The century-long Salesian contribution to the Church in India, in spreading the Good News and establishing Catholic communities has been both significant and praiseworthy. The history of Salesian missions in the south and north of the country, pioneered by the 1906 and 1922 groups headed by Fr. George Tomatis and Fr. Louis Mathias respectively, is a saga of passion for Jesus and of compassion for the people - like the South American mission spearheaded by Fr. John Cagliero in Don Bosco’s day. The missionary exploits in India, masterminded by the sons of Don Bosco, are second to none in the annals of Church history, and we can be justly proud of what the Lord has achieved through our Congregation.
The first group of Salesians, under the leadership of Fr. Tomatis, began their missionary work in St. Francis Xavier’s Orphanage at Thanjavur in 1906. When Fr. E. Mederlet joined in the following year, the San Thome Orphanage at Mylapore too came under the care of the Salesians. The progress of the work was such that “numerous conversions in the outlying villages” and “regular catechism classes” were the result. In 1928, when the Thanjavur Mission was handed over to the ecclesiastical authority, the Salesians opted for the North Arcot Mission, a large, arid and under-developed area in the northern part of Tamil Nadu, which today forms the two civil districts of Vellore and Thiruvannamalai. Soon several Catholic communities were established in the new area. In 1928 itself, the SDBs came to Tirupattur and reached out to the remotest villages. Most of the parishes looked after by the Salesians are today part of the diocese of Vellore. Some of the pioneering missionaries were Frs. Carletto, Frossati, Albertini, Vendrame, Klimczyk, Cignata and Dabove. Some other outstanding post- independence period missionaries were Frs. V. Villanova, F. Capiaghi, J. Sandanam, F. Schlooz and Bishops Mariaselvam and D. Marianayagam.
The group of Salesians that reached Shillong in North East India, under the dynamic leadership of Fr. Louis Mathias in 1922, too had the clear goal of evangelization and the founding of the Church in that area. Schools and boarding houses, parishes and catechist training, etc had no other aim than to form “good Christians and honest citizens.” Whereas Fr. C. Vendrame was the apostle of the Khasis, Fr. L. Piasecki that of the Adivasi communities in the Brahmaputra Valley, Bishop O. Marengo in course of time became the father-founder of three dioceses in the North East. The Holy See appreciated the fast growth of the Church by creating the diocese of Shillong and appointing Mgr. Mathias as its first Bishop in 1934. His transfer to Madras in 1935 and his ministry of proclamation during the following 30 years as the Archbishop of Madras/Madras-Mylapore can only be mentioned here. Not withstanding the difficulties during the Second World War, the Catholic population in the North East increased from 5000 in 1922 to 70,000 in 1945. Today (2006), in the same area, there are 3 Archdioceses and 10 dioceses, with a Catholic population of over one and a half million. The ten dioceses include also the two newly established dioceses in the flourishing missions of Arunachal Pradesh.
Salesian missions spread from Shillong to the Calcutta region in 1925, and then to Krishnagar and Bombay in 1928. In course of time, they gave birth to hundreds of Catholic communities. Still new ones are springing up among the Santali and Bengali population in the diocese of Krishnagar and in the Archdiocese of Kolkata. There are fresh Bengali and Adivasi communities in and around Bandel. In what is today the Province of New Delhi, ad gentes missions are found among the Adivasis of Hatia, Kokar, and Kullu, in Jharkhand, and Mohanlalganj in Uttar Pradesh. New missions are also being opened among the Mundas in Khunti diocese. The efforts made to proclaim the Good News in Bihar, in Sikkim and in Nepal too are bearing fruit. Salesian missions that began in Bombay have grown not only in and around Bombay, but are now fast expanding among the Rathvas and the Bhilalas in Gujarat and among the Dalits of Ahmadnagar in Maharashtra. The missions begun in Panjim (Goa) by Fr. V. Scuderi in 1946 and continued by Fr. J. CarreÒo and others have been so effective that from 1952 the Archdiocese of Goa entrusted the Salesians with the ministry of faith formation and catechesis. In August 2004, the Salesian missions in Goa became the Konkan Vice-Province and it extends to the whole of Goa, the areas under the dioceses of Mangalore, Karwar and Belgaum in West Karnataka and the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. The missions that began in Kerala (1956) were pioneered by Fr. Francis Guezou, Fr. V. Menacherry and Fr. Louis Panikulangara, while Fr. P. Thayil sowed the Word of God through print and arts media. Mission work in Andhra Pradesh (1964) and Karnataka (in the latter part of 60s) brought the Gospel to several villages in far flung areas such as Ponnur, Patsala Tadiparru, Raptadu, Pezzonipet and Wyra-Khammam, in Andhra Pradesh, and Hospet, Deodurga and Pavur, etc. in Karnataka.
Missionary work carries on in the Andaman Islands, in the Vice-Province of Myanmar (formerly part of INC), in Sri Lanka (formerly part of INM) and in several other places outside India, especially in Africa, where Indian Salesians are serving. Today the small seed sown in 1906 and 1922 has grown to over 2400 Salesians, working in over 375 presences in South Asia, structured into 9 Provinces and 3 Vice-Provinces. Leading the Church in South Asia -India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar, there are 5 Salesian Archbishops and 6 Bishops.