A 21 year old Anglo-Indian officer of the Calcutta Police in was sent to Dacca. This was during the Dacca communal riot of 1941. The story is that there were shoot-at-sight orders as the town was under heavy curfew. The young officer, on patrol, saw a fellow sneaking around, and drew his gun to shoot. But his finger froze on the trigger. A voice said inside his head, “What are you doing shooting at people, when I need you to become a priest?”
And Melville Wilfred Antony Diamond answered that call. Seventy six years later, on a cold January afternoon, the people of Patna bade him a fond farewell, as he was laid to rest in the Jesuit cemetery at Digha, Patna.
Father Diamond, ever smiling, ever gentle will be dearly missed by several thousand people, and in particular those who belong to Patna’s tiny Catholic Anglo-Indian community. I first set my eyes on this fair, soft spoken man when I was laid up in Kurji Holy Family hospital, sometime in the early 1990’s, recovering from a particularly painful kidney stone operation. His afternoon visits, and his inexhaustible supply or reading material, usually Catholic Digests was something I began to look forward to. And in later years, whenever I was laid up in hospital, like all the other patients at KHFH, we could always count on a visit by Father Diamond.
The Holy Family Hospital being the place of first referral for most Catholic (and Anglo-Indian) families in Patna, Father Diamond brought succour to practically every member of our community, he saw us through tonsillitis and kidney stones, appendicitis and Caesarean sections, through post accident trauma, and at times he also administered the last rites. He was indeed, a good shepherd, a very caring one, whose crook spread far beyond the walls of Holy Family Hospital. He knew and would enquire after every family member, even if you bumped into him after a gap of five years or more.
As Jesuit brother Tony Dias Sj put it in his euology, Mel faithfully served the People of God for 61 years as a Priest and 72 years in the Society of Jesus. He celebrated his 97th birth anniversary on the 28th October last year.
Fr. Pedro Arrupe often invited the Jesuits to be “Men for others” and without a doubt Fr. Mel Diamond was a man for others, a man who lived not for himself but for God and people, and this man of God lived and died for people especially the sick and the suffering. He was totally committed to his priesthood and the church!
Born in Marikuppam, Kolar Gold Field, Mysore, Karnataka, baptized on the 14th of November 1920, Mel Diamond studied at St. Michael’s Patna. In those days St. Mike’s was a boarding school run by the Christian Brothers. Mel received Holy Confirmation in Patna. He completed his Senior Cambridge in 1939. He joined the Calcutta Police. After his stint in Dacca, when he joined the Jesuits, he was sent to the Novitiate, and then the Juniorate at Vinayala, (Andheri, Bombay,) where he stayed from 1945 to 1949. He studied philosophy at the Sacred Heart College Shembaganur, where he came across a young American butterfly enthusiast named Jim Kennealy. Jim would also be remembered in Bihar as one of its great Jesuit Pastors one day. Mel was ordained in 1956, on the 23rd of March, in St. Vincent’s Church, Pune.
To follow were several apostolic assignments in West Champaran (Bettiah), wherehe was at different times, Rector, Teacher, Pastor, headmaster, and so on. Then, he spent two years, 1980 – 1982 as assistant parish priest and chaplain of Nazareth Hospital. Therefter he was sent to patna wherehe was spiritual father at XTTI, until he was sent to the Navjyoti community and assigned to Holy Family Hospital as Chaplain, a position he held for over thirty years, till he retired and took up his residence in XTTI in 2014.
“I have many more happy memories of Mel while closely relating with him both at Navjyoti and XTTI – I used to be his altar boy, sacristian and often the lone Parishioner to attend the Eucharistic celebration till I was transferred from XTTI. Each day at Mass, there would be an introduction and the names of people he wished to remember. After the Eucharist, he would spend some time talking about the recent happenings – it is not so much the discussion that he was interested in but the real hidden agenda was that he just wanted human presence and I was happy and privileged to be his companion,” said Bro Tony Dias.
“What a simple person and unassuming person, with a wonderful sense of humour,” recalls Sr Leonie MMS. “He always had a smile and a joke, with a pocket full of sweets for the children. The student nurses would always look forward to his visits. They called him ‘Poppins father’ ( Poppins was a well-known hard boiled candy).
Another anecdote that the Medical Mission sisters and other friends love to narrate happened during his many years at KHFH. Since he was this tall, fair complexioned person who would go around the hospital wards everyday asking after the patients, the simple folk of Bihar assumed that he was the owner of the hospital. One fine lady decided that he would make a good son in law for her daughter. So she approached him with an offer of marriage to her daughter, and of course, promised a substantial dowry ! Mel as usual blushed and related this to Fr. Jim Cox, an American Jesuit with a great sense of humour, who advised him “Don’t accept the proposal, but don’t turn down her money!”
At his funeral, there were several people from the Medical profession, religious and priests, and several people who had been touched by his generosity and his presence at their sick beds.
Many of us remember his compassion, his kindness, his generosity, his sincerity, and he delighted in telling jokes with child-like simplicity. He wore his great big heart openly on his sleeve. This was a quality which endeared him to so many people whose lives he touched in his ministry as a priest. The bonds he forged over the years, with people he encountered were truly remarkable. Those bonds he held on to and never let break. Even with the passage of time, he kept his ties and friendships.
As it was said in the euology:
Mel was a spiritual man, Mel was a peace loving man, Mel was a generous man, and Mel was a great man. Mel was a solid human being created in God’s image.