Pratapananda Naik SJ
How does one write the obituary of a multifaceted personality like Fr. Vasco do Rego SJ (1925-2021)? This seems like a herculean task. Fr. Vasco was a Jesuit priest of the Goa Province, but much more known as a crusader for the Konknni (Konkani) language. He was fondly known as “Pitaji” (father) among his friends and followers. He was born on January 8, 1925 at Panaji, Goa. His parents were Antonio Augusto do Rego and Aurora Maria Helena Correia Afonso do Rego. His father was a well-known doctor. He was the grandson of Roque and Claudina Correia Afonso, a couple from Benaulim who had seven priests among their 52 grandchildren. Fr. Renato do Rego of the Archdiocese of Goa was his brother.
Vasco studied Primeiro and Segundo Grau in Portuguese medium at Escola Massano de Amorim at Panaji. He studied classes IV to VIII in English medium in the boarding school of St. Joseph’s High school, Arpora. From 1938-45 he continued his studies at Rachol Seminary. During his philosophy studies, he heard an inner voice telling him, “Trust in My Heart and go.” He listened to this voice and joined the Jesuits to begin his novitiate at Vinayalaya, Andheri East, Mumbai on August 5, 1945. After completing his novitiate (1945-47) and juniorate (1947-49) he was sent to do his Licentiate in Philosophy at Sacred Heart College, Shembaganur, Tamil Nadu. Between1950-52 he undertook regency at St. Paul High school, Belgaum (now Belgavi) and Loyola High School, Margao. He later went on to study theology at the Jesuit theologate, St. Albert of Egenhoven, Louvain (Leuven), Belgium (1952-56). He was ordained a priest on August 15, 1955 in Leuven; after which, he pursued his his tertianship at the Institute of Bellarmine, Wépion, Belgium. Fr. Vasco returned to Pune in 1957.
Being a brilliant, talented, and multi-faceted Jesuit priest, Fr. Vasco’s name was proposed to be on the faculty of Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth (formerly known as Papal Athenaeum); however, God had other plans for him. He served as a student counsellor of St. Vincent School, Pune from 1958 to 1963. Since then, he has served the Society and the Church in various positions such as spiritual father at Rachol Seminary, (1963-67), student counsellor (1967-68) and rector of Loyola High School, Margao (1968-73), Rector and Novice Master at Xavier Training College, Desur, Karnataka (1973-78), director of Retreat House, Baga (1978-79), rector of Bom Jesus Basilica, Old Goa (1979-95), chaplain of Stella Maris Chapel, Miramar, Panaji (1995-98), spiritual Ministries and translation of the Bible into Konknni (1998- ), editor of the Konknni monthly “Dor Mhoineachi Rotti” (01 May 2009 – 17 February 2021).
All of Fr. Vasco’s activities, vision, and life were centred and focused around “Abba Father.” His Trinitarian-based spirituality guided his entire life and apostolates. Throughout his life he promoted this Trinitarian-rooted spirituality through various ministries. The greatest and most valuable contribution that he rendered to the Church in Goa was in the fields of liturgy in Konknni, and the translation and editing of the Konknni Bible. The norms for reform promulgated by the Vatican Council II demanded that the liturgy and para-liturgy be celebrated in local languages. At the request of the Bishop of Belgaum, Fr. Vasco began translating the canons of the Ordinary of the Mass from Latin into Konknni. This news reached the church authorities in Goa and they subsequently requested him to do the same for the Archdiocese of Goa. In Goa, the switch over from Latin to Konknni needed learned, talented and dedicated persons. At this critical juncture Fr. Vasco rendered his yeomen service to the church. He was one of the members to translate, edit and publish the Roman Missal in Konknni as “Romi Misa-Gronth” (1981) and the Roman Lectionary as “Romi Vachpam-Gronth” (1983). Though he was brought up in a Portuguese-speaking atmosphere at home, he knew Konknni. Later he learnt Latin, Spanish, French, some Italian and Marathi. He had the working knowledge of Greek too. All these languages and his mastery over formal Konknni were his assets in his liturgical and biblical contributions.
Due to Fr. Vasco’s efforts, the Konknni hymnal “Gaionacho Jhelo” was published, and is used to this day in Goa and elsewhere by Konknni-speaking Catholics. Of the 511 hymns, Fr. Vasco has contributed lyrics to 332 hymns (64.97 percent) and music to 52 of his own hymns. Besides these, he has composed lyrics for 21 additional Konknni hymns, besides providing music for six of these hymns. He has written 15 Konknni poems, 10 English hymns and poems, and 2 Portuguese poems. Fr. Vasco has also composed music for different parts of the Mass. His lyrics are not only rich in Konknni language but they are also based on profound theological and biblical themes. He worked for several years to complete his maternal uncle Mr. Pedro Correia Afonso’s translation of the Psalms, “Stotram ani Sevadhormik Prarthonam”. Fr. Vasco translated numerous books of the Bible while also editing the entire Bible. He worked on this project for several years. His sermons for the yearly feast of St. Francis Xavier have been compiled and published as “Sonvsarak Jezu Diat” by Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr (TSKK), Porvorim. The Devanagari version of his Konknni book “Nazaretkar Jezu” has also been published by TSKK. His many articles in Konknni and English have been published in various magazines and newspapers. However, his retreat and recollection talks, class notes of theology in Konknni and English remain unpublished.
Fr. Vasco was a strong protagonist of the Konknni language. He motivated the seminarians, priests, nuns, and lay people to use more and more Konknni for conversation. He was a good preacher in Konknni, English and Portuguese. He also excelled as a Ignatian retreat director and was sought for recollection talks, and conferences. As a spiritual guide he has directed countless seminarians, priests and religious priests and nuns. While he was the rector of Loyola High School, Margao, he introduced Konknni as the medium of instruction at Loyola and at Fatima Convent School, Margao facing much opposition and hurdles from parents. His several years of dedicated service to standardize the Konknni language were recognized when he was awarded the first Dalgado Konknni Akademi Award, Panaji on March 8, 2005. On March 6, 2014 the Dalgado Konknni Akademi conferred an Award on Dor Mhoineachi Rotti — which is has been published by the Goa Jesuit Province and has been edited by Fr. Vasco from May 2009 till his very end. On January 4, 2015, the Directorate of Art and Culture of the Government of Goa also recognized Fr. Vasco’s contribution to Konknni by presenting him the Goa State Cultural Award for 2013-2014. The renowned film director and screenplay writer Shyam Benegal was the chief guest.
The yearly novenas and feast of St. Francis Xavier is among the most important social and religious events in Goa. It was Fr. Vasco who restored the sanctity of the Basilica of Bom Jesus and was instrumental in conducting a well-organized liturgy during the novenas, feast and exposition of relics. There are no two opinions regarding his greatest contribution to this task. He cleared all the shops and vendors from the compound of the shrine. During the novenas and feast, vendors and noisemakers were not allowed near the shrine. All this he achieved by convincing the Panchayat members, civil authorities and various government departments. He had to pay a heavy price to achieve this by receiving abuses, curses, and threats. Maybe he still cherishes as a memento a big stone that was hurled at him through his room’s window . It was meant for his head, but it miraculously missed the target! During his term as the Rector of the Basilica of Bom Jesus many prominent global figures visited the shrine, chief among them being the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi; the Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher; the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau; the President of Portugal, Mario Soares; and Pope John Paul II.
While he was in Pune, Fr. Vasco felt called to found a new religious family in the Church. Fr. Vasco established the Ishaprema-Vinamra-Sevika (Humble Servants of God’s Love) in 1961, in collaboration with Norberta Lobo (later known as Mataji Nirmala). This abode caters to all people, particularly the most needy, to know and experience our heavenly Father’s love and concern for each one. Their homes are known as Ishaprema-Niketan (Home of God’s Love). It has branches in Asagao and Goa Velha. He continued, till the end, as its silent, humble, hidden Pitaji passing to Mataji and the Tais (sisters) the inspiration he received from his ABBA.
He was one of the founders and great supporter of the Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr (TSKK), a Jesuit institute which promotes Konknni language, literature and culture through research and other activities. Though he was not a trained linguist, he had linguistic intuition for Konknni and rendered his insights to trained Jesuit linguists of TSKK.
If one begins to count and write about Fr. Vasco and his contribution, it would fill up many pages. He fully believed and lived the Jesuit motto “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam” (for the Greater Glory of God). Fr. Vasco was truly amongst the rarest gems in the Konknni world and a treasured gift to the Society of Jesus and the Church in Goa.
Pratapananda Naik SJ is a prominent Konknni (Konkani) linguist and scholar. He is the former director of the Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr, Goa.