The Christian presence in Chhattisgarh came to be felt only after the end of the Kalchuri Era (1820). Around that time started the missionary trails of the MSFS Fathers who were eager to give pastoral care to the believers scattered around. Their route extended from Bombay to Visakhapattanam via Nagpur. The early Christians were some Irish Catholics at that time served as soldiers with the British army and some military attendants who worked as band men and cooks who were of Tamil origin.
Fr. Joseph Lovorel MSFS, a French priest from Visakhapattanam was posted in Kamptee in August 1846 and he made frequent visits to the Catholics at Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Raipur and Bilaspur. MSFS Frs. Balmond and Bozen Botemps along with three sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery arrived at Raipur on March 19, 1854 and they stayed on. In 1884 Fr. Joseph Buttay MSFS was appointed resident priest in Raipur. He worked for a while and went to his eternal abode in Raipur on March 3, 1886. Msgr. John Weidner SAC speaks of him highly (in 1964). His tomb was a historical monument in the Catholic cemetery in Raipur.
Some of the early missionaries, the MSFS Priests from France, moved across the country in bullock-carts with their necessary equipments and essential provisions. Their journeys were slow and tedious but useful and often adventurous. From 1894 MSFS Fathers Herbert Sauchen (1872-13.09.1947), Joseph Raymond (25.11.1854 – 20.03.1929), Bishop John Crochet(27.03.1844-06.06.1903),JosephPulluel(07.11.1874-24.07.1933) and later on fathers from the Diocese of Nagpur namely Macario, Tolscano, Castellino, Gerson Mascarenhas and Francis D’Souza, used to visit the stations and give their pastoral assistance. Raipur, Dongargarh and Bilaspur were the three centres in Chhattisgarh (part of the erstwhile undivided M.P.) where we had some Catholics at that time as the Bengal-Nagpur Railways came into existence. What went on during this time was pastoral care of the migrant Christians of the colonial era.
With Nagpur becoming the seat of a new ecclesiastical province, Raipur was spilt into dual jurisdiction in 1894. Raipur was retained under Visakhapatnam while Bilaspur under Nagpur. But soon Raipur also came under the jurisdiction of Nagpur. Fathers Joseph Wengert, Francis Wengert and Antony Wengert known as the Wengert brothers gave their dedicated services to the people of this area.
Fr. Joseph Wengert was the first missionary to the local people and he established the Paraghat (Jairamnagar) and Kutela missions. Frs. Macario, Toiscano, Msgr. Castellino, Msgr. Gerson Mascarenhas, Msgr. Francis D’Souza, all from the Diocese of Nagpur were other veteran and zealous missionaries.
Raipur Entrusted to the Society of Catholic Apostolate:
On June 27, 1950, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of Faith assigned the Raipur area of the Diocese of Nagpur to the Pallottine Missionaries belonging to the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (SAC) to promote evangelization and development with Raipur as its Headquarters. Rev Frs. Francis Werner Hunold and Lorenz Scheu left for India from Italian Port of Trieste on April 28, 1951 and arrived Raipur on June 6, 1951. These Pallottine Missionaries were from the South German Province of the Sacred Heart and one of them was Fr. John Weidner who became their superior in India from 1959 to 1964.
Raised to the Status of a Prefecture:
Raipur was raised to the status of a Apostolic Prefecture on January 16, 1964, with the territory taken from the Archdiocese of Nagpur comprising of the districts of Raipur, Bilaspur, Durg, and Rajnandgaon, all in undivided Madhya Pradesh and Msgr. John Weidner SAC was appointed the Prefect Apostolic of the Raipur Prefecture. On July 18, 1964, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of Faith placed the Prefecture as suffragan under the Archdiocese of Bhopal, as Nagpur was allotted to the state of Maharashtra by the Government. The same congregation by its decree of June 16, 1966 detached the district of Bastar from the diocese of Visakhapatnam making it as a part of the Prefecture of Raipur with effect from August, 1966. On March 23, 1972 Bastar district was separated from Raipur Prefecture and was established an Exarchate, later as Diocese of Jagadalpur, entrusting to the Congregation of Carmelites of Mary Immaculate.
Raipur Prefecture Becomes a Diocese:
On July 5, 1973 Prefecture of Raipur was raised to the status of a Diocese and Msgr. John Weidner SAC was nominated Apostolic Administrator on February 8, 1974. There was jubilation on every side. But just 6 months later on August 17 1974, he left us for his eternal reward after suffering a massive heart attack and left behind the Diocese of Raipur in deep pain and sorrow. After the death of Msgr. John Weidner SAC, Rev. Fr. Joseph Arputham served the diocese as the Vicar Capitular for a brief period of time.
Msgr. Francis Werner Hunold SAC, took charge of the diocese on August 23, 1975 as the Apostolic Administrator by the Holy See. Many expansion activities were under taken by him during his period. Thereafter Rev. Fr. Joseph Chirapuram was elected to be the Diocesan Administrator, who took care of the diocese and supervised the construction of Weidner Memorial Hall and the beautiful Cathedral which was built in his time.
Bishop Philip Ekka, the First Bishop of Raipur:
Rt. Rev. Dr. Philip Ekka, S.J., Bishop of Ambikapur was transferred and appointed First Bishop of Raipur and he was installed Bishop of Raipur on 6th January, 1985. As a zealous missionary his priority was evangelization. Bishop Philip Ekka and Fr. DeMeulder, who had done some pioneering work in Chhattisgarh earlier, had attended a seminar on “Evangelization in Raipur”, together at Tintini where leaders from 42 Satnami villages from Raipur District had requested for evangelization in the area. Having taken charge of the Diocese of Raipur, Bishop Philip was enthusiastic and with the support of some priests started the Satnami mission at Amsena as a test case. But matters did not go as expected. However, his thrust for evangelization encouraged and motivated the priests and religious to strengthen the missionary and pastoral work in the diocese. Later because of his ill health, his resignation was accepted by the Holy Father on 15thFebruary, 1991.
Archbishop Joseph Augustine:
After the resignation of Bishop Philip Ekka, Msgr. Joseph Augustine was elected the Diocesan Administrator and continued as Administrator until he was appointed Bishop of Raipur on December 30, 1992. Msgr. Joseph Augustine was ordained Bishop on February 7, 1993. After the new state of Chhattisgarh was born on November 1, 2000 and Raipur having been made the State Capital, there were genuine aspirations that the Diocese would be raised to the status of an Archdiocese. Finally, the Holy Father raised the Diocese of Raipur to a Metropolitan Archdiocese and His Excellency Rt. Rev. Joseph Augustine was appointed the first Archbishop of Raipur on March 18, 2004.The decades from 1990 to 2010 witnessed rapid growth in the field of education with many educational Institutions coming up in urban and rural areas and most of these schools were of English Medium and only a few were Hindi Medium. His Grace the Archbishop Joseph Augustine retired on 6 June 2013 on completing the Canonical age.
Archbishop Victor Henry Thakur:
Most. Rev. Victory Henry Thakur is the Second Archbishop appointed after the Retirement of Archbishop Joseph Augustine. Most Rev. Victor Henry Thakur was ordained a Priest for then Diocese of Raipur on May 3, 1984, and was elected and appointed as first Bishop of Bettiah Diocese on November 11, 1998. Rt. Rev. Victor Henry Thakur was appointed as the Archbishop of Raipur by The Holy Father On July 3, 2013, and wass installed on September 19, 2013 and continues to Pasture the Archdiocese of Raipur as Good Shepheard.
At present the Archdiocese comprises of fourteen civil districts namely, Raipur, Durg, Rajnandgaon, Kawardha (Kabeer dham), Mahasamund, Dhamtari,Bilaspur,Janjgir-Champa,BalodaBazar,Bemetra,Balod,Gariyaband, Mungeli and Korba. The suffragan dioceses under the Archdiocese are Ambikapur, Jagdalpur, Jashpur and Raigarh. As the present Archdiocese evolved through history, it also witnessed a significant development of the People of God.
Chhattisgarh has an area of 1, 35, 190 Sq. K.M. and a population of 2, 55, 00, 000 in its 27 civil districts. It is the 10th largest state in geographical territory and 16th in population in the Indian Union. More than 50% of its population consists of the people of the Scheduled Tribes, Castes and Minorities….