COMPANIONS ON A MISSION OF PEACE, RECONCILIATION AND JUSTICE...

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GOD GIFTED A DIAMOND FOR PATNA MISSION



The entire Patna Province has been batting for our prized veteran, Fr. Mel Diamond, to hit a century, so it came as a shock that Mel breathed his last when he was into his 98th year of life. He had been ailing for some time with some swelling on his legs, but he had successfully survived several of such minor ailments. When the swelling turned into a festering wound, Mel‟s aging system was not able to cope. In a few days, he passed away, quietly and peacefully, in his sleep, in the company of his loved and trusted Infirmarian and companion, Bro. Francis, and his nephew, Mr. Mel Diamond Jr., who came from Calcutta a few days before. That is how Mel would have liked his life to end: giving others as little trouble as possible.

Fr. Mel Diamond was born on 28 October 1920 in Marikuppam, Kolar Gold Field, Mysore, Karnataka to the Anglo-Indian parents - Mr. Charles and Mrs. Hermione. He was the second of five children, of whom the three younger sisters settled in the UK, one of whom is a Religious of the Congregation of Jesus. The only immediate family Fr. Diamond has in India is his nephew, Mr. Mel Diamond Jr. It was almost telepathy that Junior thought of making a visit to his uncle Jesuit in Patna, precisely when the uncle was nearing his end. It must have been a great consolation to Fr. Diamond that his only family in India could spend some quality time with him during his last hours in this life.

Though Fr. Diamond was born in Mysore, South India, since his father was in the service under the British government, the family had to move around the country quite often. Young Mel therefore was entrusted to the care of the Irish Christian Brothers of St. Michael‟s Senior Cambridge School in Patna, so his education wouldn‟t suffer. So Mel had his Elementary and High School studies in Patna. Thereafter, he chose the Police Force as a profession for himself. But soon, being of a gentle and loving nature, he realized that he was not cut out to be a good policeman! It was reported that while he was based in Calcutta as a police officer he was deputed to Dhaka to settle some trouble there. At one point, he was ready to shoot a person with his licensed gun when he heard an inner voice telling him not to kill because he was going to be a priest! From there it was only one short step before he decided to join religious life with the Jesuits of Patna in 1945.

Mel was sent to Vinayalaya, Andheri, Bombay, for his novitiate and juniorate, which he completed in 1949. Then he moved to the Sacred Heart College in Shembaganur for his philosophy studies, which he completed in 1952. After a year of Regency teaching experience at Khrist Raja School in Bettiah, north Bihar, he went to the De Nobili College, Poona, for his theology studies. There he was ordained to the priesthood in 1956. The last leg of Jesuit formation, the Tertianship was at St. Stanislaus College, Sitagarha, presently Jharkhand, under the guidance of the famous tertian instructor, Fr. Schillebex.

After the tertianship Mel was assigned to be Minister and teacher in the same Khrist Raja School in Bettiah where he had spent a year of teaching during his Regency. After 7 years as the Pastor of Chuhari and a couple of years in Jamalpur as Assistant Pastor, Mel retuned to K.R. as Rector in 1971. Then moved to Chakhni as Assistant pastor in 1978 and in 1980, he joined the Mokama community as Assistant Parish Priest and Chaplain at the Nazareth Hospital there. Here he developed some severe health problems, which could only be diagnosed and treated in Patna. So he found himself as spiritual father at XTTI, while undergoing treatment at the Kurji Holy Family Hospital in Patna for a year, and then, in 1983 began his long innings as chaplain, counselor and spiritual father at the same Holy Family Hospital, shifting his residence to the Navjyoti Niketan Pastoral Centre. After 31 years of service at the Kurji Holy Family Hospital, Mel retired in 2014 to the loving care of his own Jesuit brothers at XTTI.

Many are the anecdotes of daily experiences in the hospital that Mel would recount to his companions at Navjyoti Niketan, some humorous and funny, and some instances of compassion and concern. During his daily rounds in the hospital, he encountered people suffering from all sorts of ailments. This did not make him callous to the sufferings of others, but only made his gentle and compassionate heart empathize even more profoundly with the pain of others. People appreciated what he was able to offer them: a gentle word, a touch of concern, a prayer and a blessing! Sometimes he would chuckle to himself remembering some funny instances. There was, for instance, the case of a rich old lady who took Mel to be the owner of the hospital and thought he would be a good catch as a husband for her daughter. So she offered her daughter to him together with a dowry of Rs. 5 lakh – a huge amount at the time. When he narrated this incident, one of his companions remarked: never mind the daughter, but you could have taken the dowry!

Mel was quite aware of the meaning of his name. His full name was Melville Wilfred Antony Diamond. He was ever ready and willing to explain the meaning of his name in Hindi, especially to the domestic workers at Navjyoti Niketan: Mel (honey) meaning madhu, Wilfred meaning shanti, Diamond means heera, and his own free translation of the whole name reads: Madhu Shantibala Heera Kumar – the kumar is added to show that he is a bachelor, a priest! He went even a step further by naming the flower garden in front of his residence Diamond Park or Heera Bagan!

Retirement and change of residence to XTTI were not easy for Mel to accept, but once he found himself there and experienced the quality of care and service rendered, he wondered why he resisted in the first place! But more change was in store. After three years in XTTI, when the newly constructed „infirmary‟ building, now christened Xavier Bhawan, was completed in another part of the same campus, Mel was asked to shift residence again. He welcomed the change gracefully, not suspecting at the time that another change of „residence‟ was imminent. This came, quietly, peacefully, at 12.15 p.m. on the 20th January.

As Brother Tony Dias, a close companion of Fr. Mel Diamond, expressed in his homily at the funeral Mass of Fr. Mel, “May his gentle soul rest in peace and may his spirit of service abide with us as we continue our earthly pilgrimage.”

- Fr. Sebastian Kanekattil, SJ



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