Gispert Sauch: Spanish missionary with encyclopedic knowledge of Hinduism

Noted Jesuit theologian and Indologist Jesuit Father George Gispert-Sauch is no more. After leaving Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi, five years ago, he has been living at Vinayalaya, a Jesuit residence in Mumbai, western India.

Aug 01, 2020

By Fr Stanislaus Alla SJ
Noted Jesuit theologian and Indologist Jesuit Father George Gispert-Sauch is no more. After leaving Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi, five years ago, he has been living at Vinayalaya, a Jesuit residence in Mumbai, western India.

Fondly called as Father Gispert, he taught at Vidyajyoti since 1971 and was closely associated with it from its inception and growth. Intellectually sharp and brilliant, he lived a very simple and humble life. Generations of scholars and students who met and dialogued with Father Gispert will remember him for his encyclopedic knowledge of Christianity and Hinduism.

He may have read several thousands of books and articles and, when you ask his help to find a book in the library, he will accompany you and point it out right there in the shelf.

Father Gispert was born in Spain in 1930 and since 1949 he made India his home. With a burning desire to be a missionary he began learning Gujarati and Marathi but his ‘stars’ guided him to unexplored areas. Initially he was destined to be part of a team, along with Parmananda Divarkar, to start an institute of Indian culture in Bombay.

With this intent, along with the usual priestly formation, he studied Sanskrit and obtained a BA, and eventually MA in that subject and Indian Culture. He studied theology at St Mary’s College, Kurseong, West Bengal, and was ordained a priest in 1962.

Destined now to teach theology at the alma mater (a letter from Rome fixed it), he began to specialize in Indology and went on to Pune and then to Catholic Institute, Paris from where he obtained a doctorate. Since 1967 he has been teaching theology, first at Kurseong and later in Delhi, living close to the shores of river Yamuna.

In his own words, Father Gispert was a ‘rather mediocre and poor teacher.’ He taught various subjects at Vidyajyoti –from Sacraments and to dogmas to fundamentals to Latin and Greek– but he came fully alive in conversations and theological discussions and debates. He has been a consulter to numerous students and theologians and bishops.

At Vidyajyoti, besides being a Registrar from 1972-1982, he was secretary of Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection (VJTR) from 1984 until his leaving Delhi. Across the world VJTR readers appreciated his book reviews and looked forward for his articles and comments.

His works: Bliss in the Upanshads: An Analytical Study of the Origin and Growth of the Vedic Concept of Ananda was Father Gispert’s doctoral thesis. Later he edited several books: The Writings of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay -with Julius Lipner; Liberation in Asia: Theological Perspectives –with Soosai Arokasamy; Theologizing in India: Selection of Papers Presented at the Seminar… –with Michael Amaladoss and T K John; God’s Word Among Men: Papers in Honor of Joseph Putz; and, Christianity in India: Two Thousand Years of Faith -with Leonardo Fernando.

These and other works attest to his commitment. When Gispert was 75, Vidyajyoti published a Festschrift, edited by Jesuit Father Sebastian Painadath and Leonard Fernando. Its title is revealing: Co-worker for your Joy. He has been unassuming co-worker to many, stimulating students and empowering the poor, serving God’s people in his own inimitable ways.

In 1980s Father Gispert gave the prestigious Teape Lectures at the Divinity School of Cambridge. Besides at Vidyajyoti, he taught at St Peter’s Pontifical Institute, Bangalore, Punjab University, Patiala, and a host of other centers.

As a resource person, Father Gispert served the local Church in Delhi and India, especially the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI). He was instrumental in drafting Guidelines for Dialogue and Guidelines for Ecumenism of the CBCI.

Father Gispert was a deeply spiritual person. Up and before all others in the Vidyajyoti chapel in the mornings, he was sought after for spiritual direction, and made himself available to offer Masses or hear confessions. For decades he has been a regular confessor to those at the nunciature in Delhi.

In 1996 Father Gispert’s Golden Jubilee (50 years in the Society of Jesus) was celebrated at Vidyajyoti and Archbishop Alan Basil de Lastic celebrated the thanksgiving Eucharist.

In an interview given then to me, explaining the shifts and changes, he said:

“There has been a big change in the last 25 years. One strong trend is obviously Dalit theology, Tribal theology, Feminist Theology. The earlier concern of Indian theology was focused on Vedanta, perceived as the most representative thing of India. Now the most representative reality in India, are the Dalits and the tribals. Indian theology studies them….Putting the poor at the center of our reflection is a right option in a good direction. However, we just cannot neglect or forget an enormous amount of wisdom which has come out from centuries of thought, discussions and reflections. A harmonious blend between the little tradition and the great tradition may b more helpful for Indian theology.”

Father Gispert could hold a very broad spectrum of views and thoughts, and encouraged his students to do the same. Baptized at the waters Jordon and having lived on the plains and mountains and on the banks of rivers, mostly along the Yamuna, he lived a truly committed life. After all he is from Spain, and his Ignatian spirituality, nourished and guided him through thick and thin as he crossed various paths in the journey of life.

Academically he searched for ‘Bliss in the Upanishads’ and now, may the Lord of Life welcome him into eternal life offering him true ‘Ananda.’ Glad that today is dashami, tenth day of the month of Sravan, and, our faith says that every day and every moment is auspicious to enter into new and abundant life!––
Matters India

(Jesuit Father Stanislaus Alla is a professor of theology at Vidyajyoti Institute of Theologate and lives at 23, Raj Niwas Marg, Delhi, 110054. He can be contacted at stanallasj@gmail.com)

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Joe Palathunkaljosephpalathunkal00@gmail.com
Quiet and calm Father Gispert came across to me always as someone in deep thinking and yet whenever I approached him for anything he readily gave his time for me. A great memory to cherish as he leaves us leaving a wealth of thoughts.