St. Xavier’s High School began its eventful career in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the second half after 19th century, an era of momentous change and development for the port city of Bombay – the Gateway of India in the East.
Bombay became a still busier harbor with the opening of the Suez Canal (1869) which greatly shortened the long maritime route via Cape of Good Hope.
Early in the 19th century, land reclamation on the western side of the emerging city facilitated frantic building activity, for Bombay was developing into a veritable trade centre for cotton and for the products of its vast hinter land. The telegraph line began to be laid, so too the railway and the government was initiating the implementation of the proposal contained in Lord Macaulay’s famous “ Minute” of 1835; to introduce English as the official language and the medium of instruction for secondary and tertiary education. Alongside governments’ attempts of providing schools came those made by private citizens. The emphasis was on education imparted through the English-language medium.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Bombay, Anastasius Hartmann, was very much concerned about the general illiteracy among his flock. In the 1840’s he looked around for Christian educators who could come to his assistance. None could be found in the city or in the country and so he approached the Jesuit Fathers. The Superior General of the Jesuits acceded to his request and a group of five arrived in Bombay in the year 1853: the Dutchman Walter Steins; two Goans, Anthony Pereira and Anthony Jaques; and two Englishmen James Peniston and William Strickland.
The Fathers’ very first foundation was the St Mary’s institution (Mazagaon) in 1857. The bishop manifested his desire that a school be opened in the Fort area. Jesuits are known to be men of “prompt action” (obedience is their forte!). They began looking around for a suitable plot of land on which to make a start, and simultaneously rented a house at Cavel. In this house, known as the Glass House, they welcomed the first batch of 115 boys on 19 March 1860, under the leadership of Fr. Leo Meurin.
This fledgling ‘school’ soon came to be called the Kalbadevi School. The following year 1861, the number of eager students grew to 300. The Glass House proved inadequate to hold such a big crowd. Luckily, the government moved fast to grant the Fathers the plot of land they had applied for and in 1866 the Fathers took possession of the land on which St Xavier’s High School stands today. The plot measured 200 feet by 160 feet, on lease for 999 years at the nominal rate of one rupee per year.
The Fathers raised their hearts to God in thanksgiving and prayed that they might acquire the adjacent plot measuring 10 feet by 80 feet. God answered their prayer. By this time, several German Jesuits had arrived to staff the Jesuit enterprises in Bombay (the Superior General had decided to place the Bombay region under the German Province of the Society of Jesus).
Ah! Those Germans! and German Jesuits at that! They set to work. Plans for the school building were drawn up by a young German Jesuit priest and architect, Charles Wagner, specially sent from Germany for the purpose. The government quickly approved the plans and Wagner, together with Jesuit Brothers Kluber Pereira, Preuter, and Lau, set to work. In January 1868, the foundation was laid and blessed by the Bishop in the presence of a large crowd of parents, well-wishers and curious onlookers. From early morning, accompanied by the melodious notes of sparrows, bulbuls and the shrieks of parakeets, and the raucous crowing of crows, calloused hands made the edifice rise steadily into existence.
The middle section of the building measured 80 feet by 30 feet; and each of the two side wings 130 feet by 60 feet. The open courtyard in the centre measured 90 feet long and 80 feet broad. Most of the middle section and the east wing were still in their final stages of completion when Fr Meurin led the exodus of his charges from Cavel to Carnac Road (today the Lokmanya Tilak Marg) on 17th MAY 1869. This date marks the existence of the new school on its own grounds. Strange are the ways of Divine Providence. Soon after these historic days, Fr Charles Wagner fell fatally ill with severe dysentery and passed away on August 27 and was laid to rest in Bandra.
The finishing touches were complete to the east wing when the monsoon arrived in all its regular fury but which failed to keep the boys away from entering their spacious classrooms on 23 July 1869. We must remember that those were the years when a full-fledged high school was in the making. The school comprised only standards I to IV. To quicken the pace for the recognition of St Xavier’s as a high school, the boys of Standard V and VI from St Mary’s (Mazagaon) were transferred to St Xavier’s. Not satisfied with having almost reached the goal of high school, the Father’s planned to start tertiary education on the premises of the school. Fortunately, the west wing, too, was soon completed, thus providing space for an eventual university college!
The St Xavier’s site at 289 Lokmanya Tilak Marg by the end of 1870 held the following institutions, under the leadership of Fr Joseph A Willy:
1) School :– Preparatory Class
– Primary Section : Std I – IV
– Middle Section : Std V – VI
– “A ESCOLA Portuguesa”-Special school for boys with a Portuguese background.
2) College: The first two years.
3) Seminary for young men studying for the Catholic priesthood.
The following little piece of information pertaining to the year 1869-1870 must be found interesting: Total number of Scholars: 512
of these :
• 337 were Catholics
• 20 Protestants
• 98 Hindus
• 45 Parsis
• 10 Muslims
• 2 Jews
The boys from St Mary’s and the young Seminarians were boarders at St Xavier’s, while the rest were day-scholars. By the year 1873, the construction work was completed. The total cost of the structure amounted to Rs. 200,000.00. The Jesuit staff consisted of six Jesuit Fathers, five Jesuit Scholastics (young Jesuits in training for the priesthood), and five Jesuit Brothers – all had their living quarters at the school, on an upper floor of the west wing.
By the year 1890, the number of scholars rose to 669. To solve the problem of overcrowding, the Jesuit Fathers applied for an available plot of land nearby on Cruickshank Road (today Mahapalika Marg). In 1894 the plot was leased to the Fathers, who lost the time to execute the plans for the extension of the school, drawn up by a renowned architect, Rao Bahadur M. Ramchander. The plot was leased for 999 years at the nominal rate of one rupee per year. The extension of St Xavier’s on the Mahapalika Road was ready for occupation in January 1891.
The students of Std I _ IV, the primary section, were shifted to the new premises. The main school building now felt less crowded. An enquiring mind might raise the question: How did they manage during the few years of overcrowding ? This is what the Fathers did. In 1883 a special ‘branch school’ was opened at Cavel to accommodate new entrants; it came to be locally known as the ‘Fidalgo School’ as it catered to the needs of Goan boys “to learn a little English”. The man in the charge there was Fr Rudolf Rive and he set the age limit at 12. This resulted in a drop of intake of students and the Fidalgo school ran smoothly for over a decade till 1894 when the boys were amalgamated with St Xavier’s.
In the decade of the 1890s, with the primary section now occupying the new building on Mahapalika Road, it was not long before the Fathers became aware that schoolboys and college students on one and the same premises “was a mismatch”. The primary section returned to its old premises and the edifice on the mahapalika Road received the college students.
This break between school and college took place in the year 1900 – the High School and the St Xavier’s College were now not only on two separate sites but also under separate independent administrations, except that both had one common Rector.
Jesuit educators have always focused on liberal education designed to develop the faculties of the mind and heart. We study for life – not “for an examination.” Examinations , however, do have their measure of importance. From early on, the boys of St Xavier’s have been doing well in public examinations. Thus, in 1878, Krishna B. WAGALE topped the list of candidates in the Matriculation examination – an honour be shared with a candidate from the Ratnagiri High School.
In those pioneering days, the musical talents of the students were cultivated. In 1873, singing-classes were introduced, and musical instruments such as the harmonium, piano, flute, and the violin taught. A school band was founded in 1878 and in later years this school band, under the direction of Mr Paul Frank and Fr V. X. Tena, gave classical and semi-classical programmes. A harmonica club was started in 1938.
“ Mens sana in corpore sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body! Physical training has always been a part of the school curricula of our school, and of course games and sports. How many know that as long ago as 1874, our school had cricket clubs (along denominational lines, it is true, among the Hindus, Parsis, and Christian boys). The first St Xavier’s Cricket XI was formed in 1893; Football club came up in 1896. As yet, however, there was no talk of Hockey.
Annual sports have become a school feature since 1900. In 1913, our school won the Junior Aga Khan cup and retained it for three consecutive years – a hat-trick, one might say! In 1940, St Xavier’s acquired a 12,000 sq. yds. playing field at New Marine Lines, on lease for a period of 999 years.
During the plague epidemic of 1896-1906 in Mumbai, our school suffered greatly. Many of our schoolboys fell ill and died. People were being moved to safer regions… A sad period. Another traumatic experience for the entire school was the internment of many German Fathers in Khandala concentration camps while World War I was raging. (We can be quite sure that those brave sons of St Ignatius of Loyola wore their POW BADGES very proudly, to show they were ready to suffer without fliching).
Switzerland being neutral during the war hostilities, the SWISS Jesuit Fr Riklin kept the school going until new Jesuit replacements would arrive, hopefully, at some distant future. The Superior General in Rome responded to the emergency by requesting the Spanish Jesuits of the Tarragona Province to hasten to Bombay.
Quick to obey, three generous men, Frs Zurbitu, Llorca and Grau sailed disembarked in Bombay on May 7, 1921; and in the month that followed others arrived in small groups.
Fr Riklin, having been Principal of St Xavier’s for nine eventful years, landed over charge to his replacement, Fr Aniceto Deniz. Fr Deniz worked hard to bring up the school to the ~ standard it had before the fatal years of the 1914 Great War. It was he who started Moral Instructions, or Character Formation as it is called today, in the school. Fr Deniz was a happy man when one of his boys, Shashidar B. Bhat, stood first among the 11,954 candidates in the Matriculation Examination, 1930.
Fr Aloysius M. Coyne followed Fr Deniz as Principal in 1935. He and his devoted staff strove zealously to make St Xavier’s a leading school in every department. In 1936, five of our boys were among the first twenty out of 7,014 successful candidates in the Matriculation Examination. Fr Coyne introduced Scouting and set up a Provident Fund for members of the staff. Among other innovations of his were the school magazine and a Reading Club in 1937; Visual Instruction; Parents Day.
But the magnificent crown of Fr Coyne’s efforts was the erection of the new wing to the east of the old building which would give ample accommodation to the five higher standards of the school. The Hall on the first floor had a capacity for 700 children. The new wing was blessed at Easter of 1940, a few months after of Fr Coyne’s transfer to St Xavier’s College as Principal of that sister Institution.
The new incumbent at St Xavier’s High School was Fr Angelus Solagran. During his term of six years, i.e., up to 1946, the school continued to excel in studies and sports. Suresh R. Vijaykar stood first among the successful candidates from the city in the Matriculation Examination in 1945. In sports, for five consecutive years, we won the Tata Shield and carried off many other trophies.
In 1947, Fr Sebastian Bonet came in as Principal and that year Lalit Kumar N. Bhagvati stood first in the Matriculation Examination among candidates appearing from the city. Riding the crest of academic success was Lalit Kumar’s brother, Jagdish Natwarlal Bhagvati, coming first among the 57,659 candidates in the Matriculation Examination in 1950. And on the games field, our boys fetched home the Aga Khan cup in the year 1951-1952.
The story of St Xavier’s is incomplete if we do not include the Jesuit Fathers’ outreach to students unable, for various reasons, to attend a day-school. On our own premises, and under the same Principal Fr Bonet, was begun the St Xavier’s Night-School, in 1948, with 50 students on the rolls. What is more, the staff was composed entirely of lay volunteers drawn from the Catholic Young Men’s Sodality. This school was open to all communities. The student intake included fitters, mechanics, servants, and yes! – idlers and gossipers and street-corner loungers. Was there a problem of discipline? No; none at all. In fact it is said that this motley crowd of students “took to education as duck to water”. Begun on 1st August 1948 with 50 on the rolls, by month end the members swelled to 200 and in a few years’ time, the new venture grew into a full-fledged High School.