September 21, 2016 — The canonization of Mother Teresa of Kolkata on Sept. 4 has prompted reflection on the impact she had on the communities she served in India. Now her fellow missionary and friend, Jesuit Father Ante Gabric who also dedicated his life to serving the poor, has begun to garner more attention for his service in the region.
Fr. Gabric was a Croatian Jesuit whose mission work took him to Bengal, India, in 1938, where he spent 50 years working alongside the poor.
Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi, the Society of Jesus’ episcopal delegate for causes of beatification and canonization, has begun an investigation of the testimonies for Fr. Gabric's beatification.
“On his 25th death anniversary I was in Croatia preaching in the churches … the whole of Croatia is very proud of him and want to see him made a saint along with Mother Teresa who was his close friend,” Fr. Jothi said.
Fr. Gabric was born on Feb. 28, 1915, the eighth of nine children in Metkovic, Croatia. From a young age, he was greatly influenced by the Franciscans who ministered to his home parish. He was fascinated by the role of priests and eagerly volunteered as an altar boy to help with the Eucharist.
By the age of 18, Fr. Gabric had expressed his intent to join the Society of Jesus. “My main reason is: there I will be able to do a lot of work for Jesus, for his glory, and to make a complete sacrifice for Him. I also have a desire to go to the missions in India,” he said.
On July 31, St. Ignatius’ feast day, he was accepted into the novitiate at Jordanovac in Zagreb. Shortly thereafter, Fr. Gabric received special permission from the Father General of the Society of Jesus to become a missionary in India.
On Oct. 20, 1938, Fr. Gabric left for India to serve the people in the Sundarbans, a cluster of islands in the Bay of Bengal.
Though at times visibly ill, Fr. Gabric relentlessly navigated the rough terrain to reach those in need of his service and love.
In the face of frequent natural disasters, Fr. Gabric worked tirelessly to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and care for the sick. His prolific letter writing to friends, family and benefactors aided in these endeavors.
Fr. Gabric not only helped provide food and money to the needy, but also introduced vocational training to promote economic empowerment and upward mobility. These income-generating programs included carpentry, embroidery and tailoring, among others. Today, a majority of the tailors in the Sundarbans owe their training to the tailoring school pioneered by Fr. Gabric .
Fr. Gabric died in India on Oct. 20, 1988 — exactly 50 years after he arrived in the country.
His efforts to improve the lives of the Bengali people earned him the name “Apostle of the Sundarbans.” Today, many Catholic homes in the Sundarbans display pictures of Fr. Gabric at the altar. [Sources: Crux, Crown]