Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
The 'Cathedral of the Sacred Heart' also known as the 'Sacred Heart Cathedral Church' is a Catholic Church situated at 1, Ashok Place in New Delhi and between Saint Columbus School and Convent of Jesus and Mary. It is also approachable from Connaught Place which lies at a distance of only 0.5 km away and just at the meeting point of Bara Kharak Singh Marg and Ashok Road where the Gol Dak Khana round-about is situated. It sits on a vast expanse of 14 acres set with green lawns and fringed with trees and due to its location; it is easily accessible by local transport and from Central Secretariat Metro Station.
The History of Catholic existence dates back centuries ago, however, the Jesuits Order were well established only in Agra under the reign of Emperor Akbar who showered them with enough kindness due to his Secular beliefs in contrary to Delhi where they were not given much of attention or preference. It was way back during this era when Juliana, a captive who was the attendant of the Royal Seraglio was taken to Delhi after the Dutch Settlement in Hoogli were massacred only to become renowned for her skills and knowledge in medicines.
Juliana married an Adventurer and Explorer named Phillipe de Bourbon who was conferred with the title of 'Dar-i-Yamaa' and was presented with the Masihgarh Village Estate near Okhla (today) as dowry on behalf of Juliana by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. After the rise of European settlement in Delhi and post Mughal defeat, this family came under the influence of corruption and soon Dominga Deremao, the last surviving generation of Juliana and Phillipe Bourbon also died towards the end of the 19th Century AD.
Before Dominga Deremao died, she bequeathed this Masihgarh Village Estate to the Catholic Church under the care of Father Kegan, a student of the Sardhana Catholic Community under the Diocese of the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces Church in Uttar Pradesh which was constructed by the famous 'Begum Samru' who died and was buried within the Cemetery Grounds of this Sardhana Catholic Church. A small Masihgarh Church was constructed in 1921 and a Masihgarh Community was constructed in 1927 that housed visiting Priests from other parts of the Country and World. In fact, a few groups of Christians took shelter under this Masihgarh Church when they were asked to leave Raisina as it had to be cleared to make way for constructing the New City of Delhi under the supervision of Architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens during the British period.
Before this, the St. Mary's Church built by Father Kegan which is situated on Queen's Road now renamed as S. P. Mukherjee Marg (Road) in Delhi served as the only place for Catholic worship. The residence of the parish priest within this Church was so unfit for living that Father Luke from the Tuscan Province of the Capuchins who had visited Delhi in 1919, had to resort to living in a tent during the hot summer months of the city. Father Luke then appealed for help from the Archbishop of Agra and his Parishioners who generously contributed towards repairing the Church residence before monsoons approached. Till then, Father Luke and the Nuns from Jesus and Mary Community lived and worked from their respective tents in order to establish a new convent (school) within the premises of St. Mary's Church which was permanently shifted to New Delhi and occupied by the Central Government Officers in 1924. After this, Father Luke did not lose hope; he re-established a new school within the premises of his own residence under the name of St. Theresa Convent School which became very successful. In 1935, it was deemed as a High School and later a permanent plot of area between Queen's Road and Red Fort that was acquired by Lady Willingdon from the Police was converted into a Playground of this School. In 1940, St. Theresa School came under the supervision of the Presentation Nuns and today, is a well established School that proudly stands under the name of 'The Presentation Convent'.
Lady Willingdon acquired a small portion of land under generous terms for the establishment of a prospective Catholic Church. Her kindness, generosity with tremendous support and contribution along with the consistency of Father Luke's will power and hope were recognised by Sir Malcolm Hailey who was then the Governor of the United Provinces in India. Sir Malcolm assisted in getting an interest free loan of INR 60,000 towards the construction of this Catholic Church which was taken from the Government of India. Other benefactors was a gentleman from Japan, known to Father Luke for 15 years, who contributed a sum of INR 15,000 during the time of Father Luke's utmost need of finance to meet the quarterly bills of the contractor and another help came from an unknown person who advised Father Luke to withdraw all his Church building Funds from the Alliance Bank which collapsed the very next day. These incidents only proved that Father Luke was inherently and highly respected for his simplicity, kindness and honesty by everyone who tried to help him out during the time of his greatest need.
Today, the Irish Christian Brothers School, the Convent of Jesus and Mary School, and the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart stand proudly on this very land that was acquired for an amount of INR 7,000 under a continuous lease and an annual rent of INR 365.00 way back in 1920. Father Luke invited 8 architects to draw the layout plan of the new Cathedral judged by Sir Edwin Lutyens and with the consent of Father Luke; Henry Alexander Medd's design was selected after a few amendments. The foundation stone of the Church was laid in 1929 by His Grace Rev. Archbishop of Agra and its construction commenced immediately in 1930. The Grand and Majestic Sacred Heart Cathedral was finally completed in 1935 despite the fact that during those 5 years, Father Luke constantly faced tremendous pressure for Funds towards the construction of this Cathedral and somehow managed it with the grace of God. The Altar made of pure Carrara Marble was donated by Sir Anthony de Mello and the furniture for the Altar, the Bell and vestments were presented by His Grace, Rev. Archbishop of Agra while a few were contributed by wealthy British Officers. Father Luke was so humbled and filled with inexpressive gratitude as he looked at the finished work and will of God.
Father Luke left Delhi due to his illness but throughout his 20 years in Delhi, He will always be remembered for his humbleness, honesty, simplicity and as the messenger of God who saw a vision to complete the will of God and constructed a great Holy and Sanctified House of God despite the painstakingly tough circumstances. He took great measure and responsibility to contribute towards the society and create a good name for the Catholic Community and his contributions and labour is remembered even today.
The current 'Parish House' of this Cathedral was a Dak Bungalow situated near the Raisina Forest. After the completion of the Sacred Heart Cathedral Church, this Bungalow was converted into the residence of the Priests and was named as the 'Cathedral Cottage'. It was then renovated during the 1960s and was renamed as 'Maria Bhavan'. Since the month of September of 1999, 'Maria Bhavan' houses the Cathedral Parish Priests and the Assistant Parish Priests and is commonly known by all as the 'Parish House'.
The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart is packed with devotees every Sunday where Catholics gather together to celebrate the Sunday Eucharistic Feast. The Church also celebrates Christmas with grandeur which constitutes of a Christmas Eve Service held before the midnight hour of 24th December and the Festival of Easter. Another important Festival religiously celebrated within the Church is the 'Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth'.
The Sacred Heart Cathedral Church uses all donations and contributions from devotees to purchase blankets and warm clothing for the impoverished and homeless footpath and street dwellers. There are no restrictions to enter this Church and it is always opened to people from all cultures, background and different religious sects who feel the need to offer their prayers and seek blessings from God.