CONFRERE OF THE MONTH


BIRSA BECAME BISHOP
(Bishop Joseph Aind SDB, DD)

Early Life
Joseph was born on 05 November 1945 at China Tukra in Upper Assam’s Nahorhabi Tea Estate. His village is called China Tukra because in that garden line there was a bungalow once occupied by a Chinese Assistant Tea Garden Manager. The bungalow still exists and is now occupied by Indian Asst. Tea Garden Managers.  Joseph’s parents were Late Mr. Marcus Aind and Late Mrs. Elisaba (Elizabeth) Nag.  Being born on a Thursday, Joseph was initially named Birsa.

Joseph’s dad, Mr. Marcus Aind, was brought from Jharkhand by the British to work in the Assam tea gardens. His first wife was Josephine. From her there were four children: Joseph’s sister Marsha, his brother Dominic, his sister Lutku and his third sister ‘Pipi’ whose actual name also was Josephine. After the demise of his first wife, Marcus married Joseph’s actual mother Elisaba. Marcus was still a pagan and had a ‘chundi’ (pigtail) on his head till his marriage to Elisaba. On Elisaba’s request, Marcus cut off his pigtail and became a Catholic. From this second wedding Marcus had four kids: Samuel, Joseph, Martha and Salomi.  According to the chronology of births Joseph is the sixth among the eight siblings.

Schooling

At four years of age Joseph started attending the garden school.  Classes were conducted in the village chapel where his uncle Johan Hans was a teacher. After one year the school was shifted to a hut near the Manager’s bungalow. Joseph remembers one incident which happened when he was a Class KG student. It was drawing class and Joseph was drawing a picture.  One of his companions kept on disturbing him.  Joseph got exasperated and out of frustration threatened his companion with a sharpened pencil.  Unfortunately the pencil penetrated the boy’s nostril and he began to bleed profusely. Joseph got alarmed and ran away from school. The following day he went to the school taking a different route avoiding the boy’s house.  Fortunately the boy’s family did not take any punitive action.  Joseph had a deep remorse at having hurt his friend. After two years he was enrolled in Class I in Tantia High School at Nahorhabi, around two kilometers from his house.

In 1953 Joseph joined Class II in Don Bosco Boarding School at Naharkatiya, Assam. Fr. Aloysius Cerato sdb was the Parish Priest while Fr. Paul Taverna sdb and Fr. Martin Caligaris sdb were Assistant Parish Priests.

In the Aspirantate

The seed of Salesian and priestly vocation was sown in Joseph’s mind when he was a boarding boy at Don Bosco, Naharkatiya. In 1956 there was a solemn celebration of St. Joseph’s feast on 19 March. After Holy Mass, while distributing sweets Fr. Paul Taverna sdb asked the boys “Who wants to become a priest?” Many boys raised their hands, including Joseph. Two days later Joseph was called to Fr. Taverna’s office. “You want to become a priest?” asked Fr. Taverna. “Yes, I want to become a priest,” replied Joseph. “Why?” enquired the priest. The boy responded, “Fathers are very good. They go everywhere on motor bikes and do lots of work. I too want to go to villages and do likewise”. Fr. Paul did not speak further since he had to meet other boys too. But whatever little Joseph had said, Fr. Taverna must have recorded in his mind. He had a big role in Joseph’s selection to be a religious and priestly candidate.

In 1957 Joseph joined Don Bosco School, Dibrugarh which was at the time run in the present parish campus. In 1960 the school was shifted to the present Bishop’s House. Fr. Dal Zovo Roger sdb was then the Parish Priest of Dibrugarh.

In 1958 one of the major superiors of the Salesians from Italy visited Dibrugarh. The welcome address in Italian was prepared by a priest. Joseph Aind was asked to deliver the speech.  He practiced and read the address well though he did not understand anything of what he read.  The visitor, however, was much impressed and gifted him a beautiful medal of Don Bosco. 

In those days the Salesians were thinking of opening an apostolic house, Savio Juniorate in Shillong, for boys who were manifesting signs of priestly vocation. They were sending boys even to the aspirantate at Bandel in West Bengal. In fact, from Naharkatiya two boys were sent to Bandel. One of them became a Diocesan Cleric and was accepted by Bishop Orestes Marengo for the Diocese of Dibrugarh. But this Cleric discontinued after two years.

In 1961 Bishop Orestes Marengo SDB, DD and the Salesian Fathers in Dibrugarh were thinking of opening a seminary, named after St. Joseph. The hall on the right side of the Cathedral was turned into a make-shift seminary. From 1962 boys began to be recruited. The Salesians chose Joseph too to join the diocesan seminary. Joseph said that he wished to go to Shillong and become a priest “like these Fathers” (he was not yet acquainted with the term ‘Salesian’). Fr. Ferdinand Zanghelini sdb, who was transferred from Naharkatiya to Dibrugarh, was teaching Latin to the three chosen boys – Cyril, Raphael Purty and Joseph Aind, to prepare them to join Savio Juniorate in Shillong. Joseph did not find much difficulty in learning Latin since they were already studying Sanskrit which had declensions and conjugations similar to those in Latin.

Before leaving for Shillong they were sent home to meet their dear ones. During this home visit one of the three boys, named Cyril, died of dysentery. During the Easter season of 1962 Joseph Aind and Raphael Purty joined Don Bosco Technical School at Laitumkhrah, Shillong, since the Aspirantate at Mawlai was still under construction. On 11 October of the same year the aspirants were shifted to the newly constructed Aspirantate, Savio Juniorate, at Mawlai, Shillong. Fr. Joseph Dal Broi sdb was the Rector of Savio Juniorate. Cleric Thomas Karthikapallil was the Brother Assistant (Regent).  Joseph had completed class VIII in Assamese medium in Don Bosco, Dibrugarh. Since Savio Juniorate then had only classes VI to VIII and since he did not have a good foundation in English and Latin, he was admitted in class VII.

Soon after China invaded parts of Arunachal Pradesh, the aspirants were shifted from Shillong to Sagayathottam, Vellore in Tamil Nadu in November 1962. They were accompanied by their Rector Fr. Dal Broi, Br. Thomas Karthikapallil, Br. K. A. Thomas and Br. Forte. After six months, when the situation became peaceful, they returned to Savio Juniorate in May 1963. While staying in Savio Juniorate, Joseph Aind was attending classes in Sacred Heart Boys’ High School at Mawlai. In 1965 he passed his HSLC examinations. In 1967 he completed his PUC from St. Anthony’s College, Shillong.

Novitiate formation

In May 1967 Joseph joined the Salesian Novitiate at Sunny Side in Upper Shillong. Fr. John Med sdb was the Novice Master, Fr. Chacko Kakkanatt sdb was the socius cum administrator while Fr. T. O. Sebastian sdb was Brother Assistant. A total of 32 candidates from the Province of Kolkata and from the undivided Guwahati Province started their novitiate formation on 24 May 1967. On 24 May 1968, 24 of them, including Roland Kharkhrang, Nathaniel Topno and Joseph Aind, pronounced their first religious profession.

In Sonada

Br. Joseph Aind went to Sonada in West Bengal for Philosophy and Bachelor of Arts (BA) studies. Fr. Piemonte Peter sdb was the Rector while Fr. Peter Lourdes sdb was the Principal of Salesian College, Sonada. Later Fr. Thomas Karthikapallil (K. J. Tom) sdb succeeded Fr. Peter Lourdes.

Besides serious studies and other activities, on Sundays the Brothers were going to the tea gardens and villages to conduct youth centre activities. Br. Joseph Aind used to go to Shanti Rani Tea Garden just below Sonada town. As he was already conversant in Hindi, he learnt Nepali language quickly which made his Sunday apostolate effective among the youth. He completed his studies in Salesian College, Sonada, in 1970.

Practical Training in Savio Juniorate

Br. Joseph did his first year of Practical Training (Regency) in Savio Juniorate, Shillong, in 1971. He never considered himself worthy to be the right Salesian in an aspirantate. But he thought that he was sent there (even for holidays) because there were many tribal boys there.  He being an Adivasi tribal from North-East India, the superiors thought he could be of some help to those boys. In fact, he gradually found that while some boys were coming from educated families and were sufficiently clever, most of the boys were from distant villages and tea gardens with very little educational background. Such boys needed to be understood, guided, motivated and helped to study hard and go ahead without getting discouraged.  Br. Joseph was put in charge of outdoor works such as digging, planting and watering in the gardens, carrying things from place to place, etc. He was not just assigning various jobs but felt the need to be with the boys to help them.  Sometimes the superiors found it difficult to understand the behavioural pattern of the tribal boys.  Fortunately Fr. Mathew Pulingathil, the Rector, was very understanding and supportive.  

Practical Training at Barpeta Road

In 1972 Cleric Joseph was sent to St. Joseph’s School at Barpeta Road, Assam. He had eight periods of classes daily except on Fridays when the Muslim students stayed at home for Friday prayers. It was a very tough job and often he had to spend long hours preparing lessons, sometimes past mid-night.  Before retiring to bed he used to go down to the toilet which was a little away from the dormitory. One night he saw in front of him a ‘tall lady in a white dress’ walking away from him without touching the ground. Joseph hurried back to the dormitory and called his companion. They looked through the window but the lady had disappeared. It could have been a hallucination of the mind or even a real spirit because on the following day, while narrating the nocturnal event, some people said, “Idhar bahut bhut hai, ata hai jata hai raat me” (there are many spirits here, they move around in the middle of the night). But the ‘spirits’ did no harm to anyone.

The boarding boys longed for Sundays. On most of the Sundays, (except those which had some special programmes) Br. Joseph Aind used to take the boarders on hunting expeditions. He was a sharp shooter. He normally aimed at the birds’ head or beak. Oftener than not, his bullet (stone from his catapult) would hit the prey. The boys were happier when he used to shoot the ‘gandagaurh’ a variety of big cranes. On Sunday evenings the boys prepared supper by themselves and relished the delicious curry prepared from the meat of the birds that they had caught.

Life at Barpeta Road was tough but enjoyable. All worked hard, played vigorously, went hunting, and enjoyed drinking fresh cow milk which was available in abundance from the parish stable. Fr. Remo Morra sdb, the Rector, gave sufficient freedom to the Clerics like putting off their cassock after the morning Mass. This was welcomed by the clerics as the weather was hot and humid.  In the beginning of June 1973 Br. Joseph Aind left Barpeta Road by train for Bangalore to begin his theological studies at Kristu Jyoti College (KJC). The boys thronged the Barpeta Road railway station to bid a tearful farewell to their beloved Brother Assistant and teacher.

Theology in Bangalore

Br. Joseph Aind reached Bangalore on 4th June 1973 having travelled alone, first by Kamrup Express from Barpeta Road to Howrah and then by Bangalore Express via Chennai to Bangalore. He joined Kristu Jyoti College (KJC) and commenced his theological studies in right earnest.  In the first year of his stay in Bangalore he felt a bit out of place due to the difference in climate, culture, food, and the nature of the study itself. But professors like Fr. Dominic Veliath, Fr. Longinus Nazareth and especially Fr. M. J. Mathew, the Rector of KJC, were extremely good and helpful to him. Their constant guidance helped him to complete his theological studies successfully

In the second year, of course, he was better off, studying Church History and dogmatic theology.  He sought to relate his studies to the culture of the people of North-East, trying to figure out how he could explain religion to them in a more meaningful manner. From the second year onwards he was involved, together with other theological students, in social work in the stone quarries. The students used to meet the employers and make them pay better wages to the quarry workers who were made to slog for long hours digging stones but were paid very poorly. Due to the pressure exerted by the students of theology the employers gave in to the demands of the workers.  The Brothers also offered free tuition to the children of the quarry workers.  On Saturdays and especially on Sundays the Brothers went to the parishes of the city to teach catechism.  Brother Aind used to go to Marathahalli to teach catechism to the kids as well as to the young people. On Thursdays they used to go the quarries.

Since the Northeast Brothers were not allowed to go for home holidays in December, Br. Joseph Aind, Br. Nathaniel Topno and two others went to Kerala with the Brothers from Kerala. During the March-June holidays in 1974 Br. Joseph was sent to Savio Juniorate to assist the confreres there. His second December holidays were spent in Tamil Nadu. The third December holidays were spent in preparation for Final Religious Profession. On 24 May 1974 Br. Joseph Aind pronounced his final vows at Salesian College, Sonada, together with his companions Br. Roland Kharkhrang and Br. Nathaniel Topno.

Diaconate Ministry at Moranhat

On 19 March 1975 Br. Aind was ordained Deacon by Archbishop Arokiaswamy of Bangalore.  For the diaconate ministry he was assigned to Moranhat Parish in Assam, where Fr. O. V. Abraham sdb was the Parish Priest. Fr. Abraham had to travel between St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dibrugarh and St. Joseph’s Parish in Moranhat. So he put Deacon Joseph Aind in charge of teaching catechism to the people at Moranhat. Practically every afternoon Dn. Aind used to go to the villages for catechism classes. If the villages were close by he used to return to the parish at night. On some occasions he used to spend the nights in the far-flung villages or tea gardens. For some of the communities he also organized short Retreats lasting three to four days. The diaconate ministry at Moranhat lasted about three months. 

Priestly Ordination

Deacon Joseph was due to be ordained priest in January or February of 1977. But in November 1976 the Diocese of Dibrugarh was due to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of its existence. Bishop Robert Kerketta SDB, DD of Dibrugarh insisted that Deacon Joseph should come to Dibrugarh and get ordained during the Jubilee celebrations. Deacon Joseph expressed his inability to do so as his batch mates would be ordained only in January-February of 1977. With some insistence Bishop Robert succeeded in getting permission from the staff of Kristu Jyoti College to get Deacon Joseph ordained two months in advance. Thus Deacon Joseph Aind was ordained priest by Nuncio Msgr. Luciano Storero on 27 November 1976 at the Bishop’s House campus, Dibrugarh, for the Salesian Province of Guwahati. The combination of Silver Jubilee of the Diocese and the sacerdotal ordination of Deacon Joseph Aind, drew such a crowd as Dibrugarh had never witnessed before. He was the first local priest to be ordained from the Diocese of Dibrugarh and took as his priestly motto: ‘Serve and Hope’.

The following morning had a pleasant surprise.  Msgr. Storero was due to leave Dibrugarh after breakfast. At around 7.00 am he called Bishop Robert Kerketta and others to show them a ‘miracle’ performed by him. On entering his room, they saw the Nuncio’s bed broken in the middle. According to his explanation, after finishing his morning wash he just sat on his bed. But the poor bed collapsed under the heavy burden of the weighty Nuncio. Bishop Robert immediately added that the Nuncio would have to pay a ‘heavy fine’ for the ‘miracle’ he had performed. 

Before returning to Bangalore for the Pastoral course Fr. Joseph Aind visited many parishes and institutions of the Diocese of Dibrugarh to celebrate his First Mass. The first place he visited was Sarupathar at the invitation of Fr. Terence D’Souza. Fr. Terence took Fr. Aind to Lisa Basti, now known as Lachit Gaon. On the way their jeep had a puncture. After fitting the spare wheel they reached Lisa Basti in the middle of a thick forest. They stayed there for two days. For young Fr. Joseph it was the first taste of pastoral life among the simple but fervent Catholics of Lisa Basti. After the celebrations were over Fr. Joseph Aind returned to KJC, Bangalore for the Pastoral course.

Priestly Ministry

Towards the end of the Pastoral course at KJC all the newly ordained priests received their appointment letters. Fr. Mathew Pulingathil sdb, the first Indian Provincial in Salesian India, sent the obedience letter to Fr. Aind by post, appointing him Assistant Parish Priest of Wokha in Nagaland. Initially Fr. Joseph was wondering as to how he would communicate with the Lotha Nagas as he did not know even a word of their language. But as he was getting ready to go to the railway station in Bangalore he received another letter directing him to go to Tangla in Assam as Assistant Parish Priest. He put the letter in his pocket and told no one about it. Finally he reached Guwahati by train.

Assistant Parish Priest in Tangla

In Guwahati many Fathers, including Fr. Thomas Arackal sdb, had gathered for a programme, Fr. Pulingathil now told Fr. Aind that his appointment was changed from Wokha to Tangla. He also directed him to proceed to Tangla with Fr. Arackal. After supper both of them left for Tangla by jeep and reached there around midnight. The following day the Salesians, the FMA Sisters, boarding boys and girls as well as the parishioners warmly welcomed the new Assistant Parish Priest.

A few days later Fr. Arackal left for Kerala. He told the young priest to manage the house and the parish. It was cultivation season. Tangla then had several vehicles – two jeeps, one Jonga, one truck, and one tractor. There were four drivers. After Fr. Arackal left for vacation the drivers asked for holidays. Fr. Joseph thought that during the cultivation season, one driver for the tractor and the jeep would be sufficient in the parish. So he allowed three of the drivers to go home.  After Mass the following morning he was to bring some villagers to work in the parish paddy field. He looked for the driver but he was nowhere to be seen. When he was finally found Fr. Joseph sent him to collect the villagers. This incident made him resolve to learn driving.

Fr. Aind already had some rudimentary knowledge of driving from Savio Juniorate, Shillong. As a practical trainee there, he was in charge of food and the stores. Often he used to go to the market with the driver. On the way to and from the market he used to ask the driver to show him how to drive: starting the engine, steering, changing gears, etc. One evening the driver went home early, leaving the jeep a little away from the garage. Mr. Bah Kret, the ‘factotum’ of Savio Juniorate asked Br. Aind whether he could put back the jeep in the garage. Br. Joseph said, “I will see.” He took the jeep key and started the engine. He shifted gear and started backing. The vehicle moved backward very fast. As he could not manage the steering, the right side of the jeep hit the side of the hillock. Fortunately the vehicle did not steer to the left side or else Br. Joseph and the vehicle would have fallen into a drain 10 feet below. Mr. Bah Kret got frightened and immediately called the boys and had the jeep pushed into the garage. When he decided to learn driving in Tangla as Assistant Priest, the lesson learned at Savio Juniorate helped a lot. Initially he practiced driving in the parish campus. The first village he drove to alone was to Shikari Bangla. The road was rough and slushy. Somehow he went and returned safely. But as he was entering the parish campus, his calculations went wrong. He dashed against the wall and the front portion of the jeep was smashed. Thank God nothing happened to him or to the engine. When Fr. Arackal returned from Kerala Fr. Aind narrated his adventures. Fr. Arackal, rather than scolding him, said “Adventures are part of any learning process.”

Fr. Thomas Arackal was happy that Fr. Aind was of great help to him in the parish. When he was transferred, Fr. Panamattamparambil Zachary sdb took over as Parish Priest and Rector. As a Cleric, Joseph Aind had spent a month and a half with Fr. Zachary at Naharkatiya. Fr. Casarotti Mauro sdb, the Provincial, had sent him there to help Fr. Zachary with the ‘Shadi’ classes (marriage counseling). Moreover, Br. Aind was often asked to clean and start Fr. Zachary’s bike but not to ride.  Fr. Zachary was now happy to have Fr. Aind as Assistant Parish Priest and entrusted him with many responsibilities.

Fr. Zachary ordered for a new Yezdi motor bike. When it reached Tezpur he sent Fr. Aind to bring it to Tangla. Fr. Aind expressed inability as he had never driven a bike. Fr. Zachary said since he could drive a jeep, driving a bike would be easy.  Fr. Aind obeyed and went to Tezpur by bus. In Tezpur Fr. M. Luke gave Fr. Aind an intensive training in riding the motor bike in the ground outside the Bishop’s House. After some trial rounds Fr. Joseph was asked to ride the new bike by himself.

At the Bishop’s House Fr. Aind met Fr. Elias Kerketta sdb who had to return to Doomni the following day. When Fr. Elias saw the new motor bike he told Fr. Aind, “Hey Joe, let’s drop in to my house in Kachary Bagan near Rangapara.” Fr. Aind protested that he had learnt to ride the bike only that day. With someone sitting behind, it would be impossible for him to drive. But Fr. Elias was insistent and Fr. Aind agreed to take him provided they started early morning so as to reach Tangla before nightfall. The following morning they left Tezpur at 9.00 am and reached Kachary Bagan. But once at home Fr. Elias was in no hurry to leave.  After many reminders the two were able to leave by 3.00 pm. Fr. Luke had warned Fr. Aind not to exceed 40 kmph while driving the new bike. Fr. Aind followed the advice strictly. But the sun was going down the horizon very fast. They had to go a little faster. After sometime they reached a bridge. On both ends of the bridge there was some loose mud. While driving across that muddy area he lost control and fell down with the bike. Fr. Elias too fell. Fortunately at that moment no vehicles came their way or else the situation could have been very dangerous. Anyway the duo got up and resumed their journey.

Near Udalguri they found people repairing the road by spreading gravel on it. Fr. Aind told Fr. Elias to disembark as he would not be able to control the bike with him sitting behind. So he got down, walked for half a furlong and then rode again. After some time it became dark and Fr. Aind found it difficult  to ride against the blinding lights from the oncoming vehicles.  While approaching Ambagaon Parish they found a culvert being built across the road. A long stretch of the road on both sides was bad. The traffic was heavy.  Fr. Aind made Fr. Elias to get down again and tried to stop the bike on the side of the road. When he saw the vehicles coming too close he tried to move over to the side but in the process he lost control and went down with the bike. There were two ditches. One was very deep while the other was shallow but full of grass, dirt and water. Luckily he fell into the shallow ditch. The engine stopped.  Fr. Elias tried pulling out the bike but to no avail.  The two then stopped a bus that was passing by and got the help of the passengers to pull out the bike.  They realized that the two bike-riders were priests and informed them that there was a church a little ahead.   So Fr. Aind sent Fr. Elias in the same bus to Ambagaon while he guarded the bike.

Fr. Nazarene was the Parish Priest of Ambagaon.  On hearing Fr. Elias’ narration, Fr. Nazarene and some boys went and pushed the bike to the parish. There they had a wash and supper. Fr. Aind told Fr. Nazarene that he had to reach Tangla as Fr. Zachary would be waiting for him. He put on the ‘lungi’ given by Fr. Nazarene. The Ambagaon jeep dropped him to Tangla. Fr. Zachary was waiting for him. Seeing him returning in a jeep and dressed in a ‘lungi’ he guessed that some misadventure had taken place.  

The following morning Fr. Aind told Fr. Zachary that someone should go to Ambagaon and fetch the bike. Fr. Zachary insisted that Fr. Aind himself should go and bring it to Tangla. So he returned to Ambagaon by bus. Fr. Nazarene said the bike had a minor problem as water had entered the engine but now it was quite okay.  Fr. Aind took Fr. Elias to Tangla by bike and from there Fr. Elias proceeded to Doomni by bus.  Fr. Aind had quite many other bike adventures but his courage, determination, presence of mind and trust in Divine Providence saw him through. 

While he was in Tangla as Assistant Priest, Fr. Aind was also tasked with promoting religious and priestly vocations for the whole Province of Guwahati.  He also had to look after the youth ministry, women’s association and promotion of lay movements in the parish. As a Cleric in Savio Juniorate he had learnt to play both the pedal as well as hand harmonium. At Barpeta Road he had mastered the art of playing the Tabla. At Tangla he began teaching existing hymns as well as his own compositions. With the help of tape recorders he used to record some of the hymns in the cassettes for teaching purpose. Thus his stay in Tangla was full of pastoral activities mixed with many adventures.

Catechist in Savio Juniorate, Shillong

In 1979 Fr. Aind succeeded Fr. Stanislaus Kerketta sdb as the Liturgical animator at Savio Juniorate, Shillong. He tried his best to work hard to take care of the boys without any partiality. The boys seemed to be happy with him. As for himself he testifies that he spent one year and a half very happily as catechist in Savio Juniorate.

Rector of St. Paul’s Seminary, Shillong

On 17 May 1981, Fr. Patrick Burns sdb, the Rector of St. Paul’s Seminary in Upper Shillong, died at the age of 65. From Savio Juniorate Fr. Aind went with some boys to pray for the departed soul. In the meantime Fr. Mathai Kochuparampil sdb, Provincial of the undivided Guwahati Province, also came to St. Paul’s Seminary. As Fr. Aind came out after praying near Fr. Burns’ coffin, he called him and started conversing outside the church. After sometime Fr. Mathai told him, “Fr. Joe, you have to succeed Fr. Burns as Rector of this seminary.” Fr. Aind was shocked as he had not been given any hint of such an appointment. Fr. Aind expressed inability to accept such a responsible post as he was still a very young priest. He proposed the name of Fr. A. V. Louis sdb to be the Rector as he was a senior priest. But Fr. Mathai insisted that he should accept the appointment in obedience. After one week he again met Fr. Aind in Savio Juniorate and repeated that he was appointing him Rector of the Seminary. Three weeks after the funeral of Fr. Burns Fr. Aind took charge as Rector of St. Paul’s Seminary.

Among the Khasis one of the titles (Kurs) is ‘Kain’. Mistaking ‘Aind’ for ‘Kain’ many were thinking that a Khasi Priest was coming as Rector of St. Paul’s Seminary. A few days after he was solemnly welcomed in the Seminary, some people, including some priests, told him “When they heard your name announced the people thought that you were a Khasi priest as your title Aind sounded similar to the Khasi title ‘Kain’.  In those days there was one very influential Khasi catechist in Upper Shillong. He was, in fact, once offered a ticket to contest the Meghalaya Assembly elections. He, however, refused to join politics as he found a catechist’s mission nobler than that of a politician though he knew the latter  was more lucrative financially. This catechist was very friendly with Fr. Joseph Aind and offered timely advice on how to understand and form the local Khasi boys to priesthood.  Thus Fr. Aind was well accepted by the seminarians and could spend happy years in the Seminary.   

Rector and Parish Priest of Tangla

Before the completion of his first term as Rector in St. Paul’s Seminary, Fr. Mathai Kochuparambil, the Provincial, transferred Fr. Aind to Tangla as Rector and Parish Priest. His predecessor in Tangla, Fr. Kokkapallil Philip sdb had to retire due to ill health. As Fr. Aind had already worked in Tangla as Assistant Priest, the people knew him and accepted him well.

One of the works he tried to accomplish during his second stint in Tangla was to reconcile some of the villages which were at loggerheads with one another. Thus the people of Shikari Bangla and Bara Singribari could never see eye to eye. Due to these disputes many priests refused to work in Tangla Parish. The majority of the people in both villages were simple and good but some people with vested interests were behind these unnecessary quarrels and fights. Sometimes the conflicts led to court cases that dragged on for many years bringing victory to none but heavy financial losses to both parties.  While at Tangla he also prepared the division of the parish with the erection of Dimakuchi as a separate Parish.  Fr. C.A. John sdb was appointed the new parish Priest of Dimakuchi.

Rector of Savio Juniorate, Shillong

In 1986 Fr. Aind was sent to Savio Juniorate, Shillong, as Rector. He had been there earlier as Catechist. He was therefore quite familiar with the place and the work of a formation house. He experienced much joy and satisfaction because in Savio Juniorate there were many boys from North-East India. The Church too was interested in promoting local vocations. During the holidays Fr. Aind visited the families of the aspirants. He used to ask the parents to pray for their sons in the seminaries and take care of them during holidays at home. He was also looking for opportunities to scout for religious and priestly vocations.

There were some priests who used to express displeasure when some boys were sent away or were leaving the Aspirantate by themselves. Fr. Aind used to calmly tell them that not all the boys coming to the Aspirantates or Seminaries become priests but only those whom God chooses. On the other hand even those who leave are better informed about religion and other spiritual matters and many turn out to be good Christians and leaders of communities as professors, doctors, police officers, politicians, etc. Among the many, Bishop Aind recalls two of his past pupils of Savio Juniorate who did quite well in the secular world: Onesimus Passi became a DIG, and Robert Kharsing was a successful politician.

While serving as Rector in Savio Juniorate Fr. Joseph Aind had tried an experiment to educate needy youth of the Assam plains. After serious discussions with some of the students of Sacred Heart Theological College (SHTC), Mawlai-Shillong, like Philip Barjo, Benedict Toppo and a few others, an education commission was formed with Fr. Aind as its president. With financial contributions from some of the centres in Assam, a handsome amount was raised which enabled many economically poor students to study. When he was transferred from Savio Juniorate, and the concerned theology students too passed out from Sacred Heart Theological College, the project died out.

A short stint at Halflong

As he was completing his second term as Rector of Savio Juniorate (1986 – 92), Fr. Aind was informed by the Provincial that he was planning to appoint him as the Rector of Don Bosco College, Tura in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills district. Fr. Aind expressed inability to accept the post as he felt that he was not qualified academically for such a task.  The Provincial did not seem satisfied with his response.  Thinking that the Provincial would not budge Fr. Aind began to study the Garo dialect.  He had already learned the rudiments of the dialect at Savio Juniorate itself. On completing his term, however, he was sent not to Tura but to Halflong on a temporary assignment.

Parish Priest of Dimakuchi, Assam

Hardly three months had passed in Halflong when Fr. Provincial told Fr. Aind that he had found someone else for Don Bosco College, Tura, and that he was sending him to Dimakuchi as its Parish Priest. That was in 1992.  When Fr. Aind took over as the Parish Priest, there were a number of buildings under construction like the convent and the school.  He was able to complete these structures and also added a few new ones.   

As Parish Priest of Dimakuchi he used to visit the Catholic communities in the evenings since most of them were busy working in the tea gardens during the day. But night visits presented two problems for him. First of all the area abounded in wild elephants. Secondly, in the rainy season crossing the flooded rivers with water rushing down from the Bhutan hills was extremely risky both for the vehicle and the passengers.

On two occasions Fr. Aind’s jeep was carried away by the cascading waters.  On both occasions he succeeded in steering the vehicle to safety, saving himself and the passengers.  Fr. Aind was happy visiting the villages and administering the sacraments and catechizing the people.  He encouraged the parents to send their children to school.  He also saw to the adequate formation of the catechists who play a vital role in the work of evangelization and faith formation.

Appointment as Bishop of Dibrugarh

Hardly two years had elapsed after Fr. Aind’s arrival in Dimakuchi when he was appointed Bishop of Dibrugarh. Even before this, rumours of his appointment as the bishop of Dibrugarh had been circulating soon after his arrival in Dimakuchi in 1992. In fact, already towards the end of his second term in Savio Juniorate, talks of his appointment floated in the air.  In 1994 Fr. Camillus sdb, Provincial of Chennai Province, while attending a meeting in Rome, had sent some hints about Fr. Aind’s appointment as Bishop. In Chennai the Province News Letter is said to have published the news as a confirmed fact. Actually no one knew about the appointment or of his episcopal candidature. Fortunately one senior Salesian saw the piece of news in the News Letter and stopped its distribution.

Six months after this incident Bishop Robert Kerketta of Tezpur was on the look-out for Fr. Aind.  Whenever Bishop Robert succeeded in locating Fr. Aind’s whereabouts, Fr. Aind would quietly slip away.   A letter from the Pope asking for his consent for appointment as the Bishop of Dibrugarh had been handed over to Fr. Aind but he had not responded.  Fr. Aind did not want the mitre and was avoiding Bishop Robert so that he wouldn’t have to respond to the Pope.  He considered himself unworthy and unprepared for the great responsibility he was being asked to shoulder. Moreover, in those days he was showing symptoms of a serious stomach ailment.  When he returned to Dimakuchi from Nazareth Hospital in Shillong after a check-up, Bishop Robert had caught up with him and informed him that the Pope wanted him as the bishop of Dibrugarh.  Fr. Aind read the appointment letter and said, “Bishopji, I am not worthy and not able to take up such a huge task.” After about an hour of walking together and coaxing, Fr. Aind replied, “Okay, I accept it.” The Bishop thanked him and said the following morning they would go to Mangaldoi and there from a public telephone booth he would make a call to let Vatican know that he had accepted the appointment.

The following morning Fr. Aind left for Tangla. After an hour Bishop Robert too reached there. He found Fr. Aind having breakfast. Pretending to be surprised to find him in Tangla, he asked him where he was going. Fr. Aind said he had some urgent work in Guwahati and soon left. After his breakfast Bishop Robert too left Tangla. As per the secret agreement between the two, Fr. Aind waited for Bishop Robert at Mangaldoi town near a petrol pump where there was a phone booth. On finding Fr. Aind the Bishop dialed Pro-Nuncio’s number from the telephone booth. As soon as the Pro-Nuncio picked up the phone, Bishop Robert introduced the matter and handed over the phone to Fr. Aind, telling him quietly, “Please say yes, yes.” When the Pro-Nuncio asked about his willingness to accept the post, Fr. Aind replied, “If the Holy Father wants me, I will accept the appointment.” The Pro-Nuncio thanked him and asked him for the appropriate day to publish the news of his appointment. As discussed and agreed upon with Bishop Robert, Fr. Aind replied, “I think 23rd of December will be a good day.” After this important communication to Rome through the Pro-Nuncio, Bishop Robert left for Tezpur and the Bishop-elect returned to Dimakuchi. That was on 6th December 1994.

Official Announcement from the Vatican

            Fr. Joseph Aind, the Bishop-elect, was not fully aware how his appointment would be officially announced by the Vatican. On 23rd December 1994 he was attuned to the All India Radio but heard nothing. In the evening Bishop Robert phoned up from Tezpur and congratulated him. The Fathers from Dibrugarh as well as Fr. T. M. Joseph sdb, the Provncial and confreres from Guwahati, did the same.

            On 24th December Fr. Sebastian Karotemprel (Junior) the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dibrugarh and some priests came from Dibrugarh to Dimakuchi to congratulate Fr. Aind. Fr. Sebastian thanked him for accepting the appointment and requested him to come soon and take charge of the Diocese. Fr. Aind replied that he had many works still to complete in Dimakuchi. Fr. Karotemprel insisted that the Bishop-elect at least come to Dibrugarh and take over. Finally Fr. Aind agreed and went driving by himself to Dibrugarh on 6th January 1995 after all the Christmas related celebrations. He took charge of the Diocese informally in the presence of some of the priests of Dibrugarh Diocese.

Episcopal Ordination

            A month before formally moving to Dibrugarh, Fr. Aind went for a Retreat to Don Bosco, Sulkorna in Goa. After six days of private prayer and meditation he visited some of the Salesian institutions in Goa and the Salesian Provincial House at Mumbai.  From Mumbai Fr. Aind returned to Dibrugarh on 12th March and began immediate preparation for his impending Episcopal Ordination. In the evening of 18th March he had a long conversation with Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil SDB, DD of Guwahati as they strolled in the Bishop’s House campus, meeting the Bishops, Priests, and the people who had already assembled for the occasion. Fr. Aind himself had chosen 19th March for his Episcopal Consecration since it was the feast day of his patron, St. Joseph.

On 19th March Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil SDB, DD consecrated Fr. Joseph Aind as the 5th Bishop of the Diocese of Dibrugarh. The episcopal ordination of this ‘son of the soil’ witnessed hitherto the largest congregation in Dibrugarh – dozens of bishops, hundreds of priests, men and women religious, thousands of Catholics, non-Catholics and even non-Christians, assembled to pray for and congratulate the new and young ‘shepherd’ of the second oldest diocese in North-East India, Dibrugarh.

After his Retreat in Goa and before leaving for Dibrugarh, Fr. Joseph Aind revealed to a Salesian journalist in Mumbai that his sacerdotal motto would continue to motivate his Episcopal life: “Serve and Hope”. After all God had created him to serve Him and His people in the Church, hoping that one day he would be with Him in heaven.  The Bishop-elect had also highlighted to the Mumbai Salesian editor the three priorities of his episcopal ministry:

  • To work and behave in such a manner as to win the goodwill of the priests and religious of the Diocese. To unite all of them to work for the welfare of the Diocese and the glory of God.
  • To educate the youth of the Diocese.
  • To work for the holistic development of the men and women of the Diocese.

Strengthening Unity among Priests and Religious

Bishop Aind believed that unity creates synergy. For uniting the Diocesan and Religious Priests of the Diocese, he started the practice of monthly recollection-cum-meeting in the Bishop’s House. He also organized tri-monthly meetings for priests in the Bishop’s House. The latter practice gradually died out as the pressure of work prevented many from attending the animation meetings.  However, the practice of monthly recollection for the priests and religious of the Diocese continues even today and has borne tangible fruits. 

Promotion of School and Higher Education

To enhance the education of the Catholic children and youth, Bishop Joseph insisted that parents should send their children to the Catholic schools, and if not possible, to the nearest school according to their convenience. Secondly, he insisted that there should be primary and high schools in all the parishes of the Diocese. Thirdly, he asked his priests to reduce school fees as much as possible to enable children from the weaker strata of the society to avail themselves of quality education.  He insisted that concessions or if necessary, free education be offered to the economically poor kids. Fourthly, from the first year of his episcopacy he commenced visiting the diocesan schools to see the total enrolment of Adivasi and other tribal Catholic students. He found that the number of Catholic students was very low and insisted on increasing their enrolment. He also found that the number of Catholic students passing HSLC examinations was very low. After insistence and efforts by the schools the number of successful Catholic students began increasing year after year.

After three years of his efforts to promote school education, Bishop Aind thought of promoting higher education. Hence he thought of looking out for ex-seminarians and ex-aspirants to see how many were bright and desirous to continue their studies but could not continue due to financial constraints. It was found that many wanted to continue studying. Bishop’s secretary Fr. M. D. Varghese sdb too got interested in Bishop Aind’s plans to promote the higher education of the Adivasi youth of the diocese.   He scouted for bright and willing students and sent them to Delhi and other metros for higher studies and job oriented courses like printing, photography, videography etc., so that the youngsters could come up in life. Some of these youngsters produced a video of 10 minutes’ duration which Bishop used to take to Europe during his visits. Seeing these videos people there realized that their financial contribution was being utilized very meaningfully. Fr. Varghese also introduced Bishop Aind to some benefactors in Kerala who agreed to help promote Bishop’s educational project. One good and friendly Bishop in Europe too rendered some financial support to provide for the higher education of youth of Dibrugarh Diocese. Bishop Aind is grateful to God for His inspiration and timely help to educate these youngsters.

Promotion of Youth Ministry and Youth Leaders

In the second year of his episcopate Bishop Aind revamped the Diocesan Youth Ministry.  He appointed Fr. William Horo as its President. He sent two boys to Europe for exposure and the two also stayed at Taize (in France) to imbibe its spirituality. They returned enriched and became leaders of the youth of the diocese.  Later some youngsters would visit Europe on their own. One of them, Mr. Raphael Kujur, would later become the president of AASAA (All Adivasi Students Association of Assam) for quite many years. He even contested the Assam Assembly election in 2016. The Assam Government appointed him as the in-charge of the Adivasi Development Council.  He continues to be a part time politician and a social leader.

Dream of the Formation of Bureaucrats

            Bishop Aind dreamt of getting the Adivasi youth to appear for the competitive examinations and enter into administration.  He wanted them to appear for UPSC examinations by getting coached at Don Bosco Institute (DBI) in Guwahati and other places. So far only James Aind has succeeded. He is currently serving as SDO in Silchar. Bishop Aind, however, continues to encourage the promising youth to come forward and take up the challenge of becoming bureaucrats, politicians and leaders in the civil society because from these platforms they can help their people better.

Empowerment of Women

            Bishop Aind dreamt of empowering the women of the Diocese. He strongly believed that if women are not educated families cannot improve. At the very outset of his episcopacy he encouraged the formation of ‘Mahila Sangh’ (Women’s Association) in all the Parishes. Sr. Mary Topno was appointed as the Women Coordinator. She did a wonderful job for the women of the diocese.

In the second year of their existence the Mahila Sangh members drew up their Sambhidan (Constitution). They organized a meeting in Dibrugarh. In the first meeting itself over 800 women participated. The Women’s Coordinator of the CBCI (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India) was invited from New Delhi. She was extremely happy to see such a huge number of women enthusiastically participating in the sessions and other programmes of the meeting. The chief aim of the Mahila Sangh was to help women to form good families. Even before the Government had introduced “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” project, Bishop Aind had the programme up and going in his diocese. 

Catholic Sabha / ‘Purus Sangat’

            In line with the Women’s Association, Bishop Aind endeavoured to form a ‘Purus Sangat’ / Catholic Sabha (Men’s Association). He enlisted the help of a number of Catholic professionals like lawyers, professors, doctors, etc. as members. The diocese could boast of good number of such professionals but they had not been organized.  Bishop Aind wanted the laity to be active and committed in their professional fields and witness to their Christian faith.  He wanted the laity to come forward to defend the rights of the Church and of the downtrodden people.  In spite of his best efforts the Purus Sangat could not develop as he had dreamt. 

Erection of Miao Diocese

East Arunachal Pradesh formed a part of the diocese of Dibrugarh. Bishop Aind took keen interest in the growth of the Church and establishment of centres to cater to the needs of the increasing number of Catholics in the region.  Till the early nineties Arunachal had remained inaccessible to the Christian missionaries because of the restrictions placed by the Government.  On 2nd August 1993, the newly built church at Borduria was blessed in the presence of Mother Teresa of Kolkata.  From thence new centres continued to be opened.  Thus St. Joseph’s Parish and Don Bosco School were opened at Mintong in 1996, at Bordumsa in 2004, at Kheti 1998, at Longding in 2004.  

While promoting the work of evangelization, Bishop Aind had a special plan for Arunachal Pradesh. With East Arunachal Pradesh forming part of Dibrugarh Diocese, the area was too vast to be looked after effectively. Bifurcation of East Arunachal from Dibrugarh would also accelerate the spread of the Gospel message in the ‘forbidden land’. Bishop Aind saw in Fr. George Palliparambil sdb the right person for the project East Arunachal Pradesh. He requested Fr. George to initiate as many parishes as possible in that region. As Rector of Bosco Bible School at Tinsukia, Fr. P. K. George sdb was closely linked to the Arunachal mission. He took up residence at Borduria from 1992.  From 1997 he began to coordinate the apostolate in East Arunachal Pradesh from the Literature Centre at Khonsa. Bishop Aind was ever ready to visit the centres in East Arunachal and was close to all the priests and religious working in the area, encouraging them in their ministry.

From 2001 Bishop Aind started requesting Rome to create a new diocese in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh. On 07 December 2005 Pope Benedict XVI erected the Diocese of Miao in East Arunachal bifurcating it from the Diocese of Dibrugarh. On 26 February 2006 Fr. George Palliparambil (PK) was consecrated as the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Miao. Till 2001 East Arunachal Pradesh, comprising the civil districts of Changlang, Dibang, Lohit and Tirap, had 21 priests and 21 women religious catering to 59, 030 Catholics among the total population of 4, 26, 239.

Expansion of the Church in Dibrugarh Diocese

 

Bishop Joseph Aind continued the expansion of the Church in Dibrugarh Diocese establishing new centres and helping to commence new institutions in Assam such as at Amguri (Sacred Heart Catholic Church in 1996), Borbam (Ursuline Convent & St. Dominic School in 2001), Chabua (LF Novitiate in 2002), Demow (St. Mary’s School in 2002), Dergaon (Don Bosco School in 1995 and Maria Niwas Convent in 1996), Dibrugarh (Youth Centre in 2000, St. Joseph’s Institute in 2005, M. C. Convent in 2006, Pilar Fathers’ Rehabilitation Centre in 2008, MSMHC Pragyalay Girls’ Hostel in 2010, & St. Joseph’s Clergy Home in 2014), Doigrong (Parish and High School in 1997, and St. Mary’s Convent of the FCC Sisters in 2002), Duliajan (Town Church in 2010), Golaghat (Don Bosco College of the SDBs & Providence Niwas of the CSJB Sisters in 2015), Jagun (Fatima Convent of the FS Sisters in 2007), Jorhat (SDB’s Life Plus Baghchung in 2006), Khobong (Parish and Don Bosco School in 2007), Lakwa (Model English High School in 2010), Margherita (Divine Renewal Retreat Centre in 2009), Nazira (St. Peter’s High School in 1996), Ornalpur (St. Paul’s High School & St. Anne’s Convent of the DSA Sisters in 2013), Pengaree (St. Xavier’s High School of the Jesuits in 2002 and St. Anne’s Convent of the DSA Sisters in 2013), Rangajan (Don Bosco High School of the SDBs in 2011 and  Ashish Bhavan of the CSJB Sisters in 2015), Teok (Ashir Sadan Benedictine Ashram in 2000 & Presentation Convent of the DPM Sisters in 2010), Tinsukia (The Disciples’ Centre in 1996, Sisters of Mary Immaculate Convent in 2006 & MSMHC Provincialate in 2010), Uriamghat (St. John Maria Vianney Catholic Church in 1998 & Sisters of Mary Immaculate Convent in 2010) and at Woka (Assisi Convent of the FSMA Sisters in 2012).

Other Offices held by Bishop Joseph Aind

  • NESCOM Chairman

            In the first year of Bishop Aind’s episcopacy the North-East Indian Bishops’ Council was discussing about the formation of a Media Commission as well as about its chairman. In the meantime Fr. Peter Chinappa of Kohima Diocese and some other priests were trying to form a common media commission for the entire North-East India (NEI). Thus was born a media commission called the North-East Social Communication Commission (NESCOM). The NEI Bishops’ Conference adopted it with Bishop Joseph Aind as its first Chairman and Fr. C. Peter as its first President. Bishop Aind guided this media commission till Bishop George Palliparambil SDB, DD was appointed as its second Chairman.

  • NECHA In-charge

Bishop Aind was also once in-charge of the North-East Community Health Association (NECHA). NECHA, of course, is not a commission but an advisory body. Its President is normally a Sister and a Priest acts as its Director.

  • Co-Chairperson of Women’s Commission

Under the aegis of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Bishop Aind, together with the Bishop of Jalpaiguri, was appointed as Co-Chairperson of the Women’s Commission for a term of two years. The Chairman then was Bishop Calyst Francis. Due to his health problems Bishop Aind could not always carry out the responsibilities of this office.

The CBCI meets once in two years while the CCBI (Conference of the Catholic Bishops of India) meets every year. Bishop Aind could never attend these meetings fully. After two or three days he used to suffer with stomach problems and had to be hospitalized. Five years back he requested the Holy See to give him a Coadjutor Bishop. The present Nuncio to India and Nepal, Msgr. De Quattro, intervened on his behalf and on 03 March 2019 Fr. Albert Hemrom was consecrated as the Coadjutor Bishop of Dibrugarh. Since then Bishop Aind has retired from all commissions.

Looking back gratefully

As he looks back at the 25 years of his episcopacy in the Diocese of Dibrugarh, Bishop Aind experiences a sense of satisfaction. He humbly admits that things could have been much better had it not been for his own inadequacies and ill health. He feels happy to have given his best despite his human limitations. He is grateful to God for guiding him and blessing all his efforts. Bishop Aind received all-round support of everyone, his brother bishops, the priests and religious of the diocese and the loving support of his flock.

He thanks his brother Bishops, members of the North-East Bishop’s Conference and the Diocesan Administrators. He specially thanks Msgr. Thomas Menamparampil SDB, DD, who as Archbishop of Guwahati, ordained him Bishop on 19th March 1995.

He is particularly grateful to the Vicars General – Fr. Leander Kerketta, Fr. Joy Pallikunnel, Fr. Lazar Kakkassery and Bishop Albert Hemrom (Coadjutor Bishop cum Vicar General), for their constant guidance and help.

He thanks the Financial Administrators of the Diocese who helped him and the Diocese both in normal times and in critical moments.

He feels obliged to the Diocesan Priests, Religious Fathers and Brothers, “who actually have been running the Diocese during the last 25 years”, he says in typical pilot’s parlance, “I have been only steering it.”

He is thankful to the Sisters of various Congregations who have been generously collaborating in the fields of faith formation, education, health care, etc.

He says he cannot forget the laity, including the Catholic flock, the dedicated catechists and the lay leaders who have contributed to the growth of the Diocese in evangelization, socio-economic development, legal and political matters, etc.

He gratefully remembers his secretaries who have excellently performed their secretarial tasks and rendered other services according to their special aptitudes and skills. They include Fr. Mechery Varghese (MD), Fr. M. R. Alex and Fr. Palatty Devassy.

He is grateful to all the Fathers, Brothers and others who lived in the Bishop’s House during the past 25 years, forming a family of understanding, patience, love and collaboration.

Bishop Joseph Aind finally thanks his close collaborators – Coadjutor Bishop Albert Hemrom, Fr. Louis Dhan, Fr. Philip Purty, Fr. Noas Lakra, Brother Angelus and other Priests and lay staff who closely live and work with him in the Bishop’s House.

On the other hand the Priests, women and men Religious, the Catholic laity from different walks of life, and the people in general who knew him as a loving friend, brother, father, teacher and guide are profoundly thankful to him. His simplicity and humility have endeared him to everyone.  His contribution towards the evangelization and the socio-economic development of the people of the diocese will ever be gratefully remembered.

Jonas Kerketta sdb, Dimapur
(Based on personal interviews and published sources)

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