Fr. H. Santapau was born at La Galera, Tarragona, Spain on December 05, 1903. He joined the Society of Jesus at Gandia, Valencia, at the age of 16. He left for India in 1928, to serve out the period of his regency and to complete his theological studies. He abtained B. Sc. Hons. and Ph.D. degrees in Botany from the London University. He also acquired Associateship Diploma of the Royal College of Science and the Diploma of the Imperial College. After spending two years at Herbarium of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England, he joined as the teaching staff of St. Xaviers College in 1940. He was recongnised as a postgraduate teacher in Botany at the universities of Bombay, Poona, Agra and Calcutta. Among 216 scientific publications of Fr. Santapau, The Flora of Khandala in the Western Ghats of India,(1953), The Flora of Purandhar, (1958), The Flora of Saurashtra, part I, (1962), The Acacthaceae of Bombay, (1952), The Asclepiadaceae and Periplocaceae of Bombay (1962), The Orchids of Bombay (1966) are well known.
Fr. Santapau was associated with the National Institute of Sciences of India, the Linnean Society, London, the Indian Botanical Society, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, The Botanical Society of Bengal, Bombay Natural History Society, Indian Science Congress Association, Phytopathological Society of India, International Society of Pythomorphology, International Association for Plant Taxonomy, International Association of Botanical Gardens, the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of Bengal, etc. Fr. Santapau served on some of the committees appointed by the CSIR, ICMR and the Indian Council of Ayurvedic Research.
In 1954, the Government of India nominated Fr. Santapau as chief Botanist for one year for the revival of the Botanical Survey of India. He served as Director, BSI from 1961-67. He was asked by the Government of India to head the Indian contingent to the tenth International Botanical Congress, Edinburgh, in 1964. He was also an official delegate at the International Standards Organisation meeting in New Delhi in 1964.
For his signal services to the country in education and research Fr. Santapau received Padma Shri Award from the Government of India and the Order of Alphonsus X, the Wise Award from the Spanish Government. The First Birbal Sahani Medal was bestowed on him by the Indian Botanical Society in 1964 .
Fr. Santapau’s research has unearthed a valuable treasury of scientific lore and placed it before Indian students. He has not only helped to initiate, popularize and maintain the discipline of taxonomy in India but also endeared himself to research students by latinising the names of hundreds of new specimens.
In a well deserved tribute to the memory of the late Rev. Fr. Hermenegild Santapau, S.J., who died on January 13, 1970, the Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, wrote on January 22 : “ In Rev .Fr. Santapau’s death we have lost an eminent scholar who has served education and science for over 40 years. His deep love for India urged him to become a citizen of the country. He had a great knowledge of, and concern for, our plant wealth and wrote intensively on it for experts and laymen. May his memory long continue to inspire all those interested in our flora.”