By Linus Kujur SJ - Ranchi Province
Father Constant Lievens, SJ (1856-1893)
The Apostle of Chotanagpur, North India
Born on 10 April 1856, Constant Lievens grew up in an
agricultural Flemish Christian family in Belgium. He went to the Parish school
of Moorslede, where he enjoyed learning the catechism. Seeing his interest, the
priest in charge encouraged him to go for further studies. In those days,
pursuing his education often meant becoming a priest. The idea was appealing to
Constant, and he gave himself entirely to it and excelled in studies.
The young boy had a great future in the world, but he
decided to become a knight of God andtrample all that was low and vain, shameful and opposed
to good. In 1877, he joined the major seminary in Bruges, but attracted
by the missionary spirit of the Jesuits, he joined the Society of Jesus.
He entered the Jesuit noviciate in 1878, in Drongen,
and immediately after his vows, his Provincial sent him to West Bengal in
India. Over there, he completed his theological studies and got ordained to the
priesthood in 1884. He was soon assigned to Chotanagpur, where some Jesuits had
been working for fifteen years without much pastoral success.
On 18 March 1885, Lievens reached Ranchi to explore
new possibilities for the Church. First, he settled in Jamgain; he visited the people
for a few months to learn about their conditions and culture. Then, Lievens
moved on to Torpa, a more developed location with a post office and a police
station. It is there that he came to know the people’s long struggle for
justice against the Landlords. Thus as he began to legally assist the people to
recover their land, the people flocked to him.
When Lievens went back to Ranchi in 1887, many
followed him from all corners of the Chotanagpur region. He made it clear to
them that he had comefor their spiritual as well as temporal happiness.Many accepted his message and embraced the faith in
Christ. Lievens organized them in small communities and built a chapel with a
school for each of them, under the care of a catechist and a teacher. He worked
for some seven years energetically, fell sick, and had to go to Belgium with
the hope of returning to India. But, sadly, he died there on 7 November 1893.
He was only 37.
Since then, the Church of
Chotanagpur has grown in faith, grounded on justice and education. She owes
much to Father Constant Lievens. He is already a Servant of God, and his cause
for beatification and canonization is in progress.