In December 1959 His Grace Archbishop Graner, CSC told Fr. Eugene E. Homrich, CSC to build a rectory in Jalchatra and separate the Madhupur Garos from Mymensingh Mission. The Mission included all the Garo villages on the so called southern villages from the Bramaputra river. This included 56 Garo villages but there were only 2500 Catholics in the Villages from North Bagra to Singacholla south of Dorgacholla. There were few Primary Schools and literacy was about 5%. The people were poor, sickly with kalajar, TB etc. They lived off the forest roots and cultivated some rice lands. Garo pagan religion was practiced everywhere. There was 250 sq. miles of forest land belonging to the Raja of Natore who used the Garos to harvest the sal or gazari trees. The forest contained leopard, deer, peacock, wild chickens and about 250 beautiful birds in the thick Gazari jungle. The low lands were registered in the name of the Garos and they paid household taxes for the homestead lands.
When the Forest Department took over the forest this was the beginning of the destruction of the forest and many false cases were started and taxes were no longer collected. The Jalchatra rectory was completed on Oct. 20,1960 and I took up residence at that time. Government surveyors measured the mission compound and found a total of 3.57 acres. This was not accurate and I told them to get out.
John Gomes, the brother of Bishop Francis Gomes was the catechist trained in Bhalukapara by Fr. Bauer. He instructed the Mandis in Chunia and Pirgacha. We baptised Pirgacha on April 25, 1961. The church expanded quickly because of lay catechists and small primary schools. The Credit Union was started by Fr. Charles Young, CSC in 1961. The Pakistan government declared the area a National Park and took over 40 sq miles including Mandi Villages and rice lands. Many Madhupur Mandis left for India in Feb. 1964. Villages were looted, houses burnt. Many died in route or were shot by the E.P.R. We defended the villages with bows and arrows. Over 25 villages have disappeared or moved to new areas in the Jungle. The Pakistan government refused to recognize registration and to collect taxes saying the Zamindar lands were now enemy property. On Sept. 8, 1965 Pakistan Army took over the Jalchatra Mission and I lived with them as they were at war with India. Over 3000 Pakistan Army troops were in the jungle and caused no problem..
On March 2,1992 Bishop Francis Gomes told Fr. Homrich, CSC to open a new Parish in Pirgacha. I purchased land near the Pirgacha School and made this the church. Fr. Alex Rabinal, CSC and Fr. Ponen Kubi, CSC along with Fr. Peter Rozario helped me decide where to build the rectory. The new house was finished and I moved in on June 1, 1992. Feb.1,1993 Bishop Francis announced that the new parish is now separated from Jalchatra. The Catholic population was 6288, Baptist 1201, Oxford 584, SDA 143, pagan 1031 and catechumen 120.
Health condition of the Mandis was terrible. No toilets or tube wells and most were filled with hook worms and ascaris. I was trained in Cody Institute in Canada, University of Wisconsin, University of Florida and Baldwin College in Georgia in development and tropical horticulture. Missionary spirituality was learned at Maryknoll.
The secret of success was because of lay teachers and catechists in 22 Primary schools. They were trained by the Xavarian Fathers in Jessore Catechical Center. The poorly paid
teachers, catechists, mostly women run the Primary Schools, development projects, instruction of new catechumens, justice and peace cases and teaching Mandi culture and dances. They run the Catholic Church and are poorly paid for their work. There has been many plans to remove the Mandis from the so called Madhupur Jungle. The head of the Tea Board came one day and said we have decided to move all the Mandis to the Tea Gardens as coolies. I informed “Ket Monjur” Communist Party and the head of the Tea board fled before they could catch him. He went to Dhaka and resigned. The Asia Development Bank destroyed the jungle with foreign tree plantation and new lot system. Madacor Group represented by Dr. Emilio A Rozario, a planning specialist wanted to remove 16,000 Garos and put them in cluster villages. I appealed to President Zia and he promised that the Garos would never be removed from the Madhupur Jungle in Mymensingh Hall Meeting on Feb. 14, 1976. The Forest Department with foreign help are trying to establish an Eco-park on 3000 acres in Jalabada. When the Mandis objected Piren Snal was killed and Utfol Nokrek of Beduria as shot in the spine and crippled for life. Day and night the Forest Department is selling the few trees left and have 1600 false cases against the Mandis. There are three cases against the Mission. We won three times and the Forest Department appealed.
The Madhupur Forest exist only on the map and new Muslim families are illegally occupying the forest. There is no land in the country and they are good farmers.
Bishop Ponen Kubi, CSC born in Deocholla village which is no longer a Mandi Village was consecrated as Bishop of Mymensingh on Feb. 13, 2004. The secret of success here in Pirgacha has been created by the Primary Schools and High Schools. We have 85% educated but need Higher Education not pucca buildings. Tura Diocese in India now has 40% Abeng from Bangladesh.
The total number of Catholics is 4,459 male and 4,354 female Mandis with a total of 8,813 Catholic Mandis; Baptist are 1,329, Church of Bangladesh is 1,031, SDA 205, pagan 124. So far 91 Mandis have become Muslim.. This is a summary of the Pirgacha. Parish as of Dec. 2014. We need better pay for the Primary School teachers who are running the Catholic Church. St. Paul’s High School had 660 students, mostly Mandi. Many are studying in College and trade schools. Education in the Catholic Faith is done by lay teachers, many of whom are studying in the Open University for Higher Degrees. This is truly a lay run Catholic Church and the Mandis in the Parish are really running the Church. They have the Faith, Hope and Charity!
Rev. Eugene E. Homrich, CSC September 8, 2015
Pastor of St. Paul’s Church
P,O,Pirgacha; Dt. Tangail