Fray Paulus Moritz, C.M.S.F. & Mount Poinsur

©Lúcio Mascarenhas, November 11, 2004.
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Life Sketch of the Founder & First Superior-General of the Franciscans of Mount Poinsur, 1869-1942

From the School Diary of St. Francis of Assisi School, Mount Poinsur. Re-Edited by Lúcio Mascarenhas.

Brother Paulus Moritz, was born on June 29 1869 at Koenigsburg in "East Prussia" (North Masuria), now Kaliningrad in the Russian Federation, of Jewish parents and was named Heymann Hermann Moritz. He received his Jewish and primary education in Koenigsburg itself.

With regard to his conversion to Catholicism there is hardly any traceable record. It could have taken place around his 16th or 17th year of life. After this, one finds him next in the historic city of Cologne, in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany. Here he became a close associate of the veteran Jesuit missionary to British India, the late Rev. Fr. Antonius Bodewig.

Moritz joined the Missionary Society of the Immaculate Conception founded by Fr. Bodewig as one of its first members. However, this Missionary Society never took off the ground. A group of its members sent to the Belgian Capuchin Mission of Lahore in 1895 was stranded there. Its leader was one Nicholas Ludwig Hohn, a close friend of Moritz, hailing from Bonn, Germany. The Belgian Capuchin Bishop of Lahore constituted the stranded group of German youth in his diocese into a Congregation of Franciscan Tertiary Brothers whose services he hoped to enlist for the diocese.

Moritz broke company with Fr. Bodewig by 1899 and associated himself with the new Diocesan Congregation of Lahore. Around this time, he had also knotted a firm relationship with Msgr. Pelvat, the French Fransalian Bishop of Nagpur, headquarters of the Province of Central India & Berar.

In November 1890, Moritz arrived in India with a few associates. He went to Nagpur from where he, in January 1901, proceeded to Lahore where Bishop Pelkmans vested him with the Franciscan habit of penance. He was appointed the Procurator of the new Congregation. He then returned to the Nagpur group of his Brothers.

However, his relationship with Bishop Pelkmans of Lahore had been a stormy one and in early 1901 he finally broke off with him and constituted his group into a separate congregation under the Fransalian Bishop Jean Marie Crochet of Nagpur (Congregation of the Missionary Brothers of St. Francis of Assisi, or C.M.S.F.). This happened on February 21 1901. Moritz was chosen as the Superior-General of the new congregation and Hohn as the Asst. Superior-General. The community chose to retain its Franciscan character.

In 1902, the Nimar Mission (North Khandesh) with Khandwa as its headquarters was assigned to the new congregation.

Between this period and the outbreak of World War I, the young congregation had made rapid and impressive strides in its expansion and development. They had expanded to place like Agra and Crishnagar (Krishna-nagar); had been given the parish of Mount Poinsur on the island of Salsette near Bombay, by the Portuguese Padroado Bishop of Damao, and had expanded to Maslianico in north Italy.

At the outbreak of World War I, the British India government interned the German brothers of the congregation, including Moritz. Towards the close of the war, while most of the brothers were deported, Moritz and three of his companions were permitted to stay back. The future of the congregation hanged on the thread of uncertainty.

By 1921, the first of the deportees began to return to India and the congregation began to reclaim its lost ground.

In the first-ever General Chapter of the congregation, held in 1930 under the auspices of the Pontifical Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide), Moritz was elected Superior-General.

In the IInd. General Chapter of the congregation, he was reconfirmed in his office.

At the outbreak of World War II, the British briefly detained him, but owing to his ill health and advanced age, he was set free.

On November 19 1941, he resigned office and exactly one year later, on November 19 1942, he breathed his last on Mount Poinsur. His mortal remains are laid to rest in the Monastorial Cemetery at Mount Poinsur.

He was a missionary to the very core of his being. His Franciscan credentials and love and commitment to the Missionary work are noteworthy. May his ideals inspire all his followers.

Ecclesial History Of Mount Poinsur

Mt. Poinsur: Parish from 1547 - 1739; 1912 - 1958. Source: 1982 Directory of the Archdiocese of Bombay, by Frs. Leslie J. Ratus & Errol Rosario, Seminary of Pope St. Pius X, Bombay. Re-Edited by Lúcio Mascarenhas.

According to tradition, the intrepid Franciscan missionary, Padre Antonio do Porto, was the founder of this church in 1544, ten years after the island of Salsette was ceded by the Arab Sultan of Cambay, Bahadur Shah, to Portugal by the treaty of Bassein (Fr. Ernest Hull, S.J., Bombay Mission History: With A Special Study of the Padroado Question, Examiner Press, Bombay, 1929. Vol. I, pg. 10). Fr. Meersman however holds that although Do Porto was its founder, the foundation could only have taken place shortly after his arrival in these parts in 1547 (Fr. Achilles Meersman, O.F.M., The Franciscans in Bombay, St. Anthony's Friary, Bangalore, 1957). By October 1548, he and his companion, Joao de Goa, had made a number of converts and had founded a 'devout hermitage' at Mount Poinsur. In October 1549, we have the following description of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Our Lady of Piety):
"On an island opposite Bassein, a league and a half from the river... there is a church of Our Lady, where there must be four hundred Christians.... It is entirely in a rock cliff.... It is very large and has four chapels." (Fr. Achilles Meersman, O.F.M., The Ancient Franciscan Provinces in India—1500–1835, Chritian Literature Society Press, Bangalore, 1971. pg 193).
During the time of the same Padre Do Porto, the village of Mount Poinsur was granted to the Franciscans by the Governor Jorge de Cabral in the name of King John III of Portugal, for the maintenance of their work. Soon the Franciscans bought the two villages of Pare and Erangal around 1556-1559. Adjoining the church, they also built a Royal College in 1549, the ruins of which are still standing close to the present church.

The 400 Christians converted by Padre Antonio do Porto grew in number and soon a settlement for them was built around or opposite the church (records Padre Paulo da Trinidade). Around 1630, the parish counted some 1500 parishioners of the villages of Mount Poinsur, Dhainsa (Dahisar), Simpor, Canaria (Kanheri) and Cassor, with a chapel dedicated to St. Michael in Canaria. It was also around this time that the name of the church at Mount Poinsur was changed to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

During the Maratha invasion of 1739, Mount Poinsur was captured, the Friars dispersed, and the church, friary and college pillaged and left in ruins. Then for a century and a half, time and nature abetted by the local people who used the ruins as a quarry for stones did their destructive work, so that what had been spared by the Marathas, fell into still deeper ruin.

Adjoining and beneath the church are the Mandapeshwar Caves, the habitation of Hindu ascetics until the Franciscans took over and converted them into a crypt for the church which they built over them. After 1739, the Marathas reconverted the caves to Hindu usage. When the island of Salsette were ceded by the Marathas to England by the Treaty of Salbai in 1774, the caves once again served as a chapel for the Catholics for a little more than a century. From 1739-1912, it appears that there was no resident Vicar of Poinsur. In 1888, through the efforts of the people of the City of Bandra and under the guidance of the Vicar-General of the North, Padre Joao Braz Fernandes, the old parish church was rebuilt on the hillock above the caves and has since functioned as the parish church. The church has had its own Vicar only from 1912 onwards, thus Humbert (J. Humbert, S.J., Catholic Bombay, Her Priests and Their Training, Catholic Press, Ranchi, Bihar, 1964. Vol. II, pg 219). The church underwent major repairs and renovations in 1912. As for the caves, they have been taken over by the Government of India and are designated as protected archaeological monuments under the Archaeological Survey of India, although the Hindus are permitted to worship in them.

Mount Poinsur remained loyal to the Archdiocese of Goa during the Padroado-Propaganda disputes, and was later made part of the Diocese of Damao, 1886-1928, which revived the parish under the Vicar-General of the North, and assigned it to Brother Paulus Moritz and his newly founded Franciscan congregation.

In 1928, most of the Diocese of Damao, including the parish of Mount Poinsur, was integrated into the Archdiocese of Bombay, under Archbishop Joachim da Lima, S.J. This arrangement continued until 1958.

The Generalate of this Congregation is located in the vicinity of the church, at the Monastery of St. Francis of Assisi, Mount Poinsur, Post code 400 103, at a short distance east from the Borivali Railway station.
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