn Hindi. He did his theology from St. Mary's Kurseong in 1947 - 1951 and was ordained a Priest on November 21, 1951. His tertianship was at La Providence, Kodaikanal in the year 1953 - 1954. Thereafter he was appointed as a Professor of Political Science and Sociology at St. Xavier's College, Ranchi from 1954 - 1959. It was at this time that he started the Xavier Institute of Social Service, Ranchi in 1955. The classes for the Social League Programme of XISS were held under the staircase of St. Xavier's College in the evening due to the paucity of space in the premises. Fr. Windey did his Post Graduate studies in Sociology in Europe in 1959 - 1960. He served at XISS till 1963. He was engaged in socio-pastoral activities at the Bishop's House, Kunkuri in 1963 - 1964 and at Barwadih in 1964 - 1965. He was also the CLC Director while staying at St. Albert's College, Ranchi from 1965 - 1969.

When Fr. Windey went to Europe for higher studies in Sociology he visited many universities in the west. The British Council bore all the expenses of his trip. During this time he met Evan Illich and the author of Small is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher. Fr. Windey made friends with them and discussed whether Smaller is Beautiful was possible too. Finally they concluded that Small was Necessary besides being beautiful. Back in India Fr. Windey had become friends with Acharya Vinoba Bhave, who introduced him to Shri Jayaprakash Narayan. Fr. Windey had the opportunity to serve the famine afflicted people in Bihar in the mid 1960s in the company of Shri Jayaprakash Narayan.

After establishing XISS, Fr. Windey left for Guntur in Andhra Pradesh in 1969 to work among the cyclone affected people. In the process he started the Village Reconstruction Organization (VRO) and worked there till 2008. Because of this name and fame on account of the VRO he received about 10 national and international awards.

He came from a rural background and his parents were Primary School Teachers. As a young man he saw much bloodshed, destruction, pain and misery during the Second World War. All he learnt in the east and in the west both in the sacred and in the secular sciences made a happy confluence with the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi's Sarvodaya. Like a true Jesuit, he had an option for the poor in all he did. This made him to serve the poor and the downtrodden both in Chotanagpur and in Andhra Pradesh with ever growing zeal. His VRO has rebuilt the lives and villages of many poor, neglected and marginalized people in various parts of the country. The unique characteristics of the VRO's ideology and methodology have been Ecumenical, Gandhian, Voluntarism and Mobility. "Our hope", said Fr. Windey, "is true freedom for India, through social equality to cultural quality; our motto: better villages for a better world and our battle cry: to be in times of crisis, instruments of progress." He indeed was a unique Gandhian Jesuit. He went back to Belgium in 2008 after retirement and lived at Heverlee till he passed away on September 20, 2009.