Where once mango groves and lush green paddy fields
regined supreme, one finds today only a concrete
jungle. It was inevitable, when accommodation became
an cute problem within Bombay city limits, people
flocked to distant suburbs in search of cheap
residential quarters. So, natural habitat gave way
to human habitat. Thus, came up D’ Souza Wadi,
Sivaji Nagar, Shanti Nagar, Hira Moti Nagar and lot
of other ‘Nagars’ in and around Wagle
to attend Sunday Mass either at St. John the Baptist
Church, Thane, or St. Joseph’s Church, Vikhroli. While people walked adistance
off 7 Kilometres to reach Thane church in the absence of a direct bus service,
Vikhroli was accessible either by train or by bus.
People living in these areas had to naturally fulfil
their religious obligations. To serve this
purpose, today stands a loft a simple and
elegant St. Lawrence Church- a symbol of
people’s perseverance and devotion. It
carries with it a history that is marked by
sheer hard work, sincerity of purpose,
paucity of funds and close co-operation
between laity and the clergy.
The story goes
back to 1964-65. Very few Catholic families
then resided here and went
Meanwhile, Associated Cement Company at Mulund had
made arrangements for its workers and nearby people to attend Sunday Mass in its
premises. A priest from Thane used to come and offer Mass at the small shed
built in the compound. “Going for Mass at the Cement Company was slightly better
than going for Mass at Thane or Vikhroli. But it had its own problems, specially
during rainy season, says Mrs. Caroline D’ Souza (77), who has had a ring-side
view of the developments that led to the building of the present Sr. Lawrence
Then in 1970, Fr. Valerian Godinho started St. Pius
Colony at Nahur and people found it convenient to go
there to fulfil their religious needs. When Mgr.
Vincent Gonsalves arrived as the parish priest of
Thane, an Episcopal Decree declared that people
living beyond the Check Naka nullah belonged to
Thane parish. This created lot of hardships to
people of Wagle Estate area as they were fulfilling
their religious Duties at St. Pius X Church
ever since it was started. Reaching the
Thane church was inconvenient as
there was no direct transport
available. It became very difficult for people to organize their baptisms, holy
communions, weddings and burials. Whenever people approached St. Pius Church,
they were told to approach Thane parish. Even school admissions were stopped.
Sending school children to St. John proved to be very laborious and expensive
because school bus did not come to Wagle Estate then.
Mr. Leo D’ Mello and the late Mr. Alexander
Mathew were the first to collect church support for Thane parish in the year
1972-73. As they went around for collection, people queried whether arrangements
could be made to offer Sunday Mass at Wagle Estate itself. Accordingly, Fr.
Godinho and Fr. Jose Vincent of Thane parish were requested. But nothing really
Meanwhile, the number of Catholic families kept on
increasing in various ‘Nagars’ adjoining Wagle Estate. There were more and more
requests now for a local Sunday Mass. So Mr. D’ Mello, Mr. Henry Rodrigues, Mr.
Mathew, Mr. Elias Passanha and others conveyed these requests repeatedly to Mr.
Gonsalves, who in January 1978 agreed for the same.
The first Mass at Wagle Estate was offered on
February 5, 1978. It was held in the open space in front of the residence of the
late Mr. Lawrene D’Souza whose family provided a table as a makeshift altar. A
huge tamarind tree provided shelter for 150 people who attended the service.
After the Mass, Mr. D’ Mello remarked, “This was born ‘The Wagle Estate Catholic
Association’. The first office bearers were, Mr. P. V. Rodrigues, President :
Mr. P.D. Anthony, Secretary and Mr. Benjamin D’ Souza, Treasurer, Mr . D’ Mello
and Mr. D’ Souza became advisers. A 17-member Executive committee was formed to
help the office bearers.
The regularity of Sunday Mass came to be disrupted
in May in the absence of priests who had gone on vacation. The members of the
committee immediately rushed to Thane Parish to explain to the priests there the
need for a regular Mass. Their persuasion succeeded. Fr. Blaise Nazareth, Fr.
John to offer Mass every Sunday.
But there were more problems in the offing. The open
air Mass was fine when weather was bright. But the monsoon was fast approaching.
The members of the committee had to do some serious thinking. The D’ Souza
family thought of the need of people and provided timely help. With their
permission, a shed was raised using bamboos and Tarpaulin. The expenses came to
Rs. 2,800/- of this Rs. 500/- was paid by Mgr. Gonsalves. The rest was collected
from people. The manual work was entirely done by committee members due to
paucity of funds.
The first Christmas Mass was celebrated in the shed
in a grand manner in 1978. It was concelebrated by three priests. Mgr. Gonsalves
was the main celebrant. The money required for various expenses including
lights, decoration, etc. was collected through a raffle which became a regular
feature every year.
The committee members took keen interest to keep the
Sunday Mass going. The open shed where the Mass was being offered used to be
dirtied by cattle and pigs. So the committee members used to come every Saturday
evening to clean up the place so the Mass next day could be offered in clean
They also kept up the monthly collection drive so as
to keep the cash ready when it came to buy a plot. The opportunity for this came
when Mrs. Caroline D’ Souza offered a land of 1000 Square yards for a price of
Rs. 70,000/-. The Association grabbed the opportunity by paying a token money of
Rs. 5,000/- which was collected from people who paid generously to this cause.
During the final agreement, however, the D’ Souza
family accepted only Rs. 50,000/- and rest of the Rs.20,000/- they offered as a
donation to the church. In memory of this generous gesture, as suggested by Mr.
A.R. Didacose, it was decided to inscribe the name of the late Mr. Lawrence D’
Souza on a marble stone and install it on the front wall of the chapel that was
to be put up.
As a first step in the direction of building a
chapel, Mgr. Gonsalves, Fr. Donath D’ Souza and several committee members met a
contractor on April 6, 1981, who suggested that the plot needs to be raised up
substantially before putting up any structure. Accordingly two truck loads of
soil was first unloaded on April 11, 1981, on the plot where today the new
church is built up.
From April 15, 1981 to May 26, 1981 several
Committee members took leave from their work to supervise the filling work to
minimize expenses. On May 26, 1981, the foundation was laid for the chapel. And
in June the same year, Mgr. Gonsalves was transferred from Thane. Thus the man
who was mainly responsible for the birth of St. Lawrence Parish was moved away
from the scene.
Soon the Committee members met the parish priest,
Fr. Pete Drego, and invited him to visit Wagle Estate which he did on June 20,
1981. The entire background leading to the building of the chapel was explained
to him. The Committee members stressed the need for a new chapel since the
Tarpauline shed was not going to survive another monsoon.
Indeed on the monsoon of June 27, 1981, the roof of
the shed was blown off by a storm and heavy rains. The Committee members rushed
to Thane to explain the situation to Fr. Drego, Fr. Victor Menezes who was also
present on the occasion visited the site and assured the Committee members that
even if he had to hold an umbrella and say the Mass, he would do so. On June 28,
1981, people did gather for Mass holding umbrellas. But their wish could not be
fulfilled as Fr. Menezes could not reach Wagle Estate. The people said a small
prayer and returned to their homes.
In preparation for the next and further Sundays, the
Committee members worked in the rains to build a small shed on the new
foundation just protect the altar from weather gods. They used the material from
the old shed which had earlier collapsed.
Simultaneously, work on the new chapel continued. On
July 19, 1981, the roof was fixed using asbestos sheets. To get this job done
expeditiously, three to four Committee members used to go to the contractor’s
residence every day in the morning at 5.30 a.m. to get him in the night around
11 p.m. to review the work done.
Around this time Fr. Victor Menezes became the
adviser of the Association and rendered timely help when the contractor ditched
the committee. It was Fr. Victor Menezes who spent over Rs. 14,000/- to fix the
doors and windows of the new chapel. He also got hold of a new contractor to
finish the flooring work. The plastering of walls was completed using 30 bags
cement from St. John the Baptist School, Thane.
The new chapel
saw its completion because of the generous
co-operation between the
Committee members and people at large. The entire
wiring of the chapel was done by Y.K. John free of cost who also donated the
altar. While Mr. P D Anthony donated a bell, Mr. Cyril Roche Donated the
tabernacle. A large crucifix was donated by Mr. Robert G. Rodrigues. The mike
system was brought by the late Fr. Rock Aroz from Thane parish.
Then came the various donations from the following :
A huge frame of our Lady of Perpetual Succour from
Mr. J.S. Fernandes.
10 Ceiling Fans by Mr. Tony Anton Ashirvad
4 Tube Lights by Mr. Wilfred Antony
2 Tube Lights by Mr. T. J. Verghese
2 Tube Lights by Mr. P.J. Joseph
5 Benches by D’ Souza Family
4 Benches by Mr. Janardhan Vaiety
10 Benches by Mr. Toney Ashirvad
1 Bench Shantinagar Residents :
2 Benches by Mr. Wilfred D’ Souza
1 Bench by Mr. Jerald D’ Silva
1 Bench by Ambika Medical
1 Bench by Mr. Dominie J. Rodrigues
1 Stainless Steel Cross by Mr. N. L. Paul.
Earlier, during the committee meeting it was decided
to name the new chapel after St. Lawrence in honour the memory of the late Mr.
Lawrence D’ Souza, who had generously contributed and co-operated towards the
building of the chapel.
An interesting fact about the new chapel is that it
was never inaugurated. The work on the chapel was done very gradually due to
financial constraints and the Sunday Masses were held simultaneously.
While priests from Thane parish came regularly to
attend to the religious needs every Sunday, people of the area begain wondering
why couldn’t a separate parish be formed and a priest stationed on a permanent
basis at Wagle Estate. When Committee members went for door-to-door collection,
they were repeatedly told that this was very essential for the religious
well-being of people.
As a first step in this regard, a letter was sent to
the Arch Bishop on March 8, 1984, requesting him to visit Wagle Estate and talk
to the Catholics living in the area. He soon responded to the invitation and
paid a visit to the chapel and talked to the people.
On December 17, 1984, a letter was sent to the
Archbishop through the Episcopal Vicar, Fr. Trevor D’ Souza, explaining to him
the need for a residential priest. Responding to the letter, the Archbishop
delegated Mgr. William Nazareth and Fr. Oswald Gracious to ascertain the
feasibility of appointing a full-time priest. The Archbishop insisted that
unless the laity supported the priest, it wouldn’t be possible for him to
appoint a residential priest. The members of the Association agreed to pay Rs.
2000/- every month to support the priest. After waiting anxiously for six
months, news came of MR. Kenneth Mendes’ appointment as a priest-in-charge of
St. Lawrence Church. He came to Wagle Estate in August 1985. While he was
provided accommodation by the D’ Souza family free of cost, the one-room kitchen
apartment was furnished with the money of Rs. 30,000/- provided by the Thane
parish and Rs. 7,000/- by the Association.
One Fr. Mendes took charge, the Catholic Association
of Wagle Estate wound up its activities. The members of the Association made
themselves available unconditionally to Fr. Mendes to work under his guidance.
Fr. Mendes built up the parish brick by brick as it
were. He saw the potential of the youth in building up the parish as vital. So
he inspired a youth group in the parish. He also gave equal importance to the
spiritual needs of the parishioners. A charismatic group was formed which meets
every week for prayers. He also initiated the Legion of Mary where men and women
work hard to propagate the devotion to Mary as well as look after the needy and
sick in the parish. Ladie’s Sodality and Altar Boys group too are some of his
Year by year the number of people in the parish
began increasing by leaps and bounds. It was obvious that a bigger prayer hall
was essential to accommodate all the Catholics of the area. People too felt
scarcity of space inside the chapel. So a fund collection drive was gradually
launched. A four-fold strategy was adopted: 1. the donation-cum-lottery, 2.
Tabassum Hit Parade, 3. the personal letter drive and 4. the receipt book drive.
By July 1987 a total of Rs. 4,36,171/- with a ‘dowry’ of Rs. 50,000/- from St.
John Church, Thane was collected. With the ‘Best of Broadway’ staged on November
12, 1988, another sum of Rs. 91,652/- was collected. The winner of the first
prize of one-room kitchen flat in the raffle contributed generously to the
Church Building Fund when he donated back the flat he had won. Parishioners from
Juhu, Vasai and other places where Fr. Mendes had worked earlier also
contributed their share towards the building fund.
As the fund collection drive was on, a two-phase
project was envisaged. The first phase consisted of Rs. 18 lakhs. The second
phase was to be three floors on top of the hall with archbishop’s permission and
assessment of the situation after five years.
The need for bigger space was such that the project
could not be delayed any longer. So the first phase was launched minus the hall
in October, 1989. As was the case earlier, the D’souza family came forward with
timely help. D’souza brothers (D’souza Enterprises) with their vast experience
in construction, agreed to build the church on a no-profit basis and offered the
basement of their Cordelia House for the continuation of religious activities
without any disruption.
The fund collection drive was launched vigorously
with the deadline for the construction of the church set for August 12, 1990,
the day of St. Lawrence feast. Fr. Mendes’ enthusiasm was not dampened even
though he underwent an open-heart surgery in the meanwhile. Even while he was
resting after the surgery, he requested every catholic family of the parish to
donate Rs. 1,000/- each and make the new church a part of their being. The
parishioners responded generously and the donations came pouring in. It is
expected that majority of the families would contribute Rs. 1,000/- each and
help in furnishing the church.
Keeping up the tradition Mr. Y. K. John has provided
the wiring work to the new church. More such contributions in cash and in kind
poured in and made the prayer hall a beautiful place to behold and an inspiring
place to worship the Lord.
Finally the day arrived and the people of Wagle
Estate were rejoicing and were eagerly waiting for the inauguration of their own
new Church. His Eminence Simon Cardinal Pimenta Inaugurated and Blessed the
Church on August 12, 1990.
In the year 2000, under the able administration of
Fr. Barthol Barretto, the parish was recognized as a full fledged parish.
The Priests serving the parish since its
Fr. Kenneth Mendes (1985-1991)
Fr. Bosco Remidiuos (1991-1992)
Fr. Sebeastian Serrao (1992-1994)
Fr. Joe D’souza (1994-1998)
Fr. Bede D’costa (1998-2001)
Fr. Barthol Barretto (2002-2004)
Fr. Leo Lobo (2004 Onwards)
Fr. Anthony Robbins (2000-2003)
Fr. Julius D'souza (2001-2003)
Fr. Lincoln Rebello (2003-2007)
Fr, Edward Jacinto (2007 Onwards)