About Don Bosco School

The Genesis

Confluence of Dreams

It had always been the desire of the Archbishop of Calcutta, Dr. Ferdinand Perier to have a technical school in Calcutta or its vicinity. The Salesians too, after taking up the work of the C.O.P. and the Cathedral through the great kindness of Mgr. Perier, were keen on starting some such work. Fr. P. De Wachter SJ, parish priest of Howrah, by 1928, had gathered in the course of several years a sum which together with the interest amounted to Rs. 95,000. His plan was to shift the school attached to the church of Howrah, meant for poor Anglo-Indians, to some place in the neighbourhood. Then the idea came up that the Salesians could perhaps take up this work and begin a technical school for the poor Anglo-Indian boys. Fr. De Wachter, who was very devoted to Don Bosco, was willing to hand over the amount to the Salesians, who would see to the acquiring of a property not too far from Howrah and to the setting up of a technical school there. The Archbishop was in agreement. This was in 1927. In the meantime Fr. Bonardi had set his eyes on two places at the periphery of Calcutta, one behind Howrah Station and the other at Liluah. The first one was discarded while the second was a property belonging to a certain Mr. Guha and it was located between Ghoosery and Liluah. Referring to the suitability of the site which at that time was nothing but a large pond surrounded by wild bushes,Mgr. Perier had stated simply,“This is the place and here we shall have the first parish dedicated to Don Bosco.” Thus slowly was coming to fruition the 1886 dream of Don Bosco at Barcelona!

In November 1927, when Fr. Peter Ricaldone passed through Calcutta on his way back to Europe, he saw the place and gave his approval. Everything seemed to be settled. But in the meantime the Jesuits of Bengal had a visit from their Provincial who normally resided in Belgium. He did not approve of the idea of handing over the amount collected by Fr. De Wachter to the Salesians. It was, he said, money collected by a Jesuit for a work in the mission entrusted to them and so it should not be given to another congregation. Mgr. Perier then suggested some alternatives to Mgr. Mathias who finally proposed a compromise. The money should be lent to the Salesians as an interest- free loan for thirty years and they would see to the acquisition of the necessary land and the building up of the school. After obtaining the favourable opinion of his council, Mgr. Perier accepted the proposal. Thus on 22 March 1928 Mgr. Mathias signed the contract for acquiring the property at Ghoosery, which measured about 20 bighas (approx. 7 acres), for nearly Rs. 80,000.

Referring to the suitability of the site which at that time was nothing but a large pond surrounded by wild bushes, Mgr. Perier had stated simply, “This is the place and here we shall have the first parish dedicated to Don Bosco.” Thus slowly was coming to fruition the 1886 dream of Don Bosco at Barcelona!

The Die is Cast

Two years later, Mr. Comens, a friend of the Salesians, showed them a huge workshop (348 ft by 90 ft by 40 ft) belonging to Parrys Engineering & Co., South Howrah, which was on sale. Mr. Comens tried to get it for Rs. 12,000. The company was intent on Rs. 20,000 and there was no sign of their relenting. Mary Help of Christians and Don Bosco were invoked in all the Salesian houses, especially in the orphanages of Shillong and Guwahati. “The die is cast.”Thus spoke the Salesian Provincial, Mgr. Louis Mathias on 17 May 1930, the day when after a long period of nail-biting anxiety and months of earnest negotiations, Parrys Engineering Works finally agreed to sell to the Salesians their factory shed at Rs. 15,000. The amount was borrowed from Mgr. Joseph Fernandes, the Vicar General and it was paid to Parrys on 19 May. To have someone competent to supervise the transportation of the iron shed to Liluah which was at a distance of five miles, Br. Zappa was called down from Shillong. The shed was dismantled and rebuilt at the Salesian property by Martin & Co. By 9 June the work of transportation was over. Thus were sown the seeds of the small professional school at ‘Lilooah’ which was later to metamorphose into a technical and an academic giant.

Mgr. Perier was the greatest friend and benefactor of DBL. We owe him a great deal. Mgr. Perier was born in Belgium on 22 September 1875. He joined the Jesuits in 1897 and arrived in India in 1906. He was appointed as the Coadjutor to the Archbishop of Calcutta on 10 July 1921 and would remain as the Archbishop from 1924 to1960, during which he guided and supported the growth of DBL. He died on 10 November 1968.

Mgr. Vincent Scuderi was the Salesian Provincial from 1934 to1941. He also served as Administrator Apostolic of Krishnagar diocese from 1935 to 1940. He was repatriated to Italy in 1952 and died there on 22 November 1982.

The Delay

Unfortunately, the world-wide economic crisis triggered by the Great Depression in the U.S.A. had reached India by this time. Besides, Mgr. Mathias was busy with other works in Assam. The work on the technical school of Liluah remained stationary for several years even though efforts were made more than once to get the government and some associations interested in the project. Hence, the institution began operation only in 1937 even though the official decree of foundation is dated 7 March 1933.

The Inception

In the meantime, the Province of India was divided into North and South with Fr. Vincent Scuderi as the Provincial of the Province of North India and with St. John Bosco as its patron. Finally, at the cost of considerable sacrifice, work was started in January 1937 on the residential building at Liluah. The contract for the construction of the technical school was signed on 17 February 1937. Present on the occasion were Mgr. Scuderi, the Provincial, Fr. Uguet, the Provincial Economer, Fr. Attillio Colussi, the Prefect of the C.O.P., who would be supervising the works, and Mr. Gogerly, the architect. After blessing the foundation stone of DBL on 24 February, Mgr. Scuderi could write to the Rector Major Rev. Fr. Peter Ricaldone requesting him to send the head for the mechanical section as had been promised. In the meeting of the provincial council in July, Fr. Scuderi announced that the industrial school of Liluah would be inaugurated by the end of the year. It would be the industrial school for the Anglo-Indians or English speaking boys, while Krishnagar would be for the Bengali-speaking. Another letter of the Provincial to Fr. Ricaldone in October mentioned that the building was almost completed and that it would soon be filled with Anglo-Indian boys who were “at present the poorest and the most abandoned.”

The Arrival of the Salesians

It was on the night of 23 November 1937, that the first group of Salesians stepped into the DBL grounds accompanied by Mgr. Scuderi, the Provincial. The pioneers were the Rector, Fr. Atillio Colussi and Brothers Aurelio Rivolta, Alfred Cogliandro and Noel Kenny. The next day, Fr. Scuderi celebrated the first Holy Eucharist at Liluah and he declared that the motto of the house would be purity and Eucharist. The days that followed were days of feverish activity spent in setting up the house and making preparations in connection with the opening of the house.

Fr. Attilio Colussi (Rector 1937 - 1940)

Born at Casara, Italy on 1 December 1907, Fr. Attillio left for Assam in December 1925, became a Salesian on 6 January 1927 and was ordained a priest on 7 July 1934. He became the first Rector of Liluah in 1937 and led many communities in India as Rector and as a parish priest. As a well-known spiritual guide, he not only directed various youth movements but was also associated with young congregations like Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa and the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians. He died in Kolkata on 2 November 1998.

Fr. Noel Kenny: He was born on 14 September 1910 at Rangoon. While working with the Great Eastern Cable Company in Bombay he came in contact with Fr. Douglas Wollaston and decided to become a Salesian. Professed a Salesian on 8 December 1935 and ordained a priest on 23 May 1943, his entire priestly life was spent in Shillong serving the two communities of Don Bosco Technical School and St. Antony’s College in different capacities. From 1965 till his death on 8 November 1995, he was totally at the spiritual service of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians.

Fr. Alfred Cogliandro: Born in Genoa, Italy on 16 May 1911, he came to India in 1932 and became a Salesian. He was ordained a priest on 30 January 1943 in the concentration camp of Deoli. Appointed as Novice Master at Kotagiri in 1948, he was made the Provincial of San Francisco Province in USA in 1950. In 1964, he became the first Provincial of Manila Province, Philippines. He died on 11 September 1992.

The Blessing and Inauguration

8 December 1937 dawned as a momentous day for the Salesians in India. It marked the solemn opening of the Don Bosco Industrial School and the blessing of the parish church of St. John Bosco - India’s first church in John Bosco’s honour. From 3.00 P.M. onwards the guests began to reach the place. Archbishop Perier, Bishop Ferrando of Shillong, Fr. Antony Candela representing the Rector Major, Mgr. Fernandes and Fr. Eligius Cinato, the Salesian Provincial of South India, arrived almost together and were cordially welcomed by Mgr. Scuderi and the other Salesians.

At 3.30 P.M. Archbishop Perier proceeded to bless the church. After the ceremony, Mgr. Scuderi read an address in which he spoke of Don Bosco’s dream of 1886, wherein he saw his sons at work in Calcutta. Vocational training seemed to be the crying need of Anglo-Indians and Don Bosco’s sons were offering precisely that for the youth of that community.

Br. Mastruzzo with the Preparatory

Archbishop Perier said that 8 December 1937 was a red letter day in the history of the Archdiocese of Calcutta and the provision of professional education for young boys saw the fulfillment of one of his dreams.

Extraordinary Visitor Fr. A. Candela inspects the beginnings

Archbishop Perier said that 8 December 1937 was a red letter day in the history of the Archdiocese of Calcutta and the provision of professional education for young boys saw the fulfillment of one of his dreams. If called by God, he could now die happy. He was grateful to the Salesians for their generous response to the invitation he had made nine or ten years earlier to work in Calcutta. Thereafter, he proceeded with the formal opening of the industrial institute by observing the time-honoured practice of cutting the red ribbon across the main entrance. After inspecting the building, all the guests sat down for tea served by Firpos. The first mass in Don Bosco’s new church, already erected as the parish church of the area, was celebrated by Bishop Stephen Ferrando at 7.00 A.M. on the following day.

So the baby – much awaited and earnestly prayed for – our very own Don Bosco Liluah, was finally born. The labour pangs had been intense but as soon as the baby saw the light of the day, all pains were forgotten and only happiness radiated from every face. The‘parents’ of the baby took up their role in right earnest, determined to shield their little one from all the dark storms that loomed threateningly over the horizon.

The Early Years

At the outset admission was confined to boys from 8 to 12 years of age, who after passing what would in ordinary schools correspond to the fourth standard, would be given a five-year practical and theoretical training in the art or trade of their choice - mechanical, motor or electrical engineering, carpentry and cabinet-making or printing and book-binding. While the artisans worked at their trade, they would continue their classes in English, Mathematics, Elementary Science, General Knowledge etc. On the completion of the course, the pupil would be awarded a school diploma. The fees were extremely moderate - Rs. 5 for entrance and Rs. 144 as boarding and school fees for the whole year. Only the help of friends and admirers and the fact that the teachers and the instructors were mostly Salesians rendered it possible to run an industrial school at such a low cost to the student. The school was thought of as a step towards the solution of the unemployment problem among the Anglo-Indians.

Till this time, the Provincial House of the Salesians of North India was in Shillong. On 30 December 1937, Mgr. Scuderi, who doubled as the Provincial and the Administrator of the diocese of Krishnagar, had brought the provincial office from Don Bosco Shillong to Don Bosco Liluah. DBL hosted the Provincial Chapter on 21 April 1938.

Down Memory Lane

Mr. Ashit Kr. Mukherjee belonged to the first batch (1937) of DBL. Even after he passed out of school, he remained connected to the school as a past pupil and took active part in all events organized by the alumni. Inspite of his failing health, he was present at the inaugural of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The Lord called him to his abode before the closing celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee. Here are some excerpts from his memoirs, which he had penned down for the archives of Kolkata Province.

“The year was 1937. My father had made up his mind to take me to a private tutor so that I could be made fit for a reputed school. My tutor said that the missionaries had opened an industrial school by the name of Don Bosco Technical School.

I succeeded in getting an admission to DBL. The fees were a paltry sum of rupees three only. The Salesians believed in the mode of simple living and high thinking. The same applied to the students also. We used to wear khaki half pants, khaki shirt and black boots. Whites were worn only in the case of making a trip to the Bandel church.

We were taught that life is full of thorns and if one practises to enjoy the same, it would bloom into flowers. Inspite of there being no fans anywhere during any period of the year, we were still happy. My association with all the Fathers and Brothers has taught me some good life lessons. The virtues of piety, nobility, generosity, etc., were imbibed by me from them. Here I would like to mention some names like Fr. Attilio Collusi, Fr. Constantaine, Br. Joseph, Br. Kenny to name a few. I am grateful to God for having given me the opportunity to study in an esteemed school like DBL and be lessoned and tutored by such pious and noble Salesians.”

The first student, Bonnie Morris would arrive at DBL on 27 January 1938. The first terminal examinations were held in the early part of May and most of the pupils left for their homes on the 10th for midsummer holidays. From 4 to 8 October, the boys had their spiritual retreat. The final examinations ended on 7 December. From a letter of Fr. Colussi to the Rector Major in December 1938, we know that there were 2 priests, 5 clerics and 65 boys in the house, in that first year.

On 17 April 1939, the technical workshop finally started under the direction of Brothers Capretti and Priolo. 12 boys enthusiastically began their course of electro- mechanics even though they found the time-table somewhat heavy and were generally washed out by the evening. The students that year numbered 115, the maximum that the house could accommodate. In fact, the Rector was obliged to refuse many applications. The great majority of the boys were Catholic Anglo- Indians. But there were also Protestants, Jews, Hindus and Muslims. On 6 July, the mechanics started work in their newly completed workshop in the shed. Till then they had been using a corner of the dormitory for the purpose.

The new scholastic year 1940, started on 13 January, with 13 Salesians on the staff. There were also two lay teachers. The students numbered 126 but 84 requests for admission had to be refused because of lack of place. On 22 January, four of the boys (Roland O’Hara, Peter Lourdes, Joseph Felix and Theodore Biddle) left for Bandel to join the aspirants in the recently started apostolic school. They were the first fruits of the pioneering work of the Salesian presence in Liluah.

Temporary Closure

In February 1940, there was a change of Rector. Fr. Attilio Colussi went to Guwahati as Rector while Fr. Mario Ferrario from Guwahati took his place as Rector at Liluah. The year was 1940 and we were in the thick of World War II. On 11 June 1940, came the painful news of Italy’s entry into the war. This development in a distant part of the world triggered a series of trials and tribulations for this small school in Liluah. The baby, which had not even become a toddler yet, was having its very existence thrown open to question. At 3.15 P.M. on 11 June 1940, nine Italian Fathers and Brothers of the school were arrested by the police and sent to concentration camps. A war-scare exodus of boys began on 12 March 1942 and on 15 December 1942, it was requisitioned by the government for the use of the army. The fate of the school hung in the balance till the government decided to hand it back to the Salesians. On 25 November 1946, some Salesians came back to stay at Don Bosco Liluah, even though it was still under the government control.

Virtus et Labor

The grit that the Salesian Fathers had shown paid off and the government officially handed back the school building to them on 19 December 1946. Much work was needed to be done before young voices would echo within its portals once again. Guided by the motto ‘Virtus et Labor’ (Virtue and Hard Work), the Salesians rose to the occasion and between 25 November 1946 and 9 February 1947, all the Fathers and Brothers, led by the Rector, Rev. Fr. Lawrence Buri himself, exhibited exemplary enthusiasm and a spirit of sacrifice. Some painted the bedsteads, others the dining tables of the boys, others fixed up all the lights in the study halls and in the various rooms of the house and still others scrubbed the floors. The whole school got a new look and was prepared to make a fresh beginning.

Boys arrived on 9 February and the school year started on the following day. There were only 36 boys in six classes! In April, the Provincial Office was shifted from Don Bosco Liluah to the C.O.P. In the years that followed, the mechanical department of the school was destined to make a name for itself. The one who was mainly responsible for that development was Br. Silvano Rettore who arrived from Italy in June 1948. From a letter which Fr. Ivan Giacomello, the Prefect of the house, wrote to Fr. Peter Ricaldone in August of that year, we know that even at that time the school had only about 50 boys. The number remained low because many Anglo-Indians for whom the school was meant, had left India and had settled in other countries like Great Britain and Australia. The monthly fees of the school were just enough to cover the expenses for food. To be financially viable, the school would need at least twice the number of boys it then had.

Fr. Mario Ferrario (Rector 1940)

Born on 30 March 1904, he came to India in 1928, became a Salesian on 9 January 1930 and was ordained a priest on 20 June 1936. Besides Liluah, he was Rector in several houses and served Calcutta Province as its Provincial Economer. He died at Buscate, Italy on 23 March 1962.

Fr. Thomas Lopez (Rector 1940 - 1942)

He was born on 18 August 1901 at Posoblanco, Spain, made his profession in 1919, was ordained a priest in 1928 and came to India in 1929. He worked in Perambur (Tamil Nadu) and planned and designed the Salesian House at Broadway, Madras. Coming to North, he was assigned to the communities at Krishnagar, Liluah, Sonada and Shillong. As the administrator of DBL from January 1947 to December 1952, he renovated the building after the military occupation, extended it northward with the technical section on the ground floor and dormitories on the first floor and gave a new look to the campus. He died on 24 July 1988.

Fr. Lawrence Buri (Rector 1942 - 1950)

Born at Cordoba, Spain, on 3 July 1905, he made his first profession on 27 January 1923 and was ordained a priest on 10 August 1930. He worked in India as a missionary and died on 11 June 1961, at Cordoba.

On 16 August 1948, the Inspector of European Schools gave the Rector the happy news that Don Bosco School Liluah was recognized as a Higher Grade School. The house now decided to make an additional storey in the large shed. The first floor would be a dormitory able to accommodate 250 boys. The ground floor would serve as a workshop for the mechanics and the electro- technicians. The first stone of the new extension was laid by the Rector, Fr. Lawrence Buri, on 15 December 1948. The work took long because it was difficult to procure some of the building materials.

On 7 January 1950, Fr. Joseph Bacchiarello, the new Rector, reached the place to take charge of the school. By the middle of February there were 67 boys on the rolls. On 26 February 1950, the Technical Wing (i.e. the North-West wing) was blessed and inaugurated by Archbishop Ferdinand Perier SJ. The machines and work-benches were all in position and the boys would begin to work there on the following day.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

From a report of the Provincial Fr. Archimede Pianazzi to the Rector Major at the beginning of December 1950, we know that the house was in a serious crisis because the boys were too few (only about 70) and there was no hope of the number increasing much. This made the economic situation of the house very precarious.

In 1952, there were 13 Salesians (6 priests, 4 brothers and 3 clerics) in the house and two teachers from outside. The house was not self-sufficient and the monthly deficit amounted to Rs. 1,300. The boys still numbered only 136, distributed among 7 classes and the mechanical workshop. The number was going up very slowly because there was no final examination with government certificate which would attract students. Those who had no intention of going for mechanics did not feel attracted to the school. This problem was tackled by Fr. Antony Alessi, the new Provincial, who was at Liluah from 28 to 30 April for the provincial visitation. One of the decisions taken during those days was that the school must have a complete ‘Students’ Section’ which would give the pupils good prospects for employment. It was decided that the school should go in for the Cambridge Certificate Examinations, beginning with the 6th standard of that year.

Writing to Archbishop Mathias in December 1952, Fr. Bacchiarello could say that the school was proceeding well, though both materially and scholastically there was much to be done for several years more. The mechanical department was well-equipped and it even produced a lathe which was as good, strong and as precise as the American ones. The first pupils, who received the school diploma and who had made the lathe, had left the school and were already employed. The section for students was recognized up to the Cambridge School Certificate (i.e. Senior Cambridge) even though the school had actually reached only the 7th standard. The 8th and the 9th standards would come as soon as the management wanted it.

Fr. Antony Alessi (in the middle) was born in Nove, Vincenza, Italy, on 27 April 1906. He made his first profession on 16 September 1923 and left for India on 5 January 1926. He was ordained a priest on 26 April 1931. He founded the Tezpur Mission along with Fr. Aloysius Ravalico. In 1939, he pioneered the Salesian work in Myanmar and guided it during the perilous years of World War II. In 1949, he had a providential escape when the Salesian school in Mandalay was directly hit by a 500 pound bomb in which one aspirant was killed and several injured. In 1951, he was appointed Provincial of the Kolkata Province and when it was divided in 1959, he was nominated Provincial of the new province of Guwahati. After 13 years as Provincial, he joined the Bombay Province and died on 18 January 1995.

Fr. Joseph Bacchiarello (Rector 1950 - 1953)

Born in 1907, he came to India with the first batch of novices in 1923, made his first profession on 21 January 1925, was ordained a priest on 2 April 1932 and died in Shillong on 9 May 1985. Besides Liluah, he was the Rector of Bandel and Sonada and Novice Master at Sunnyside, Shillong.

Fr. Antony Buccieri (Rector 1953 - 1956)

After some years of uncertainty and difficulties, Don Bosco Liluah was now clearly on the road to progress and expansion.

Fr. Antony Buccieri was born in Sicily in 1913 and came to India in 1934 after having completed his practical training as a Salesian. After his ordination to priesthood on 5 November 1938, he worked in Sonada, Liluah, Shillong and excelled as a missionary among the Garos. He died on 3 November 1998 in Shillong.

In December 1952, there was a change of Rector. Fr. Bacchiarello, Rector at Liluah for the past three years, was transferred to Sonada and Fr. Anthony Buccieri from the Theologate of Shillong (Mawlai) took his place as the Rector at Liluah. An advertisement which appeared in The Statesman of Calcutta in those days said that Don Bosco School Liluah prepared boys for the Cambridge School Certificate Examination and for the Machine Shop Engineering Course Diploma of the City and Guilds of London Institute. After some years of uncertainty and difficulties, Don Bosco Liluah was now clearly on the road to progress and expansion. In fact the the first batch of students appeared for the Senior Cambridge Examinations in 1954 and on 11 May 1959 the first batch of the technical students appeared for the City and Guilds (London) examinations.

Successors of Don Bosco in Liluah

In the missionary dream of Don Bosco, he was promised that it would be actualized through his successors. True to these prophetic words of Mother Mary, it would be Don Rua, Don Bosco’s first successor who would send the first group of Salesians to India. It was Fr. Paul Albera, the second successor who, at the request of the Holy See, accepted the mission of Assam, India, in 1921. Fr. Philip Rinaldi chose Fr. Peter Ricaldone as Visitor Extraordinary to the Far East in 1926-1927. It was this visit that made him pass through Calcutta in November 1927. During the visit, he surveyed Liluah and gave his approval to start a multipurpose Salesian institution at Girish Ghosh Road. In 1932, he was unanimously chosen to succeed Fr. Rinaldi as the fourth Rector Major.

From this historic moment, every other successor of Don Bosco has set his foot on this soil guiding the Salesians to tread on the path envisioned by Don Bosco. In fact when Rev. Fr. Renato Ziggiotti, the fifth successor of Don Bosco, visited Calcutta on 19 January 1955, the superiors were seriously considering closing down the institution. But the Lord enlightened them through the person of their Rector Major to open up the school to the day scholars on a large scale and be on the vanguard of progress.

Rev. Fr. Aloysius Ricceri, was welcomed by the Salesians and pupils of DBL and other nearby institutions on 14 November 1968. He encouraged the Salesians and the staff to continue the good work began by the pioneers. 10 October 1979 saw the visit of the seventh successor Rev. Fr. Egidius Vigano to Don Bosco Liluah. He was given an Adivasi style of welcome by the parishioners. He was full of praise for what was being done in Don Bosco Liluah and encouraged everyone to always keep marching ahead on the path of progress.

7 August 1986 was another important day in the annals of DBL. Rev. Fr. Juan Edmundo Vechi, the Councillor for Youth blessed and inaugurated the Mini Industrial Unit of the Self Employment Project at Liluah. He addressed the crowd in Bengali. At the death of Fr. Vigano on 23 June 1995, he took over the administration of the Salesian Society and was formerly elected as Rector Major in 1996. The ninth successor of Don Bosco Rev. Fr. Pascual Chavez Villanuea was scheduled to close the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations at DBL. Due to his ill health, he was unable to make it but DBL awaits the visit on 5 November 2013, of this dear son of Don Bosco.