Not many people in the twin cities would know about a small church located in Yapral, Secunderabad dedicated to St. Francis Xavier. This church is nestled in the centre of the Secunderabad Cantonment within the campus of the Valerian Grammar School. One has to really make an effort to locate this church within the cantonment and a GPS comes in handy. The church, in the past 174 years, has been a witness to a lot of history and has stood the test of time.
It is believed that Fr. Daniel Murphy built this church in the year 1842 for use by the British army personnel. He is believed to have arrived in Secunderabad in 1838 and started building St. Mary’s Basilica in 1840. The Basilica took 10 years to build. In the meantime in 1842 Fr. Murphy built St. Francis Xavier Church at Yapral (erstwhile Bolarum). St. Francis Xavier Church could be oldest church in the city / state.
This church is small in area made in the shape of ‘T’ with aisles on all 3 sides. The presbytery (priests residence) is attached to the church structure on the rear side and seems to have been built later. History is written all over this Church’s structure. One look at the tiled roof would reveal various years of manufacture such as 1885 / 1942 with names of companies of those ages. The church is a lime mortar structure with a tiled roof resting on a teak frame. The presbytery side has a flat terrace. The windows, arches and doors of the church are based on Gothic designs.
It is believed that this church’s campus was used by the Archbishops of Hyderabad and other pastoral staff as a summer residence till the 1950’s / 60’s. Around mid 60’s the abutting campus was developed as a school. The school has since grown, over 50 years, accommodating a large number of students and hostel.
The church from its inception seems to have always had a very small community as its members. This is true even to this day with the membership remaining less than 100 families. This probably explains why this church has remained more or less unknown for the past 174 years.
The parish community had been contemplating church renovation for the past few years. The process gained momentum last year when they formally decided to form a Renovation & Restoration Committee (RRC) with few a voluntary members.
The renovation and restoration process began almost 18 months with an initial focus to get information on how best to conserve this heritage building. Amongst the first things, the RRC approached INTACH for advice and guidance. INTACH team inspected the church and guided the RRC broadly on the process to be followed. The RRC began their work with getting floor plans made for the church.
The committee identified a few contractors who specialized in conservation work and requested for financial & technical quotes. The RRC realized that the scope of work envisaged by various contractors was not uniform hence the quotes were not comparable. RRC then decided to go for a Request for Quotation (RFQ) process with a uniform scope of work and maintain a transparent selection process.
A few contractors applied for the RFQ and basis technical, financial and client references the RRC decided to appoint 2 contractors to handle civil and electrical works. Parallely RRC had been working on arranging finances by mobilizing past savings and generous contributions from the parish community. At all stages of this process the Archbishop of Hyderabad was regularly consulted and his advice and approvals sort. At regular intervals updates were shared with parish members and opinions sort.
Finally in June 2015, the renovation work started with focus being on the tiled roof, walls, flooring, windows and terrace. The RRC, Parish Priest and the Parish Council have jointly supervised the entire execution process. By the grace of God, the joint committee members have worked tirelessly on getting this project completed. The Archbishop of Hyderabad has kindly agreed to rededicate this church to the parish community of November 29, 2015.
The end result of restoring this Gregorian styled church with big wooden doors was well worth the efforts. Hopefully this church will be better known in years to come and become a home of peace and succour to all.
Related news – The Hindu