The timeless charm of Bandra lies in its eight Churches whose bells have chimed for 500 years, from the rustic 16th century to the urban din of the 21st Century. How Bandra evolved into the spiritual capital of Mumbai is the stuff of history. It all began in 1534 when the island of Salsette, inclusive of Bandra, came under Portugese rule. In 1568, Bandra was assigned to the Portuguese Jesuits. At first, the Jesuits made hardly any progress in their evangelical mission, until Bro. Manoel Gomes, the Apostle of Salsette, arrived on the scene. With his knowledge of local language and customs, by 1580, two thousand persons were baptized and this number multiplied from year to year till in 1603, practically the whole of Bandra was Catholic.
Of the eight Churches in the Bandra Deanery, the Church of Saint Andrew is the oldest. There is a Jesuit report of 1669 stating that the St. Andrew Church was built later than St. Anne’s . However, the Church of St. Anne (not to be confused with the present day Church but the Church near the former slaughter house at the Bandra station) with surrounding fortifications was blown up by the English in 1739, leaving St. Andrew’s as the only church in Bandra. Other churches including present day St. Anne’s and other chapels came up later on in the 19th century.
The edifice of the Church of Saint Andrew, as it stands today, was probably built around 1599, going by references, in the order of the Jesuit Provincial (1596-1602) to build a new Church in Bandra which was subsequently described as the biggest and best of all those in the island of Salsette and was the parish church of Bandra. The Church of Saint Andrew is a heritage building and its architecture, statutory altars, stations of the cross, etc. are a visual delight. There are two towers flanking the façade of the church, one of which is the belfry. Incidentally, the church was extended in 1965-66 (during the vicariate of Msgr. George Fernandes) keeping the original façade intact.
This church came into existence in April 1852 and eas completed in 1853. The ground floor served as a chapel and the first floor housed the Ecclesiastical Seminary which was transferred here from Mumbai. The first Rector and Parish Priest was Fr. Antonio Pereira, who died in 1876. With an increasing population it became necessary to build the present day St. Peter’s on the site of the old church. The foundation stone of the new church was laid in September 1938 by Archbishop Roberts, S.J. St. Peter’s is known for its beautiful stained glass windows which are at their best in sunshine or when the lights are on. Some other salient features are the main altar built of Carara marble and its façade depicts the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci carved in relief. There is a marble cupola above the tabernacle and two life-sized angels on either side of the altar. Towering above the altar is the larger than life statue of the Sacred Heart.
This church celebrated its centenary in 1994 and so its origins hark back to 1894. The first Vicar was Fr. Pio Elias Saldanha who began the building of the church and parochial house. The foundation stone of the school building was laid in February 1909. In 1929, there was demarcation and drawing up of the boundaries of Bandra parishes. Mt. Carmel’s then 35 years old obtained a generous share of the Bandra territory. Owing to some disturbances in 1941, the church was closed and was only reopened in September 1942. The foundation stone of today’s church was blessed by the late Cardinal Valerian Gracias on September 8, 1975 and on completion, was dedicated by Dr. Simon Pimenta, Archbishop of Bombay on 11th February 1981, the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. Fr. Joe Pereira noted for rehabilitating drug addicts and alcoholics was parish priest from June 1981 to May 1988. The centenary celebrations started on 18th July 1993.
Chuim was once a part of St. Andrew’s Parish for more than 300 years. In January 1943, through a decree of Archbishop Roberts, Chuim was raised to the status of an independent parish. Sunday Mass was celebrated in the school hall, a new construction on the border of Chuim village. Fr. Blaise Nazareth was the Vicar. By 1969, Fr. Nazareth had put up a small church by the side of the school hall and this church functioned as the place for daily worship. When Fr. Stephen Nazareth became the Vicar in 1976 the plan for a new church was developed and the present church of St. Vincent de Paul became a reality on October 11th 1978 being blessed by Archbishop Simon Pimenta. A novel feature of this construction is that the existing small church was not destroyed but was integrated into the new church and is used for daily mass.
This was originally described as the chapel on the hill and was built in 1858 and made filial to the church of St. Andrew’s. It served the village of Malla, Sherly, Rajan, Chuim and Pali. The chapel underwent renovation and repairs beginning in 1890 and was completed in June 1896. It was rebuilt by Mr. Manuel Gonsalves in 1939 (the third edifice). Rev. Fr. Braganza was installed as Vicar in January 1943 when the chapel was elevated to the status of a parish church.
The story of the shaping of the parish and the building of the church of St. Theresa is a saga of hard work, perseverance, faith and hope in the Lord. Also, it owes its development to the indefatigable spirit of the early parishioners and the priests who served them. Masses were held in scattered locations on Sundays at Pereira’s compound, Khar at 5 a.m. St. Anthony’s School, Pali at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. and the Railway Recreation Hall at 8 a.m. Weekday Masses (one per day) were held at Bishop Longinus’s home in Pali on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and at Gomes’ garage on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Fr. Theophilus Gomes purchased the plot for the church for Rs.1,07,170 (Rs.13.6 per sq. yard!). After his death in June 1948, St. Theresa’s parish was handed over to the SVD Fathers with Fr. George Proksch appointed the first parish priest. Fr. Braun took over from him in 1951 followed by others. The new church building was started in October 1959 and was completed in 1962. It has an outstandingly modern façade and has polychromatic glass, an electric organ from Germany and the automatic electronic bell which was a novelty in those days.
Bandra East in the 50s was synonymous with marshes, mosquitoes and malaria. There were about a 100 Catholic families living with other communities in a cluster of huts known as Behrampada, Navpada, Kherwadi and Jawahar Nagar. These Catholics went to St. Peter’s and St. Theresa’s in Bandra West to attend Sunday Masses and other religious services. The few Catholics of Kher Nagar, a township of 35 buildings arranged for evening Mass to be held in one of the buildings. This practice continued on the following Sundays with priests coming from St. Peter’s and St. Theresa’s. In May 1959, a shed was built by the Catholics of Bandra East to function as a Church from August 8th 1959. A new parish was carved out for Bandra East on May 1st 1960 named, Parish of St. Joseph the Worker. As roads opened up in Bandra East and bus services started by BEST, the Catholic population increased. The Norbertine Fathers who requested for a parish in Mumbai were entrusted with this parish. Work on the new church building started by end of 1969 and was completed on November 17th 1970 with the blessing by His Eminence Cardinal Gracias. This was a dream of Bandra East Catholics to have a beautiful place of worship finally materializing. The parish priest then, was Fr. Luke Van Helvert who was followed by several well-known names.
Church of Saint Francis de Assisi
This church arose from the need to cater to an increasing Catholic population of Mt. Carmel Church. It became necessary to divide the parish and erect a new church on a plot previously owned by Mount Mary’s Basilica and sold to Mt. Carmel for a nominal price. Construction work which was entrusted to Fr. Roque Lobo began in 1979 and was completed in 1982. Fr. Roque managed alone the new church for six years followed by Fr. Maxi. In 1989, Fr. Adrian D’Souza took over from Fr. Maxi and held tenure for six years. During that time he constructed a compound wall to prevent encroachment.