Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 1 – The Early Years

Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj


Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Kanara and Ceylon
Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Kanara and Ceylon

St. Thomas, the Apostle of Christ brought Christianity to India. For centuries, Christianity remained almost dormant until the arrival of  the missionaries who tagged along with the colonial powers.  Under colonial rule, the Christian faith spread gradually in different parts of India.

In 1510, the Portuguese with the help of Timayya, a local ally, defeated the Bijapur Sultan Yousuf Adil Shah. They set up a permanent settlement in Velha Goa (or Old Goa). Thus, began the Portuguese rule in Goa that lasted until 1961.

By a series of treaties the Vatican delegated the administration of the local Churches to the kings of Portugal. In 1514, Pope Leo X confirmed this arrangement known as the Padroado (English: patronage).

Joseph Vaz

The third of six children, Joseph Vaz (Konkani: Zuze Vaz) was born in 1651 at Pulvaddo, Benaulim in Goa, India. His parents Cristóvão Vaz and Maria de Miranda were devout Catholics. The day Joseph Vaz was born, his father saw a star in the Sky during mid-day and wrote in his personal diary that his son would become a great man.

Benaulim House, where Saint Joseph Vaz was born (Source:
Benaulim House, where Saint Joseph Vaz was born (Source:

Cristóvão Vaz belonged to a prominent Goud Saraswat Brahmin Naik family of Sancoale, a village in Goa. This village was once the home of Hindu Saraswat deities. Around 1560, during the Portuguese Inquisition, the Hindu devotees shifted their deities to Veling and Kerim (Ponda).

Cristóvão had his son baptized on the eighth day at the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, Benaulim by its pastor, Jacinto Pereira.

Young Joseph attended the elementary school in Sancoale. He learned Portuguese in Sancoale and Latin in Benaulim. He was a bright pupil and his teachers and fellow students respected him. When his father noted that he was making rapid progress in his studies, he decided to send him to Goa City for further studies. In Goa, Joseph completed a course in rhetoric and Humanities at the Jesuit College of St. Paul. To further his education, he joined the College of St. Thomas Aquinas where he studied philosophy and theology.

During the early part of the 16th-century conversion to Christianity by the influence of the Portuguese, waned due to several reasons. As a consequence, many Catholics migrated farther south to Kanara.

The Portuguese administration in Goa supported the missionary activities of the Padroado in Kanara. However, the arrival of the British and the Dutch thwarted these activities. The Portuguese were not able to send the required number of missionaries to Mangalore. To keep the flame of faith burning in Kanara the appointment of a Vicar Apostolic of Mangalore was felt necessary. Shivappa Naik, the king of Bednore, wanted a native priest chosen as the Vicar Apostolic. So the Padroado in Goa chose Father Andrew Gomez as the Vicar Apostolic of Mangalore. But before the nomination papers could reach Mangalore, Father Gomez died.

Dom Thomas de Castro (c.1621 – 1684)
Thomas de Castro, titular Bishop of Fussala and Vicar Apostolic of Kanara. (Source:
Thomas de Castro, titular Bishop of Fussala and Vicar Apostolic of Kanara. (Source:

Dom Thomas de Castro (c. 1621 – 1684) son of Caetano de Castro and Maria Josefa Picardo was born in Divar,  Goa, in Portuguese India. He was the nephew of Dom Matheus de Castro (c. 1594 − 1677), the first Indian Bishop of the Catholic Church. While in his teens,  his uncle Matheus de Castro, Bishop of Chrysopolis took Thomas to Rome. There the young de Castro joined the congregation of the Divina Providencia or the Theatine Order.

In 1674, Thomas de Castro arrived in India to begin his missionary work.

On August 30, 1675 to remedy the sad plight of the Kanara Catholics, Pope Clement X acceded to the recommendation of Monsignor Sebastiani, the Vicar General of Verapoly. The Pope first consecrated Thomas de Castro as a titular Bishop of Fussala.

On the same day, the Holy See appointed Thomas de Castro,  as the Vicar Apostolic for the kingdoms of Cochin, Tamor, Madurai, Mysore, Cranganore, Cannanore and the Coast of Kanara. He also remained the Vicar Apostolic of the Latin Catholic Archdiocese of Verapoly in present day Varappuzha in Kerala from 1675 to 1684.

However, inordinate delays prevented Bishop Thomas de Castro from taking office.

The  “Deed of Bondage“.

In 1675, Custódio de Pinho, the Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur and Golconda ordained Joseph Vaz a deacon for the Archdiocese of Goa.

In the same year, after a vacancy of 22 years, the Archiepiscopal See of Goa was filled with the appointment of Father António Brandão, S.O.Cist. (Cistercians of the Common Observance) as Archbishop of Goa.

In 1676, Archbishop António Brandão, ordained Joseph Vaz as a priest. After his ordination, Joseph Vaz wishing to live like the poor started walking barefoot. Soon, people started acknowledging him as a popular preacher and confessor. He opened a Latin school in Sancoale for prospective seminarians. on August 5, 1677, Joseph Vaz consecrated himself as a “Slave of Mary,” sealing it with a document known as the “Deed of Bondage“.

Three years after his consecration as Vicar Apostolic, Bishop de Castro came to Mangalore to take office.

The Portuguese Padroado authorities in Goa were in direct conflict with the local Catholic authorities in Kanara belonging to the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith). As such, António Brandão, the Padroado archbishop refused to recognize the appointment of Bishop Thomas de Castro as Vicar Apostolic of Kanara, despite the fact the latter carried the letter of his appointment by Pope Clement X. Archbishop Brandão claimed that the jurisdiction over the district of Kanara to be his by virtue of the Padroado granted by former Popes to the sovereigns of Portugal.

Archbishop Brandão forbade the Catholics of Kanara from having anything to do with Bishop Thomas de Castro appointed as the new Vicar Apostolic of Kanara. This was the first discord in the history of the Catholic Church in India.

Archbishop Brandão died on July 6, 1678. After his death, the Cathedral Chapter of Goa administered the diocese of Kanara.

The Vicar Capitular of Goa appointed Joseph Vaz as the Vicar Forane of Kanara and sent him to assert their jurisdiction against the Propaganda Fide. Vaz was ordered not to submit to Bishop de Castro unless he could adduce his Bull of Nomination to establish his title. Three Goan priests accompanied Joseph Vaz.




Note 1: A titular bishop in various churches is a bishop who is not in charge of a diocese. By definition, a bishop is an “overseer” of a community of the faithful. In the tradition of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, a priest is ordained as a bishop for a specific place. There are more bishops than there are dioceses. Therefore, a bishop who does not functionally head a diocese or archdiocese is appointed, an auxiliary bishop, a papal diplomat, an official of the Roman Curia, or is retired from one of those positions. Such a bishop is often appointed to a titular see.

Note 2: Fussala is a town in the Roman province of Numidia that became a Christian bishopric. The town and bishopric disappeared after the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, but the bishopric was revived as a titular see of the Catholic Church.

Note 3: A titular see in various churches is an episcopal see of a former diocese that no longer functions, sometimes called a “dead diocese”. The ordinary or hierarch of such a see may be styled a “titular bishop”, “titular metropolitan”, or “titular archbishop”. The term ” titular see” is used to signify a diocese that no longer functionally exists, often because the diocese once flourished, but the territory was conquered for Islam by Jihad, or because of a schism.






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