A New Chapter
Bishop Raphael Cheenath, SVD succeeded Bishop Westermann on May 18,1974. Though a strange land for him, he accepted the place and people with a moto ‘to become all things to all men’. He put his heart and soul to further develop this missionary diocese. When he took over, diocese of Sambalpur was the third largest diocese in the North, in Catholic population. He specifically concentrated on educational institutions, especially in acquiring Grant-in-Aid for the minority schools situated in the rural areas of the diocese. His tireless effort resulted in success.
From the beginning of his episcopate, bishop Cheenath was convinced that the leadership of the diocese has to be handed over to the local hands and so he took steps to get the diocese bifurcated so that the already well established area in the district of Sundargarh could be made into a new diocese, which would be lead by the people of the place. At the end of 1979, Sambalpur diocese was divided and the new diocese of Rourkela was formed with Rt. Rev. Alphonse Bilung, SVD as its first bishop.
New Wine in Old Wineskins
On July 16, 1979 the announcement of the creation of the new diocese of Rourkela was made. The new diocese consisted of the district of Sundargarh. On November 18, 1979 Bishop Cheenath moved out of Rourkela and began to stay in the presbytery of Sambalpur parish. This was a new beginning for bishop Cheenath and Sambapur diocese. Rourkela was the old diocese with a new name and Sambapur was the new diocese with the old name. The districts of Sambalpur, Bolangir and Dhenkanal were not much developed. Bishop Cheenath had the challenge of developing a new area, which was not given much attention earlier, as the attention of his predecessors was concentrated on the district of Sundargarh.
Sambalpur was now a new missionary diocese with an area of 37,299 Sq. Kms, with 18,357 Catholics in 11 parishes. There were 25 priests (3 diocesan) and 52 sisters in the diocese. The missionary task was enormous. New parishes, schools and institutions had to be started in the interior places of the diocese. More religious congregations were invited to work in the diocese. A new Mission “Ho Mission” started. Institutions like Regional pastoral centre, Regional Communication centre started.
On July 25, 1985 Bishop Cheenath was appointed the Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. On August 11, he arrived at Bhubaneswar and took charge of the Archdiocese. After his leaving the diocese was without a bishop for a year and half. Fr. Scaria Ponneduthankuzhy was taking care of the diocese as administrator. On December 6, 1986 Msgr. Lucas Kerketta, SVD was nominated the Bishop of Sambalpur.