However, it was only in the nineteenth century that the first Goan missionary order was founded, at Pilar, a former Capuchin monastery in South Goa. Many Catholic Goans at home and abroad consider Pilar the national centre of their faith. It is a center of missionary activity for the Goan Missionary Society of Saint Francis Xavier known as the Society of Pilar, and enshrines the tomb of a saintly priest, Father Agnelo De Souza (1869-1927). It is the fervent wish of Goans all over the world to see the Venerable Fr. De Souza canonized a saint of the Catholic Church during their lifetime.
These web pages describe Goa’s Catholic Heritage, the life and times of Fr. Agnelo, and the missionary work of the Society of Pilar
Characteristically, he grew up manifesting qualities of gentleness, of love and purity, humility and obedience combined with a strong sense of self-discipline.
He was not given to much of talking, unlike the boys of his age, and usually preferred silence and prayer. Teaching catechism to the boys was his favorite childhood hobby. One of his uncles, Fr. Lazaro Fortunato Souza, seeing his teaching activities, utt ered these prophetic words:” Agnelo will one day be a virtuous priest and a renowned preacher.”
Both these prophecies came true, for during his studies for the priesthood he proved to be brilliant and Godly and never missed the daily Mass at the Seminary of Rachol where he completed his discourse of theology with distinctions.
Fr. Agnelo had set his sights high in the service of God and aimed at cultivating assiduously all the priestly virtues.
He believed he could do better in a Religious Order and after much prayer and consultation with his colleagues and teachers, he made his first profession as a member of the Society of Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier, Pilar.
On 24th September 1899 the then Patriarch Archbishop of Goa, Dom Antonio Sebastiao Valente, ordained him a priest at the Cathedral of Old Goa, and celebrated his first holy Mass at the Monastery of Pilar. From then on, Fr. Agnelo’s spiritual life can be s tudied under two phases.
The first consisted of ten years he spent at Pilar more or less in seclusion, prayer and meditation and occasionally going out on pastoral work at the request of his superiors.
It was a preparation par excellence for his later apostolate as a Pastor, Confessor, Preacher, and Spiritual Guide.
He was appointed on 8th September 1908 as Confessor to he Seminarians in Rachol, and by the influence of his personal life of austerity, holiness and benevolence, he strengthened the Vocation of many a young penitent.
From 1910 to 1917 he served as Missionary Vicar of Shiroada in Goa, and of Kumta, now in Karnataka, and there after at Sanvordem as Curate.
He left in all these places a memorable legacy of his holy living and pastoral concern. He had an intense devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and spent a few hours each night in adoration.
On 15th April 1920 he was confirmed as Spiritual Director of the Seminary as well as Director of the Apostleship of Prayer.
Fr. Agnelo was also an impressive preacher not because of any flourish of rhetoric but because every word he spoke from the pulpit came out from the depths of his heart.
Though not of robust health, Fr. Agnelo undertook to preach the whole novena for the Sacred Feast in November 1927 at Rachol. At the Vespers for the feast on November 19, Fr. Agnelo mounted the pulpit for the last time. His congregation missed the usual f ire in his eloquence, and the voice itself turned faint. He ended the sermon earlier than other days and as he knelt in the pulpit for a final thanksgiving prayer he lost his balance and had to be carried away.
But he was still conscious and desired to be laid on a bench in the corridor from where he received the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament that followed the end of the Vespers. Fr. Agnelo had suffered a coronary thrombosis with paralysis of the left arm and leg. He received the last rites and then lapsed into a coma. He had often desired to die on the feast of the Sacred Heart, and the Lord heard his prayer.
On the following day the funeral was very largely attended by people from all corners of Goa eager to pay their last tribute to a saintly priest.
The parish priest of Rachol who conducted the last rites said after the funeral : ” I have just laid a saint to rest”.
The Diocesan and Pilar Society authorities decided to exhume his remains secretly, on January 10, 1939, and at odd hours in order to avoid a public spectacle, and to transfer them to the Pilar Monastery. In spite of all the care taken, even by changing t he normal route from Rachol to Pilar, ( over 25 Kilometers) thousands of people already flocked around the cemetery of Rachol and all along the route till Pilar.
When the coffin carrying the remains had crossed the river Zuari, five music bands were already in attendance awaiting at Agasaim to welcome solemnly the remains. The crows were so great that the procession could hardly advance and the village headmen vie d with one another to have the privilege of shouldering the coffin to carry it to the Pilar hillock where the remains found their permanent resting place.
From that day onwards thousands of people from all walks of life, irrespective of race, sex or creed, began to track the then over hundred steep and narrow steps to Pilar Monastery, sometimes even on knees, to seek favours or thank Fr. Agnelo for his int ercession.
The process of Beatification was started on April 2, 1947 by the appointment of Friar Agostino della Virgine OSST as the first Postulator in Rome, and the collection of the writings of Fr. Agnelo. The diocesan process on the writings of Fr. Agnelo formally started on April 4, 1956 with the Tribunal appointed by the Archbishop Patriarch of Goa, Dr. Jose Viera Alvernaz.
This process was completed and sent to Rome on June 11, 1956, and approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites May 12, 1958, and Pope Pius XII on May 29, 1958.
The second diocesan process on the Sanctity and Virtues started on August 16, 1956 with the new diocesan Tribunal taking the oath of office.
After lengthy sessions, of over 3 years and 2 months and the examination of 28 witnesses from all walks of and conditions of life, the process was completed and sent to Rome on October 10, 1959.
It passed through the minutest scrutiny and was finally approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites on July 9, 1968.
The third and last diocesan process of Non Public Veneration started with the taking of the oath by the Ecclesiastical Tribunal on November 11, 1959.
The recordings of the Process were sent to Rome on June 5, 1960 and finally approved by Sacred Congregation of Rites on May 27, 1969.
With the approval of the three diocesan processes the ground has been cleared to initiate the apostolic processes.
By mandate from the Holy See, the Apostolic Tribunal assumed its office with the Most Rev. Dr. Raul Gonsalves, then Auxiliary Bishop, now Patriarch Archbishop of Goa, as its President on October 8, 1970.
The process was completed and sent to Rome in May 1974. The process on sanctity and practice of virtues in a heroic degree of the Servant of Goa was finally approved by the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints by a Decree dated November 10, 1986, and made Fr. Agnelo de Souza, a Venerable.
Now the only step left for the Servant of God to be declared BLESSED is a miracle. One of the extraordinary favours was submitted to the Diocesan Scrutiny and sent to Rome, but awaits approval.
Based on the brochure ” Father Agnelo’s Call,” No 11 Vol XXVII
Celebrating VEN. FR. AGNELO’S DAY
November 20, 1993