Early Years (1829 – 1947)
From 1829 to 1901, Deesa was a British military Cantonment with a resident Catholic Chaplain and a Chapel. There were times when the Catholic (mainly Irish) military personnel were as many as 500, necessitating the services of a Catholic Chaplain. With the shifting of the Cantonment, the Chapel was in disuse and disintegrated. The statue of Our Lady Queen of the World, found refuge in Khambholaj (now in Ahmedabad Diocese) where for many years She was honoured as Our Lady of Khambholaj- Anathoni Mata. When the statue of Mother of the Forsaken from Valencia (Spain) was enthroned in the new Church of Khambholaj, Our Lady Queen of the World was returned to the newly founded mission of Deesa around 1980.
During the Twentieith century (from 1936), Fr. Gaedea from Rajkot and other priests from Ahmedabad visited the migrant and dispersed Catholic families (serving in the Railways and other government establishments or in the service of the Nawabs) in Radhanpur, Deesa, Palanpur, Mehsana and Himmathnagar, and celebrated Holy Mass for them.
Post Indian Independence (1947 – 2002)
With India becoming independent in 1947, many refugees from Pakistan entered the northern regions of Gujarat. Among these were the Majirana tribals, some of whom were baptised Catholics of the Nawabshah mission in Sind. In new surroundings and with no immediate presence of the Church, they lost contact with the Church. In the late sixties, a chance encounter of one of these Catholics with a Catholic Railway official led to the discovery of this community of Catholics who were spread out in villages of Radhanpur and Deesa Talukas. By this time, Kalol mission was in existence.
Ahmedabad Diocese and the Gujarat Jesuits under the inspiration of Bishop Edwin Pinto, SJ, and Fr. Charles Gomes, SJ, respectively sent Jesuit Priests to begin missions in North Gujarat and Sabarkantha. Fr. M. Diaz Garriz, SJ, in Kalol (established 1964) and Swamy Dindayanand (Fr. Lluis Espasa, SJ,) in Mankroda-Bhiloda, established 1964) began mission work in their respective areas. The next Jesuit Provincial, Fr. Francis Braganza,SJ, (later Bishop of Baroda) and successive Provincials supported these initiatives, and the missions grew over the years : Nana Kantharia, Vijayanagar, Meghraj in Sabarkantha, and Kadi (Unteshwari), Mehasana, Disa, Radhanpur in North Gujarat.
In 1960, Gujarat was established as a separate state and Gandhinagar was developed as the state capital. Jesuit Fathers and Sisters of Apostolic Carmel were invited to open their respective schools and the Parish was established in 1970. In 1974, the visionary missionary Fr. Charles Gomes, SJ, was appointed Bishop of Ahmedabad. Besides giving a fresh impetus to the missions already established, he planned for Parish Centers and Institutions in important towns and district headquarters of the hitherto little attended North Gujarat. He dreamed of a new Diocese in North Gujarat. Parishes and Schools, Centers for Legal Aid and other institutions were planned for Modasa and Himmatnagar, Patan and Palanpur, laying the foundation for a new Diocese. His successor Bishop Stanislaus Fernandes, SJ, brought the dream to a reality.
Formation of the Archdiocese of Gandhinagar (2002 onward)
On the 11th November 2002, Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, was established as an Archiepiscopal See and Bishop Stanislaus Fernandes, SJ, was named Archbishop. The territory of the new Archdiocese then comprised the districts of Gandhinagar, Mehsana, Patan, Banaskantha and Sabarkantha. The newly appointed Archbishop took formal possession of the Archdiocese on 22 December 2002, in Gandhinagar, in the presence of the Clergy, Religious and Representatives of all the new Catholic communities of North Gujarat. The Parish Church became the Cathedral and the Archbishop made the Parish House his residence.
The Archdiocese of Gandhinagar is in reality a mission diocese. Most of the Catholics of the diocese belong to the second generation. To support the mission, a few Diocesan Priests from Ahmedabad volunteered to work the Archdiocese. The Archbishop called an Assembly of the Priests and Religious of the Archdiocese on 12th February 2003 to prepare a concrete Vision and Mission Statements to lead the Archdiocese. There were further meetings in local groups in preparation for a second Assembly on 12 August 2003 to which Major Superiors were also invited. With the inspiration of the Major Superiors, a Mission Statement was discussed and accepted, and the stage set for opening new missions in Mehsana and Banaskantha districts. The Archdiocese initiated steps for the establishment of Archdiocesan Social Work Office under a new Trust ‘Sabarmati Samruddhi Seva Sangh’ to coordinate the community development projects undertaken in the Archdiocese. The Social Work Office was set up in the Parish House of Gandhinagar.
At the establishment, there were two men Religious congregations and six women Religious Congregations in the Archdiocese. Thereafter Pilar Sisters’ Association, Sisters of Our Lady of Fatima, Sisters of the Little Flower of Bethany, Little Daughters of St. Francis Xavier, Dominican Missionaries of the Most Holy Rosary, Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (Fransalians), Franciscan Sisters of St. Aloysius Gonzaga have come to support the other Religious groups and bring to fruition the Vision and the Mission of the Archdiocese. Earlier the Congregation of Christian Brothers, Missionaries of Charity and Heralds of Good News worked for a few years in the Archdiocese.
The new Gandhinagar Archdiocese required a well-established Socio-Pastoral Centre and a permanent residence for the Archbishop with offices for the Curia and Pastoral Ministries. A plot of land, north of Gandhinagar town on the Pethapur-Randheja road was bought and construction works were begun. The campus has been named “Shantivan” and the first phase of the Socio-Pastoral Jivan Vikas Kendra, where Archdiocesan programmes are being conducted, has been completed. The pending works of the Socio-Pastoral Centre and Archbishop’s House have reached the final stage of construction. The Archbishop’s House, ‘Dharmacharya Niwas’ has been constructed on the same “Shantivan” campus.
During the eleven years of its existence, the new Archdiocese, has been growing with a more active presence in the area, even though the number of Catholics has not increased significantly. The Year of Faith has been an occasion to deepen the faith of the just two generation old Isupanthi- Catholic community. The publication of the Braille New Testament in Gujarati at the inauguration of the Year of Faith in Gandhinagar was symbolic that the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Good News to those who yet do not ‘see’. The Golden Jubilee celebration of the Church in Sabarkantha district in October 2012, the Youth Convention in Himmatnagar in that same month, the many Parish Feasts during the year in the Archdiocese, have all been occasions to make the Year of Faith fruitful for the ‘Little Flock’, the ‘Nani Mandali’ (Lk.12:32) that is the Church of Gandhinagar Archdiocese, North Gujarat.
The Archdiocese of Gandhinagar covers the northern districts of Gujarat : Gandhinagar, Mehsana, Patan, Banaskantha, Sabarkantha that was bifurcated on 15th August 2013 with the establishment of the new Aravalli district. Today the six districts cover an area of 29.942 sq.kms. with a population of 10.3 million (2011 Census) and a Catholic membership of about 15.500. Languages spoken in the area include Gujarati, Bhili, Hindi, English, Malayalam, Konkani and Tamil.