After the establishment and success of St Xavier’s High School in Ahmedabad, and of St Xavier’s College in Bombay , the Gujarat Jesuits wished to foray into university education. A chance encounter with an influential citizen of Ahmedabad set the ball rolling in that direction. In mid-July 1954, while on a train to Ahmedabad, Fr Charles Gomes, S.J., Principal of the ‘elite’ St Xavier’s High School, Mirzapur, met Mr Rasiklal Khushaldas Patell, (the double “l” affixed to his surname was as much attribute to his singularity as to his eminence.) Chairman of the Indian Cricket Board, one of Ahmedabad’s industrial tycoons, and member of the Senate of the Gujarat University, Mr Patell persuaded Fr Gomes to start a college and promised to use his good offices to effect.
Seizing the opportunity, Fr Gomes immediately contacted Fr Fernando Arellano,the Provincial Superior. “And so,” says Fr Joseph Braganza, one of the founding-Fathers,“with a nod of the head and on the spur of the moment, St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad,was launched, without a rupee in hand, nor a building on site – no trained Jesuits,no experienced hands. It was an act of daredevilry, the merest folly, a gamble thatcould have failed. But the two men who took the decision, Fr Arellano and Fr Gomes,were men of destiny, positioned at the right time and place, men of vision and men of faith, men who thought big and suited their actions to their thoughts.”
With the guidance and assistance of Mr Patell, Fr Gomes sprung into action. He filed an application for a new college, prepared the papers and produced the required documents to the University. Further, he started assembling Jesuit personnel for the proposed college, raising funds, taking loans, looking for land, and so on.
A plot of land, some 5000 sq. yards, located on the periphery of the city, and ten-minute’s walk from the main administrative block of the Gujarat University was purchased.A well-known Ahmedabad architect, Atmaram Gajjar, was selected to plan the building– with a deadline for its construction – June 1956!
The cost of financing the new college was enormous. Attempts to raise funds from the public brought in a mere Rs 30,000. “Nothing daunted, those in charge explored other sources of revenue.Herbert with his flair for public relations set up a skeleton organization of friends in the USA . Fr Arellano tapped the resources of the Society both in Gujarat and in Spain . Fr Gomes raised low-interest loans from friends. Later, Propaganda Fide and others pitched in their valuable contributions.”
Tireless efforts, anxieties and nerve-racking activity brought St Xavier’s College,into existence. At the time of its inception, education conformed to the following pattern:eleven years of schooling leading to the (Government) Secondary School Certificate (SSC) Examination,followed by two years of college leading to the Intermediate Exam (University),and two years each to the graduate and post-graduate degrees of the University.
For a beginning, St Xavier’s College opted for the two-year Intermediate Exam in Arts, given the number of teaching staff, with plans to begin Science courses the following year. This was approved by the Gujarat University Syndicate and Senate.As pre-arranged with the University, it shared space and buildings with St Xavier’s High School (Mirzapur). The College opened on 20 June 1955, with 250 students on the rolls. College classes were held from 7 to 10.30 a.m. Fr Frank X. Lobo, of St Xavier’s College, Bombay , was lent to the Mission for a time and was installed as the first Principal. Frs Joseph Lobo, Joseph More and Br Bou were on the staff.
Fr F. X. Lobo set the students a standard of academic seriousness and discipline invaluable in a new College. Prof Toos Vakil, a member of the Arts Staff recalled in 1980, on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the College:
“Rev Fr Frank X.Lobo was our first Principal… Fr Frank was with us for only the first academic year. Fr Frank was a disciplinarian with a heart of gold. He would be brusque with somebody with one moment and be engaged in a friendly chat a little later with the same person, for there was no malice in him. It was Fr Frank X. Lobo, the First Principal of the college, who first set the high standards for which the college continues to be known.”
Fr Joseph More was treasurer and librarian; besides, in consultation with experts, designed the college laboratories. Fr Joseph (Acharya) Lobo, in his quiet way, was all out to help students who seemed to have unlimited confidence in him. Br Bou as Physical Instructor made the most of a motley crowd and little time, to take an active part in all the sports and athletic activities of the University. The lay staff co-operated full-heartedly with the management in its efforts to give the College a “St Xavier’s” reputation.
Meanwhile new buildings had to be provided for, as the School became wholly insufficient for the following year. Land brokers scoured every vacant space in the city for a suitable plot of land; architects and contractors planned, drew, corrected, cancelled and drew sketches anew and made estimates to bring the buildings into existence; Government offices were approached from every angle to obtain permissions and licenses and permits to built and secure building materials.
The Foundation Stone of the new College was laid by His Lordship Bishop Pinto on 1 January 1956, the Titular Feast of the Society. The stone contained relics of both St Ignatius and St Francis Xavier. By June that year only the ground floor, first and part of the second floor of an imposing structure 347 feet long, with a 177 ft side wing, had been completed, and were used by the College.
“How in six short months such an imposing structure has come into being is a secret of Divine Providence and a feat on the part of the Building Contractors Messrs Gannon Dunkerly & Co.” Nearby, a Hostel meant to accommodate 150 students, together with kitchen and dining rooms was two-thirds completed.
Prof Vakil describes the new primises: “In the next academic year (1956-57) we had shifted premises.I remember this area well, where nothing but the College then stood… In the monsoon huge puddles had to be leaped over (generally waded through). Even if we could not,literally, take them in our stride, we had the will to do so! But puddles were not the only hazard, for stray dogs and untended cattle were also to be reckoned with on that no-man’s land. Work was still in progress at the college; carpenters, masons,plumbers were all over the place. Only one classroom was ready in early June, Room No 8 on the Ground Floor, and it served as the principal’s office, tool room and crèche. Room No 8 was the hub of activity, for all was directed from there.
Gradually we reached a sense of completeness in many directions, for from humble beginnings this college came to attain its present high standards in every student activity. I look back with pride and say with conviction that the Fathers and Professors had a common goal: to give our nee institution ‘a local habitation and name’.
From 20 June 1956 classes were conducted in the new building. For the First Year Arts there were two divisions, one for the Gujarati medium and one for the English medium students,and for Inter Arts there was only one English medium class. The Science Faculty,which was newly added, had the First Year, with Chemistry, Physics and Biology.There was a great rush for admission to Science, more students than could be accommodated.There were 570 students on the rolls – 150 in the Arts Faculty and 420 in the First Year Science. The College was also constituted a postgraduate centre for Hindi.“We were too new then to pick and choose our students, so we took them as they came and equipped them to take their place beside the best in the University. It was uphill work all the time, but we never faltered, our enthusiasm never wavered.”(Vakil)
In the new set-up the managing staff was reinforced by Fr Herbert de Souza,who took over as Principal, and the Braganza brothers, Frs Francis and Joseph, appointed respectively as vice-principals of the Arts and Science faculties. All three were fresh from their return from the United States of America . Prof Vakil records:“In June 1956, Rev Fr Herbert de Souza came as Principal, and as he walked into our midst with a kind friendly smile and hands outstretched, he radiated love and friendship. What was important as this was the fact that Fr de Souza made each man feel happy and important. If there was a decision to be taken or a ticklish matter to be settled, we were consulted, for he had faith in us and our judgment. We had backing and approval at all times… Fr de Souza spoke of his Professors as ‘My Staff’, and we spoke of the College as ‘My College’ or ‘Our college’.”
It was certainly his era – his presence pervaded every aspect of the college and gave it immense vitality and life. He knew how to tap the boundless energy and enthusiasm of the young and direct it to various fronts – academic, sports, cultural activities, social service, politics – an ever expanding and challenging environment that kept us tremendously busy in the first year, trying to come to terms with it and trying to live up to it.
Brs Francisco Gil and Stanislaus D’Silva had also been attached to the College.They were daily on the new premises “supervising every inch of work, from the day of the First Stone, in cold and hot, wet and dry weather. Had his cycle a speedometer,it would register hundreds of miles of loving, self-devoted sacrifice in the interests of the College.”29 Br Martin Araquistain, too, supervised the construction, the gardens and the campus.
On 18 December 1956, St Xavier’s College was honoured with a brief visit by Shri Y.B. Chavan, the Chief Minister of Bombay . At a function held in the College, the Minister stated that he was amazed at the order, discipline and good behaviour of the students present. “That’s the Christian spirit,” said someone to him. “It should b30e encouraged,” he replied.
Enrollment at the College took an upward swing in the academic year 1957-59, with a total of 301 students in Arts and 952 in Science. There were 144 students in the hostel.
College life in 1956-57 was too hectic and chaotic to permit a formal inauguration. So, St Xavier’s College was officially inaugurated on 5 October 1957 by Shri Morarji Desai, Union Minister for Commerce and Industry. The doings of the College were given wide, favourable publicity in the local papers, and recently there was an article commending it as a model of discipline.
In 1958, thanks to an anonymous benefactor, two vacant plots adjacent to the football field were purchased. Thus the College campus was extended by 20,000 sq yds. Later, another adjoining plot east of the college building (hockey field) was purchased. By 1959 the College had a campus of approximately 15 acres; by 1962 the College possessed a campus of 25 acres.
During the academic years 1959-60,along its climb to eminence, St Xavier’s College was visited by eminent citizens:Field Marshall Cariappa, Cardinal Gracias, Raj Kapoor and Gujarat first Governor,His Excellency, Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung. In February 1959 St Xavier’s College hosted the All India Philosophical Congress. It lent its hostel to put up delegates and its lecture halls were used for the sessions. It helped to make the College more known and appreciated.
In 1959 Br Augustus Lobo joined the staff and founded the Social Service League, which was absorbed into the National Service Scheme. Br Lobo cultivated a dedicated group of students, and challenged them with difficult assignments in building huts for those displaced by floods (Mandava), or setting up wells in villages prone to drought (Nani Kishol), or affording immediate relief to those hit by natural calamities. Br Lobo had a predilection for the blind, and favoured their admission to the College. He provided them readers throughout the year and writers at the examinations. In June 1962 the Sisters of Carmelites of Charity (Vedruna) inaugurated the St Xavier’s Ladies Hostel for the out-station students of the college.