Reaching for the hundreds

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

In the Book of Psalms one comes across verses about the transition and shortness of human life:

 For all our days pass under thy wrath

Our years come to an end like a sigh

The years of our life are threescore and ten

Or even by reason of strength fourscore

Yet their span is but toil and trouble

They are soon gone, and we fly away

 If this was in the far-off days of King David, the position has not changed substantially in our times, despite the great advances in medicine and allied sciences. Nevertheless, Saligao had its share of centenarians, and I was fortunate to meet and talk to some of them, including  Rita Joaquina D’Souza (Arrarim), Luis Caetano Figueiredo (Donvaddo), Antonio Sebastião Remedios (1896-2004), the longest-lived person in Saligao so far, from Tabravaddo-Mollebhatt), and Fr. Estevão Luis Gonzaga de Carvalho (Vhoddlem Morod).

The Hospicio do Clero at Margão and the Clergy Home at Alto Porvorim, run by the Goa Archdiocese, are perhaps institutions that shelter the largest number of longeral folk in Goa.  All of them are well past the biblical threescore and ten, and in the past, two of the inmates celebrated their centenary of their birth at Clergy Home, Alto Porvorim: Msgr. Diogo José Caetano Ave Maria de Almeida from Velim and Fr. Estevão Luis Gonzaga de Carvalho from Saligao (1885-1987).

As is commonly known to Saligao village folk, Fr. Luiz Gonzaga is the son of Damaso Luis Caetano Carvalho and Florentina Felicia de Nazaré.  He is the nephew of Fr. Desidério Ludovico Carvalho (1836-1908), son of José Salvador Carvalho and of Ana Francisca de Souza, born in Nachinola on 14-06-1886 (Ordained on 16-07-1865 at Bom Jesus Church, Old Goa, by Archbishop A. Pessoa, and died at Grande Morodd on 09-03-1908).  His brothers are Custodio, Maria Santana, Angelo Severino, Damaso Luis Caetano and Fernando do Rosario Carvalho).

Luis Gonzaga was born in Saligao on 03-08-1885 and after completing the Philosophy and Theology courses at Rachol Seminary, received Minor Orders on 23 September 1906. He was ordained a Priest on 01 October 1911 at Rachol Seminary Church by Patriarch D. Mateus and celebrated his first Mass on 15 October 1911 in Nagoa Church.

Thereafter he was for 10 years teacher and Spiritual Director at ‘Mater Dei’ school at Saligao, where he taught Mathematics, Latin and Catechism. Then in 1922 he was sent as a Missionary to the Diocese of Mylapore. He served as the vicar of the churches of Venkatakulam and Belatpuram, where he worked for 11 years.

After returning to Goa he lent his services in 1933 as curate in three different parishes — Tivim, Salvador do Mundo and Agassaim. Then he was English teacher and chaplain of the Chapel of Our Lady of Piedade at Chinvar, Anjuna, and for 24 years chaplain of St. Anthony’s Chapel on the Anjuna beach. Thereafter, probably in 1978, he sought admission to the Clergy Home, Alto Porvorim.

Questioned about his longevity, he first and foremost attributed it to the grace of Blessed Virgin Mary, for whom he had a special devotion. He added that he had always led a very regular life, walked a lot, and exercised in his room.  Though a nonagenarian, occupying a room on the first floor, he went to the dining room on the ground floor for all four meals, climbing up and down the stairs without any difficulty.  He ate everything, drank coffee and tea, occasionally had a glass of beer or wine, but never smoked.  He could see quite well with the spectacles he began wearing in Mylapore and did not need a hearing aid.  He celebrated Mass every day and was confident of completing a hundred years.

When Fr Luis Gonzaga celebrated his 100th birthday, Vincy Cordeiro from Bairro Alto, in Saligao interviewed him at the Clergy Home. (Vide Saligão Newsletter Vol.I, No.1 April-June 1985, Bombay, p.12). Excerpts:

Q. We hope that you will live for many more years.

A. The doctors who examined me say that my heart is normal like that of a young man.  They say that I do not suffer from any ailment…  Even at this age I travel everywhere on my own by bus.  I thank Mãe de Deus for this unique privilege.

Q. Please shed some light on your earliest memory of Saligao and its people.

A. I still have the whole image of Saligao fresh in my mind as it used to be in my youth. The people were very hard working. They used to work in the wide open fields and they travelled from one place to another on foot. They indeed all loved one another. That made a deep and lasting impression on me. When somebody was ill all the neighbours would come and give the sick person all possible help. Some of them even spent their own money and purchased medicines.

Q. What is your most memorable experience?

A. My best experience is the 10 years of teaching in Mater Dei Institution.  I really enjoyed my stay there and was very happy with the school authorities.  The next best place was Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu. The Tamilians were nice and very warm towards me.

Q. What ism your recipe for a long life?

A. The secret of my sound health and strong constitution is that I am always in a happy frame of mind. Nothing worries me. I love everyone and never bear any ill-feeling towards others. Consequently, because both my mind and heart are clear of any tension, I enjoy excellent health.

Q. What is your message for modern youth?

A. I want them to be good, honest, respectful and God-fearing men and women.

Q. Would you recall the most striking incident in your life?

A. When I was posted to Madras, I learnt Tamil in just 15 days and could preach in Tamil.

A buoyant outlook shaped Luis Gonzaga’s life, and he stood erect even at the age of 100. On 6 February 1986 he met with Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa, and was introduced by Most Rev. Raul N. Gonsalves, Archbishop of Goa & Daman, as the oldest priest and centenarian of the Archdiocese.  He received a warm embrace and a rosary as a gift from His Holiness.

He died in the Clergy Home on 31 December 1987 and was buried in Saligao Cemetery, aged 102 years.

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