St. Joseph’s College, Nainital
Birth and Early History
Col Amit Saxena

The history of St. Joseph’s College Nainital is closely linked with that of the Dioceses at Allahabad. Originally the name was St. Joseph’s Seminary, (hence the present day popular name ‘SEM’) and its birthplace was Darjeeling. The very Rev. Father Englebert O.M.C. presides over St. Joseph’s Seminary in Darjeeling. In 1887 the ecclesiastical authorities in Rome transferred that district to the Archdiocese of Calcutta. The most Rev. Dr. Pesci O.M.C. was Bishop of Allahabad in those days, and with the sundering of Darjeeling from his diocese the question of a site for a good school of his Catholic flock became pressing. He selected Nainital. Thither towards the end of January 1888 came Father Englebert accompanied by some of his Darjeeling pupils.

To avoid a break in the continuity of their studies while the new premises were being erected, a rented house was taken for the year 1888. That house was long view which was situated a stone’s throw from the college. Meanwhile in March of the same year, the foundation stone of the transferred Seminary was laid on a site purchased from a Mr. Read costing Rs 2000. A Mr. Mathews was the contractor and the work was executed well and quickly for the premises were ready for occupation on March 1st 1889. This building formed the nucleus of the school and for many years accommodated the boarders providing classrooms, dormitories and dining room. It cost Rs 47,000. Soon the whole estate was purchased from Mr. Read.

Father Englebert and his pupils entered the new building on March 1st 1889. His staff consisted of Rev Father Hickey, Head master, three Franciscan tertiary’s and two lay teachers, Sir Auckland Colvin was the Lieutenant Governor of the province then and soon after his arrival in Nainital in May 1889, he formally opened the Seminary, Dr. Pesci, Father Englebert and many friends being present. In 1890 application was made to the Government for formal recognition of the school and Mr. Nesfield, the then Inspector of European Schools, who was well known to students of English Grammar was sent by the Director of Public instruction to examine and report on the work. That he was satisfied was provided by the speed recognition granted.

The Capuchin Fathers, besides attending to the school, had also to minister to the spiritual needs of the Roman Catholics of Nainital. Finding the strain too much, Dr. Pesci entered into negotiations with Brother Fabian, Provincial of the Irish Christian Brothers in Calcutta, with the result that the Seminary passed to its present management on April 22nd 1892 pending this change Father Englebert went to Ranikhet as Military Captain, father Francis Uncini being placed temporarily as the head of the school until the arrival of the Brothers.

On April 2nd 1892 brother Fabian arrived with three Brothers namely Stephen Cuddy who was; appointed Principal, Baptist Maloney and Luke Rice. Brother Stephen was a happy choice. He had long experience in the management of boarding schools in Calcutta, understood boys, was a strict disciplinarian and held a fair balance between justice and kindness. In those days the Christian Brothers were unknown at this outpost of the British Empire and there was a good deal of speculation and head-shaking in their regard. Moreover some of the bigger boys were inclined to resent, what, to their logical minds, looked like an intrusion and shaped their conduct in accordance with their convictions. However work went on.

The Inspector, Mr. Dodd, called later in the year and satisfied himself that the Brother’s methods were sound, thorough and systematic. Brother Stephen held a dramatic, entertainment a week later and the residents of Nainital, still curious came to see it. The analyst of the day said that there was a perceptible melting of skepticism as a result of the training exhibited by the boys in elocution, singing and general tone. The School’s subsequent history shows that the number of boarders doubled and the increase was maintained steadily.

The increasing number of students necessitated further accommodation. Accordingly, in 1897 the Eastern Wing was begun and completed in July 1898. The lower storey serves as a general study hall for preparing class work. The upper storey is the dormitory for the middle section. In this year was also purchased the ‘Stone Cross’ a building adjoining the college. It serves a useful purpose as a college hospital. The building of the kitchen and dining room as well as leveling and walling the main play ground were the work of the years 1901 to 1905. The Eastern Wing i.e., the present day Chemistry laboratory and Chapel were erected in 1909. The towers, which form so prominent a feature of the central block, were erected at the same time.

About 1912, Donaldabad was purchased and the building is now used as Teachers’ residences while the grounds were adapted to play-fields for the small boys. In 1916 the boys’ wash room, box room and Concert Hall were erected and during the twenties, the present day class rooms and the mighty walls that surround the property were built.

The walls which surround ‘SEM’ are that of the fortress buttress type which reflect solidity and inspire confidence. Old Boys have many pleasant memories of St. Jose ph’s and in their reminiscent moods, as they think of the days that have gone, the picture that presents itself more frequently perhaps, than others, is that of the walls.

The Colossal College Buildings stand high on the Eastern hilltop overlooking the lake and is spread over 6o acres of clear land, and has a standard size swimming pool, 6 playing fields, 4 tennis courts and a large modern gymnasium and twin squash courts for the sport lovers.

St Joseph’s College is the only school in India to provide a very well looked after Boat Club on the Eastern fringe of the Naini Lake. The Boat Club houses beautiful racing boats that are seen four days a week streaking across the lake and are one of the major attractions for visitors to Nainital.

Five large Dormitories cater to the Boarder strength of 348 and the College Classrooms accommodate the total strength of 1100. The sprawling buildings house a Church and residential Quarters for Staff and employees. The Physics, Chemistry and the Biology Laboratories are upgraded each year. The College boasts of a 15 bedded Infirmary on the premises where most school emergencies can be met and of course, the Dining Hall and the neatly kept Kitchen provide for the complete Boarder strength at one time.

Their construction served a dual purpose. With the memory of landslides of the nineteenth century of Nainital fresh in their minds, the authorities realized the importance of placing the college on a solid foundation. The building of the walls secured a permanency. Then too, with the rapid growth, and development of the college, the necessity of providing ample space for playing grounds was obvious. By cutting away a part of the hill side and by lowering the levels of existing grounds, sufficient stones were procured, the playing grounds extended, and the now famous walls took shape. No easy job this in the pre-bulldozer era. These walls have a special significance.

In the middle ages the greater the walls, the greater was the city. So likewise behind the walls of ‘SEM’ stands a Great College. But greater and more noteworthy by far is the work that is done behind these walls. The many students that are new a credit to their School and Country all over the world laid a solid foundation for their future life in the shade of these walls. Therein lies the real greatness of the walls of SEM. These trustworthy foundations have been a source of inspiration to both the teachers and the pupils. And thus, thousands of young men have passed from the college portals to the strains of the Colleges “Make sure you play the game”, and with a determination to build their careers on the firm basis of the college motto. “Certa Bonum Certamen”-FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT. The Academic records have always been outstanding and the Elite Alumni have marked their presence in all fields of life across the globe and the strong ‘St Joseph’s College – Old Boys Association’ to look into welfare of SEM.

Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings.

– Hodding Carter