It was in March 1978 that I first met Fr. Francis Gonsalves, who had just finished his Philosophy and was getting ready to enter the Novitiate at Frangipet, Mangalore. He along with Fr. Prakash Tuscano came to our house to meet me in connection with vocation promotion. They came to see me on the advice of Late Fr. Oscar Colaco whom I had met one month before and spoken to him about my desire and intention to join the Capuchin Order. They both spoke to my parents as well as my elder brother. They convinced all of them by sharing their own experience in the Capuchin Order. I had already decided to enter the Order and soon after my school results I joined the Order in June.
Fr. Francis was then about 26 years old, looking good, tall and lanky. He with his special mannerism and way of talk won the hearts of my family. Instantly he got connected with my family. From then on he made a point to visit my family twice in a year. He made impression on me by his simple and poor life style. He was full of enthusiasm and very much convinced of his capuchin call. He would go everywhere as a brother in our Capuchin habit. In Mumbai and Vasai diocese he would go round for the vocations and speak in the Parishes and schools.
I was lucky to have him as my mentor and guide right from beginning of my formation. He encouraged me through Letters and occasionally through a phone call. When I made my simple profession at Mont Mariano, Mangalore Fr. Francis made his perpetual profession the next day in Month of June,1983. We were together for few days in the Novitiate, which helped and encouraged me a lot. In Mangalore he was very popular with sisters and some lay people. In the community he was a man most wanted for work and other activities.
We were again together in Bangalore. He continued his Theological studies at DSA and I began my Philosophical studies. He was more interested in pastoral and social work than in studies. On Sundays and holidays he would go out to the parishes. He made a lot of friends in Bangalore too. He completed Theology and got Ordained in Umralla Vasai, Mumbai. I could not be present but he came to Bangalore to offer his first Mass. I still remember that he brought a lot of sweets from my home. He even took us out for a dinner to the town.
Right after his Ordination Fr. Francis was involved in pastoral work and vocation promotion. In Vasai and Mumbai Diocese through his preaching both in Marathi and English captured the attention of many. He was invited by many parish priests to preach on Sundays and for Novenas. He was responsible for making known the Capuchins in a matter of three to four years in Vasai, then part of Mumbai diocese.
The Provincial Minister of erstwhile KGM deputed Fr. Francis for B.Ed studies in order to work in Fatima High School, Ghatkopar where he spent about 20 years. He was very popular figure in the school. The students, teaching and non-teaching staff adored and loved him. He was a friar for poor. Any one would ask him for some financial help Fr, Francis was ever ready to contribute something. He has helped many poor ex-students to settle down in life. He even has found jobs for poor people through his wider contacts with rich parents of the school.
Fr. Francis was a man who was available any time. After the school hours he would go for celebrating Masses or preaching anywhere in Mumbai. He was a priest who was sought after by many priests. He was a good preacher and would prepare his sermons very well. He had collected all his sermons and would share with other priests. He would always write his sermons and even read them at the pulpit. He was a fearless preacher and would not spare any injustice done to anyone. Many times the so called good people would not appreciate his homilies as he would touch their conscience through fiery sermons. He would be the first one when some was sick either in the parish or school. He was very well connected with most of our friars’ families.
He was able administrator and organizer. Any programs, which he organized, were well appreciated. By nature he was very quick and fast speed man. His style of speaking and doing thing was fast. He was very particular about punctuality and starting the programs on time. As a principal and manager of Fatima High school he earned name and fame. He was responsible in organizing National basketball competition in our Fatima School. Due to his efficiency and quick results Francis was even sought by the education department. He was friendly with Police, politicians, rich as well as poor people. He had the magic of making new friends too. He would not spend much time but would make a point to say a hello, shake hands or smile at them. They were many people who would come touch his feet and seek his blessings for every occasion.
As a Principal of the school he knew all the students by their names. He would make a point to visit their homes and talk to their parents. He was acceptable to all the people irrespective of caste and religion. He would be present for all religious and social functions with the Capuchin habit. For the marriages of the ex-students he would be present with the Capuchin habit, which would attract the attention of all non-Christian guests at wedding. He would be the first one to visit the sick and ailing students and their parents in the hospital.
The erstwhile KGM province was heading towards a division and before the division Fr. Francis was elected as the provincial councilor and had a lot of autonomy and freedom to develop Maharashtra region. He concentrated in and around Mumbai and slowly began to spread out in other parts of Maharashtra. When KGM was divided into two vice provinces and a province, Fr. Francis was nominated the first vice provincial of Maharashtra. The growth of the vice province began on a right note with many young friars and good number of vocations. As the number began rising the vice province under his able leadership began to grow spiritually and numerically. He was then elected as the vice provincial for the second term and during this term he concentrated on vocation and expansion.
I had a special relationship and rapport with him. He was a regular visitor to my family. He would not leave my home without having either lunch or dinner. My brothers would make him feel at home. My sisters-in-law loved him as their brother and would wait for his visit.
Since last year he was not keeping that good health. He received a minor paralytic attack and got recovered fast. He was neglecting his health and he was fraternally guided and admonished to take care. Yesterday early morning he began to feel breathless and was immediately admitted to Mr. Raney’s hospital. He shared a very personal and loving relationship with Dr. Raney’s family. He breathed his last this evening in Kohinoor Hospital where he was later shifted to.
A great friar with a great heart and soul! He never ever denied any help to anyone. Ever ready to extend his hand. He would not even mind his own health but always went out of the way to help others. May the good Lord grant him eternal rest!