The diocese is in the central western part of Orissa state in eastern India. It has an area of 9, 675 square kilometers. The diocese has eight civil districts - Sambalpur, Anugul, Bargarh, Balangir, Debagarh, Dhenkanal, Jharsuguda and Sonapur. It is a mountainous and plateau region. The famous Mahanadi River flows through this area, making many parts of the land fertile. One of the biggest dams in Asia, Hirakund, is situated here. Important cities are: Sambalpur, Anugul, Bargarh, Balangir, Debagarh, Dhenkanal, Jharsuguda and Sonapur.
Sambalpur diocese has a total population of 7,139,384. The various tribes have a rich cultural heritage.
People have an agro-based economy. Their main occupation is agriculture. Mostly they cultivate paddy. Due to the vast rich minerals, and forest resources, there is vast opportunity for industries. The area has industrial centers like NALCO, NTPC, Super Thermal, Coal mines, Steel Factories etc. Many tribal Catholics get employed here. Industrialization also has created its problems. Most of Orissa's power is generated by the hydroelectric plants here. Hand-woven Sambalpuri saris are famous.
Sambalpur University is situated here. A famous medical college of the region is situated here at Burla, near Sambalpur.
The languages spoken are: Oriya, Sadri, Khadia, Mundari, Oran, Hindi and English.
Sambalpuri dances are a big attraction.
Varieties of wild animals are found here.
History The area of Sambalpur diocese was formerly called Gangpur Mission. It was started in a mission village, Gangpur, by the Belgian Jesuit missioners in 1908 from the neighbouring Ranchi Diocese.
The Divine Word Missioners took it over in 1948.
Sambalpur Diocese was erected on June 14, 1951, by taking over parts of the Archdioceses of Calcutta, Nagpur and Ranchi. It had an area of 46,964 square kilometers.
Divine Word Bishop Herman Westermann was ordained its first bishop on July 29, 1951. Bishop Westermann started his task of building up the diocese with five parishes, 65,000 Catholics, 20 SVD priests and 23 sisters.
The Catholics then consisted mainly of four tribal groups of Chhotanagpur - Khadias, Kisans, Mundas, and Oraons.
Developing the Christian community was the bishop's primary task. He built parishes, churches, schools, hostels, dispensaries etc. He trained and developed a group of catechists who were the real frontier missionaries.
He nourished and developed the women Religious Congregation of the Handmaids of Mary, founded by Jesuit Father Edmund Harrison in 1944.
By the time Bishop Westermann retired in 1974, the Catholic community had grown to 133,000 and was spread over in 30 parishes and 312 mission stations.
Bifurcating from Sambalpur Diocese the civil district of Sundargarh, Rourkela Diocese was formed on July 16, 1979.
Divine Word Bishop Raphael Cheenath of Sambalpur, who was residing in Rourkela, shifted his residence to Sambalpur after the bifurcation.
After the transfer of Bishop Raphael Cheenath to Cuttack - Bhubaneswar Archdiocese in 1985, Divine Word Bishop Lucas Kerketta was ordained its bishop in 1987.
Now there are three different categories of Catholics with their own identity, culture and problems.
In the Western part there are Gada Dalits (former untouchables) who are socially, economically and educationally backward. To work with them is a massive task.
The middle part consists of Chhotanagpur tribes. Most of them have migrated from Sundargarh district and neighbouring Jharkhand state. Though they are economically poor, they are generous and strong in faith.
The third category is 'Ho' tribe. They are still primitive in their life style. The church has first time entered into their villages and homes. Now with the help of the missionaries, education and faith formation have brought some changes.
Besides evangelization, the missioners are involved in faith-formation, socio-economic welfare and education of all, especially the Catholics.
Since last decade, the diocese has spelt out its vision "as to make the diocese a communion of communities by building up Small Christian (SCC) and Human Communities (SHC), based on Gospel values and to involve all sections of the people of God in planning, decision making and execution of all the projects and apostolate in the diocese in order to make the diocese a self supporting, self-reliant and self propagating community."
The diocse is a Suffragan of Cuttack - Bhubaneswar Archdiocese. Its patron is St. Joseph the worker.