Catholics mark birth centenary of Bangladesh’s first sainthood candidate

Archbishop Ganguly, the first native Bengali Archbishop of Dhaka, was known for his humility, modesty and love for the poor. His sainthood cause was initiated in 2006.

By Robin Gomes

Thousands of Catholics in Bangladesh joined special celebrations to mark the birth centenary of saintly Archbishop Theotonius Amal Ganguly of Dhaka, the country’s first candidate to sainthood.

Three special Masses and memorial services were held on Tuesday at three Catholic churches in Dhaka Archdiocese to pay tribute to Archbishop Ganguly who died on September 2, 1977, six years after Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan.

Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka presided over the Mass at Holy Rosary Church, the country’s largest Catholic parish in central Dhaka, in the presence of about 1,000 Catholics.

Masses at St. Nicholas of Tolentino Church in Gazipur district and at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church in Hashnabad of Dhaka district, Archbishop’s Ganguly’s birthplace, drew thousands of Catholics as well.

In his homily, Cardinal D’Rozario reflected on the saintly and prayerful life of his predecessor, saying  Archbishop Ganguly can help Dhaka Archdiocese and the Bangladesh Church as a whole to be blessed and attain a life of holiness.   “Archbishop Ganguly is an outstanding guiding light and pioneering prelate thanks to his extraordinary knowledge, service and humility during his lifetime,” Cardinal D’Rozario said.

The sainthood cause is a long process that starts at the diocesan level where the candidate lived and died.  At this stage, the individual is given the title ‘Servant of God’.  Testimony about the life and virtues of the Servant of God is gathered and his or her public and private writings are collected and examined closely.

With the end of the diocesan process, the case passes to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in the Vatican for further examination.  Once the person’s heroic virtues are recognized by a papal decree, the person is given the title ‘Venerable Servant of God the Pope’, or simply “Venerable”.

The process for the sainthood cause of Archbishop Ganguly started in Dhaka in 2006 and since then, a diocesan tribunal and two commissions have worked tirelessly to conduct the necessary probes and provide documents, which were submitted to the Vatican in 2018.

Archbishop Ganguly was not only a man of outstanding knowledge and humility but a great lover of humanity, said Father Theotonius Proshanto Rebeiro, the local Church’s notary for his cause of beatification and canonization.

Biography

Born on Feb. 18, 1920, in a village in Hashnabad Parish of what was then Dacca Diocese (Dhaka Archdiocese today), Archbishop Ganguly was educated at Holy Cross High School in Bandura. 

After attending St. Albert’s Major Seminary in Ranchi, India, he was ordained a diocesan priest of Dacca on June 6, 1946.

In 1947, he went to the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana, in the United States for higher ecclesiastical studies.  He graduated with a Doctorate in Philosophy in 1951, the first Bengali Christian to attain the achievement.

During his studies in the US, he came to know the Congregation of the Holy Cross more closely and decided to join it.  He attended the Novitiate in Jordan, Minnesota, and professed his first religious vows on August 16, 1952.

Upon returning home, Father Ganguly taught at Holy Cross-run Notre Dame College in Dacca. He was made the school’s Dean of Studies in 1954 and Assistant Principal in 1958.  In 1955, he made his final vows. 

Five years later, in 1960, he was appointed Principal at Notre Dame College, becoming the first Bengali appointed to the position.  That very year, he became the first native Bengali bishop when  Saint Pope John XXIII appointed him the Auxiliary Bishop of Dacca, which had been raised to the rank of Metropolitan Archdiocese in 1950. 

He was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Dacca in 1965 and became its first native Archbishop in 1967, serving in that capacity for 10 years until his death from a heart attack on Sept. 2, 1977.  He was 57. 

Saint Pope John Paul II renamed Dacca as the Archdiocese of Dhaka on 19 October 1982.

Saintliness and social outreach

Besides his outstanding academic excellence, Archbishop Ganguly was known for his great personal virtues including humility, modesty and a love for the poor.

He played a pivotal role in empowering the Church, including the promotion of lay leadership, youth formation and support of the country’s downtrodden communities after Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.

In 2006, Archbishop Paulinus Costa of Dhaka initiated the process of the sainthood cause of  Archbishop Ganguly.  Archbishop D’Rozario said they are praying and eagerly awaiting the day when Archbishop Ganguly will be declared ‘Venerable’ and move forward to be declared a saint one day.  

After that, a miracle would be required through his intercession to be declared Blessed, and yet another miracle after that to be declared a Saint. 

Catholics in Bangladesh have been urged to pray to Servant of God Ganguly and report to parish priests if any miraculous healing has taken place through his intercession.

The Holy Cross Congregation said that during his visit to Bangladesh in December 2017, Pope Francis blessed the grave of Archbishop Ganguly at St. Mary’s Cathedral compound in Dhaka