Most Rev. Thomas Bhalerao, SJ, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Nashik passed away on Friday 13 February 2015, at 2.30 p.m. at St. Luke’s Hospital, Sreerampur. He was 82. The funeral was held on Saturday 14 February 2015, at 4.00 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church, Sangamner, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra.
Bishop Thomas Bhalerao was born on 1st February, 1933 at Sangamner in the District of Ahmednagar in the State of Maharashtra. He entered the order of Society of Jesus at a very early age and made his profession on 26th June, 1953 and later was ordained Priest of the Society of Jesus on 27th March, 1965. He held several responsible posts in the Poona-Goa province of the Order of Society of Jesus and served the Diocese of Poona in several capacities.
When the Diocese of Poona was bifurcated and the new Diocese of Nashik was erected in 1987, Pope John Paul II appointed from Most Rev. Thomas Bhalerao, SJ, as its first Bishop on 9th June,1987. He resigned from the office of Bishop of Nashik on 31st March, 2007, after serving the Diocese for almost 20years as its first Bishop.
Bishop Thomas Bhalerao had many challenges before him as the first Bishop of a new Diocese, carved out of the Diocese of Poona, mainly consisting of the civil districts of Ahmednagar, Dhule, Jalgaon, Nandurbar and Nashik of the State of Maharashtra. The vast area of the new diocese was underdeveloped and inhabited by relatively poor people. The majority of the Catholic population of Nashik comprises of landless labourers, marginal farmers, factory workers and a few in Government services. Bishop Thomas Bhaslerao was a zealous pastor and his main concern was to attend to the pastoral needs of his people. Under the pastoral guidance of Bishop Thomas Bhalerao, the diocese of Nashik became one of the most flourishing mission dioceses in the Western Region, with about 71,000 Catholics. It was during the time of Bishop Thomas that several new Parishes were erected and scores of Mission Stations established. Bishop Thomas also laid sound foundation for the development in the educational and health care sectors.
Besides being an ardent pastor and a tireless missionary, Bishop Thomas Bhalerao had shown keen interest in fostering vocations from the indigenous people. The steady increase in the number of vocations to priesthood and religious life from among the local people testifies to this great service of Bishop Thomas Bhalerao. He also concentrated on the upliftment of the poor and improvement of the living conditions of his people. With the strong support of the Order of Society of Jesus, Bishop Thomas Bhalerao could procure substantial Institutions, Social Service Centers, Rehabilitation and training Centers, Hospitals and health Care Centres. The Diocese of Nashik owes much to its first shepherd for what it is today. Bishop Thomas aimed at the spiritual wellbeing and social welfare of those entrusted to his pastoral care, will be remembered with gratitude and love by the people of the Diocese of Nashik, and by the Church in India, in the years to come. As we recall the priceless service of Bishop Thomas Bhalerao to the Church in India, we pray that the Good Lord, whom he has served so faithfully, receive him in His glory.