Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Kanajar

"Oh look! How beautiful is that lady!", cried Bernadette Soubirous with joy when Virgin Mary appeared before her in an apparition at a village called Lourdes at France. Same words recur in one's mind when he looks up at the beautiful image of Lady of Lourdes in this church at Kanajar. If a sculpture by a artist from France is attracting a human to this extent, what could be the real charm of our lady in the heavens? The thought of building a dwelling to the empress of heaven had turned into reality at this remote village of Kanajar.

Kanajar, a beautiful place at the interior coast of Karnataka in Karkala taluk, is surrounded by hills and mountains with rich vegetation. Before 1930, faithfulls residing at Kanajar as well from the surrounding villages Ninjoor, Palli, Kowdoor and Bailoor had to travel to the distant parishes of Attur or Mudubelle for their spiritual needs. Bearing this in mind, Rev. Fr. Cashmere Fernandes, the priest at Mudubelle parish, thought of establishing a parish in this area. Inspired by him, his assistant vicar Rev. Fr. William Antony Lewis took over the responsibility of the project. At the time, the villages of Kowdoor and Bailoor were affiliated to Attur parish, while the villages of Kanajar, Ninjoor and Palli were affiliated to Mudubelle parish. It was a daunting task at that time, to build a Christian organization amongst the population. Fr. Lewis had chosen sites near Ninjoor as well near Palli but had to face setbacks. Finally he managed to get a site near a place called "Madmalkal", which means Bride's Rock. The land measured 4 1/2 acre and was purchased from Das Hegde in the year 1932. The amount for the same was raised during the Confraternity feast of Mudubelle parish.

A well was dug and cemetery was formed on the land during this time. Rev. Fr. Salvadore D'Souza, the then vicar of Attur parish, suggested that the parish be dedicated to Lady of Lourdes, which was subsequently sanctioned by Rev. Bishop Victor Rosario Fernandes. This is how the Lady of Lourdes became the patron of our parish.

In the year 1933 a structure for the church was built by Fr. William Lewis. It was built out of wooden pillars and thatched roof. Every Sundays Fr. Lewis would come from Hangarakatte by walk and perform the mass here. The first mass was performed on April 25, 1933. In the weekdays the structure was used for the primary schooling of the children. On 24 April 1934, the parish feast was celebrated for the first time in the history. Rev. Fr. Julian D'Souza was the main celebrant, while the sermon was given by Fr. Denis Lewis. In the subsequent years, in the month of October, an assembly would be called for the discussions on the parish feast celebration and to decide the presider (pirjent). As the expense of luncheon for the priests attending the feast, ten families from each ward had to owe 8 annas. At the time the annual due towards the church was 1 rupee.

After a couple of years, Fr. Lewis thought of building a chapel and the house for priest. A gathering was called that was attended by the heads of several families. People promised full support for the cause. On February 25 1934, the foundation stone was laid and was blessed by most Rev. bishop.

Bullock carts were arranged for the transport of material. People came in turns and offered their physical effort. Fr. Lewis was providing them with tea, but the people had to carry their own tiffins for the lunch. For the sake of timbre, priest father had purchased forest from Meenakshi Hegde of Kowdoor. There was severe shortage of funds, which resulted in the delay of the work. Priest father traveled to Bombay for collecting donations. During this time their health also deteriorated, but was not let down by Lady Lourdes. Funds started flowing in like a rainy stream and the construction work was completed. The chapel was inaugurated on July 24, 1938 and was blessed by Rev Bishop V R Fernandes. It was so amazing to the people that they thought that the priest father had got a treasure, because of which he could complete the work. At Lourdes the Lady had done the miracle by making a stream to rush out of a dry rock. The Lady did the same miracle, here at Kanajar, in the form of an invisible stream of money.

Fr. Lewis settled here after this. A school had been already started in the presbytery. Before that Bailur Subbayya Hegde was managing a school at Vorvadi, near Kanajar, which he subsequently closed due to lack of students. Priest father purchased that school with all its belongings and had started a school in the presbytery. He himself became the headmaster for the school, where there were half a dozen other teachers. A thatched roof housing was also built for the teachers to reside, which was subsequently converted into a tiled roof residence.

When the number of students in the school increased, a separate building was built with pillars and tress beams. While the construction work was on, the pillars began to shake while the tress beams were raised onto them. Priest father rushed to church and prayed to Lady of Lourdes. He returned back and asked to raise the beams again, which were eventually placed firmly over the pillars.

The school dedicated to Lady of Lourdes became higher primary school in the year 1950. Mrs. Veronica Lewis became the first headmistress of the new school. A post office was also established around this time, postmastered by Rosario Menezes.

Now Fr. Lewis thought in the direction of measures that would bring revenue to the parish. He bought the land at Hadankoli near Kanajar, which was been auctioned by the court. The amount for this land was borrowed from Kankanadi Fr. Muller's hospital's fund. Priest father repaid the amount through annual installments. Also he purchased land, (where the present post office stands) from Eliyal Gopa Mada. Commercial shop rooms for renting were built on this site, while the remainder was converted into fields for agriculture. Also there was land in the front of the church, which was owed to church by Kowdoor Meenakshi Hegadti, since her daughter's mental sickness was cured by priest father by praying to Lady of Lourdes. Houses were built on this site which were subsequently rented.

With these developments happening, priest father had started the work of building the new church. In the year 1943, foundation stone was laid and blessed by most Rev. V R Fernandes. Stone masons who hailed from Coimbatore built the belfry. The altar was constructed at Jeppu workshop. During the construction, Rev. Fr. Buthelo from Belman used to visit here and give his advice. The construction of the strong building was completed within the time period of five years. On 26 April 1948 the new church was inaugurated and was blessed by the most reverend bishop. The altar was consecrated on the next day. Grand celebration of the titular feast took place on every 11th of February, in the subsequent years.

Fr. Lewis strived hard and continuously to rejuvenate the faith among the people. Retreats and other prayers were been conducted every year. He encouraged people to conduct rosary prayers at church as well at homes. Organizations such as third order of St. Francis, the altar boy's sodality, the men's sodality and the girl's sodality were established.

In the year 1958, on the occasion of the centennial celebrations of the apparition of Lady of Lourdes, our church was declared as a pilgrimage center. Several pilgrims from far off places visited here. The priest father had organized a new program during this time. Each day in the evening, people from each ward came in procession to the church, with emblem of Lady of Lourdes at the front, and saying rosary prayers. The church ceremony included sacramental blessings, readings about Virgin Mary and sermons. On the concluding day all the people joined in the procession, with mass being held at the church. This ritual was really magnificent.

The priest father had purchased land from government for a playground for the school. Also, he had the desire to raise a cross on Hadankoli hill top. So, he purchased 17 acre land on the hill and planted cashews in it.

Finally, in the year 1957, the founding priest of our parish, Fr. William Lewis got transferred to Attur parish as vicar. Later he became the general vicar and during the death of bishop Peris, he became vicar capitular of the Mangalore diocese.

Rev. Fr. Francis D'Souza, who came from Attur, became the parish priest for the period 1957-58. A gradin from saguvani wood was built around the chancel. Also he got cemented the sanctuary. A rally of St. Francis' third order was held successfully during his period.

Rev. Fr. Ligory D'Souza was the next priest for the period 1958-59. He got the portico and the priest's home restructured. Formed a farmer's association 'Kanajar Raitha Sangha', to strengthen the economy of farmers. Also he bought in food ration provided by CARE USA, and distributed it among the poor. He got installed a lightening arrestor to protect the church spire.

Rev. Fr. Santhan Fernandes was the next priest to reign for the period 1959-67. The church compound was wall fenced and the old commercial rooms were repaired. In the year 1963, the silver jubilee of the formation of the parish was celebrated. A convent of Bethany sisters was also established. The wall of the altar of lady had collapsed and he started the reconstruction work. But before the work could complete, he had an unexpected death. His mortal remains are laid to rest inside the church.

Rev. Fr. Charles Saldanha was the next priest for the period 1967-74. He got completed the reconstruction work of altar. The old commercial building was demolished and was reconstructed. Portico was built in the front of the church. The church was electrified. The altar was restructured with marble, in accordance with the new liturgy. He got the floor of the church cemented.

Rev. Fr. Norbert Fernandes came as new priest in the year 1974, but because of cardiac illness, he could not continue beyond a few months. For about a couple of months there wasn't any priest. Capuchins from Mangalore came here for Sunday service.

Rev. Fr. Francis Serao was the next priest to reign the parish for the period 1975-77. He had just retired as the principal of St. Phelomena College, Puttur. At the beginning, he suffered a severe brain hemorrhage while he was traveling on a car and was thought would not survive. But due to prayers of parishioners he got well. He got repaired the wall fence with a new iron gate. Sound systems were installed in the church. School was rebuilt with rock stones. Water supply pipelines were installed to priest's house as well to the churchyard.

Rev. Fr. Jose Menezes became the new priest for the period 1977-86. He got built the gravestone of late Fr. Santhan Fernandes using marble. He strived for the formation of a road between Herata and Ninjoor. He got a hearse for carrying corpse from distant places. The golden jubilee of the ordination of Msgr. Fr. William Lewis was grandly celebrated. The priest father strived to increase motor vehicle transportation in the area. A branch of Syndicate Bank was formed at Kanajar, under their leadership. He worked out for the burial of the mortal remains of Msgr. Fr. William Lewis, at our parish. The belfry was constructed, the bells being bought from France. Improved the coconut yard. Pump set was installed and water tank was built for the school. Catholic Youth Movement was formed. Benches were provided in the church, with fans being installed and the church painted.

Rev. Fr. Albert Menezes was the next parish priest for the period 1986-91. He redivided the parish wards. A stage was built at the school and the school building was plastered with cement. Fencing wall was built around the school compound of the school with new gate. He started conducting the Sunday mass on Saturday evenings. Chapter of Catholic Sabha Mangalore region was formed.

Rev. Fr. Alex Aranha was the next parish priest for the period 1991-98. He got built a beautiful fencing wall at the front of the church compound. A cross was built on the top of Hadankoli hill. Mass is conducted on this hill top every palm Sundays. A parish hall was constructed in memorial of late Fr. William Lewis. Toilets were built. He got the front way of the church asphalted and fancy plants were planted besides. An electric generator and additional fans were installed. With the help from Mr. David Patrao a fund of Rs. 1 lakh, and with the cooperation of Kuwait welfare association a fund of Rs.10,000 was formed for the education of poor children. He arranged for the parish feast fair within the church compound so as to reduce the crowd on the main road. Sound system was provided to the school. Allowed the distribution of communion by laity during mass services.

Rev. Fr. Remigius Aranha became the parish priest for the period 1998-2004. He got repaired the leaking church roof. He got the altar painted and made it attractive. The priest's house was restructured according to the requirements. Coconut yard was improved. The backyard of the church and the cemetery were cleaned. The priest father have strived hard to increase faith among the parishioners. As a result the number of people attending the Sunday mass has gone up. Rosary prayer before the mass is started again. To strengthen the bonds between different households, small Christian communities are formed at ward levels. The diamond jubilee of the formation of the parish was celebrated in a grand manner on February 11, 1999. The day's mass was conducted by most Rev. Bishop Aloysius D'Souza with many other priests. Lunch was provided to all the people, which was prepared by the parishioners together. A stage program was organized in the evening which was presided over by the Bishop, Udupi taluk SP A Salem and Karkala taluk council member Mrs. Remedia Menezes. A souvenir was published on this occasion under the editorship of Mr. Elias Rebello. A Catholic hospital named Lourdes Hospital was inaugurated on February 11, 2003. The Rs. 1 crore project was undertaken by Kanajar Welfare Association, which is an association of parishioners in the Gulf region and Mumbai. Christmas was being celebrated with religious harmony, with the representatives from various religions taking part in the program. The priest father got transferred to Barkur parish after his tenure at Kanajar.

Rev. Fr. Alwyn D'Cunha took over reigns for the period of 2004-2011. Kanajar saw revolutionary developments under this new young and dynamic priest. Novena for Lady of Lourdes is conducted every week, on Saturdays. Annual retreats are conducted for the benefit of parishioners. The church acquired a computer system donated by Kanajar Welfare Association Kuwait. Small Christian Communities were strengthened with various training programs and ward level mass/feasts being conducted. A Varado level residential camp was held at Kanajar for Karkala Varado youths. A camp was held for the parishioners on building good family. A bore well was dug in the church premises. A road sign indicating the direction to church was installed near Palli cross. A new grotto was constructed in front of the church and it was grandly inaugurated on February 11, 2006, the feast day of Our lady of Lourdes. The ICYM unit of Kanajar celebrated its silver jubilee on February 19, 2006. The parish bulletin "Lourdesachi Zhar" was inaugurated with the first issue published on February 19, 2006. Computer education classes are conducted for parishioners at Lourdes School premises. Parish day is celebrated every year where the sports/cultural activities are held and lunch is prepared to all the people. Summer camp for the school children is held wherein the young minds are imparted with the values of life. A 1000-seater auditorium "Kanajar Sauharda Bhavan" was constructed for the benefit of all Kanajareans and was inaugurated on April 18, 2009. Altar girl's sodality was formed which gave an opportunity for the girls to serve at the altar during church services. The renovated church with an expanded capacity and an elegant face-lift was inaugurated on November 29, 2010 by Bishop Most Rev. Dr. Aloysius D'Souza. The 5 day celebrations during this time began with the head-load offerings and culminated with the parish feast. Rev. Fr. Alwyn D'Cunha got transferred to Katipalla parish on June 1, 2011.

Rev. Fr. Dr. John Mendonca became the parish priest for the period 2011-2014. Under this highly educated theologian priest the parish saw growth in new direction. He delegated more authority to various church committees like parish council, finance committee, liturgical etc., to perform their duties. He got extended the meeting hall at priest's house, got repaired the belfry, the Sauharda Bhavan auditorium and Fr. William Lewis hall. The platinum jubilee of the founding of Kanajar parish was celebrated throughout the year culminating with the valedictory jubilee celebrations on May 16, 2013. To increase spirituality among the people retreats were organized after nativity feast. In 2013, the year of faith, various pilgrimages were organized to places like Rome, Lourdes, Velankani, Kerekatte, Goa, etc. The priest father encouraged communal harmony among the people of various religions and faiths at Kanajar. He along with the church delegation paid courtesy visit to Kanajar temple during the festivities. He initiated dialogue with CSI Church Bailoor and was instrumental in conducting the first ever ecumenical prayer meet of Unity Octave between the two churches. In June 2014 he was appointed as the Judicial Vicar of the newly formed Udupi Diocese and got transferred there for the diocesan duties.

Rev. Fr. Alexander Lewis took over reigns as the parish priest for the period 2014-2021. The priest who was known for building schools in the past had repeated the same feat at Kanajar. A magnificent project of Lourdes English Medium School (ICSE syllabus) at Kanajar was realized and completed during his tenure. The existing Lourdes Higher Primary School (Kannada medium) that had seen decline in the number of students was discontinued.

Rev. Fr. Vishal Lobo served as the parish priest for the period 2021-2023. He got the laboratory facilties built at the newly started Lourdes English Medium School. The school also got the ICSE affiliation during his tenure and the event was grandly inaugurated in the presence of Udupi diocese Bishop and other dignitaries. He got the ceiling of the Kanajar Sauharda Bhavan auditorium renovated. Senior Citizen Club was formed and inaugurated for the benefit of senior parishioners.

In the epilogue, it is gratifying to look back at the life of the people through these developments. In the past decades, along with the spiritual development, there has been tremendous development in the economy. In the beginning poverty and illiteracy reigned on the population. For high school education, youths had to travel to distant towns Karkala or Udupi, and there weren't any transportation facilities either. Most of the people were either bonded farmers, sweating out in the fields of their land lords (Bunts), or were laborers. They worked hard in the land assigned to them and lived in thatched roof houses. On failing to submit the dues to their lords, they had to move out of the land leaving behind the plough bullocks and sow seeds. Paddy, millet, herbage, plantains were the main agricultural yields. During off monsoon agriculture, they had to manually draw water from wells.

Later the younger generation migrated to the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) in search of opportunities. Women worked in the bungalows as maids. Establishment of Lourdes club at Bombay provided food and shelter for men working out there. Roughly a member from each household arrived here. They sent their earnings down to their homes, which in turn helped in paying the dues to land lords.

In the year 1947, the government act gave bondmen some control over the land on which they were working. They built houses and dug wells. They grew flowers, palms, mangoes, cashews, jackfruits etc.

The 1974 land reforms act made the bondmen as the owner of their land. They built houses and dug wells in it. Meanwhile several people reached to the Middle East countries and got employed there. From their economy RCC roofed houses could be seen rising.

This is how the Lady of Lourdes arrived at Kanajar. The tremendous development in the past years is nothing but her miracles. Several organizations were established due to her blessings. Faith has increased, also there has been development in socio-economic and educational fronts. All these have happened though, there is a major unfulfilled wish of people: Kanajar becoming a Lourdes of our diocese. Let us pray to the Lady to make Kanajar a pilgrimage center through which God shall shower the betterment to the mankind.

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