The city of Visakhapatnam is home to number of historical educational institutions. For ages, these establishments have been part of the city’s rich heritage and culture. One such age-old symbol of Vizag’s long history is St Aloysius High School, which is the very first Catholic school built in the town. John Castellas, a Vizag enthusiast and history buff, tells the story of the founding and rise of the school.
Read on for the story.
St Aloysius High School was established in 1847 by the missionaries of St Francis de Sales who first arrived in Vizagapatam in 1846. After an initial refusal, the governing council accepted in 1847 that Fr. Decompoix being appointed chaplain to the Catholic soldiers, with a monthly allowance of 50 rupees. The Fathers took up residence in the area where St. Aloysius School is now located. The missionary Rev. Tissot showed energetic zeal and began to build two schools in the area, one for boys and one for girls. In 1847 the Rev. Tissot acquired a small house near the beach and started the institution that became St Aloysius High School, Vizag’s first Catholic school.
Rev. J. Decompoix was the principal from 1847 to 1864. Rév. Alexis Riccaz gained official recognition for the school in 1864 and named the school “Saint Louis de Gonzagau” (French) or St Aloysius as it is now commonly called. The Missionaries of St Francis de Sales used the ground floor as a chapel and dedicated it to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1872. Father Tissot entrusted the first orphans to a sergeant of the East India Company in the house at the corner of Beach Road and gradually purchased and built on the sites where the homes of these soldiers once stood…hence the names Fort area and Soldierpetta.
Considered the founder of St Aloysius High School in Vizag, Reverend Father Jean Marie Tissot was a great builder of colonial Vizagapatam. Born in 1810, he arrived in India in 1845, came to Vizagapatam in 1846 and was a priest in the Order of Missionaries of St. Francis de Sale in Annecy, France. Rt. Rev. J. M. Tissot became the first Bishop of Vizagapatam from 1886 to 1890. In addition to the construction of St Aloysius High School, his achievements extended to the long-term lease on the backwaters which today is the inner harbour, he built reclamation embankments, introduced new technical crops, and helped local farmers cultivate parts of the rice fields. Reverend Tissot also built St. Anne’s Cathedral at Vizag in 1854, built Fort Convent and Convent of St. Joseph, Waltair in 1898, bought the land on Ross Hill and built the original chapel on the hill in 1886. Reverend Tissot enjoyed the patronage of Maharajah Sir Goday Gajapathi Rao and also the Maharajah of Vizianagram who actively supported the establishment of Catholic educational institutions for local boys and their wives and daughters actively supported, well against the practice of the time, the education of Telugu girls.
The Madras Catholic Watchman reported in 1889 that…’Rev Tissot presented at Vizagapatam, for the first time, the following: – The tube well; the ice machine; the sewing machine; the washing machine; the kneading machine; the grinder and the cooker or cooker. The greatest architects in the city were at one time under His Lordship’s training. Vizag did not yet have its first Roman Catholic bishop when Father Tissot was finally appointed as the first bishop of Vizagapatam on November 25, 1886.
first 50 years
In the 1850s Vizag was a postcard perfect town with chunam white painted bungalows, rolling waves with wide sandy beaches and the dominant features were Dolphin’s Nose, St Aloysius School, the Flagpole, the mosque, temple and chapel structures on the hill and the ghats in the background. St Aloysius began in a rented 2-room bungalow on Beach Road in 1847, its first pupils being military orphans and the government providing a stipend of 7 rupees per month for their elementary education which was entrusted to a sergeant and his wife. Father Tissot gradually bought adjacent buildings over the next few years and rebuilt them as a school, the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, and living quarters for the priests, nuns, and orphans who boarded there while he taught on time. partiel.
In 1870 the road was built between the bungalows and the parade ground and Father Tissot, who had skills in masonry, built the original school with bricks and chunam. The orphans learned music, drama, gymnastics and drawing. At that time, a school for Telugu girls was established in one of the bungalows with the initiative and financial support of Mrs. Surya Prakasa Rao, the mother of Narasinga Rao and Ranee of the Maharajah of Vizianagaram. The need for such a school arose because local customs did not allow young women to appear in public and girls were taken out of school at an early age.
Second 50 years
In 1891 the population of the Vizag was 34,487 and in 1901 it was 40,892 occupying 7,741 houses, thus marking that the increase was largely due to the opening of the East Coast Railway. This population included 36,346 Hindus, 2,761 Muslims and 1,749 Christians. Vizagapatam proper was the primary residence of a majority of this population with European communities at Waltair and Waltair Station. Over the next 50 years St Aloysius grew from college status and by 1907 St Aloysius had 180 pupils who were a mix of European, Eurasian and Indian Christians. The staff is made up of seven European priests, four Brothers and two lay professors, industrial and technical classes are a special feature, and the institution has a corps of cadets 60 strong. St Aloysius teaches telegraphy, shorthand, typing and freehand drawing. The grammar school grew in numbers as more qualified local teachers joined the staff and the grammar school and Maths, Science and English Literature became main subjects with the Cambridge Senior Certificate as a qualification. St Aloysius Industrial School established in 1890 aimed to help poor boys who were unsuited to academic subjects. The selected boys received 3 years of non-formal training and the students found ready work in the East Coast Railways which had started in Vizag in 1893.
The school buildings were destroyed in the 1923 cyclone and rebuilt in 1933 with the smaller rocks from the blasting of Ross Hill during the construction of the harbour, the larger rocks being used for the breakwater near Dolphins Nose.
St Aloysius was well placed to meet the booming demand for education. As Vizag grew, so did St Aloysius, with additional buildings and a significant increase in the number of students seeking a secondary education in English. Teachers with college and university degrees were more readily available, and many St Aloysius Old Boy returned to school as teachers. The importance of the industrial school grew with the advent of railways, telegraphy, electricity and automobiles. In 1960 the National Cadet Corps (NCC) was introduced and this era was heavily influenced by the leadership of Father Joseph Pulickal as Director.
The school bell
The St Aloysius School bell is probably Vizag’s most valuable artifact, as it is mostly a gift from Pope Leo XIII to the Reverend Jean Marie Tissot upon his appointment as Vicar Apostolic on August 6. 1863.
The Latin inscriptions on the school bell read:
….LEONE XIII PAPA JM TISSOT VIC APOST CURA MISSION… ARIORUM….…VENITE FILII AUDITED ME TIMOREM DOMINI DOCEBO VOS GEORGES & FRANCISQUE PACCARD FOUNDERS ANNECY LE VIEUX HAUTE SAVOIE FRANCE…
The bell was made by the Georges & Francisque Paccard foundry in Annecy Le Vieux on the French side of the Italian border. The Paccard foundry made most of the bells for Europe’s famous cathedrals, so the school’s Chapel of the Sacred Heart was in good company. This bell rang the Angelus at 6:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. every day at a time when the local population did not have watches and relied on the sound of the bell to tell the time. The bell and its belfry were victims of the cyclone of November 1923 which destroyed the old school buildings.
St Aloysius had a reputation for good music with a chapel choir and school orchestra attending most festivals and celebrations in Old Vizag. In the late 1800s, visiting governors, maharajahs and archbishops would arrive at Vizag by steamship and be greeted on the foreshore by the band playing hymns and the welcoming salutes from the cannon batteries at the mast. The school marching band would then lead “horse and carriage” processions of dignitaries with onlookers waving flags down the main road towards Waltair.
The first principals of St Aloysius were all French priests of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales. The first Indian priests ordained by the MSFS in Vizag were Reverend Anselem Chelvum and Reverend Patrick Wall. Reverend Chelvum was a Tamil and Telugu scholar who translated catechism and prayers, was a teacher and 4e Principal and first Indian Warden of St Aloysius 1882 – 1893. During his time Reverend Chelvum was also an Honorary Magistrate at Vizag. Reverend Patrick Wall was a Eurasian (Anglo-Indian) born in India to Irish/Tamil parents. First, a teacher at St Aloysius later served as headmaster of St Xavier’s School, Nagpur. The last French director of St Aloysius was Reverend Elli Meynet in 1965 when Reverend Joseph Pulickal was appointed director. The current principal, Father Mariadas Sesetty, is part of this long tradition of MSFS clergy who led Saint Louis with distinction.
Opposite the school was the Maidan or Old Parade Ground and the Flagstaff stood in this position until 1950 when it was moved to the other side of the lighthouse. The Maidan was the site of many community celebrations in the old city. Festivals, circus, jubilee celebrations and also the feeding of the poor during the famine were all held on the Maidan.
The first record of a cricket match in Vizag dates back to 1874 when the 7e The Madras infantry arrived at their new post in the fort and established a rivalry with the existing Godavari Volunteer Rifles on this Maidan. The annual St Aloysius Sports Day was an event which was always a highlight with the music and gymnastics performances followed by the sports performances of the town’s youth. Many athletes, footballers, cricketers or hockey players from Andhra state have honed their skills on the Maidan. The school quadrangle was the site of boxing tournaments with Army and Navy teams encouraging rivalry with the city’s youth.
Many young Vizag are grateful for the strong education at this iconic educational institution – St Aloysius!
If you have an anecdote or story about Vizag, the author would appreciate it if you contact him at [email protected]
Written by John Castellas whose family belonged to Vizag for 5 generations. Educated at St Aloysius, emigrated to Melbourne, Australia in 1966, former Managing Director of Engineering at Boeing and Qantas Airways, retired Lecturer in Aviation Management at Swinburne University and is a Vizag enthusiast.