It all started when Rt. Rev. Justin Diraviam, Arch Bishop Madurai, used to visit Bandra East, while he was embarking to Europe. He was touched and edified by Norbertine way of life and ministry. At this point of time, Fr. A. S. Prakash, O. Praem was the Principal of Cardinal Gracious High School. The Arch Bishop causally invited the Norbertines to his Diocese, Madurai. But nothing happened to His Lordship’s invitation. In 1997, Fr. Prakash, O. Praem was Prior of St. Norbert Priory, Mumbai and Fr. Theophanous, O. Praem was The Abbot’s Delegate because Jamtara still remained under the Abbey of Berne as Sub- Canonry.Even after 54 years there was not the presence of Norbertines in Tamil Nadu. Though in 1923, the three Dutch Missionaries landed in South, moved on to central province of India to work in the Missions. There was vacuum in Tamil Nadu.
Due to various reasons, Fr. Prakash, O. Praem resigned as a Prior and obtained permission from the Superior to go to Tamil Nadu in order to establish Norbertine Communities. Before embarking into Tamil Nadu he made a visit to Madurai. The Arch Bishop gave Fr. Prakash, O. Praem a guided visit of his Diocese. Nothing impressed Fr. Prakash and returned to Trichy. Here he happened to meet Rt. Rev. Thomas Fernando, the Bishop of Trichy, who was also a friend in Rome. Here too, Fr. Prakash, O. Praem had guided tour of Trichy Diocese. It was in the mind of Fr. Prakash that he must serve a marginalized section of the society. Fr. Prakash was also an educationist and philosopher. Similarly, he had a sense of regret towards the caste discrimination in the society, especially in the Church. This was his agenda to serve poor people without any discrimination and he was convinced that education was a tool to realize his dream. Thus, his motto was, “We will make a new World”. During his guided tour of this Diocese, he was touched by the situation of Sembattu. Hence, he decided to take up the place called Sembattu as his future ministry place.
In month of May, 1997, he set out from Jamtara, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, by road in age old Matador Van. His companions were Bro. John Amal Raj (Simple Professed Lay –Brother) and a Novice Bro. Maxi and extra driver from Jabalpur Bishop’s House. From the central part of India to Southern part of the country took twelve full days. A correspondence with the Bishop of Trichy was complete to take charge of Sembattu Parish. Here something must be spoken about Sembattu Parish. It was not established as a Parish but priest and Brothers from St. Paul Seminary were doing their ministry. A notable person is Fr. Blaze, an Irish Priest. They all were cycling every weekend to organize Mass and conduct catechism classes for the children. Sembattu Parish starts from Kottapattu (along Pudukottai road) and goes up to MandaiyurSalai. Sembattu is situated around 7 kms from Trichy Railway station. The place is infested with Tannery; hence throughout the year one cannot avoid foul and acid smell that comes from the factories. Mostly, scheduled caste people were employed in the Tanneries. The area was vast most undeveloped due to the presence of tanneries. Thus, some type of ministry was carried out. Later days, the parish came under the jurisdiction of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Trichy. Once in a while, Mass was celebrated in a small chapel which was more than hundred years old. The same chapel was used as middle school managed by the diocese. It is said that the school was started by the Jesuits in 1933. Besides F.M.M.Sisters from AmaliSevaIllam were doing lots of community development activities. They educated many young people, built houses and provided many other materials and spiritual benefits. After the turn of years the parish was handed over to St. John de Britto Parish, Subramaniapuram. Again the place did not get total attention of the local church.
At this juncture Fr. Prakash and Bro. John Amalraj arrived at the scene. The parish did not have a church and presbytery. The old chapel was situated in half an acre of land. Hence, the two members from Jamtara took shelter at SVD guest house at Ponmalaipatty and at the time Fr. Ritz was Rector of minor seminary. Here they stayed for four months. Every day they cycled to Sembattu visiting houses and trying to organize a community. At the point the so called parish had following places under its jurisdiction;
- Shawalace factory
- Kamaraj Nagar (with many small nagars)
- K. Nagar
- Suder Nagar
- I.C. Colony
- State Bank of Indian Colony
- Thendral Nagar
- Pattathammal Street
- NMT colony
- MIET(was later addition/ development)
- Gundur Burma Colony
- Mathur village
North:Airport area had airline servant’s residents with little Catholic family. Kama Raj Nagar was designated by the government to accommodate “Burman return” Tamilians. Therefore it was mixed in social, economical conditions. There were around three hundred Catholic Families in the vicinity. There was a Cross placed in a government owned land and people lighted candles on Tuesdays in honor of St.Anthony of Padua. Fr. Prakash with the support of the people erected a thatched roof shed and started to celebrate Mass of Sunday mornings and Tuesdays evenings. The spiritual exercises drew lots of devotees. This locality considered as centre of parish activities. After sometime Fr.Prakash received financial assistance from Mrs. Anna Frey. Madison, USA hence he constructed titled roof chapel.
Next centre of activities was Sembattu. People from Pattathammal Street, Pudutheru, NMT colony.Sembattu and Thiruvalarchipatty attended their religious obligation at old Sembattu chapel. The chapel was more than 100 years old and it was in bad condition beyond reparable. The children and the staff were attending school at their own risk. At this time Mr. Mupppanar was the headmaster of the middle school. There was Mr.Rajarethinam widower was sole guardian and watchman of the school and the church. Because he was a teacher too residing at the church for ages. Here Sunday Mass was celebrated and sisters from AmaliSevaIllam took charge of evangelization and catechism. Except Thiruvalarchipatty other location Catholics belongs to most backward community and they are employed at tanneries which are considered as upper caste. The Church at Sembattu like any other Portuguese Churches had three wings (main and two sides). Fr. Prakash had dream where all are equal and no difference between any human beings. In his sermon weeks after week he preached on casteless Tamilnadu. In reality people from Thiruvalarchipatty occupied right wing of the church including their young and old. One day he told that all the children and the youth occupy the main wing and the other elders both the side wings. But nothing happened. One sweet day he demolished right wing of the Church under the pretext to build a presbytery. Yet the upper caste people choose to stand outside the Church than to come inside. But the patience and the determination of Fr. Prakash received its result. Slowly all the people mingle and attended the Church services.
Thiruvalarchipatty is a homogenous community which has its own chapel and property of its own. It was functioning as sub-station of Sembattu Parish.