Father Boniface Mendes
1934 - 1998

The Wishing Wells Society was a continuation of one humble man’s work. That man is Father Boniface Mendes. In 1973, Father Bonnie came to Canada from India to study at the Coady International Institute, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. He met and stayed with the van den Heuvel family for a time. Those who met him during his stay remember him as a warm and loving man who fast became a trusted and enduring friend.
His own family says of him, “He had charming ways which endeared him to the youth of our family," adding that even at cost to his health, this generous man reached out to all with genuine love.

Living a poor and austere life, Fr. Bonnie’s dedication to Christ and to his church set an example for the priesthood. “Throughout his life”, wrote Bishop Sylvester Monteiro, “he was always clear-intentioned. He wanted to be God’s priest, hence there was always joy in his daily living and working. He did every action with thoroughness; agonizing over the issues if they were not coming in the manner of his desire, and this attitude took a great toll on his heart. The beauty is that he never complained about his ailments.”

Ordained in 1960, Fr. Bonnie was charged with priestly duties in the mission center in Mansar, which had a 25-acre farm laying fallow. He worked with the families of the region to cultivate the land in hopes that the mission could be self-supporting. Profitable crop cultivation needs perennial water, so Fr. Bonnie worked with the laborers to dig the well. Meals of hot chilies and chapatis shared with the workers led to the severe stomach pain that would plague him for the rest of his life.

Once Mansar became independent with orange trees and crops in the fields, Fr. Bonnie, in 1970, took on a new assignment as director of social services of the archdiocese of Nagpur. He worked hard to make rules and regulations; promote the home for the aged; establish care and education programs for orphan boys and girls;  provide food for work programs in different villages; promote agricultural development and to oversee digging wells and construction of roads. Accounts of selfless acts of charity and absolute kindness that he showed everyday testify to his direct impact upon the lives of people he met.

From 1974 to 1982, Bonnie was director of social work in a technical school for orphans, working for the adoption of orphan children by western families. He was also director of St. Martin’s farm in Jeripatka, Nagpur, and manager of Pushpa Press, wearing all these hats with confidence and success, in a spirit of obedience and love for his archdiocese.

In 1982, he was appointed missionary in charge of a very difficult but important mission parish of Bottibori, Thana.  The 200-acre farm, meant to support the orphanage of 40 boys, became self-reliant through cultivation of cash crops such as cotton and ground nuts, as well as other crops for orphanage consumption.

However, the most difficult problem he had to tackle at Bottibori was pervasive alcoholism in the village. As one story goes, he gave the father of one family his own money to open a grocery shop, providing him a livelihood and freeing him from dependence on income derived from the illegal sale of alcohol. Fr. Bonnie’s brother, Fr. Joseph Mendes, called him a “hardcore optimist.”

He was making headway with the mission’s problems when he suffered his first heart attack, in October 1983. He was required to take six months’ rest and given a less-taxing assignment. After this, he was constantly being told that he must slow down, but he always replied, “No, I want to die with my boots on.”  In 1984 he took charge of the parish of St. Francis of Assisi, dedicating himself to eradicate alcoholism in the families there.

In 1991, he was given what was to be his final assignment - novice master of the brothers of St. Joseph. It is said that he gave the brothers a much-needed sense of belonging. While holding this charge he moved about, helping priests of neighboring villages. For travel, he used an old motorized scooter that needed a very forceful kick to start it in spite of constant repairs.  His brother, Fr. Joe. sent him mass offerings to pay for a better scooter and so that he might eat better. He refused to buy a new vehicle, instead using the money for all kinds of charity, including giving a sum to the wife of an orphan to redeem the family from the clutches of a threatening moneylender. The original loan was five thousand rupees had escalated to thirty thousand, and the moneylender had been demanding the man’s wife as payment for the loan.

Two days before he died, his scooter took twenty minutes to kick-start, and Bonnie arrived at the convent parlor sweating profusely. He was rushed to the hospital, where it was determined that he had suffered a second massive heart attack. He died on November 19, 1998 with his good friend Bishop Monteiro by his side.

The woman he saved from the money lender stayed with his body until the funeral, never moving. Testament to how many people this man had touched throughout his life, a thousand people came to his funeral in an outpouring of grief. Three bishops and more than two hundred priests and nuns of the diocese packed the cathedral alongside family and friends, Catholic, Muslims and Hindus alike.

Bishop Monteiro tells Wishing Wells Society that Fr. Bonnie’s favorite invocation was “Thy will be done.” Says Monteiro, “I still count on his intercession and I even today declare that it is Fr. Bonnie that has arranged this graciousness of your Wishing Well concerts for the well-being of my diocese.”

Father Boniface Mendes is the reason that we knew of the crushing need for wells in poor Indian villages. He is the inspiration for all of us to extend our community across oceans.