By Fr. Leo Cachat
In 1979 after finishing my time at Sadhana at DeNobili College, being trained by Fr. Anthony De Mello, S.J. for formation work, Fr. Abe Puthumana had suggested that I be available for spiritual direction and retreats to Jesuits and others in Nepal. The outcome of this suggestion was that Fr. Bill Schock, the superior at Godavari St. Xavier’s Jesuit Community, Fr. Saubolle, and I discussed about turning Nara Mahal (the house Fr. Moran had bought from General Nara S. J. B. Rana, into a retreat center. Up until that time Nara Mahal was the residence of the Jesuits, and at times for lay teachers, at Godavari St. Xavier’s School.
I suggested that it be an ashram, in so far as that was possible. I envisoned it as a place with great simplicity, both in the structures and the life of the residence. Thus we decided that the we rename it Godavari Ashram and use the existing rooms to welcome both Catholics and none Catholics for spiritual exercises. The large room on the first floor north side was turned into a kitchen. It was decided it would fall under the jurisdiction of the person appointed by the Provincial of Patna to represent him in Nepal. This was partly because Fr. Downing, the treasurer of St. Xavier’s Godavari School did not want the added responsibility of looking after its finances and maintenance. Thus Fr. Schock, who was the superior of St. Xavier’s School Godavari was also the superior and treasurer of the Ashram. We had a very simple chapel on the last room on the ground floor far eastern side of the building to the east and slightly north of Nara Mahal. The other rooms in that building, where the lay teachers used to live, were used as guest rooms as well as the three available rooms on the second floor in Nara Mahal.
My recollection is that when Fr. Dressman was appointed by the Patna Provincial to represent him in Nepal, Jim, after consultation, built the chapel, that is still standing. He also built a new bathroom area behind the old brick building to the north and east of Nara Mahal, where Father Saubolle had lived for many years, at least from 1961 until he died in the mid-80s. Fr. Dressman also built over the old generator room, north and a bit west of Nara Mahal, the building with the dormitory below and a bungalow above.
With the approval of Fr. Schock I engaged Mahendra Limbu, an ex-student, to act as “minister” or administrative assistant. With approval from Fr. Schock and myself we got one of the servants from St. Xavier’s School Godavari to join us as cook, i.e. Babu Krishna Silwal. I think they both joined in 1981. I think Mahendra or Babu can establish when they joined.
I began to invite guest interested in organized retreats or spending time in spiritual pursuits at the ashram, both local, from India and for five or six years groups that came from the U.S.A. for a cross-cultural experience. These small groups of eight, ten or twelve people were organize by Fr. Joe Conyard, S.J. and Sister Jane Comerfort, C.S.J.
In 1985 when Nepal became a Jesuit Region and Fr. Robins became the first Regional Superior, even though I became the Superior of Kamal Niwas I was also the point man for Godavari Ashram. I985 or 1986 began the hosting of the Pre-Ordination Program for the northern zone of the Society of Jesus in India. Fr. Schock and I offered two thirty day programs, one from mid-June to mid-July and the other from mid-July to mid-August for the next ten years. Fr. Brooks also brought L.T.S. members and other student groups for two or three day retreats.
When Fr. Schock left for retreat work in the Philippine Jesuit Province I made the effort to get a group of sisters to come as permanent residence of the ashram, since Fr. Saubolle had died and Fr. Schock had left for the Philippines and I was the superior of Kamal Niwas. I contacted the Notre Dame Sisters in Patna with the hope that one sister would work in the school, one sister would work in the ashram and one sister would work in the villages around Godavari. This never materialized but Sr. Sharonlata, S.N.D. eventually came as a permanent residence to Godavari Ashram and offered wonderful service for many years. When I left for the States in 2001 I left with Sr. Sharon a number of items for the Region archives.