History of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church, Pune
The Church of the Immaculate Conception also known as the “City Church” has a rich history spanning 226 years.
Dom Minguel de Noronha, a Portuguese national, was an officer in the Peshwa Madhav Rao’s army. He was the spirit behind the recruitment of soldiers from Goa and North Kanara. As far back as December 1792, mass was celebrated for the first time on Christmas day on land donated by the Peshwa to Dom Minguel de Noronha in appreciation for the services of the catholic soldiers. He also looked after the needs of these people. Dom Minguel then collected subscription for the building of a proper church. Madhav Rao also helped with his own contribution. A small but permanent structure was constructed and Fr. Vincent Menezes was appointed the first Parish Priest in 1794.
After the British conquest of Pune, the number of Catholics increased manifold, as there were many Catholics among the British troops. On June 24, 1843, the British Government gave a portion of land, measuring one bigha (3 acres and 14 gunthas) from the area adjoining the church to the Catholics of Pune free of revenue, in view of the increase in numbers.
In 1843 Fr. F.C. Conceicao, the then Parish Priest was able to collect an amount of Rs. 12,000 including a subsidy from the Portuguese Government of Goa. With this amount, the old church was built only with mud and mortar, and then reconstructed in stone and mortar. This new church was completed in 1852.
In the absence of any other Catholic priest, the British troops were served from the City Chapel and the soldiers were buried in its cemetery. This arrangement, however, ended in 1835, when Fr. Britto was appointed Military Chaplain under Propaganda and he started another chapel in the Cantonment for the use of the soldiers. The City Chapel served the Goans who had settled in the city and neighborhoods.
When Poona was made into a diocese in 1886, the “City Chapel” and its congregation were assigned to the Diocese of Poona. But, immediately an agitation arose for its retention under Padroado. The result was that it was conceded by the brief “Post Initam” (June 7, 1887) to the Archdiocese of Goa as an exempted church extra limits.
Attach to the church on the north side is the Ornellas School founded in 1887 and on the south side lies the Portuguese Association Hall, while the graveyard is a short distance away. On an invitation from the Patriarch of Goa, the Sisters of Apostolic Carmel started the Mount Carmel School in 1943 in a building situated behind the church. The church was extended in the year 1952. In 1953, the parish came under the Bishop of Poona.
Exactly a hundred years later Msgr. Peter Nicholas Pereira, the then Parish Priest, extended the church by about 60 feet at an approximate cost of Rs. 91,000/-. The special architectural design was aimed at merging elements of Christian architecture with that of Maratha tradition. The Father’s residence was constructed in 1958. In the year 1998 redesigning of the sanctuary was undertaken.
There was a girl’s hostel in what is now the Parish Centre. The Mount Carmel School was handed over to the Poona Diocesan Educational Society in June 1983 and renamed as St. Clare’s High School.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception is popularly known as “City Church” as it stands at the entrance of the Pune City, which was marked by a “Quarter Gate” that existed there in the days gone by.