Monday, April 20, 2015

John de Brito

Saint John de Brito (Portuguese: João de Brito; also spelled Britto), also known as Arulanandar, (born in Lisbon, Portugal, on March 1, 1647 – died at Oriyur, Tamil Nadu, India, on February 11, 1693) was a Portuguese Jesuit missionary and martyr, often called "the Portuguese St. Francis Xavier" by Indian Catholics.


John de Brito was the scion of a powerful aristocratic Portuguese family; his father, Salvador de Brito Pereira, died while serving as Viceroy of the Portuguese colony of Brazil. He joined the Jesuits in 1662, studying at the famous University of Coimbra. He traveled to the missions of Madurai, in Southern India, present-day Tamil Nadu, in 1673 and preached the Christian religion in the region of the Maravar country. He renamed himself Arul Anandar (அருளானந்தர்) in Tamil. The ruler of the Maravar country imprisoned him in 1684. Having been expelled, he returned to Lisbon in 1687 and worked as a missions procurator. King Pedro II wanted him to stay, but in 1690 he returned to the Maravar country with 24 new missionaries.

The Madurai Mission was a bold attempt to establish an Indian Catholic Church that was relatively free of European cultural domination. As such, Brito learned the native languages, went about dressed in yellow cotton, and lived like a தமிழ் Thuravi/Sanyaasi, abstaining from every kind of animal food and from wine. St. John de Brito tried to teach the Catholic faith in categories and concepts that would make sense to the people he taught. This method, proposed and practiced by Roberto de Nobili, met with remarkable success. Britto remained a strict vegan until the end of his life, rejecting meat, fish, eggs and alcohol, and living only on legumes, fruits and herbs.


John de Brito's preaching led to the conversion of Thadiyathevan (தடியத் தேவன்), a Marava prince who had several wives. When Thadiyathevan was required to dismiss all his wives but one, a serious problem arose. One of the wives was a niece of the neighboring king, the Sethupathi (சேதுபதி) who took up her quarrel and began a general persecution of Christians. De Brito and the catechists were taken and carried to the capital, Ramnad, the Brahmins clamouring for his death . Thence he was led to Oriyur (ஓரியூர்), some thirty miles northward along the coast, where he was executed on 4 February 1693.

Brito was beatified by Pope Pius IX on August 21, 1853. He was canonized by Pope Pius XII on June 22, 1947. St. John de Brito's feast day is February 4.


During his pastoral visit to India in 1986, Pope John Paul II honoured John de Brito at a solemn Mass he celebrated on 4 February, the saint's feast day:

Saint John de Britto, whom we are remembering in today’s liturgical celebration, was born in Lisbon in 1647. After entering the Society of Jesus he followed the footsteps of Saint Francis Xavier to India where he chose to work for the humble and needy in what was then called the Madurai Mission. His patient labours, selfless zeal and genuine love for the poor won for him their confidence. Like Jesus he was "a sign of contradiction" and his success created jealousy and opposition. As a result, John de Britto died a martyr on 11 February 1693, bearing witness to Christ."

His name was given to Jesuit-run Colégio de São João de Brito, one of the most famous Portuguese schools


There is a shrine to Brito in Oriyur, where he is a significant figure revered by the Kallar, Maravar and AgaMudayar castes who together are often referred to as the Theavers.

There is only one Church In Coimbatore, dedicated to St.John De Britto located at R.S.Puram and is one of the largest parishes in the diocese of Coimbatore.

One of the four houses in the Jesuit school, St. Xavier's, Calcutta, is named after John de Brito. In the Campion School of Mumbai, there is a house named after Brito (Britto House). The other two houses are named for St. Francis Xavier (Xavier House) and St. Ignatius Loyola (Loyola House).

One of the three houses in the Infant Jesus Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary School Tangasseri, Kollam is named after John de Brito (Brittos). The other two houses are named for St. Don Bosco (Boscos) and St. John Berchmans (Berchmans).

St Britto High School in Goa is named after Brito as he lived there for seven months to complete his theological studies at St Paul's College in Old Goa. The school is administered by the Jesuits. There is an Anglo-Indian Boys High School in the Diocese of Cochin, in the old Portuguese city of Fort Cochin, named after St John de Britto, nearby the Bishop's House, in Cochin.

Brito is the patron Saint (referred as Pathukavul) of Sakthikulangara Parish in Kollam Diocese, Kerala. Every year, Brito's feast day is celebrated in Sakthikulanagara with a big procession (prathikshanam). The St John De Britto Anglo-Indian High School is named after him. One of the jesuit colleges established in Tamil Nadu is named after St. Britto as Arul Anandar College (Arts & Science) which is in Karumathur, Madurai. The college was established by the Jesuits to promote college education in the rural parts of Madurai.

In the Philippines, Brito is honoured with several class sections named after him in the Jesuit-run schools:

Section 8-De Brito in Ateneo de Manila Grade School
Four high school class sections in Ateneo de Davao University (1-De Brito; 2-De Brito; 3-De Brito; 4-De Brito)
A Grade 9 level (formerly third-year high school) class section in Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan
In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, a Jesuit school for boys was named after him, SMA Kolese De Britto

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