Hard work makes the dreams come true. It is the same motivation that had moved Fr. Peter Schweiger, superior General (1949-1967), to pursue the plans for the Claretian foundation in India. There had been many attempts to start Claretian mission in India from the middle of the 20th century. The first ever invitation by an Indian bishop to the Claretians to work in his diocese was in 1952. Rt. Rev. Leonardo Joseph Raymond, the bishop of Allahabad, invited the Claretians to work in his Diocese and to teach in the seminary of Allahabad. The bishop gave even an affidavit to the Claretians. However, this was not materialized since the foreign missionaries could not enter India.
Meanwhile the Bishop of Kollam (Quilon) came to know of the Claretians during one of his trips to the United States in 1955 and he invited Fr. Peter Schweiger to visit India. As invited by the Bishop of Quilon, Fr. Peter Schwiger visited India in May 1956. On his return, Fr. Schweiger stopped over at Delhi and discussed with Mons. Jack A. D’Souza, the archbishop of Delhi, the manner of procedure to found the Congregation in India.
In the year 1956 when Fr. Rudolf Mainka (Province of Germany) was doing his doctorate in the Oriental Institute, Rome, he came into contact with some Indian priests who were studying with him. In April 1961, in the General Chapter of the Claretian Congregation held at Rome, Fr. Franz Xavier Dirnberger spoke about the initiatives the Germen Province had been taking to establish the Congregation in India.
In the summer of 1961, when Rt. Rev. Sebastian Vayalil, bishop of Palai, was in Rome to take part in the preparations for the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Safran invited him to stay in Wurzburg. At that time, Fr. Franz Dirnberger was superior in Weissenhorn, while Fr. Andreas Back was provincial superior. Fr. Dirnberger invited the Bishop to come to Weissenhorn to see the Claretinerkolleg there. The bishop accepted, and on that occasion there was a talk between him, Fr. Back and Fr. Dirnberger. In that talk the bishop explained that he was ready to tell the students of his seminary that there was a chance for them to go to Germany and join the Claretian Congregation.
As promised, on his return to India, bishop Vayalil encouraged his students to join Claretian Missionaries. A good many of them volunteered, of whom five were selected. On 21 October 1961 this first group of the five students left for Germany. In subsequent years more students followed in the similar manner to be trained as Claretians in Germany.
Thus the first Indian Claretian priest, Fr. Joseph Madavath, was ordained on 27 July 1968, in Germany and returned to India in the same year. After a few weeks he was appointed as the assistant parish priest at Mary’s Forane Church, Kuravilangad. With the joining of Fr. Thomas Mannacheril, a diocesan priest, the first Indian Claretian community started functioning in a rented building- National Building at Kuravilangad since September 1969. Frs. Mathew Njayarkulam and George Vanchipurackal too returned after their priestly ordination in the same year.
First Indian foundation at Kuravilangad: in 1970 Fr. Franz Dirnberger CMF from Germany came to India to help and guide the young Indian fathers to give good foundation to the Congregation in India. He perceived the urgent need for formation centers to mold the Claretians. Thus they opted to start with the minor seminary at Kuravilangad in the state of Kerala.
On 31 March 1970 the foundation stone for the first house in India was laid at Kuravilangad. On 31 May 1970 the first batch of the novitiate with five students was initiated in a temporary shed under the guidance of Fr. Dirnberger as the Novice Master. Some of the students had received initial formation in the minor seminary of diocese of Palai as Claretian Students.
The minor seminary started functioning in the finished part of the building with a group of 21 students on 3 July 1970. On 24 October 1971, Claret Bhavan, the first house of the Claretians in India was blessed and inaugurated by Mar Sebastian Vayalil, then bishop of Palai. Frs. Joseph Madavath and Mathew Njayarkulam were the two priests who had to look after the various needs of the house and the students. The service of Rev. Msgr. Thomas Moothedam as Professor of Latin for the students was a great help in the initial years.
Foundation in Karnataka: a suitable place had to be found out for the further studies of the students who have completed their minor seminary and Novitiate. This search led the superior to Bangalore and the St Peter’s Seminary at Malleswaram was selected. For the purpose of the residence for the students, a small house at the 15th cross, Malleswaram was purchased. Thus a study house was established in Bangalore in 1971 and was named as Shanti NivaS. Fr. Kuriakose Thekkilakatil was the first Rector.
Fr. Dirnberger too shifted his residence from Claret Bhavan, Kuravilangad to Shanti Nivas and started the second batch of Novitiate with two students who simultaneously did their novitiate and philosophy studies. As Shanti Nivas had facilities to accommodate hardly ten students, a plot of land was bought from St Peter’s Seminary for the purpose of constructing a study house for the philosophy and Theology students. Thus Claretian Seminary, Malleswaram was inaugurated by Very Rev. Fr. Antonio Leghisa, then Superior General, and was blessed by His Grace P. Arokiaswamy, the Archbishop of Bangalore on 29 February 1976.
The superior realized the need for a separate Novitiate house for the formation of the young missionaries and purchased some property from the Carmelite Fathers in Carmelaram area of Bangalore in the beginning of January 1972. A farmhouse was constructed there and Fr. Dirnberger shifted his residence to this farmhouse and started the third batch of Novitiate here with three students from Tamil Nadu and one student from Kerala in May 1972.