Little is publicly known about local religious leader

Perhaps fittingly for the leader of a religious group, much that is known about Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy has to be taken on faith.

The Town of Wescott has been the home of The Disciples of the Lord Jesus for 30 years but a growing number of property purchases in the last four years has made the group’s leader a prominent figure in a community that knows nearly nothing about him.

There is little to be found in the public record, and those who have done business with him and even members of the group who have followed his word for more than 20 years say they know only what he has told them.

According to court documents that were part of his legal name change to Rama Chandra Samanta Roy in 1990, he was born Rama Chandra Behera on April 1, 1940 in the village of Kishoreprasad, District of Puri, State of Orissa, India.

In the petition for a name change filed in Shawano County Circuit Court, Samanta Roy described himself as “a minister and pastor in a religious group known as The Disciples of the Lord Jesus.”

He stated in the petition that his forebear’s surname in India was historically Samanta Roy but had more recently been Behera. He also stated that his father and three of his brothers had recently legally changed their names to Samanta Roy.

Samanta Roy’s wife, Julaine, their son, Robie Isaac, and their daughter, Deborah Rebekah, also legally changed their names to Samanta Roy.

Shortly after the name change, Samanta Roy also began using the title of “Doctor.” The Leader has not been able to confirm any doctorate degree.

According to a publication of the Evangelical International Students published in 1968, Samanta Roy was born into a strict Hindu family and had hoped to become a sadhu, one of India’s holy men.

Samanta Roy came to the United States sometime in the 1960s and has told followers that he studied nuclear engineering at Columbia University.

He told former Shawano mayor Russ Schmidt – during a 2001 meeting to discuss Samanta Roy’s property purchases – that he was one of 10 students from India invited by the U.S. to continue his studies here.

In 1995, when feedback was being solicited on the reconstruction of Highway H – a project that ultimately cut across Samanta Roy’s property on Frailing Road – written comments to engineers Ayres Associates stated that Samanta Roy had been invited here by the U.S Atomic Energy Commission to continue his studies as a nuclear physicist. The comments were signed Dawn Lash of Shawano.

While attending Columbia University in 1966, Samanta Roy had a religious conversion, according to an account given by Samanta Roy himself in a 1976 interview with the Minneapolis Tribune.

According to that account, Samanta Roy had just made up his mind that Christianity was a false religion and that missionaries were doing evil in his homeland, when Jesus appeared to him.

“One night, while I was praying, I saw a gold-colored light,” Samanta Roy is quoted as saying. “I heard a voice saying, “Rama, why are you fighting against me? It is too hard for you. Follow me and I will be with you all the days of your life. I am Jesus Christ.”

Shortly after his conversion, Samanta Roy went to Jamaica. There he met the woman he was to marry, the former Julaine Smith, of St. Charles, Minn.

“She was working on a mission magazine. She was artistic director, or something like that,” said Julaine’s sister, Genene Gordish of Red Wing, Minn., who said the name of the magazine was “Caribbean Challenge.”

Like Julaine’s family, Samanta Roy had strong religious beliefs, Gordish said, and they were happy to welcome him into the family.

Gordish said she has not seen her sister in about 20 years but Julaine does keep in touch through letters. Some of those letters described the attention that has been focused on the group.

“I know they feel somewhat persecuted,” Gordish said.

After they were married, Samanta Roy and his wife moved to India to preach the Gospel. Court records show that their son, Robie, was born in 1968, and their daughter, Deborah, in 1970, both in Calcutta.

He returned to the U.S. around 1973 and spoke to a number of Bible groups in Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to former followers.

Then, “the Lord led him to pick out this house near Shawano,” according to Gaeland Priebe, a former follower now serving a 12-year prison sentence for sexual intercourse with a minor – a charge that was filed after he left the group. The house had been built as a retirement home for a contractor and his wife, according to Priebe.

Priebe recounted his life in the group in a 2001 video interview that can be found on the web […]

Priebe said that Samanta Roy held Bible meetings in the Rochester area, and visited an Evangelical/Pentecostal group of which Priebe was a part. He said that someone in the group put Samanta Roy in touch with a man from Mankato, Minn., and Samanta Roy began holding meetings there.

Samanta Roy formed his own religious group, known as The Disciples of the Lord Jesus, and began meeting in Shawano. In addition to Mankato and Rochester, his followers are also said to come from Green Bay, Illinois and Michigan.

Rumors that have circulated around the community alleging that he was “kicked out” of Mankato, Minn. do not appear to be true, according to law enforcement officials there, though many of his followers are from Mankato.

Capt. Will Purvis of the Blue Earth Sheriff’s Office in Mankato, who has been with the department for more than 20 years, said he couldn’t recall any dealings with the group.

“If they were here, they kept a low profile,” he said.

Many longtime Shawano residents remember that Samanta Roy once had a radio program. The recordings were taped at his home during meetings of the group, according to former followers, and the tapes were delivered to the local radio station – dropped off by members of the group.

He has seldom been seen publicly in Shawano or the Town of Wescott. His last known public appearance was in 1999 at a Town of Wescott planning and zoning committee meeting. While the property at W7721 Frailing Road is called Samanta Roy’s home he is believed to actually live somewhere on the East Coast. Former followers have said Boston, though a search of properties there turned up nothing in his name.

In 1995, when Samanta Roy was named as a co-defendant in a civil case brought by Retail Lumber of Shawano, a collection agency was hired to locate Samanta Roy and serve him with a summons.

The agency, Cross County Services, Inc., filed a certificate stating that Samanta Roy could not be found. The certificate, signed by Chester Dahl, stated that Samanta Roy did not appear to be a resident of the county and was believed to be residing “out of the country at this time.”

Samanta Roy’s children, both graduates of Shawano High School, have gone on to professional careers.

Deborah Rebekah Samanta Roy went to Boston University and now works in the field of neuroscience. She has published a number of articles that can be found on the Internet.

Robie Isaac Samanta Roy attended MIT and is now an analyst working in the National Security Division of the Congressional Budget Office. He was contacted for an interview for this story but said he does not interact with the media.

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The Shawano Leader, USA
Oct. 10, 2004
Tim Ryan

Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday October 10, 2004.
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