Bishop Anastasius Hartmann (1803-1866). A Visionary Ahead of His Times
Many aspects have been said and written about Bishop Anastasius Hartmann in the past. I wish to reflect briefly, however, here on the significance of his vision from the perspective of an Indian, and more so as an Indian Jesuit. While doing so, what catches my imagination most spontaneously is a caption: “Ahead of his times.” What does it imply? Apparently, it implies the fact that Bishop Hartmann dared to dream of things that were essentially far-sighted in character and had much wider and larger implication and significance than the immediate tangible fruits alone. Here we shall discuss about education of the Catholic children and re-organization of the Seminary as being two of the major components of his missionary vision. He was convinced that only through education (Seminary formation being part of it) that the Catholic community can improve and become self-reliant, having a respectable social standing in the larger society. The significance of his vision can be better appreciated when it is seen vis-à-vis the situation prevailing in Patna and Bombay Vicariates at the time of his arrival. In the words of Bishop Hartmann himself: “Whosoever does not know the real state of the Vicariates when I came, cannot judge the blessings which now console our heart.” Hence, at the outset, a brief description of the state of affairs of the Catholic community of his time.
At the moment of his appointment (30th September 1845) as the first Vicar Apostolic of Patna (Bihar), Anastasius Hartmann was working as a chaplain in Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh). Although, in his humility he did not wish to accept it, yet in the spirit of obedience, he accepted the same. Soon after his Episcopal Consecration on the 15th March 1846 he set out for Patna, hardly entertaining an idea that he was going to face a big disappointment at his arrival. In his own words:
I began to weep like a child at the sight of such a desolation. Everything had to be done. The Cathedral was falling into ruins, doors and windows were broken, the roof was caving in, and the whole presented a most sad spectacle of desolation. The mission house was likewise in ruins.
Without being intimidated by the appalling situation, however, he immediately set out on a course of action to remedy the situation. But, no sooner did he begin to experience the consolation of his efforts and sacrifices, “he was called upon to offer on the altar of holy obedience, the most painful sacrifice he had ever made. On 13th of December 1849, he received from the Holy See an order to proceed to Bombay to take over the administration of the sorely-distressed Mission.”
On his arrival in Bombay in August 1850, the condition was no better. A note left on his study table by his predecessor, which read: “Woe to my successor!” was an indicator of what was to be expected. E.R. Hull’s pithy comment further reveals it all: “It was a turbulent time; so much so that the ten years (1840-1850) may aptly be called the Dark Ages of the Vicariate of Bombay.” Why such a caveat? Apparently, because the Catholic community there was in a pathetic state in practically every conceivable sense of the term, the utter lack of educational institutions being one of the major concerns. In order to give a more realistic picture of the situation in this regard, a few testimonies may be supplied, which throw further light on the entire scenario. A certain Dr. Dallas, a well-known Barrister and a good Catholic shared once his experiences in the following words:
When I arrived in Bombay in the early fifties, I found the Catholics, especially as regards education, and their social position so low and contemptible, that I felt almost ashamed to profess my religion; compared with the Protestant institutions, ours were the merest corner schools, or rather, there were no institutions worthy of the name of a school.
Testifying to his own experiences in this regard, Bishop Hartmann too wrote: “The European Catholics who began to settle in India, were ashamed to appear as such before the Protestants, so deeply sunk was not only the divine service and ecclesiastical dignity, but spiritual life among the clergy and religious feeling among the laity.” In sum he described the situation as “the complete want of educational institutions for youth”.
The condition of the Seminary was another such concern that perturbed him most. Although, the Bombay Seminary, as it was known, was established way back in 1770 during the Portuguese era, it had never been able to make a mark. The level of teaching there remained always elementary as the teaching staff were hardly qualified for the job. They were mediocre in their performance and less edifying in character, besides their moral standard being far below the normal standards. On the other hand, the motive of the Seminarians who came there for training was mostly carrier-oriented as they wished to benefit themselves as well as their families financially after their ordination to the priesthood. Their main concern seems to have been to secure a paying benefice, so that they could make a living out of the priesthood.
These are sufficient indicators of what kind of situation the Catholic community he was amidst. The worry that engulfed him is not hard to imagine. Yet, he began his work with an unwavering confidence in the Providence of God.
Bishop Hartmann was convinced that the establishment of educational and charitable institutions was the most essential step that was needed for the growth of the Catholic community into a self-reliant community, having a respectable social standing at the moment. He believed that if a solid Catholic education is imparted to the first generation of the Catholics, the second and the third generations will certainly grow into further maturity. It is precisely for this reason, we are told, that he was against any kind of mass conversions which implied giving just a rudimentary instruction to the neophytes. As regards the Seminary, he regarded it not as an isolated pocket, but as an integral part of the Mission – not an independent unit by itself, but a part of the whole. He believed that once the leaders of the Church were well formed, their influence on the entire Catholic community would act as a leaven percolating to the last member of the same.
With this vision in mind he immediately set out on a plan of action. He was well aware that the implementation of the plan would imply a huge financial and personnel investment, both of which he lacked at the moment. He wrote numerous letters to Europe as well as to some individuals in India irrespective of their religious affiliations for help. His biggest concern, however, was the choice of the right personnel who would do justice to his vision. For, he believed that “their good example and dedicated service would induce the best among their pupils to embrace their state in life.” The Jesuits of Dutch, French, Belgian or German origin, according to him were the best choice for the purpose. After a series of communications both with the Propaganda Fide and the Jesuit General, finally he managed to get the Jesuits of the Southern German Province, which consisted of a lot of Swiss nationals as well. Meanwhile he made a study of best possible locations for the future educational and charitable, i.e., orphanages, institutions. Similarly he planned a drastic re-organization of the Seminary supplying better qualified teachers to the same. The implementation of his vision had thus begun which went a long way to effect a transformation of the Catholic communities in both Vicariates.
We have deliberately restricted the scope of our discussion to these important aspects of the contributions of Bishop Hartmann. The rationale behind taking these two aspects is: a personal experience of the potentiality of education in effecting change in a society. It is an undeniable fact that the establishment of various educational institutions, especially that of St. Xavier’s College, Bombay proved to be a turning point in the revitalization of the Catholic community. A community that had no social standing, especially in relation to the Protestants, began to gain a respectable position in the society. The same was true about his experiences in Patna as he declared: “The Catholic religion, formerly an object of contempt and even scandal, has … gained the esteem and the attention of Protestants and non-Christians. The Vicariate is almost organized, and if God continues to bless it, it will attain a conspicuous position, and cease to be considered like an outcaste …”
Undoubtedly, therefore, the Catholic communities of both Patna and Bombay owe him much to the prestige they enjoy as respectable communities today. Certainly, it was the fruit of his vision and tenacity of his purpose that Bombay got a university College like St. Xavier’s College along with many other Primary and Secondary educational institutions. But, it would be diminishing the sphere of the significance of such a great vision only to the Catholic communities of Bombay and Patna. On the contrary it embraces the entire Indian Church. The tangible fruits of this vision gathered by the Catholic communities of both the Vicariates mentioned above, became a source of stimulus for other Missions in India to adopt this method of evangelization. It would not be an exaggeration, therefore to call him the pioneer of modern Catholic education in India. While making this assertion, there is no denying of the fact that there were already some Catholic educational institutions in other parts of India. Yet, the process of a more rapid growth of school system along with the spread of the Catholic faith seems to have gained a momentum only after his vision began to bear tangible fruits.
Through the development of school system, the Church has been able to render one of the most valuable services to the people of India in general. It would not be too ostentatious to claim that until late 1970s, virtually the Christian educational institutions, among which Catholic institutions were in a majority, had almost the monopoly in India. Viewed from this perspective, the vision of Bishop Hartmann has also proved be of a great significance for entire Indian population.
Lastly, viewed from the perspective of an Indian Jesuit, no wonder the person of Bishop Hartmann remains a mediator of one of the most successful Jesuit Missions, especially with regard to education in India. As indicated above, it was on his invitation that the Jesuits of Southern German Province came to Bombay in 1854 and started gigantic educational institutions like St. Xavier’s College Bombay and St. Vincent’s School, Pune. But beyond this aspect, what is of even greater significance is: the lesson of love for the native Church of India that he depicted by inviting the Jesuits to open educational institutions in Bombay, rising above the narrow congregational boundaries. There are enough indications that such a decision had caused antagonism towards him from his own Franciscan brethren, who were present in the Bombay Mission field much before the Jesuits. Yet, he chose to stick to his decision, for the sheer love of the Catholic community. Undoubtedly, his decision to call the Jesuits to take over the educational apostolate and seminary formation was purely dictated by a single motive: the good of the local Catholic community.
The value of his missionary method, i.e. education and seminary formation of the natives as two fundamental dimensions of missioning, got a much wider currency in the century following his tenure in Bombay and Patna. One aspect may be stated with utter certainty here: Had he remained with the traditional methods of missioning, i.e., catechesis and baptism in order to increase the numerical strength of the Church, the Catholic communities of both Bombay and Patna would not have been in the state that they enjoy today. His vision of a respectable Catholic community committed to its calling has been realized to a large extent, thanks to his patience, perseverance, conviction, enterprising spirit and the courage to dream dreams.
Our reflection would, however, be incomplete if we fail to say a word about the person of Bishop Hartmann. It may be stated without any doubt that it was precisely because what he was, that he could achieve what he did. Without dwelling any further on this point, it is only intended to justify that because of his inner strength as a person of God, deeply rooted in his spiritualty, driven by an exceptional zeal for missions and far-sightedness of his vision that he achieved the things both in Patna and Bombay that had the potentiality of changing the face of Catholic community in the decades to follow. Indeed he was a visionary “ahead of his times”.
Bosch, Dr. “Bischof Anastasius Hartmann Mitstifter der Hitzkircher Muttergotteskapelle,” Vaterland 94 (23rd April 1966), 1-2.
— “Bischof Anastasius Hartmann,” Seetheler-Bote Hochdorf (24th April 1966), 2-3.
Bühlmann, Walbert, “Die Ideen die Nicht starben,” Seetheler-Bote Hochdorf (24th April 1966), 2.
— “Anastasius Hartmann als Pressemann,” Vaterland 94 (23rd April 1966), 2.
—Pinonier der Einheit: Bischof Anastasius Hartmann (Zurich:
Thomas- Verlag/Munich. Paderborn. Vienna: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1966).
Felix A. Plattner, “Vor hundert Jahren starb Bischof Anastasius Hartmann,” Vaterland
94 (23rd April 1966), 1-2.
Gense, James H., The Church at the Gateway of India (Bombay: St. Xavier’s College, 1960).
Hull, Ernest R., Bombay Mission History: With the Special Study of the Padroado Question (Bombay: Examiner Press, 1920).
Kunz , Adrian, “Ein Pionier der Missionen,” Seethaler-Bote Hochdorf (24th April 1966), 1.
Otto, Joseph A., Kirche im Wachsen: Vierhundert Jahre Jesuitenorden im Dienste der Weltmission (Herder: Freiburg i.B., 1940), 170-191.
Plattner, Felix A., Indien (Mainz: Mathias-Grünewald, 1963).
Reddy, Thomas, The East Indian Catholics’ Perseverance Bears Fruit: Tracking the Protagonists in the Double Jurisdiction Controversy in the Bombay Archdiocese through ARSI: “Bombay de Patronatus 1921-1928” (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation) (Rome: Pontifical Gregorian University, 2004).
Vanini, Fulgentius, Bishop Hartmann(Allahabad: St. Paul Publications, 1966).
 Born on 24th February 1803 at Altwis of Hitzkirch in the Canton of Lucerne, Switzerland, Anastasius Hartmann was a member of the Capuchin Order. Driven by his childhood ambitions of becoming a missionary, he travelled to India in 1844. Both as a priest and Vicar Apostolic of both Patna and Bombay, he depicted an exemplary zeal. In his 20 years of dedicated service in India he played a vital role in reviving the missionary spirit. He may rightly be called the reviver of Indian missions. He died in 1866 at Patna (in the present State of Bihar). Cf. Felix A. Plattner, “Vor hundert Jahren starb Bischof Anastasius Hartmann,” Vaterland 94 (23rd April 1966), 1-2; Adrian Kunz, “Ein Pionier der Missionen,” Seethaler-Bote Hochdorf (24th April 1966), 1.
 Resie: The 150-year Journey of the Jesuits of the German and Swiss Provinces in India (Pune: Pune Jesuit Province, 2004), 10.
 As quoted in Fulgentius Vanini, Bishop Hartmann (Allahabad: St. Paul Publications, 1966), 64.
 Cf. Walbert Bühlmann, Pinonier der Einheit: Bischof Anastasius Hartmann (Zurich: Thomas-Verlag/Munich. Paderborn. Vienna: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1966), 76; 142.
 As quoted in Vanini, op.cit., 40.
 As quoted in J.H. Gense, The Church at the Gateway of India (Bombay: St. Xavier’s College, 1960), 111.
 The Padroado-Propaganda Conflict (the jurisdictional conflict between the Portuguese Padroado Diocese of Goa and the Congregation of the Propaganda Fide Diocese of Bombay, leading to the problem of Double Jurisdiction for the Catholic community) has been omitted deliberately here, although by every logic it was the most devastating problem for the Catholic community, that began during the time of Bishop Hartmann. Cf. Thomas Reddy, The East Indian Catholics’ Perseverance Bears Fruit: Tracking the Protagonists in the Double Jurisdiction Controversy in the Bombay Archdiocese through ARSI: “Bombay de Patronatus 1921-1928” (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation) (Rome: Pontifical Gregorian University, 2004), 1-2.
 E.R. Hull, Bombay Mission History: With the Special Study of the Padroado Question (Bombay: Examiner Press, 1920), 140-141; Vanini, op cit., 122.
 E.R. Hull, op cit., 141.
 Gense, op cit., 157.
 Cf. Vanini, op cit., 234-235; Gense, op cit., 44-45; 159-162.
 Cf. Vanini, op cit., 453.
 Ibid., 233. See also Plattner, “Vor hundert Jahren,” op.cit., 2.
 Cf. Bühlmann, Wahlbert, “Die Ideen die Nicht starben,” Seetheler-Bote Hochdorf (24th April 1966), 2.
 Cf. Felix A. Plattner, Indien (Mainz: Mathias-Grünewald, 1963), 97.
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