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Multi-dimensional approach to diocese

The birth centenary of Bishop Sundaram, the first bishop of the Thanjavur diocese, was observed on June 10. A. JOHN JOSEPH



REVERED: Bishop R. A. Sundaram.

Vatican announced the formation of the Thanjavur diocese on November 23, 1952, carving out the southern portion of the centuries-old Mylapore diocese. Bishop Sundaram was its first bishop and continued his service for 33 years since his consecration. Besides his pastoral works, the visionary bishop's multidimensional approach on the promotion of education and socio-cultural economic measures benefited different sections of the society The birth centenary of Bishop Sundaram was observed on June 10.

Early days

Born in 1905 as the first son of Rajarathinam and Lourdu Mary in a devout family of Valampuri, Thanjavur, Arokia Samy Sundaram had his school education at Thanjavur and Palayamkottai. Sundaram joined St. Joseph's College, Tiruchi for higher studies.

Sundaram wanted to join the seminary but had to give up his plan. As a compromise, he decided to work for a few years and then join the seminary. Accordingly, he taught English at the St. Xavier's, Palayamkottai for a short period and got an offer to work as a professor of physics at St. Joseph's College, Darjeeling. After three years, Sundaram joined the minor seminary at Santhome. He joined the Urban College in Rome to enable his ordination in six years. He was an outstanding seminarian there too. He was a member of the literary association there, editing and publishing newsletters and compering programmes in the Radio Vatican. Sundaram was ordained as priest in 1941 by Cardinal Fumasoni Pionti, thus fulfilling his dream. Fr. Sundaram celebrated his first mass in the St. Paul's Cathedral, and the second one at the Cemetery grotto of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

As Headmaster

After a short stint as assistant Parish Priest at Vallam near Thanjavur, Fr. Sundaram was appointed Headmaster of Santhome High School, Mylapore. His efforts made the school a top ranking one in the city, within a short period. At the request of the Government, Fr. Sundaram held this position even after his transfer from the school, taking over as Director of Catholic Seva Sangh and Director of Catechism of Mylapore diocese.

The Vatican announced the formation of Tanjore Diocese in 1952 and Fr. Sundaram was nominated as its Bishop. He assumed charge in 1953.

He formed two social service societies at Thanjavur and Pudukkottai that helped uplift the status of the poor. Some of their schemes had been unique and innovative and one among them was providing lands to the landless. Soon, there was a phenomenal increase in the number of educational, religious and social welfare institutions. Even today, the diocese of Thanjavur has the highest number of boarding homes for students in India. Bishop Sundaram utilised the contributions received at the Shrine of Velankanni for the welfare of the pilgrims. Bishop Sundaram had called on all the Popes of his time, and participated in the Second Vatican Council held in 1962. He toured many countries.

His relationship with political leaders and heads of Governments and officials was always cordial. When the cemetery of Mayuram Vedanayagam Pillai was renovated and blessed, and the statue of this first novelist in Tamil was unveiled, Thavathiru Kundrakudi Adigalar, and Arulthiru Adheenam of Dharmapuram Math were the chief guests. Bishop Sundaram had visited the Dharumapuram Math also, at the invitation of the Adheenam. When once E. V. R. Periyar, the father of the Dravidian movement had been admitted in the local Medical College Hospital, Bishop Sundaram called on him and assured him of prayers for his speedy recovery.

Biography released

After his eventful term of 33 years, the bishop retired in 1986. A biography was released on that occasion. The bishop died in 1988 and his body was interred in the Sacred Heart Cathedral. It is therefore apt to say that Bishop Sundaram's name is synonymous with the annals of the diocese of Thanjavur.

Bishop Sundaram was its first bishop and continued his service for 33 years since his consecration. Besides his pastoral works, the visionary bishop's multidimensional approach on the promotion of education and socio-cultural economic measures benefited different sections of the society and endeared him to all.

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