French priest who worked for Dalit rights is remembered

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By DCD Reporter

Eraiyur: Life is precious when we live a glorified life for others. Fr. Noel, a French priest who served for 16 years in a village called Eraiyur in the Archdiocese of Pondicherry–Cuddalore is remembered and called god for their village.

Born on May 20, 1885, in France, Father Noel came as a missionary to India. He was one of the Foreign Mission Fathers (MEP) and served in the Archdiocese of Pondicherry–Cuddalore.

People in Eraiyur remembered this great priest and a physician for who they are today. He used to sit at the confessional with the kerosene lamp, says Joseph Edward, a research scholar of Tamil Literature from the village.

The priest wanted all the faithful to be treated equally in the caste disputed village. The Church of Eraiyur is 151 years old where the faithful from the Dalit community denied entry to the Church, and they stood outside the south side of the Church. A portion where the Dalits stood and attended the Mass is called ‘Para salai’ which is translated as a wing of Paraiah (a particular community in Tamil Nadu).

Father Noel who was the 15th priest of the village wanted to end discrimination and to all the Dalits in the Church. 

“He tried hard to make this happen. He visited our homes, educated our children and encouraged us to be priests and nuns,” says Edward recalling the words of Late K I Gnana Pragasam. 

Father K.G. Irudayaraj, the first Dalit priest from Eraiyur for the Archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore and Fr. Noel was his vocation promoter.

At the time of pestilence, Father Noel saved the people with his medical skills and when Augustin Simi yon Kolas, the then Archbishop of Pondicherry sent a circular to eradicate untouchable practices in the archdiocese, Father Noel was elated and attempted to bring the Dalits inside the Church.

He brought the Dalit children inside the church and while celebrating the Mass, the dominant caste Christians came in attacked him terribly and thrown him in the entrance of where the Dalits live. An eye witness of this particular incident was narrated by late V. Saminathan. 

Though Father Noel did great service to both the communities and revered him as a god, caste mentality was carved in their being and chased him from their village.

While leaving the village, Father Noel uttered the words of Jesus, “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23: 31).

Father Noel went away crying, promising never to return until the caste discrimination ends. Knowing what had happened to Father Noel, the Archbishop asked to close the church till the situation became normal. 

Father Noel catered to the physical and spiritual needs of people. While in Eraiyur Father Noel built three schools, baptized 511 children solemnized 647 weddings. 

The Dalit Christians in Eraiyur remembered their godfather and a martyr of caste atrocities who passed away on March 5, 1966. 

The story of Father Noel is told orally by Maria Kulandai, the grandmother of Joseph Edward and this was part of his dissertation thesis.

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