Published: 01st May 2017
Julius Santi, The Italian Monk who revolutionised South India's print industry by setting up SIGA, is no more
Thousands of people in the print industry who have studied at SIGA, Chennai, remember the Italian who settled in Chennai and ran the institute for almost six decades
As a young boy in the 1930's, little Julius Santi was playing with his friends in a small Italian town near Venice, when he heard the Church choir and was immediately drawn to the people inside. They were the ones who introduced him to the world of missionary work — a world that would eventually end up impacting the lives of tens of thousands of printing professionals, graphic design experts and others across India.
Even thought it was this missionary work that brought him to India at the young age of 25, it was in the world of printing, especially across South India, that he has left his lasting imprint.
Brother Julius Santi passed away on Sunday at the age of 85 in Chennai.
Print genius: The Italian missionary at work
The Italian Connection
When Santi came to India in 1957, there were few things that he was clear about — he wanted to help the poor but not just by providing them with comforts, but by giving them technical education so that they could make something of their lives. After taking a keen interest in printing, Santi set up the now well-known SIGA (Salesian Institute of Graphic Arts), in Madras in a small building in Basin Bridge, one of the poorest regions of the old city. Initially, the institute would provide diplomas in printing technology.
From Basin Bridge to the Major Leagues
It then moved to Chetpet, where it has continued to function for more than half a century. Santi bought some of the first printing machines to Chennai and continued to, over the years, bring some of the very best printing machines in the world to Chennai. But funding of course, never came easy, Santi's own family back in Italy continued to sponsor many of these purchases. Besides this, Santi made visits to Italy to raise funds for the institute. Most of the people who studied with him call him 'Father Shanti', a name that has since stuck.
SIGA provided courses to the poorest of poor children, who went on to become prominent names in the printing world and continue to serve in some of the biggest publications and leading print houses around the world. "He would ensure the students got the best training, constantly guiding them and assisting them. He has contributed immensely to the field of printing and will go down in history as an absolute genius in the print world," said Father Harris Pakkam, a close friend and colleague, as well as being the current head of the institute.
Work ready: Santi with one of his students
Where printing legends cut their teeth
If there is one word that can describe him it is 'selfless', says L Cyril Sagayaraj, who passed out from the institute in 1979, "I was there for four years and spent every minute of the day with him because he would constantly be helping us with something or the other. Even when it came to funds, he would constantly be working on it. He loved everybody equally and was selfless in whatever he did for us," relates Sagayaraj, who runs a successful printing business.
To this day, SIGA continues to receive donations and help from its former students from across the world, primarily because these students continue to hold Brother Santi close to their hearts and feel a sense of gratitude to him.
Beloved teacher: Julius Santi taking a class
The last chapter
Though he had taken a back seat from the institute during the last few years of his life, Santi's mind and soul were constantly obsessing over what was happening at SIGA — leading up to the time that they recently procured new high-end printing machines from Italy and refurbished them.
The last page in the life of Santi might have reached its end but words of praise and gratitude will continue to be written, or rather printed, about this great man. Fittingly, he will be laid to rest at SIGA on May 1.