HISTORY OF OUR PARISH
Once upon a time, the city we now call Mumbai, was made up of seven green islands. Mahikavati (or Mahim) was one of them. Over time, Mahim was inhabited by Hindus and Muslims.
In 1534, the Portuguese arrived and took a great fancy for the island. With them came the first missionaries; the Franciscans. They were the first to build two churches in the area.
The first church was San Miguel Church (now called St Michael Church) of Upper Mahim in 1585. The second was Our Lady of Salvation Church in Lower Mahim (now called Dadar) in 1595. There are conflicting dates regarding the actual year the foundation of our church was laid: 1512, 1534, 1540, 1585. But one fact is clear; St Michael Church was indeed built in the 16th century by the Portuguese and it was the first one built in Mumbai.
There is an early description of our church in the 'Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island'. "The San Miguel Church of Upper Mahim was built probably in 1540, built at the northern extremity of the island, very near the creek that separated Mahim from Bandra. A certain Mr Burnell, a visitor to Mahim, wrote in 1710 describing the island and the church as follows, "On the northwest point of the island is Mahim seated, being a pretty large town and hath an indifferent buzar, the buildings being brick and covered with pautile."
According to Fr Meersman, the Franciscan historian (1957:61), "The church of St Michael appears in 1585 as a fully functioning mission station. From circumstantial evidence it can be concluded that Mahim was the most important and most advanced area among the islands of Bombay. The Portuguese commercial and missionary activities must have started in Mahim even before 1534 and there must have been a mission station in Mahim from the beginning of the 16th century."
An Englishman who came to Mumbai on behalf of Charles the XI of England wrote, "Mahim is the best part of the islands and the Portuguese think it too good for our King's Majesty." However, the British managed to take over the island city with the advent of the East India Company in 1663. St Michael must have then progressed along with the English.
Mahim however came into serious difficulties during the Sidi War in Bombay in 1687. The Sidis, originally hailing from Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia) had settled down in Janjiraas. Aurangazeb encouraged the Sidis to attack Bombay. They landed at Sewri and marched towards Mazagaon. Emboldened by the weak resistance of the English army, the Sidis planned plunder and rapine on a large scale. They then landed in Mahim and destroyed and burned many houses, and also attacked St Michael Church.
But the Franciscan priests who ran the church soon renovated it because only the roof and the doors were burnt down. This is a description of the church in 1710 by one of the visitors: "By the riverside fronting the Mandove stands a large and beautiful church being a convent of the Franciscans, with a large verandah before the portal and at a small distance on the road a large wooden cross set in a brickwork pedestal."
The Franciscans remained in charge of the parish of St Michael till 1720, when they were expelled from Bombay by the British for tampering with the loyalty of the Roman Catholics of the city.
With the approval of the Holy See in 1720, the Apostolic Vicar General of the Grand Moghul, who was an Italian bishop, took charge of the spiritual welfare of the Catholics of Bombay and its dependencies after pledging obedience and loyalty to His Britannic Majesty.
In 1794, the four Bombay parishes were divided. St Michael Church at Mahim was the second church chosen by the Vicar Apostolic, the first being that of Esperance at Boribunder (1570) which was later shifted and named The Holy Name Cathedral. As such, St Michael Church was under the jurisdiction of the Vicars Apostolic for 59 years. Thereafter St Michael Church and parish came under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Goa (Padroado) until 1928 when the double jurisdiction came to an end.
There were eight vicars between 1857 and 1903.
At the turn of the century, Fr Sequeira, who was in charge of St Michael’s, extended the sanctuary and erected the main altar and the two side altars. Fr Domingo Bernadino Vieira demarcated the vast land and properties of the church and built boundary walls to prevent trespass or misappropriation. Fr Bernando Francisco Mendonca developed the school and started the high school. Fr B F D'Silva built the new school building on the side of the main road. He bought the land adjoining the church property and built houses, known as St Michael's Colony, for parishioners on a reasonable rental basis. An oratory was built near this colony on the side road where to this day mass is held once a year. This oratory was built with money from the East Indian Death Benefit Fund. Fr D'Silva also extended the church building by adding a spacious porch in front of the church.
Great progress was made during the tenure of Monsignor George Fernandes and Fr Edward Fernandes who began the novenas to Our Mother of Perpetual Succour. Monsignor George Fernandes, the Rector and Parish Priest of St Michael Church from 1950 to 1962, began a congregation for nuns known as the Poor Sisters of Our Lady (PSOL).
The old church was narrow. It could accommodate only two rows of pews. It had a side porch near the grotto. In the late I960s, the porch collapsed. The old structure walls were left inside, while a new, modern, spacious and airy one was constructed outside; it was completed in 1973 to commemorate the silver jubilee of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour novenas.
Today, St Michael Church is simple and solemn, large yet intimately prayerful in atmosphere, a popular church in the best sense of the word. The church is close to the sea with a fishing village nearby but is almost in the market-place amidst crowds with the main road buzzing with heavy traffic. It has no parking space for devotees and no aesthetic beauty but is geographically strategically positioned. As such, this arterial route is often a conduit of cultural transmission.
Yes, St Michael's is a church almost in the centre of Mumbai, i.e. the end of the main city and the beginning of the suburbs. With the opening up of many residential sub-divisions and industrial areas in the northern parts of the city and beyond, Mahim has become one of the busiest transportation hubs in Mumbai.
Earlier St Michael's parish had a Catholic population of over 13,000. Presently, the Catholic population is only around 4,000.
Today, St Michael Church is managed by the Archdiocese of Bombay under the direction of the Cardinal. The Parish Priest and his assistants outline the policy parameters and execute the day-to-day management of church affairs. The employees and volunteers work with extraordinary zeal to offer maximum convenience to the devotees who throng the church every Wednesday.
In a fast-paced city like Mumbai, it is heartening to witness the church filling and emptying itself every hour with the crowds cascading like a flood on to the main road, often disrupting traffic and reminding office-goers who traverse through an important artery of Mumbai that it is Wednesday - novena day.
St Michael is the archangel warrior, the commander-in-chief of the heavenly hosts, the prince of angels and the protector of the church. In Hebrew, 'MiCchaCel' means 'Who is like God.' His name was the battle-cry for the good angels when they drove Satan from Heaven. He is the guardian, comforter and protector of people in times of sorrow and conflict. He has indeed protected our church for centuries.
Note: This information is updated as on 1st June 2020.