St. Francis Xavier Church, Sowripalayam

St. Francis Xavier Church, Sowripalayam

Church Location

Rev. Fr. P. Maria Joseph - The Parish Priest, St. Francis Xavier Church, Sowripalayam, Peelamedu P.O, Coimabtore- 641 028.


Most probably the Christianity of Saveriarpalayam is the oldest, in our Diocese (and of old Sathyamangalam Mission of the Jesuits), therefore long before the Karumathampatty Christianity! Once again it is Fr. Luney PME, who is the first source. His historical publication cannot be taken lightly, since he had personally taken the trouble to visit the places he writes about, traveling by bullock -carts, horse-back and by palanquins (if available) during the closing years of the 19th Century (Cfr: Fr. H. Hosten S.J. : Antiquities from Santhome and Mylapore p. 437). He seems to have personally visited the places, seen things for himself and gathered information from the locals about the oral traditions and had used his judgments and comments, with an historian’s point of view. So we cannot simply white - wash his statements about the mysterious event of the construction of Amman Tank of Piliakulam and the remonstration by the people of Saveriarpalayam in 1432, though it raises more questions than answers!

The name of this village, 3 K.M. east of Coimbatore, itself has 2 forms: In the secular history, it is called “SOWRI PALAYAM”, while in Catholic circles, it has always been called as ‘(X) SAVERIARPALAYAM’. “Sown”, usually means the “Wig” for ladies, especially the additional tresses of hair attached to the real hair at the top of the neck! But there is no historical evidence that such a manufacturing of hair-bundles here; But, “Sown” is also the corrupt and abbreviation of “Saveri”, as Sowrimuthu, Sowriappan Etc. So, both forms mean the same name of “Saveri” only and hence of its Christian origin. There are atleast 2 more Saveniarpalayarns in our mission, one near Mettur, Saveriarpaiayam (an ancient parish on a hill, that could be reached only on horse back and not to get mixed up with “Saveniarpalayarn” o Coimbatore. That Saveniyarpalayam as the prefix ‘ Kannamuchi’. The thixd place of this category in the one in Paighat District near Kozhijamparai, of Kerala; The Kerela Saveriarpalyam to avoid confusion is also called as “Palaniarpalayam” (from a house-maid with that name who became a Catholic, and is buried there). But, the problem to connect the origin of name of this village to St. Francis Xavier, runs into an insurrmountable barrier, namely, that St. Francis Xavier set foot on Indian soil only in 1542 and died in 1552 and canonized only in 1666! So, how can this village could have been, named after him? The only rational solution seems to assume that this village, ori;inally was called Sowripalayam (Sown -Wig + Palayam a village, created by destroying the forest and made habitable) and later, under the domination of the Catholic majority, came to be called S(X)averiarpalaym!

It will be an interesting historical information for many, though Saveriarpalayam has no explicit mentioning by name before 1803, it must have been one of the 15 main Central Churches, surrounded by other Christian Villages in 1655, mentioned as being within 2 days journey (Cfr. C.S.M. Op. cit p. 26) or scattered over a stretch of 25 leagues (Ibid p. 64), again as one of the 23 churches with 130 villages, in 1666, and Fr. Andre Freire, the superior writes in 1666, about the Christians of these villages and hence, we can rightly assume the same for Saveriarpalayam Christians. “One has often spoken with eulogium of the fervour of these neophytes, of their innocence of their assiduity at spiritual exercises and their tender devotion to the Holy souls of Purgatory. All these eulogies are no exaggerations and God Himself often takes pleasure in justifying them through the favours by which He rewards the faith of His dear children (Ibid p. 84).

Hence the ancient custom of this village (and also other ancient Christian villages of equal antiquity like Somanur, Manianallur, Palapalayam, etc) of the whole village going in a procession, reciting the Rosary to the Cemetery on Monday evenings, is of this early Jesuit era. It was such a striking special devotional practice that it could be the yard-stick to evaluate thc antiquity (Jesuit) of the Christian Villages of our Diocese.

Perhaps, the Christians of this parish, were more fortunate or, less, if you look at persecutions as blessing) in that they would :ertainly had to face various types of persecutions (since it seems be a fully Catholic village from its beginning, the non-Christian Dopulation forming separate villages, though surrounding it from ill sides), such as caste ostracization, yogis (Veera saiva, Vokagliga Sanyasis) persecution etc, which were so prevalent and persistent n the first Christian villages around Sathy! Besides the repercussions of the incessant war between Mysore and Madura, on these Christians who had to flee to the forests and mountains so often, would have least affected Coimbatore and surrounding Christianity, as they were out-of-the way of those invasions until Ryder and Tippu came on the scene (1765 -1799), when Coimbatore and the surroundings became the main theatre of battles between the Sultans and the British, when the Christians had to pay-so to speak- with interest for the long years of comparative peace , as we have already noted above, when they were carried off to Sriranga Pattinam, the Capital of Tippu in 1787!

From 1650 atleast, till 1799, Saveriarpalayam, along with Karumathapatty, Kannampalayam, C oimbatore (N.H. Road) were the Sub-stations of Kanuvavakkarai (Sathy) Residence (=Parish). Fr. Martinez (1644-1656) and his successor Arcoline (1653-1671), Fr. Amadio (1674-1678), Fr. Benedict de Naguera (1679 -1685), Fr. Emmanuel Correa (1671) Fr. Paiva (1686 - ) Fr. Manual Carvahlo (1691- ), Fr. Rainerio Conscitti (1724- ), Fr. Louis de Rocha (1733 - ), Fr. Angello de Franchessi (1743 - 1744 - ), Fr. Vieyra (1740-44 - 2 ), Fr.Arnolt (1740-44- .?..), Fr. Mucchi (1742-44..?..), Fr. Pietro Licchetta (Rayandunathar): (1760 1790) and Fr. Francesco Xaverio Pavone (Amurthanathar): (1760 11.07.1799) were the historically verifiable Parish Priests (they were not known as such in those days, but as Resident Priests) all Jesuits, of Madura and then of Mysore Jesuit Provinces. Not oniy Saveriarpalayam, but all the ancient Christian Villages of those days were substations of Kannuvakkarai (Sathy) Residence. Saveriarpalayam was the de-facto main centre for this area This situation continued upto 1850, when Coimbatore was made a separate parish, detached From Karumathampatty. Incidentally Karumathampatty had ecome a separate Residence (‘Parish) by 1683, as by then, Kannuvakaraibecame extinct. So, from about 1683, till l8SOwhen the first Vicar Apostolic, Bishop de Bresillac (1846 1853) transferred his head-quarters to Coimbatore, Saveriarpalayam was the main centre for Coimbatore Area. Though Kannampalayam had a larger Christian population than Saveriarpalayarn (according to the first Diocesan Statistics of 1855 Kannampalayam with Pudampally had 500 Christians and a church, while Saveriarpalayam had only 250 Catholics), Saveriarpalayam was the de-facto main centre, as it had not only a church, but also a house for the priest to stay. Ofcourse Coimbatore town had 150 Catholics then, but had neither a church (Mattakara Street chapel was for the Adi Dravidas) nor a presbytery, and Puliakulam had 300 Catholics with a Chapel (new church was under construction) but had no presbytery and they were Adi Dravidas! Owing to the diabolical caste-system from the time of Fr. De Nobili (and in our case, the first missionaries of Sathy Mission being Brahmin Sanyasis). The French Missionaries could not but follow it! Bu the pathetic condition of the one presbytery at Saveriarpalayam was such that it had no chairs, tables etc, and the visiting Priest had to sleep on wooden Planks! (and the church cannot contain one fourth of the people who came for Sunday Mass) (Cfr. Luney op. cit. Vol. II, p. 305). And yet this humble presbytery had served the French Missionaries from Karumathampatty from 1803 upto 1846, till the land, with a house, was bought at Coimbatore (the present Bishop’s House and Cathedral). Thus the humble presbytery at Saveriyarpalayam must have been the actual Parish Centre and the Residence of Coimbatore, the name o ‘Coimbatore’ being for name sake!

Fr. Dubois, under the Supervision of Fr. Aloysius (Gnanapragasanather, one of the first Indian Priest of Pondicherry Seminary) built churches at Kannampalayam and Puthampally, the substation of Saveriarpalayam, perhaps since they had more Catholics than Saveriarpalayam itself, but made arrangements to build a new church at Saveriarpalayam through the generousisty of a local Catholic Mr. Savari Muthu in 1 805. It must have been blessed by Fr. Dubois! Since he was recalled to Pondicherry and then to France, the whole of Sathyamangalarn Mission (hence Karurnathampatty Resisdence) was left shepherd less. It is at this period four Canerine Priests (Secular Priests of Goa) sneaked into our mission, as if they had the jurisdiction. Since the Catholics had no priest to cater to their spiritual needs, they must have welcomed them, ignorant, as they must have been, about all canonical nicieties, after 181 8, when the last of the 4 Indian priests, who had accompanied Fr. Dubois, Fr. Germanus (Ordained in 1794 at Pondicherry) died at Kodiveri, from where he must have looked after Karumathampatty Residence also. After his death another Pondicherry Indian Priest, Fr. Hilary who came to work at Karumathampatty, died there in 1820.

From 1 820 1 836, was the ‘Dark Age’ for the ancient Christianity of Coimbatore. The Canarine Priests, Fr. Bechu had noted down the names of four of them, were Fr. Pascal de Cruz, Fr. Yagappan, Fr. Stephen and Fr. Garcia) (Cfr. Bechu: Op. cit. p. 32) because of their uncouth manners, least consideration for the culture of the local Christians, their money - mindedness, and luxurious way of life, replicating the loose manner of living, prevalent in Goa where they were trained, succeeded only in estranging the Catholics. Hence the Caholics of Karumathampatty Residence sent a petition of Mgr. Herbert, Vicar Apostolic of Pondicherry (1 810 1 836) under whose jurisdiction Coimbatore came, in 1 820, requesting him to send a Priest to look after them. Because of the shortage of Priests to look after the whole Coromandal Coast Mission, (practically the whole of Tamilnadu, upto Cape Cornrine (Kanyakumari, Mysore and Andhra) he could not spare any hands. However, in 1836, Fr. Bouchaton, then Fr. jarrige and Fr. Arulandu (an Indian Priest) came, but had to go back almost immediately, as the British Government was insisting on Visas to enter and stay in their territories. Finally Fr. Goust and Fr. Pacreau, were allowed to stay at Karumathampatty, after obtaining proper Visas! So, these two are the first French Parish Priests of Karumathampatty Residence, and hence also of Saveriarpaiayarn. They were followed by Fr. Bigot-Beauclair (Devapathinathar) in 1837, and Fr. Metral in 1839. Fr. Bigot­ Beauclair visited all the Catholic villages of the Mission between 1837 - 1845, and hence also Saveriarpalayam, building chapels and presbyteries. Hence, he must have visited this parish also and used the church and the small house, for his ministry. (Cfr. Bechu Op. Cit. p. 15-18).

The Vicar Apostolic of Pondicherry (hence also of Coimbatore) Mgr. Bonnand (1836 1846) came on a pastoral visit to our Mission from 15-9-1842 to 9-1-1 843) and administered the Sacrament of Confirmation in the main centers. Karumathampatty, was one of those centers, and the people of Saveriarpalayam must have attended the reception and their children (perhaps even many older people) would have been Confirmed there. Surely this was first time in history, a Bishop set foot in our Mission. Unfortunately, he could not visit Saveriarpalayam area, since his itinery took him from Karumathampatty to Dharapuram and from there to Palghat area upto Vadakancherry! On his return journey from Paighat, he only passed through Coimbatore, traveling to Ooty on horse - back and from Ooty to Kodivery and then back to Pondicherry. (Cfr. Fr. Jean Lafrenez : Mission de Pondicherry : p. 80-81). It was during his time, a new church was built here in 1845 and one of the first Parish Priests of Karumathampatty, Fr. Pacreau., had noted down that this new church (replacing the older one, built by Fr. Dubois in 1805) as the best church in the mission! (That implies even better than the church of Karumathampatty!) (Cfr. Bechu : Op. cit : P. 19). A new small presbytery was also built in 1845.

It may be an interesting guess: The first native priest of our Mission, is Fr. Arulappan (Joanus), one of the first five to receive Tonsure from Bishop de Bresillac at Karumathampatty in 1 849 (Ibid: p2 I), ordained by his successor Bishop Godelle in l857at Karumathampatty, was a native of”Coimhatore” (that could only mean, “Saveriarpalaym” as it was the Residence and Coimbatore was only “in name”). He was born in 1830 here, of Hindu parents but of the Weavers caste (Devangers). Either he must have been born in Coimbatore (as there were many non-catholic Devangars at Sukkravar Pet of Coimbatore) but baptized at Saveriarpalayam (as it was the Parish Church) when he was 10 years old, or even born at Saveriarpalayam, where there must have been some non- catholic Devangers there in those days and baptized here. Hence it can almost be certain, that Saveriarpalayam had the distinction of producing the first “Son of the Soil” Priest for Coimbatore Diocese! It is interesting to know that, as a newly converted Catholic, after joining the Seminary at Karumathampatty, in his first out-burst of zeal, he started destroying a pagan idol on the road - side and thus caused a great stir among the local Hindus. After his ordination in 1857 (not in 1858 as others who had written articles about the History of St. Josephs Minor Seminary, in the various Souvenirs!), he was assistant to Fr. Ravel and then in charge of Pallapalayam for 12 years and then also for same time at Karumathampatty. He died in 1870 at Karumathampatty, and was buried in the church there. Fr. Bechu, our Diocesan Historian, after giving the above details, finally has written as a “Panageric” “He was the first Indian Priest of the Coimbatore Mission; workeH zealously for the sanctification of Christians and the conversion ol pagans, was a credit to the Indian clergy of the Mission”. (Bechu Op. cit. p. 146 - 147). Fr. Luney however, in his monumenta work, says : “On 29th May 1858, two first priests from thc Coimbatore Mission were ordained: Fr. Arul and Fr. Xavery, thc first was from Coimbatore of pagan parents, at 10 years wa baptized. Fr. Xaverinathar, from Murugampalayam, served ir Dharapuram, Coimbatore and Saveriarpalayam and died 1882” (Op. cit : Vol. II p. 392).

In 1 848, Coimbatore was detached from Karumathampatty as a separate parish by Bishop de Bresillac, and thw Saveriarpalayam became a real substation of Coimbatore, thougi there was no church at Coimbatore till 1867, when the Cathedra was completed but there was a house for the Priest to reside one of the rooms of that house (the present procure) was used a a chapel. ln that single - room chapel, some the first Indian Priests were ordained.

During the turbulent Goanese or Joachim Schism, Saveriarpalayam did not appear to have been affected, though those priests must have visited and administrated the sacraments here. But when the French Missionaries arrived to take charge in 1834, there were no factions, supporting the Goanese priests and hence it must have happened without a hitch. This is in sharp contrast to other places, like Karumathampatty, Aravakurichi and Venkitapuram where there were factions, one supporting the new­ comers (the French Missionaries) and the other the Goanes priests, often resulting in unchristian fist fights and schisms, so much so Fr. Bechu, sarcastically could remark, “One group wanted the French, another the Goanese while still a third (Bad Catholics) wanted none of them (so that they could live as they liked” (Ibid Op. cit : p. 17).

Mgr. de Bresillac, the first Bishop of our Vicariate, faced with Caste conflicts and revolt among the laity and even among his tiny band of clergy (just 5 or 6), because he attempted to abolish the social system of castes, chose to resign and go hack to France in 1 853. At Somanur, there was the first meeting of the Vicariate lay people, up in arms against the abolishing of castes in 1853 or 1854 and decided to boycott going to the church and even threatened to call in the schismatic priests. The immediate provocation wa the bold action of Fr. de Gelis, to employ a cobbler-caste boy a his syce (to look after his horse) and allowed him to enter th presbytery at will. Since from 1847, Bishop de Bressilac himsell had established the “Maniakarars System” to help the priests in thi temporal administration of the parishes and of Karumathampatty the Mother of 10 surrounding Christian Villages (Saveriarpalayan was one of the ten), therefore the Maniakaran of this parish to would have played his part, supported by the Villagers. Th problem was finally solved only in 1 857 by Fr. Ravel.

In 1859, Saveriarpalayam was the substation of Coimbatore had 250 Catholics, a small church (but the most excellentone: and a small presbytcry Fr. de Gellis was the Parish Priest.

In the brief statistics of 1872 - 73, we find Fr. Xavier, tin second Indian Priest of our Mission to be ordained, was in charge of this Parish, (though as Assistant to the Parish Priest of the Cathedral Fr. Arival). His biography is a very interesting one. He was the only son of his parents, a devout Devanger family of Murugampalayam (which was a Catholic Village, with 83 Catholics and a church in 1859). His father’s one ambition was to offer his oniy son to God’s service. Hence he put him in the Seminary at Karumathampatty on 21 .1 .1846. Now the fun starts. Reran away twice, according to Fr. Bechu, though according to the same historian, the boy had great difficulties to obtain his parent’s consent, being the only son! (Cfr. Ibid: p.l46). But both the times his father brought back the prodigal son. Thus after the initial hiccups, he persevered in the Seminary and received ‘the tonsure’ at the hands of Bishop de Bresillac, who as stated by Fr. Luney, was much impressed by his parent’s piety and faith. He was ordained as priest on 29.5.1858 at Karumathampatty by Mgr. Godelle. He was an exemplary Pastor in the various places of his ministry at Dharapuram, Coimbatore and Saveriarpalayam 1 865 - 1881. He died at Coimbatore on 27.5.1882. Fr. Beshu says about him: “An edifying priest whom the people held in great esteem and affection”. (Ibidp.146).

In 1876 1878 South India was again visited by famine and many died of Cholera, dysentery and fever. The missionaries and the Government tried to help as much as possible with “Gruel Centers” ( Kanjithotti) Coimbatore had one such gruel center. This place was also affected; some must have been converted at this period.

lit the Statistics of 1 892, Saveriarpalayam had a Catholic Population of 1391 (what a phenomenal increase compared to that of 1859, when it was only 650) and 3 adult Baptisms, and another good news : It had 3 schools with 51 pupils : In 1 892 a school had been founded here, known as St. Francis Xavier’s Elemantary School (which later was called as “St. Joseph’s” The other two schools must have been the ones at Pilliakulam, which was its substations (Ibid : p. 56).

Saveriarpalayam was made a separate parish in 1892 though it had a resident priest from 1866. Fr. Guerpillion was the first Parish Priest. For the 3rd time the church was rebuiltb)r him 1898 (This was the one that was existing till 1963). The bel-fry was constructed by Fr. A. Ignatius in 1905. In 1963 the church was extend on both sides, as side aisles, by Fr. Heart M. lrudayan and was blessed by Bishop Savarimuthu. Fr. Lazar Arputham constructed the portico for the church in 1976. The Centenary of the parish was celebrated in 1983 (I wonder what was this Centenary was for, since it became a separate parish only 1892!) by Fr. M. Thomas. Fr. C.S. Madalaimuthu, did the interior decorations in 1988.

Before the Diocese was handed over to Indian clergy, Fr. Guerpillion, Fr.M.S. Micael, Fr. Langlet, Fr. Rthinanathar, Fr. Collins, Fr. Koihir, Fr. Paul were the parish priests Fr. Paul (1932- 1935) when he was transferred from here and appointed as Parish Priest of Dharapuram, while he was travelling by Bus (in those days, the buses had no side protective body, but were open, with wooden benches) on the way, suddenly a cobra crossed the road, in front of the bus, and the driver applied sudden brakes and in the jolt, Fr. Paul was thrown out and received a mortal injury on the head and hence died in 1935, before he could take charge! (This transfer, brought, Fr. G. Martial (1935-46). He was known for choosing the Baptismal names for many children of the Parish. He brought the Convent of the Presentation Sisters. Fr. S. Maria Joseph (1946-1949) built a new building for the boys school and also 3 houses for rentals. It was during the end of the reign of Fr. Martial and during the time of Fr. Maria Joseph, the cruel shortage of yarn, affecting the Handloom Industry made nearly half of the parish, to migrated to Calcutta, Mettur, Bombay, Surat etc.

It was when he was the Parish Priest here (1949-1950) that Fr. M. Savarimuthu received his nomination as Bishop ol Coimbatore, but continued to be parish priest, even after his consecration. He repaired the ancient presbytery. His successor Fr. M. Singara) ar (1951-1955) the Boy’s school was raised to Higher Secondary School in 1952, and the school building was xtended. With the parishioners’ contribution, the beautiful Grotto of the Sacred Heart was constructed, blessed by Bishop Savarimuthu, who had a special devotion to the Sacred Heart. Fr. G.M. Kulandaiswamy (1 955-59) extended the school building. He started the Young Christian Workers Movement (Y.C.W) first in the Diocese. There seems to have been unnecessary confusion about this Fr. A.J.Williams started the Christian Workers Association, at the Cathedral in the year 1948! (Cfr. Souvenir of the 150th year of the Diocese: The Message of Fr. John Williams) Fr. Joseph Pragasam (1959-61)built another extension for the Boys school and continued extending the YCW movement which was extended to many parishes, by Rev. Fr. Ignatius M. lrudayam into a real Diocesan movement, during 1961-1970, one of the best in India! Fr. Irudayam (1 961 -1964), took the initiative to extend the church with 2 aisles, the foundation was blessed on 24-2-1962 by Bishop Savarimuthu and it was completed in 1963, blessed by the same Bishop. A new Grotto in honor of Our Lady of Fatima was constructed and blessed on 7-9-1985. In the cemetery, a Calvary with covered shed was constructed and blessed by Bishop Ambrose on 2-11-1987.

Fr. A. Louis, after strenuous efforts to collect funds, constructed the large parish hall and it was blessed by Bishop Ambrose . Fr. M. Guruswamy, was the Parish Priest here. Fr. CS. Madalaimuthu, managed by evict the tenants of the houses, rented out, and put up a one storied building for the Boy’s school (at whose expense, is not clear!)

The foundation for a new modern spacious presbytery, behind the existing one was constructed by Fr. Jacob and was blessed by Bishop Thomas Aquinas.

Main Slaion

Distance from the cathedral church : 5 K.Ms

Total No. of Catholic Families both in the Main & in the sub- Station : 1500

Total number of Catholics : 7500

Religious Houses :

I. Presentation Convent 0422 - 2591285

2. Sisters of Cottelango 0422 - 2575074

Religious Institutions :

1. St. Philomena’s Girls High School 0422 - 2573825

2. St. PhiJ.omena’s Girls Primary School 0422 - 2573825 (Con)

3. St. Joseph’s Middle School for boys 0422 - 2573825 (Con)

4. Rehabilitation Centre for the Mentally-handicapped 0422 - 2575074

5. Physio Therapy unit 0422 - 2575074 (Con) 6. Dispensary 0422 - 2575074(Con)

Mass Timings:

Week days : Mon to Fri 6.00 a.m,

Tue, Thur, Fri, & Sat 6.00 p.m

Cottelengo Convent 6.45 a.m

Sundays : 5.15, 7.30, & 9.00 a.m; 5.30 p.m

Lay Associations :

1. Legion of Mary (4 Presidiums)

2. Vincent Dc Paul Society

3. Catholic Association

4. Third Order Of St.Francis

5. Christian Mother’s Association

6. Sunday Catechism Teachers’ Association

7. St. Xavier Kalai Kuzhu

8. Youth Movement

Patronal Feast : Sunday Following by December 3rd St. Francis Xavier


Meena Estate

Distance - 2 K.Ms

Families - 50

No. of Catholics - 200

Mass Timings - Sun 10.00 am

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