How The School Started

One morning while blessing the houses of Frere Road after Easter, I felt so oppressed at the number of children trailing me as was their habit, but with no satisfactory answer about their schooling, that I broke off. Surplice and stole on my arm and the sprinkler in my fist, I walked on to Bori Bunder, skirted the area, turned on to Waudby Road and read the notice: “Gilbert and Lodge, shifted to Rampart Row”. Mr. Beale who ran the English Firm of Estate Agents, was a very astute Jew. As I took my seat in his office in Rampart Row, I urged: “Mr Beale, this is not a business request. Find me a place; there are over three hundred children needing a school in the Fort area. . . .” He found me the place in two days. It was on Dockyard Road opposite the Tobacco Warehouse, a dump of a building three storeys high and of no good to any tenant because of its ill repute.

When I got Mr. Beale’s Telephone call, my first thought was: “I have not yet told Fr. Ghezzi!” It came so fast. For five years Fr. Ghezzi and his Assistants in the Holy Name Parish, had in vain sought out a room for which they were ready to pay a rental of Rs. 50/- a month. I now told Fr. Ghezzi what I was about, went with Mr. Beale to see the top floor of that big old building owned by Messrs. Bhanshilal Bros., and agreed about the price of Rs. 100/- a month. It was an entire floor, open on all sides to light and air, and with sufficient accommodation for five classrooms, Office and Teachers’ Room. There were no walls in between, only pillars! I came back to Archbishop’s House, uprooted Fr. Ghezzi from his Vicar General’s Office, sat with him in a taxi and told him the worst. Fr. Ghezzi was not one to make hasty decisions. He was over seventy years old. He treated me like a troublesome son. Nevertheless he came, he saw, he agreed! “But”, he added, “you did all this without consulting me!” He gave me Rs. 500/- with which to pay three months’ rent and buy benches. This was in April 1939. He had told me in June, 1937 when I first became his Assistant, “I will give you Rs. 500/- to open a school.” I thought then that he was asking for the impossible in the Fort area. What had moved Mr. Beale to make such a personal exertion? Was it that surplice and stole and sprinkler? – This reminds me of a verse I read in the Biography of a British Statesman:
“If I was on the river Casuary,
Somewhere in Timbuctoo,
I’d swallow a missionary,
Surplice, stole and hymn book too!”

Three days later, I resumed the blessing of houses on Frere Road. “What had happened?” They wanted to know. Had I fallen ill? I answered: “We have a school!” The news spread like wild fire. I printed an appeal to the “friends of Holy Name”. The money came in. The teachers applied. Fr. Coyne S.J. of St. Xavier’s High School gave me hardy old benches of German make. He also set me my curriculum and text books and promised to take my boys who passed my Primary. To begin with, mine was a mixed school with three standards. One hundred children enrolled on 10th June, 1939 when the school started. The way we all went foraging for material and equipment and second hand text books, was almost like an expedition on the river Casuary. Fr. Ghezzi felt almost sorry I had not asked for more money! Towards the end of July he departed for Bergamo in Italy, where our present Pope was born. The Second World War began in September, 1939.

The day the war began, I happened to call on the Nichols. She was a Catholic and he the Flag Officer Commanding the Royal Navy on this coast. His reaction to the news of the break of war was a string of well rounded swear words! How we loved the Navy and the Navy loved us! The men adopted our boys and the wives adopted our girls. Headmaster Smith often dropped in for a cup of tea and told me more than once: “I am waiting for your boys.” We had now shifted to Green Street and had bought the building. We had a Scout troop for boys, girls, young men and young women. The Navy Apprentices and my Rovers helped to whitewash the rooms and put new electric fittings. My youngsters learnt how to work with their hands and always keep neat. Of an afternoon, an English Officer on the Naval Staff would come and fetch a couple of my boys to take with him for a sail in the harbour. Ours was a Sea Scout group.

We had Domestic Science Class for our big girls. The Navy wives adopted this. Among those who loved our children were Mrs. Seddon and Mrs. Furlong. In this period, 1939 to 1942, Mrs. Seddon with Fr. Fox opened “Shandy Tavern”, for the sailors. Our girls helped at the start.

We also had a “club” functioning in the evenings for the young men and the Navy boys from all over India, who were taking their training. It was an attraction. The scouting with its club, did help to draw from the street corners many who were drifting aimlessly. Ours was a Parish Scout Unit made up of Catholics or near Catholics and well rooted in religious soil. It worked better in this area than a purely “pious Association”, could do.

What about the teachers? In the first year Miss Evelyn Sequeira was Head Mistress and then Miss Nancy Carrasco took over. Two other teachers could be classed among our founder members. These were Miss Apoline D’Souza who taught for a decade and more till she got married. The other is still with the school, Miss Theo Lobo. She ran my office. She used to be very diffident about herself, but our first Inspector of Schools and Dr. Mrs. Heap of the Red Cross took quite a liking for her. I once heard that Inspector (Noorbhoy was his name) tell Archbishop Roberts: “Your Christian girls are naturally good teachers. Put them in a classroom and from the very first they know what to do!” All my teachers were either trained or taking a training. They had a room up above, overlooking the harbour. They lingered there after class hours. We did not have the shift system in those days. Many were interested in extra-curricular activities such as the Red Cross and Air Raid Precaution.

Fr. Leonard Raymond visited our School the first year and praised us to the skies in his Inspection Report. He visited us the next year and was dissatisfied with our choice of Text books and poetry recital. Our children mostly did not speak English at home. Hence, we had to go in for “word selection” and other aids such as Phonetic spelling lists and action pictures. We thought we were being progressive. Down came Father Raymond on our methods. Our children and our Text books were not in the same class as for instance, the Clare Road Convent! I disputed his Report when it came. I wrote a thesis on “word selection”. But before I could deliver it, Father Raymond came to Archbishop’s House for lunch. Jokingly he said: “Father Mascarenhas thinks there is no other school like his in Bombay.” Father Raymond was conducting a school in the heart of Bombay, for very much the same kind of pupils that I had. But I had one advantage. I replied in a flash: “It is like this. If I give a recommendation for a job, every body will say, “This is the Holy Name School” (Holy Name Church and surroundings are known in the highest circles.) Now if you give a recommendation, people will look at your letter head and say: “Where on earth is this school?” Didn’t the whole table laugh! I believe Holy Name School has made the grade in every respect. Its name figures in the newspapers. It has now a towering edifice just behind Holy Name Pro-Cathedral.

If there be another besides myself who takes a pride in its rise to top class, this other should be Archbishop Roberts. He was the one I sought when I returned from Mr. Beale’s office that first day. He said in his quite manner: “You have my backing. Go ahead.” When a year later I had a chance of buying the building in Green Street, he called a meeting of the Council of administration in two days and enabled me to close the deal in four days. Dr. Altine Colaco was in those days the head of the Education Committee in the Bombay Municipality, and Mr. A. X. Moraes was the weightiest voice in the Church Administration on property matters. They recommended without hesitation the purchase of the four-storey, narrow building on freehold land for Rs. 52,000. It was an old building, but if we had not taken it up, we would have been in the streets.

We had many difficulties in those early years. But Archbishop Roberts used to say when the talk came up: “Don’t worry! Eton and Harrow started just like Fr. Mascarenhas’ school. They began as Parish Schools!” That became a standing joke. But how much did not Archbishop Roberts and his English friends love that school! Fr. Fox who was Port chaplain during the war made it his own haunt. He helped stage our first play: “Robinhood and Maid Marion”. The English ladies taught our girls the English folk dances. Well, Well! Those were the days!

Father Gracias treated me as a younger brother, and as he had the Parish in his hands, he set about organizing each year a fancy fete to get the school out of its debt of Rs. 52,000/-. It was war time and the attractions at Cawasji Jehangir Hall drew the best patronage. The organizing Committee that Father Gracias assembled was International, with Mrs. Clement Pereira at the head. Dr. Clement Pereira used to give me a helping hand in many ways. Doctors Jerry and Olga Saldhana had just returned from England, and visited my school regularly every week to run their English type medical inspection on my children. The “friends of the Holy Name” could not be complete without a mention of Mr. J. F. Pereira, the chief Accountant at the time of the Port Trust.

Father Gracias is now a Cardinal. Principals have come and gone. So have the Rectors. Father C. Zurbitu was the Vice-Rector and a boon companion in those days. Many have contributed to the building up of the school to its present proportions, but at every stage it was the Cardinal’s fostering that has brought the school to the front. There are many schools going up all around the Diocese for the benefit of the poor. As the Gardinal pointed out, it is very easy to start with the idea and the enthusiasm. But it is a long and uphill task to bring a school to a high grade. It needs much money, big buildings and consistent good teaching. The particular Cardinal Gracias had in mind when he said this, was the Holy Name School. He has had it on his hands for twenty-four years and next year will be the Silver Jubilee.