Glorious Century

Sep 13, 2011, 10:19 IST | Hemal Ashar and Sharmina Khan

Gloria Church at Byculla readies to notch up a 100 on the scoreboard of history

Gloria Church at Byculla readies to notch up a 100 on the scoreboard of history

The Gloria Church in Byculla is getting ready to do what Sachin Tendulkar failed to do, to the disappointment of followers, on the current India cricket tour of England -- hit a century. It is going to be 100 years for the church that dominates the Byculla skyline, "only in 2013," says Father Rocky Banz, parish priest, but, "our Centenary Year celebrations itself begin in 2012 which is next year and last for a whole year, till 1913." For residents of the area, the milestone will bring back a flood of memories. Fr. Banz remembers, "Our hostel was close to the church, after morning mass, me and my friends used to go to the Irani cafes close by and relish the bun maska and tea. The mass and cafe became routine for us."

Song sung true: Music teacher Margaret Fernandes (centre) with her
group of choir students. Fernandes teaches music at the church

Nostalgia:  Irene Marie Vaz and her sister Olga Vaz have fond memories of the church

Worship: Captain Joseph and Jeanette Moniz, Parishioners

All work. Some Pray: Work on at the Gloria Church that needs
renovation and restoration

Glass Act: Gladys Pereira and stained glass artists working on the
restoration at the Grade II Heritage structure

Family fervour: Eric Vaz (63), wife Pearl Vaz (61),  daughter Kimberly
Mendonca (32) with baby. The Vaz family have a 60-year-old connection
with the church

Makes divine music: Pianist Anthony Fernandz his wife Antoinette with
their grandson

Windows of the soul: Gloria Church can hold you in thrall pics/SURESH KK

Mass Appeal: Morning mass at the Church

The Vaz family, Byculla residents have a 60-year old connection with the church. Pearl Vaz, (61) parishioner,  says, "Though I am from Bandra, I feel an affinity with the church. My children, Eldon Evan and Kimberley have all been married in this church. My husband's father and grandfather both have doctors at the parish. In fact, our building has been named as, "Gloria Terrace" after the church." Daughter Kimberley Mendonca (32) adds, "I had the option of baptising my son in Dubai where I am currently settled but I zeroed in on Gloria church simply for the sentimental value. I was a part of the choir in the church and every evening, we used to sing lovely carols. Christmas was a grand affair -- cribs were made, there were processions around Byculla." Other members of the Vaz family are Pearl Vaz's husband Eric Vaz's (63) aunts Olga Vaz and Irene Vaz.  Olga remembers, "Gloria church was not just a spiritual place for us, we even socialised there. We, in fact, had more fun than the current generation. We looked forward to the fest of Our Lady of Fatima in the month of September where candle processions used to be held and flowers thrown. We sang and danced heartily. Unlike the current generation, we were very inclined towards the church. We even looked forward to the Gloria feast that was held in November."

Next year though, Gloria Church plans to make it a mix of solemnity and celebration with a two-pronged celebration. Says Fr Banz, "We will have two kinds of themes for marking 100 years. A slew of programs that focus on strengthening the bonds of people, the parishioners, and their family are planned. On another tack, we will also have spiritual celebrations." For Jeanette Moniz (67) her relationship with Gloria Church is a, "long affair". Though her husband Joseph Moniz is from Mazagaon, her loyalty to the church remains intact. Baptised, received her communion and married in Gloria Church, Moniz underlines her strong ties to the church saying, "I have been visiting Gloria Church since the time I was born. The then Bishop of Pune presided over my wedding ceremony. Then, the church and its people were more like family to us. We were on first name basis with almost everyone. There were 20,000 parishioners then, today, the numbers have dwindled to hardly 3,000 of us visiting the church, with most of the parishioners shifting to the suburbs."

Talking about numbers,  for Gloria Church and so many heritage structures in the city, it is fund collection time. Says Fr. Banz, "Current estimates for repair and reconstruction put the figure at Rs 4.5 crore. We have 20-25 volunteers who go to Mt. Mary Basilica (the Bandra fair is on) with collection boxes everyday. We have also put up banners at the fair asking people to donate."

Anthony Fernandz (78) and Antoinette Fernandz (74) were married in Gloria Church in 1967. The couple visited the church during their courtship and they say, "We were distant relatives, we went to the church together during our 15 years of courtship. Everything was so much fun then." Anthony Fernandz even plays the piano at times in Gloria Church and still does not miss morning mass. He speaks fondly of being a godfather to many children in the church and out of his five children, three of them were married at Gloria Church.

Margaret Fernandes is a music teacher by profession and teaches music at the church. Baptised, got her communion and married at Gloria Church, Fernandes jokingly also hopes to have her funeral here.
Music is a way she connects with God as she says, "Music is a talent given to me by God which I give back to him." Fernandes recalls, "Once, there was no electricity during midnight mass. My choir and I had to continue with mass. I was surprised to hear they sounded so beautiful in the silence, without the whirring of a fan, or a microphone." Pained by the current state of the church, she says, "This is what happens if you do not look after something. It is a heritage site, the BMC or the government should look into it."
Though most parishioners only talk about the good times, there is a tinge of the bittersweet too. Gladys Pereira (58) says, "People only talk about fond memories. I had my marriage vows taken place in the Gloria Church and my husband's funeral here as well." Pereira is currently doing the stained glasswork of the Gloria Church. Fr. Banz ends, "We have finished waterproofing and are now working on the dilapidated doors and windows."  Like former teacher, Evala D'Souza from Mazagaon who thinks,  "that youngsters will still have a pull towards the church, it is a place for bonding," Fr Banz too believes the faith will continue to bring in people to church, even as a flurry of reports speak about how the faith is losing its following in the West. "There is no such fear here," says Fr. Banz who agrees that demographics may have changed, "with parishioners much older, as youngsters have moved out to the suburbs." Yet, the four turrets of the church, people believe would continue to be a magnet for the grey-haired and grizzled or bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

In A Nutshell
>> The Gloria Church website states that the church which dominates the Byculla skyline, is built in the English Gothic Style and shaped in the form of a Latin Cross with four turrets which rise to a height of 160 feet. The towers or turrets were designed on the lines of the Canterbury Cathedral, England and are one of the highest amongst churches in the city. 

>> The original church building, dedicated to Our Lady of Glory, popularly called 'Gloria Church,' standing at a site in Mazagaon, was demolished in 1912.

>> It was then rebuilt not at Mazagaon but at Byculla and completed in 1913, where it still stands. So, this church actually has two phases to its history. One is the Gloria Church at Mazagaon and the other, the Gloria Church at Byculla.

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