History of Kannur Diocese
Although Christian communities existed in South Kerala from the beginning of Christianity, North Kerala known as Malabar had to wait long for the advent of the European missionaries to start their evangelisation until the 16th century. It was with the advent of the Portuguese sailor, Vasco de Gama who landed here on 20th May 1498, that the missionaries had access to this area. Fr. Pedro de Kovilaham, the first missionary who came to Malabar with Vasco de Gama died on 31st July 1498. As the Portuguese traders could not get along with the ruler of Calicut, “the Zamorin”, they moved to Kannur and the “Kolathiri”, king of Kannur welcomed them.
The four Franciscan missionaries with Hovavo Nova, their group leader were allowed to build a chapel in Kannur. (This is the place where the Holy Trinity Cathedral of the Diocese of Kannur is situated). In 1505, the Portuguese Viceroy, Francis de Almeida, established the famous fort of St. Angelos and built the church of St. James there.
Visit of St. Francis Xavier: - The archives of the Society of Jesus in Rome testify that St.Francis Xavier, the patron of missions visited Kannur on 24th December 1542 and also on 7th November 1549.
Expansion of Malabar Mission: - Several Portuguese colonies were formed in the 16th century along the coastal belt of the Arabian Sea. A church was built by Dominge Rodrigues in Tellicherry for the Christians there. When the British East India company established the Tellicherry Fort in 1708, the Jesuit fathers renovated this church. Fr. Dominic OCD in 1736 established a church in Mahe to look after the spiritual needs of the French Catholics settled there. This church came to be known “the Shrine of Mahe’’, or the Shrine of St. Theresa of Avila. In 1807, St. Michael’s School was established for the education of boys and in 1871 St. Teresa’s School for girls in Kannur was started by the Apostolic Carmelites. In the 1920’s Fr. Faustine Aranha, began his work among the ‘Dalits’ of the Kanhangad region.
Diocese of Calicut: - In 1878 with the handing over of South Kanara and Malabar region to the Jesuits of the Venice Province, the mission involvement of the area took a new turn.On 12th June, 1923 some parts of Malabar which belonged to the Diocese of Mangalore were separated and the new Diocese of Calicut was established. There were about 6000 Catholics and 16 Priests, spread out in Calicut, Tellicherry, Kannur, Vythiri,and Mananthavady. There were 50 sisters in three convents and 12 educational institutions. The Diocese of Calicut made strides in progress under its holy and able Prelates Paul Perini, Leo Proserpio, Aldo Maria Patroni and Maxwell Noronha. In 1998 the Catholics increased tenfold to about 60,000. There were 169 priests, 1174 sisters in 105 convents and 245 educational institutions.
Chirakal Mission: - Under the patronage of Bishop Leo Proserpio, in 1937, Fr. Peter Caironi S.J started his mission among the Pulayas. This marginalised community was given proper housing facilities, education and the possibility of a more human existence. Fathers John Sequeira, Joseph Taffrel S.J, James Monthanari S.J, Aloysius Del Zotto S.J, Michael Vendramin S.J had tried hard to evangelize this area. Fr. Linus Zucol S.J, who continues to work in this area has become a mission legend . These missionaries were supported by the Canossian sisters under mother Antoneitta Sala, the Deena Sevana Sabha founded by Mother Petra ,the Ursulines and the others. Consequently, we have today about 35,501 Catholics spread over 51 parishes and 21 mission stations, in the two revenue districts of Kannur and Kasaragod.
Diocese of Kannur: - The diocese of Calicut was spread out to an area of 13,051 square kilometers in six revenue districts. In the context of such an extensive area there was the need of a new diocese for the benefit of the faithful. Bishop Maxwell Noronha, in consultation with the priests, religious and the laity requested the Holy See to establish the new diocese of Kannur.
The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II by the Apostolic Brief, dated 5th November 1998, created the Diocese of Kannur from the Diocese of Calicut. On the same day Rt.Rev. Dr. Varghese Chakkalakal who was a professor at St.Joseph’s Seminary, Mangalore, and a priest of the diocese of Calicut, was elected the Bishop of Kannur and the Bishop elect was consecrated on 7th February 1999 and he took charge of the diocese on 8th February 1999. The Bishop has taken as his motto “according to your will” “Daivathirumanassinu Vidheyathuvam”.
The new diocese comprises the territory of the civil district of Kannur to the north of Mahe river, excluding Pallur, Chelakara, Panthakal and Chenkallai which belong to the municipality of Mahe and the territory of the civil district of Kasaragod which falls to the south of Chandragiri river. The erection of this new diocese was a historical event for Kannur which has 500 years of Christian tradition. The establishment of the new diocese on the auspicious occasion of the Platinum Jubilee of the Diocese of Calicut was welcomed with cheer, by the people who consider the diocese of Kannur as a gift of God to this region.
(Used with Permission)