Ven. Fr Agnelo, Son of our Archdiocese
As a seed sprouts in a field under certain conditions, so also human beings grow in different places differently. We need conditions and opportunities for education. Our Goan personalities have been shining throughout the world. Some of them grew in the Goan soil, like Ven. Fr. Agnelo de Sousa. We shall briefly examine how Fr. Agnelo grew as a son of Goan Archdiocse. We are longing to see him on the altar as a source of inspiration for our youth. He grew in a good family, in a good parish, excelling in human and Christian maturity. His nature and nurture will shed light on the social, cultural and spiritual atmosphere of Goan society and ecclesial community of those times.
His life: Born on January 21, 1869, in the ward of Ganv-vaddi of Anjuna, to Miguel Arcanjo Mariano de Sousa and Maria Sinforosa Perpetua Magalhaes, he was solemnly baptized with the name of Agnelo Gustavo Adolfo de Sousa, on February 13, 1869, by Fr. Joao Baptista de Sousa, Asst. Parish Priest of Anjuna, with the permission of the Vicar-in-charge, Fr. Valentin Constantino Fernandes. The name given to him, Agnelo (from the Latin term agnus, agnellus, “little lamb”) was tallying with his nature: he was gentle, peace-loving, humble, faithful to rules and regulations, obedient, lover of silence. The atmosphere of faith and love, in which Agnelo grew in the bosom of his family, instilled in him apostolic spirit. His mother would give catechetical instruction to the children of neighbourhood.
Agnelo lost his father, when he was only eleven years old (on May 6, 1880), and his mother, two years later, on May 22, 1882. On her deathbed, his mother summoned her children round her and, pointing out to the picture of the Mother of Jesus, told them: “My darling children, I am about to leave you for good. From now onwards your true Mother is our Lady, to whom you should turn in all your needs.” Agnelo grew in his great devotion to the Virgin Mary.
One of his uncles, Fr. Lazaro Fortunato Sousa, seeing his zeal in the catechism classes, prophesied: “Agnelo will one day be a virtuous Priest and a renowned preacher”. He was an angel of peace among his classmates. He completed his theological studies in the Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol, on March 22, 1893.
The Portuguese Government forbade religious societies in Goa, but Agnelo ardently desired to join a Religious Order, and made up his mind to seek admission in the Society of Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier at Pilar. After being admitted as a candidate in the Society of Pilar on July 17, 1897 the feast day of Our Lady of Pilar, patroness of the Monastery and of the Society he was ordained Deacon on December 18, 1897, by the first Patriarch of the East Indies, Archbishop D. Antonio Sebastiao Valente (1882-1908), at the Convent of St. Monica, Old Goa, and five months later on May 22, 1898, he made his first profession as a member of Missionary Society of Pilar, in the presence of the Superior, Msgr. Lucio Vaz, the successor of Fr. Bento Martins, the Founder and first Superior of the Society in 1887.
The same Dom Antonio Sebastiao Valente, at the Cathedral Se of Goa, ordained him a priest on September 24, 1899. He offered his First Eucharist at the Monastery of Pilar, in the presence of the Members of the Society, friends, relatives and people.
His Priestly Ministry: Fr. Agnelo spent the first ten years of his priestly life, almost buried in the recesses of the Monastery at Pilar. Like a hermit, he lived in an atmosphere of faith and silence, and grew in the virtue of love. Soon after his perpetual profession, Fr. Agnelo was appointed Confessor of the students of the Seminary of Rachol on August 18, 1908. He resided in the church of Siroda, as an Assistant to fellow members of the Society of Pilar, to Fr. Jose Nicolau Sousa, and later to Fr. Possidio Gracias, who were successively Vicars of Siroda. By the Decree of December 10, 1909, Fr. Agnelo was appointed as Missionary Vicar of Kumta in North Canara (now in the diocese of Karwar), by the new Patriarch of Goa, Dom Matheus de Oliveira Xavier (1909-1929), and took charge of his post on January 6, 1910. He served the missionary parish of Kumta, for a short period of seven years, till May 21, 1917, when he was transferred to Sanvordem in Goa, as an Assistant to the Parish-Priest, Fr. Alcuino da Costa. As a shepherd, reared in the Goan 'susegad' milieu, Fr. Agnelo built a community of faith and a community of love.
Fr. Agnelo was known as a saintly preacher throughout his priestly life through his sermons, retreats and missions. During his preaching ministry, from the year 1908 till 1927, he covered almost every parish of Goa. He became a “martyr to preaching” proclaiming the Word of God, even in his acute physical suffering, until he died. That was his last sermon on the day of Vespers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus - his greatest devotion in the Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol. He died at his post as a preacher. Through preaching he drew men and women to God, to his Son, to a renewed life. He would preach with unction, what would render his preaching effective. What was attracting others was that he had within his heart what he wished to share with others. His sermons were simple, like sparks of fire. He touched the hearts of the people. He preached what he lived. He would pray before the Blessed Sacrament or lean on his bed with the Cross in his hands as a preparation for his sermons and spiritual talks. Prayer would give him courage to preach the “crucified love” (cf. 1 Cor 2:2; cf. Ga 6:14)
His voice in the pulpit was like the roar of a lion (particularly when preaching on Death and Final Judgement), by contrast with the gentleness and humaneness, like a lamb (“Angellus” that he was), in the confessional, as he himself explained it: “We are fishermen in the pulpit we splash the waters in order to drive the fish into the net; when in the confessional, we gather them”. He was devoted to the Eucharist, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to Mary, Mother of Sorrows, and to the Guardian Angel.
While he was serving as an Assistant to the Parish-priest of the Mission of Sanvordem, he was invited by the Rector, Msgr. Ganganelli da Piedade Rebelo, to be the Spiritual Director at Rachol Seminary. His appointment as Spiritual Director of the Seminary was confirmed by the Patriarch of Goa, Dom Matheus de Oliveira Xavier, and appointed also Director of the Apostleship of Prayer in the same Seminary, where he served till the end.
His Character: Fr. Agnelo was a “model” in his times, depending on his temperament and mentality. There was a consensus in assessing him as “humble, prayerful, self-denying and saintly”. He was a father, teacher, friend and guide to the seminarians, entrusted to his paternal care, to whose training he devoted himself wholeheartedly. They would hang on to his lips, without getting tired of listening to him, since he was clear, sincere, convinced of what he was saying. The road to perfection for the seminarians was, according to him, to be enamoured of their duties as students and as priest-to-be. “As seminarians, so will the priests be”. He was devoted to the Sacred Heart and would say: “We have to burn ourselves somewhere, either in this world with love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or in the next life in hell”. He would inculcate in them love for the Apostleship of Prayer, as an efficacious means of “winning souls of God”. He would walk through the Seminary corridors, with downcast eyes, with hands in the pocket, praying the Rosary. Very few readers will know that Fr. Agnelo was smoking “beedi” (canudo, Indian cigarette), which he was jocularly saying that it was his “vice”.
Fr. Agnelo impressed one and all as being “gripped by God”, leading the students by the force of his example. He would inspire and influence in a charming way all those who came in contact with him. He would console the seminarians and render stability to their priestly vocation, as well as encourage those who would like to embrace the religious life. Fr. Agnelo would be concerned, not only with the “spiritual” life of the seminarians, but also with their holistic well-being, including their material wants. He would help them even financially, chiefly those coming from less privileged families. He lived as an example and died a good death, which was the “apotheosis of his saintly life”.
His Death: While he was preaching the Novena of the Sacred Heart, having reached the last day, at Vespers of the Feast, on November 19, 1927, Fr. Agnelo could not continue to preach, ended it earlier, knelt in the pulpit for a final thanksgiving prayer, lost balance, was borne away in a helpless, but conscious state. Laid on a bench in the corridor of the church at his request, Fr. Agnelo received with folded hands the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. He had suffered a cerebral thrombosis with paralysis of the left arm and leg. While the seminary physician, Dr. Joao Filipe Figueiredo, was urgently summoned and medical treatment at once imparted, the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick was given by Fr. Bruno de Menezes, Professor of Liturgy and Gregorian Chant. He received from him also the Holy Viaticum and then lapsed into a coma. On the day of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, at 5 a.m. on November 20, 1927, he breath his last. Seminarians were near his bed, two by two, trying their best to attend to him throughout the night. One could hear everyone saying: “He was a saint; a saint has died!” He was regarded as “illuminated”. Everyone would agree with the Parish-priest of Rachol, Fr. Manuel Albuquerque, who after the last rites, exclaimed: “I have just laid a saint to rest”.
Conclusion: Fr. Agnelo is radiating a powerful message of faith and love, which he imbibed in his family and seminary formation. Simple, humble, unassuming, austere by nature, obedient to the Superiors, not photogenic, never hitting the headlines nor facing the floodlights, he had stubborn courage of his convictions in action. Let us walk in his steps without losing our own individuality, but by incarnating the Gospel values, which our Venerable Agnelo imbibed from the family, Goan milieu, Goan Archdiocese, lived and proclaimed: faith and love.