DIBRUGARH, Jan 7 � Arrival of the Catholics, the larger faction of the divided Christians into Northeast can be traced back to the seventeenth century. The Church history as well as the secular historians say that the two Portuguese Jesuit priests Fr. Stephen Cacella and Fr John Cabral who were on their way to Tibet and Hooghly had camped at Hajo and Pandu (Guwahati ) on September 26, 1626. They were the first Catholic priests to come to Assam. Further, in June 1850, three Fathers of the Institute of the Foreign Missions of Paris reached Guwahati. However, their mission activities could not be traced.
In 1872, Fr Jacob Broy of Milan set up a residence in Guwahati and looked after undivided Assam. He was from the Institute of Foreign Missions of Milan. He also built a brick Church in Guwahati on 1883. This Church is also said to be the first Catholic Church in Assam. In February 1890, two German Salvatorian priests, Fr Gallus Schrole and Fr Rudolf Fontaine arrived Guwahati to carry on the mission works.
After 1826 when Assam became a part of the British empire, the growth of tea plantations brought in Catholic immigrants from Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and from other states of Central India. In 1850 Assam mission was united to Lhasa and according to Historians Fr. Krick of the Foreign Missions of Paris became the first Catholic missionary to set foot in Dibrugarh on September 7, 1851. Fr. Krick and Fr. Bourry, on their way to Tibet were killed in February 1854 in Arunachal Pradesh, near around Tezu. In 1860, another priest Fr. Mercier too is said to have visited Dibrugarh.
In 1870, the Assam region was brought under the Prefecture Apostolic of Krishnagar (Kolkata). Fr. Jacob Broy of the Foreign Missions of Milan with headquarters at Guwahati, looked after Dibrugarh Mission. The Prefecture Apostolic of Assam was established at Shillong in the year 1889. On April 1, 1889, Fr. Rudolf Fontaine, a German Salvatorian priest managed to get 5 bighas of land for the intention of opening a Catholic mission at Dibrugarh and at �Red Road� on Dibru river bank. He opened the first mission centre, in 1909. With the outbreak of First World War, the German Missionaries had to flee from Dibrugarh and India within six months.
In 1922, the Salesians of Don Bosco (a Catholic congregation) arrived in North East India. Fr Leo Piasecki looked after the whole of Assam Valley from Guwahati from 1923. On February 8, 1931 Rev. Fr. Leo Piasecki reopened the Dibrugarh Mission once more. After five years Rev. Fr. Leo Piasecki exchanged the land that was at the river bank and purchased the present campus at Gabharupathar in 1936 where the Cathedral and Bishop�s House is located. On August 12, 1936 a new Church was built and blessed at Gabharupathar. In 1940 there were 150 communities and about 19,000 Catholics under Dibrugarh Mission.
The diocese of Dibrugarh was carved out from the diocese of Shillong on July 12, 1951 with Orestes Marengo as its first Bishop. In 1964, he was transferred as Bishop to the newly erected diocese of Tezpur. On July 6, 1964, Hubert D�Rosario was appointed Bishop of Dibrugarh. He along with Fr. Rubio renovated the Cathedral with frescoes and beautiful mosaics which is a rare creation of art. On his transfer to Shillong in 1969, Robert Kerketta succeeded him in 1970 as the third Bishop of the diocese. In 1981 Bishop Robert was transferred to Tezpur and Thomas Menamparampil was appointed as the fourth Bishop of diocese of Dibrugarh. In 1992 he was transferred to the newly erected diocese of Guwahati. Joseph Aind, the present Bishop, was appointed the fifth Bishop of Dibrugarh on December 23, 1994. Bishop Joseph Aind is a local priest from Lakwa in Sivasagar district.
The diocese of Dibrugarh was once again further divided on December 7, 2005, when the new diocese of Miao in East Arunachal Pradesh was established bifurcating it from the diocese of Dibrugarh, appointing Rt.Rev. George Palliparambil as its first Bishop. Since then the Diocese of Dibrugarh comprised the five districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Jorhat and Golaghat of Upper Assam only. At present the diocese of Dibrugarh has 573 substations with about 1, 21000 Catholics of diverse communities. There are 34 parishes and several residential centres and institutions with 127 priests and 457 nuns.
The contributions of the Catholic diocese towards the empowerment and upliftment through quality education is notable. Ever since the creation of the diocese, the priests and sisters, men and women lay leaders, have played pivotal role in providing quality education in the region. Every year about 4000 students pass out from some 62 high schools of the diocese. About half of the top 20 rank holders also come from these schools. The overall pass percentage of the mission schools in HSLC is 98%. There are 3 higher secondary schools, 4 vocational training centres, 12 dispensaries, 1 hospital and 2 Media and Communication Centres, and a college of Social Work at Jorhat along with Bosco Institute. At present about 60,000 students, 98 % of which are non christians are studying in different mission schools of the diocese. The diocese has vocational and technical schools besides one MSW college at Jorhat and a Nursing School at Dibrugarh.
In times of calamities, the diocese also extends help in the form of relief materials; distributing foodgrains, medicines, blankets, mosquito nets, tarpaulin and so on to the affected people at different areas. The diocese conducts the social welfare programmes under its social wing called Seva Kendra and Health interventions through its health department called CHAD which also maintains an ambulance service.
Rt. Rev. Joseph Aind, the present Bishop while talking to this newspaper expressed pride that that students studying in its institutions have found placement and excelled in world�s top job markets, like engineering, medicine, administration, management, teaching, business and political career too, highly imbued with spiritual and moral values. �The diocese is at the service of the people and will ever remain faithful in its service to the people of Assam, irrespective of caste, creed, colour and communities,� he said.
The administration of the whole diocese of Dibrugarh is taken care of by the Bishop along with his Curia, Consultors, Advisory Bodies and Commissions represented by the laity, religious men and women and priests.