The 66,500 Catholics in 11 districts of Bihar State are getting ready to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Diocese of Patna, but the history of the Catholic faith in Bihar can be traced some 398 years ago, when Jesuit Father Simon Figueredo SJ came to Patna in 1620 at the invitation of the Mughal Governor of Patna, Yohan Maquarrum Khan. The Jesuit priest stayed for about a year.
In 1707, Italian Capuchin missionaries established a hospice in the area (later to be known as Padri-ki-Haveli) in Patna City. These priests were travelling to Lhasa under the Tibet-Hindustan Mission. The Capuchin Fathers worked in Lhasa for about 41 years, later closing their mission and opening the Nepal mission in Kathmandu in 1745. In the same year, Raja Druva Singh of Bettiah, invited the Capuchin Fathers to Bettiah, and personally sought and obtained permission from Pope Benedict XV. Thus, Fr Joseph Mary Ofm. Cap founded the Bettiah Mission. Later, in 1769, following a disagreement with the Nepalese King, Five Catholic priests with 67 Nepalese Christians moved to India and settled down in Chuhari, near Bettiah.
Exactly 100 years after the Bettiah Mission, the Padri-ki-Haveli at Patna received its first Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Anastasius Hartmann , in 1845. Patna had been raised to a Vicariate comprising ‘Bettiah, Bhagalpur, Chuhari, Dinapore (now Danapur), Patna City, Darjeeling, Nepal, Sikkim and adjacent territories.’ In 1886, Patna Vicariate became part of the Allahabad Diocese.
In 1919, The Diocese of Allahabad was divided into the Patna and Allahabad dioceses. Patna Diocese included the territory of Bettiah-Nepal. In 1921 Fr Louis Van Hoeck SJ was installed as the First Bishop of Patna. In 1929, the Rt. Rev Bernard Sullivan SJ took over the mantle and was Bishop of Patna till he returned to the USA in 1947. To Bishop Sullivan goes the credit of establishing the first Women’s College in Bihar, Patna Women’s College in 1940.
Fr Augustine Wildermuth SJ was ordained the third Jesuit bishop of Patna Diocese. Bishop Wildermuth served the diocese till his retirement in 1980. Fr Benedict Osta SJ, an Indian priest from Bettiah was appointed the Bishop of Patna Diocese. In 1984, the Nepal Mission was separated from Patna. By this time Patna Diocese had already given birth to Bhagalpur, and Muzaffarpur Dioceses. At the time, Patna Diocese, as well as Bhagalpur and Muzaffarpur were ‘suffragan dioceses’ of the Ranchi Archdiocese.
In 1999, Pope John Paul II elevated Patna diocese into an Archdiocese and Bishop Benedict Osta SJ became the first Archbishop of Patna.
In 2005, Buxar diocese was created, with Fr William D’Souza SJ of Patna Jesuit province as the first bishop of Buxar. In 2007, when Archbishop Benedict Osta announced his retirement, Bishop William D’Souza SJ was appointed the new Archbishop.
Today the suffragan dioceses of Patna Archdiocese are: Patna, Bettiah, Bhagalpur, Buxar, Muzaffarpur, and Purnea.
This year, Bishop Sebastian Kallupura of Buxar diocese has been appointed coadjutor bishop of the Archdiocese of Patna. This means that when Bishop William D’Souza SJ retires or is transferred, Bishop Sebastian will be his successor.
The work of the Patna Diocese extends to the welfare of the Catholics residing across 25,820 sq kms of Bihar state in eleven civil districts :Arwal, Aurangabad, Gaya, Jamui, Jehanabad, Lakhisarai, Munger, Nalanda, Nawada, Patna and Sheikhpura.