Father Frazer Mascarenhas, who will be retiring after a 12-year stint as the principal of St Xavier’s College, speaks to Anju Maskeri about his legacy at the institute and his plans ahead
It might surprise some to learn that, notwithstanding his decades-long career in education — which includes a 12-year stint as the principal of Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College Father Frazer Mascarenhas had not meant to take up teaching, but dreamed of being a Catholic priest instead. But with his time as principal coming to a close on May 31, he looks back with satisfaction.
Father Frazer Mascarenhas is a proud Xavierite himself, and has left a lasting legacy as the principal who ensured the institute attained academic autonomy. Pic/Bipin Kokate
“I did not join the Jesuit society to become a principal. I joined to do religious work, but we have a wider interpretation of religious work. It is not just about prayer. It has to do with the development of the entire being. So, technically, I have been doing religious work at St Xavier’s College by helping the overall development of my students,” he told mid-day.
Mascarenhas himself is a proud Xavierite and recalls his days at the institute with fondness. “I’m a Mumbai boy. We lived around Dhobi Talao. I went to St Xavier’s High School and then joined St Xavier’s College for my BA in Sociology. I enjoyed the atmosphere on campus; there was all-round formation,” said the 62-year-old, who is passionate about singing, and playing the guitar.
In fact, it was his own brilliant academic record that prompted the Society of Jesus to ask Mascarenhas to teach. He taught Anthropology and Sociology for 13 years before becoming the principal. “When I joined as the principal, the college was already considered one of the best institutions in the country, so my task was to see how to take it to another level,” he added.
In his quest to improve the college, Mascarenhas has left a lasting legacy he is credited with pushing for, and achieving, academic autonomy for Xavier’s in 2010. Since this path-breaking move, six other colleges have taken a leaf out of the institute’s book, and have opted for autonomy.
“The core of what we were teaching and how the students were evaluated was dictated by the university. It was not very suitable for the type of faculty and the students we got. They were capable of much more,” he explains, adding, “Although there was reluctance to change, an overwhelming majority agreed to the idea and that is the reason we were able to go ahead.”
“While we talk about India shining, more than half our population is illiterate and the human development index is abysmally low,” he said while speaking of his future work to promote literacy among the underprivileged, also quick to point out, “But I am not blaming any political party in particular for this.”
Not one to mince words, Mascarenhas had earned the ire of politicians last year, when he went public with a critique of the Gujarat model of development. “I haven’t taken on any political party. I critiqued a developmental model, as developmental studies is my area of vocation. I never said the Gujarat model was rubbish. I was accused of siding up with a political party, which is unfortunate,” he explained.
Mascarenhas will be replaced as principal by Agnelo Menezes, who also happens to be an alumnus of Xavier’s, and will be the first non-Jesuit principal in the college’s 146-year history. Mascarenhas, on the other hand, will now turn to imparting education to the underprivileged dwelling along the railway tracks of Central Railway.
Fr. Arun D’Souza, Sociology professor
Right from my college days in Xavier’s, there had been the talk of autonomy among the Jesuits. But we needed somebody with that drive to push it through. That was what Fr. Frazer brought to the college, with his unflinching commitment.
Agnello Menezes, Incoming principal
The idea of simple living, high thinking comes out very strongly with Fr Mascarenhas. I will remember Fr Frazer as a true Jesuit.