Hon’ble Dr. Major Cajetan Fernandez MD, JP.

By Dr. Kranti K. Farias

Alexander Smith has said, “the great man is the man who does a thing for the first time”.  This is who a ‘pioneer’ is.  In this issue, we will see the vision and foresight of the founder of our Association, who was not what we call a Mangalorean, for he was Goan, hailing from Honawar, North Kanara, but was the founder of the Kanara Catholic Association, Bombay!  This was the Hon’ble Dr. Major Cajetan Fernandez I.M.S. who became the first President of the Association (1901-05).
The Major was born on November 7, 1867 in Goa.  His father Dr. Bartholomeo Fernandez was the most renowned Ayurvedic Physician of his time, living in Honawar, North Kanara, and whose illustrated treatise in Kanarese is still in use.  The Major had his higher education in St. Xavier’s College, Bombay; passed his L.M.& S. from Grant Medical College, Bombay, and proceeded to Europe for higher studies.  He secured his M.D. in 1893 from Brussels with the highest honours.  There he had the privilege of meeting and dining with H. H. Edward VII who was pleased to note that the young man had topped the list of MD’s.
His services to society 
He returned to India and was appointed Head of the Skin Department of J. J. Hospital, and Professor of Dermatology at Grant Medical College.  These posts he held for three and a half decades.  He was without a peer in the world of dermatology.  He was also Consultant Physician to Bombay Governors, eminent citizens which included Maharajahs, Mahatma Gandhi , Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and Pandit Madan Malaviya.  Psychiatry was another of his acquisitions.  Dr. Fernandez secured a commission in the Indian Medical Service during the First World War, and was placed in charge of the Marine Lines War Hospital with the rank of Major.  During the plague, he devoted himself selflessly to medical relief.
He also took a prominent part in the public life of the city and was a member of the Municipal Corporation of Bombay from 1919-1925.  He was the first Catholic member of the Bombay Legislative Council.  He was a Justice of Peace, and an Honorary Presidency Magistrate.  He was elected to the Senate of the University of Bombay, the Bombay Medical Council, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Bombay.  He was a Founder and Trustee of the Catholic Gymkhana and Founder-President of the Kanara Catholic Association.  The Dr. C. Fernandez Co-operative Credit Society in Honawar was started in 1930, after his munificent deposit of Rs. 3,000 free of interest.  His life was dedicated to the service of humanity irrespective of caste and creed.
His work for the Kanara Catholic Association
The Major was soon to realize that the North and South Kanarites who were the later immigrants into Bombay, the Goans being the first among the Catholics to do so, should have support in Bombay especially as these were now pouring in from areas south of Goa.  A need was felt to knit the community together.  This community comprised of those who had migrated to Bombay for jobs and professions like their counterpart the Goans.  Many took up jobs as domestic servants, cooks, waiters, taxi drivers etc.  They became members of one of the “clubs” at a nominal fee of Rupees Two per month and ate in the community kitchen.  They picked up new skills and educated themselves in the ‘night schools’ and soon began to own taxis, laundries, restaurants, garages, and pan beedi shops.  Others who were better educated went on to taking up other superior trades and professions.  They lived mainly in the Byculla area.   Soon money was being remitted to Kanara and a “money order economy” was developing in North and South Kanara.
As the numbers grew and family life seen with marriages taking place, there was a need to bring the Mangaloreans together.  There were about 400 Mangalorean Catholics then in Bombay.  With this need envisioned by him, he founded an association to bring together people from the two Kanaras, who had settled in Bombay, and so the Kanara Catholic Association (K.C.A.) was founded on February 17, 1901 with 50 Members on its rolls.  The Hon’ble Dr. Major Cajetan Fernandez I.M.S. was its first President, while F.L. Silva was its first Secretary.  The aims and objectives of the Association was to foster a spirit of unity, friendship and self-help among the members to provide facilities for their periodical meetings for social and other purposes; the organisation of relief and assistance for the uplift of the community.  In short, it was a socio-economic organisation, with “Vis Unita Fortior” as its motto.  Membership to the Association was made selective, it being open only to the people from the better educated class and the upper strata of the community.
The Hon’ble Dr. Major Cajetan Fernandez’s services were found so invaluable that he was elected President for two successive years after his first term, and then again from 1916 to 1919, and yet again in 1926, thus giving him the Presidential Chair for eight years.  He launched the Association, guided it well for some years and truly anchored the “ship” with his self-giving.
The Majors’ wife Leocadia Annalia da Rocha was of the aristocratic family of Quitula, Aldona, Goa.  They had four daughters and seven sons.  Truly a good Catholic couple.  His son-in-law Dr. A.C. Rebello, a Mangalorean who was also to become well known was the first Dermatologist of the K.E.M. Hospital, from its inception in 1926. 
The Major passed away on July 30, 1943.  Today, we have his grandson Dr. Rui Fernandez following in the family tradition as Chief Dermatologist at K.E.M.Hospital and the Holy Family Hospital.  The illustrious career of Hon’ble Dr. Major Cajetan Fernandez can be summed up in the words of Sir Narayan Chandavarkar, the first Speaker of the Bombay Legislative Council, “The Major is the doyen of Indian Medicine, the Prince of Physicians and a great leader of men”.
1. Personal interviews with Mrs. Helen Saldanha, Robin Saldanha, Drs. Rui & Armida Fernandez – direct family of the Hon’ble Dr. Major Cajetan Fernandez.
2. Robin Saldanha, “Remembering The Fernandez’s”, The Examiner (Bombay), Vol.147, No.48. November 30, 1996. pp. 16,17.
3. The Mangalorean-Golden Jubilee Souvenir 1933-1983. (Published by S.M. D’Souza, Bombay).
4. KCA Diamond Jubilee Souvenir, 1901-1976, Bombay,1976.
5. Minutes of the KCA General Body & Managing Council Meetings.

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Founded in 1901, the Kanara Catholic Association (KCA), Mumbai is the premier community organization of the Mangalorean Catholic community of Mumbai.  With approximately 800 members on its rolls, the KCA has a rich legacy of service to the community & society at large. 

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