Xavier Thelakkatt

http//www.xavierthelakkatt.webs.com

Fr Xavier Thelakkatt    

   MY STORY

 1-Mankuzhy 

It is hard for me to write about myself, may be I lack  a bit of self esteem. I was born on March 9, 1954 into a farming family of four siblings in a village in the central part of Kerala State, India. Today the village is called Mankuzhy and the Holy Family Church, Mankuzhy is the focal point of that village. The Cochin International Airport is only seven kilometers away. The low-lying lands once used for farming rice is no more seen in this village today. They have all been used up for constructing homes. As I was growing up there was hectic activity in those rice fields, ploughing, planting, weeding, harvesting, etc. My family owned about two acres of it and we cultivated rice three times a year. Most of the labor was done by hand and every family member had enough work to do throughout the year.

My schooling began in the St Xavier's Church L P School about two kilometers away. My parents couldnot afford to send me to the kindergarten and therefore I had to begin from the first grade. The church dedicated to St. Francis Xavier on the banks of the River Periyar was the center of most of my activities as a young boy. The priests in the church were young and energetic, involving us children in various events in the church. I cherish the memories of  priests like Fr Joseph Kavalipadan and Antony Payyapilly who were vicars at the time. The religious sisters in the convent there had a lot of influence on me. During these years there was no church in Mankuzhy and we had to walk to the Cheranalloor church whether rain or shine. In the fifth grade I had to transfer to a high school managed by a Hindu community trust, Ganapathy Vilasom High School, Koovappady. I still  have vivid memories of my classmates and teachers in that institution. Morning and evening I walked back and forth to my school situated about 3-4 kilometers away.  I did my Secondary School Leaving Certifcate exam (SSLC) from there in 1970.  

Life was rather hard at home. All of us four boys were in school at one time and we were able to barely make it. But in comparison we were financially better than the rest of those in the neighborhood. My oldest brother had to drop off from school to support Mom and Dad in the household chores. We cultivated rice and some vegetables in our own land and that kept us from starving. In 1961 there was a devastating flood that destroyed all the crops. Then, we had nights when we were forced to go to bed without a proper dinner. 

Automobiles were rarely seen on our roads and we were getting used to the wonder of radios and telephones. I was an avid reader of the daily newspaper and kept abreast of the political news of the time, both national and international. 

Bamboo mat making was a cottage industry in the locality.  It supplemented the income of many poor farming families. Bamboo sticks cut down from the eastern forests were bought in the neighborhood by way of the river.  They were cut to size and slivered into thin weaveable wedges. It was then the task of women and children to weave the wedges into mats measuring six feet by four.  The entire family could participate in it. However the meager income was often insufficient to fully support the family. I tried all my talents to master this trade and was faced with considerable frustration.  

2-Seminarian 

Finishing SSLC is a turning point in the life of a young person. Then, we've got to choose in what direction to go in our further studies. Being close to the active parish church community a good number of us young men chose to join the seminary for formation to priesthood. It was indeed a life changing decision. I was admitted to the Minor Seminary of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam. This Seminary located at Thrikkakara, Cochin was called Sacred Heart Study House. Interstingly none of my classmates from High School ended up in this seminary. Living away from home with a group of young men was indeed different. Fr Joseph Panappilly, the Rector was very helpful in putting the new comers at ease. The other priests on the Staff were Fr. Joseph Vithayathil and Fr Augustine Thenayan. Twentyfive of us joined and the very next day one of them left for home.   That story was to repeat itself until nine of us got ordained priests ten years later.  Three years of Petit Seminary studies involved some Spiritual Theology, Latin and English. Two weeks after our entering the institution the medium of conversatiion in the house was switched to English. With the basic English vocabulary and grammar we learned the art of communicating effectively. It was hard indeed. The last two years at the seminary were set apart for the University studies of Pre-Degree Course (PDC) in the nearby Bharata Matha College. I worked hard there with Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry as my subjects for the PDC exam. In 1973 June I passed the PDC exam with high first class. I also won The John Kunnappilly Memorial Award for the highest marks in English that year.  Fr. C.A. Abraham was the Principal and Fr. Thomas Nettikadan was the Bursar.  It was hard to bid bye to that academic instituion and the minor seminary for my further formation.

It was the prerogative of the Rector to select the students for the different major seminaries. The Archbishop wanted priests formed in all the south Indian seminaries in the Archdiocese. So we had opportunites to go to different instituions. Fascinatingly I was chosen to go to St Peter's Pontifial Seminary, Bangalore. It was an unheard of seminary and the metropolitan city was about 500 kms away. I was excited in every way. The only other seminarian from my archdiiocese there was Jose Chiramel whom I knew well. I made necessary contacts and planned the journey. From my family I was the first one to travel outside Kerala by train. Anxiety mixed with thrill made that train journey memorable.

When Joseph Cardinal Parecattil of Ernakulam was elevated to the status of a cardinal in 1969 the Dharmaram College in Bangalore gave him a reception, since he was also the chancellor of that institution. Fr Rossignol MEP, the Rector of St Peter's Regional Seminary was present at the reception. He invited the Cardinal to St Peters Seminary for an evening and the Cardinal in turn was impressed by the seminary. It is that acquaintence that resulted in seminarians from Ernakulam  being sent there. Unfortuntely I was the last and only seminarian from Ernakulam to complete formation there.

St. Peters Seminary had two sections, Philosophy (Old Building) and Theology (New Building).  Once situated in the outskirts of Bangalore in a sububurb called Malleswaram it was now fully engulfed in the City, when I reached there.  The Vice Rector who lived in the Old Building, Fr. Cajetano Menesis was directly in charge of the Philosophys students.  Soon Fr Rossignol a French man left the seminary as the administration of the institution was being handed over to the local archdioceses of Bangalore and Pondichery. Eventually we had Rectors from the local clergy, like Msgr. Arul Das James of Ootacamund who later became the Archbishop of Chennai and Msgr Michael Agustine of Pondichery who rose to the status of the Archbishop there.

Having grown up in a typical village, life in the big city became intriuging and interesting.  In fascination I walked through the breadth and length of the city. The Seminary provided us with bicycles for pastoral work in the city slums and villages. Then that became my chief means of conveyance. People in the city spoke Kannada and Tamil. It provided us with opportunites to try our luck at these languages. Tamil was easy, whereas Kannada was harder. By the initiative of Fr Pierre Penven the Philosophy curriculum of Bangalore University was introduced in the seminary so much so we could write a public exam and obtain a BA from that University.  That's how I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Bangalore majoring in English Literature, Sociology and Philosophy.

Life in the seminary was a lot of fun. People from all southern states representing every language group was present among us. In the community of about three hundred I was a public speaker in demand and an accomplished actor. Every year at the speech competitions and essay writing contests I won prizes. In every play either in English or in Malayalam, I had a major role. In the general elctions of 1977 when Janata Party won with overwhelming majority I had a very imporant role in canvassing the votes of both the staff and students through public speeches. I felt proud of having helped the victory of K S Hegde over the Congress candidate, who became the Lok Sabha Speaker. Today these are less known facts about my life in the seminary.  The socio-pastoral camps conducted by the Seminary every year influenced me considerably. It afforded an opportunity for me to learn first hand about the true nature of village life in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

In December 1980 my eleven years of formation was coming to a conclusion. I appreared for my B Th exam and submitted my dissertation for that degree.  It was entitled Women Priests?  and was moderated by Fr. Alphonse Mani. The day after I returned to Ernakulam from Bangalore I was ordained priest at the St Mary's Cathedral along with three others, by Joseph Cardinal Parecattil.  The date was December 19.

3- New Pasturelands

After Christmas I was in Trivandrum in order to attend the ordination of a friend and at the bus station I met a priest from the chancery in Ernakulam. He hastened to tell me that I have been appointed to a parish as Assistant and the Archbishop's letter to that effect had been hand delivered to my home. I immediately cut short my visit to my friend and returned home.  The letter was delivered three days before my arrival and I was already late by a day to show up at the church. St Mary's Church, Ayyampuzha was my first pastorate, helping the Pro-Vicar there. I often talked about this first appointment of mine as the first disappointment. I had no official title; it was an appointment to help the pro-vicar there. Juridically it was still a part of the parish of Holy Cross Church, Manjapra. The church at Ayyampuzha was a temporary shed. The rectory was hardly enough for two people to live in. I had a square room, almost 20 X 20 ft. There was no electricity anywhere in the parish, neither was there running water. In the summer all the wells dried up and local government authorities brought drinking water in a truck once a week.  The only luxury was the availability of conveyance since the two priests shared a motor cycle.  There were four other stations to take care of, each having a Sunday Mass.

The church was located at the entrance of the Rubber Plantations owned by the governement of Kerala, which comprised of more than nine thousand acres of rubber trees. It was divided into three estates, Kallala, Adirapilly and Vettilappara. Each estate was further divided into Blocks. There were thousands of workers there, most of whom lived in the 'lines' in different parts of these estates. Both of us priests were to take care of the spiritual needs of these workers, besides other parishioners. Masses were celebrated on Sundays in the Church where we lived, in a building in Block VI of Kallala Estate and in another site in the Xth Block of Adirapilly Estate. There were two other tiny villages outside the plantations, Pandupara and Kannimangalam, where Sunday masses were celebrated.  Life for us was extremely busy. And the people loved us and needed us. They looked upto us for guidance in almost everything.  People did not have much of the material resources for a living, nor did they have basic understanding of their faith. Most of the workers in the plantaion called themselves Catholic. But their lifestyle did not reflect that fact. There was a lot of work waiting for us.

 Years flew by rather fast. I had started my work there with Fr. Thomas Mattom who was replaced after more than a year by Fr. Jacob Marottikudy. And two years later I had still another companion in the person of Fr George Perumalil.   After three and a half years of my ministry there I had a transfer to St Joseph's Church, Thirunalloor as the Vicar there.  It was intended to be the place for my postgraduate studies since the college was just behind the Church. Unfortunately Bishop Mankuzhikary who appointed me didnot realize that it was a junior college and that I was seeking admission for MA in English Literature. Life in that sandy land was interesting and I came across a lot of poverty on the shoreline of the backwaters. It was silica sand everywhere since apparently it was a land recovered from the backwaters. No much vegetation flourished there except the lone coconut trees.  I would have loved to stay at Thirunalloorr and continue my ministry had it not been for the admission I received in Maharaja's College, Ernakulam for the course I was looking for. Three months I commuted from there to the college in the city by the ferry boat from Arookutty.  Eventually I got another letter of transfer, this time to Udayamperoor synodal Church.

The Synod of Udayamperoor (or Diamper as some westerners pronounced it) took place in 1599 in this ancient church which historians consider as the culmination of the latinization policy of the Portugese missionaries in India. We were using the new Church which stood side by side with the old one. The proximity of the place to the city of Kochi  was the main reason for my being there. Every weekday after morning mass I left for Maharaja's College. It was an exciting experience being in the classrooms again. The fifteen or so students in the class were friendly and respectful as I was always in the clerical dress of cassock. We wresled with culture of the England and writings of Chaucer, Spencer, Shakespere, Wordsworth, Hopkins and many other intersting men and women. Most of my attention was in the parish though I attended classes regularly. I was able to start Family Units in the parish and they continue that good system even today. A year and half went by rather fast. I couldnot take a short leave from the parish to do my final exams either. Even before the closure of the final exams I received a letter of transfer from there since someone desperately wanted to be vicar there. This time it was to a bigger rural parish closer to home and I was delighted.

Thus in the middle of 1986 I found myself as the vicar of St Roche's Church, Manickamangalam. There were more than four hundred households belonging to the parish. My postgraduate studies were behind me,  I had the experience of working in diferent areas of the archdiocese and the Church in general was exuberant after the visit of Pope John Paul II.  It was time for a fresh start.  The village was poor and they looked upto me for guidance and direction. I remember vividly the installatiion ceremony presided over by the Forane Vicar Fr Thomas Thenayan. It was a good begining with his support.

In the early months of my ministry there I made plans for some projects for the parish, one of which was starting of family units. In preparation for that I visited all the homes to get in touch with the reality of the life situation. Drunkeness and poverty were rampant among some villagers; there were others who were fallen away from the church. Knowing them well was pivotal to my plans there.  

A few months into my ministry I had a call from the Archbishop's House. It was the Vicar General, Msgr. Abraham Karedan who wanted to talk to me.  The matter was important. According to him the new Archbishop Antony Padiyara wanted me to be his Private Secretary working in his office with his correspondence. He has been there only more than a year and I had not made my acquaintence with him yet. I was surprised that he had picked me. I still think it was my post graduate degree in English that qualified me for the position.  

On a fine day I presented myself to him and told him that he was looking at the person he had picked to be his secretary. "I know" he said to my surprise. I knew he had a very good memory and he was proficient in many languages. But we hadn't had a real memorable meeting. "Your Grace, I don't think I will fit into that job" somehow I blurted out. "Why" he wanted to know. I appraised him of my dificulties to sit down at the desk for a secretarial job since I was by nature an outdoor person, wanting to go around meeting people and visiting places. He gave me  a very patient listening and suggested that we meet again in the afternoon on the day after my visit to his office.

"What do you think?" he asked me at our afternoon meeting. " I still believe you've the wrong person in me" I had to be honest here. "Do you think that job could be done by a lay person?" was his next question. Considering the nature of the subject matter dealt there, I told him that it  may not be fitting for a lay person and a priest would be needed for it." A broad smile spread over his patriarchal face and he said, "And that priest is you." I was stuck with the job. 

4 - Secretary to the Cardinal 

It was in the month of February 1987 I joined Archbishop Antony Padiyara as his secretary. Just as I anticipated, it was difficult. Sitting down with all the papers around me was not my forte. Fr Sebastian Adayathrath who was holding that position before me was still in the office, preparing to leave for Canada as the Director of Save-A-Family Plan. The work started in the morning after breakfast. Mr Mathew the typist was the only other person in the office to help with the typing work. He worked with an old Olympia Typewriter.  No computers had entered the office in 1987. The schedule was hectic. Every night I had a regular meeting with the Archbishop after night prayers. During most of the days he was gone on his different engagements. I had to deal with all his correspondence. 

It was an entirely new field of ministry for me and soon I realized the need for improving the facilities and strenthening the staff. By the time when I left the office in 1994 the room was divided into cubicles and parts of it airconditioned. There were three other employees in there including an accountant, a computer operator and an assistant.

In May 1988 Archbishop Padiyara was made a Cardinal of the Catholic Church along with Archbishop Simon Pimenta of Bombay. This made his office much more important and esteemed, and my work load also was enhanced. The Syro-Malabar Liturgy controversy and the advent of Archbishop White Commission from Rome and the eventual appointment of the Cardinal as the first Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church in 1992 made the office all the more a focal point in the Church. In the midst of it all I struggled with personal issues which I was required  to keep to myself. The politickings and underhand manoevrings in the Church were frustratingly evident to me since I was directly in touch with powerful offices of the Church. This was not the Church I had visualized and put my faith in. There were a couple of elderly and expereiced priests who helped out of my confusion and disillusionement. 

The rise of Abraham Kattumana as the Pontifical Delegate, the establishment of the Major Archiepiscopal offices and the appointment of Jacob Manathodath as a Bishop were important events during this time.

I had gotten accustommed to the routine of life in that position and the Cardinal had gotten used to my ways and work. My day usually began with a 5 a.m.walk with the Cardinal along the Broadway and the Marine Drive. At 6.30 there was Mass in one of the many convents in the area. After an early breakfast I was in the office behind a closed door which said, "No Admission." Priests, religious sisters and lay people who came in with letters to the Cardinal or seeking his intervention through reccommendations had to wait at the viritor's room. Keeping accounts in order to be submitted to the Home Ministry in New Delhi in accordnace with Foreign Contribution Regulations Act was a herculian task and necessitated many meetings with the beneficiaries. For every meeting I had go downstairs to the visitor's parlour. During the time I had  a few physical struggles with the Allergic Bronchitis that had become chronic. An urgent Good Friday surgery for Appendicitis drew a lot of sympathy and support.  All these and the diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome made me change my lifestyle. 

 As the years rolled by, I began to realize that the Cardinal was becoming so dependent on me that he may not be able to move me from that position. He was growing older and weaker with ailments like Parkinson's Disease and Varicose veins. So I began to press the matter of my leaving for a different ministry. At one such conversations he expressed his plan to send me abroad to an English speaking country for some course of studies. I was asked to do the necessary correspondence in that respect.

In a few months I had responses to my enquiries from Catholic Universities in England, Ireland and Australia. None of those offers were easy for me without a lot of money in my pocket. Some of my friends began to ask me the question "Why not consider the United States?" In my mind it was not an option since some priests from the Archdiocese who had gone for higher studies in the States had left their priestly ministry and the Archdiocese was somewhat closed to that idea. However, I shared the disappointing responses I was getting with the Cardinal and one day he asked me the question "Why not try the United States?"

Fr. Albert Byrne from North St. Paul had been a visitor to the Cardinal's House and I was his host for the two weeks he spent there. I was still having an active correspondence with him. Since he was Cardinal's close friend in the United States that avenue opened up. He suggested that I look for a work visa in the States and get into the country before looking for a course of studies there. Eventually with the help of Fr. Byrne I got the necessary papers from the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis for an R1 visa to the United States.

The passport officer in Cochin was a great friend of mine and with his help I had secured a passport few years back. At that time I had not thought of a travel abroad.

I still remember vividly that wintry day I boarded the train for the city of Madras and found myself as a guest at the parish church near the American Consulate. I was on my way to appear before the consul general. I was clean shaved for the interview, though I used to have a beard ever since my appendectomy operation two years back. My travel agent had insisted that I go for the interview without a beard since in my passport photo I was clean shaved. The day my visa was stamped in Madras I had the thrill and excitement of the one conquering the Mount Everest for the first time. It was March of 1994.

On May 1, 1994 I landed in Chicago in the land of the free. I had flown by Lufthansa with a stopover in Frankfurt. I was accompanying George Kedangan, a friend of mine, who was returning to Chicago after a vacation in India. The following day when I landed in St. Paul-Minneapolis, Fr Albert Byrne was waiting for me at the airport. At the rectory of St. Peter's Church in North St. Paul Fr. Antony Mannarkulam and Sr. Joan Chunkapura, both from India visiting Fr Byrne, had prepared a delicious Indian lunch to celebrate my arrival in Minnesota. It was a great welcome. I was to stay with Fr. Byrne at that parish helping him in his ministry for the next four months.                                                                    

5-Minnesota

The new world of Minnesota was beginning to unfold before me beginning with the small suburban town of North St Paul.  The people I met were exceptionally kind, generous and helpful. That put me at ease in the strange land of Minnesota. I began to hear the expression "Minnesota nice" and it made a lot of sense. Little by little I learned the ways of life here. Fr. Chue Ying Vang, the Associate Pastor, Sr. Marlene Swinghammer, the Pastoral Assistant, Mary Ellen Feesl, the Secretary were the important people who went out of their ways to help and guide me. In four months I walked through most of the highways and byways of this small town, met people of many backgrounds, refined my language skills and began to feel at home. I officiated at many celebrations at the church and the parishioners began to appreciate my ministry.

An important person who visited me in North St Paul during this time was Bishop Dominic Kokkat of Gorakhpur, India, with whom I had picked up a close friendship while in the Cardinal's House. With his blessings and the support of a group of people from Kerala, I began to have once-a-month Syro-Malabar masses in St. Richard's Church, Richfield. That was the origin of St. Alphonsa's Syro-Malabar community in Minnesota. Fr. Albert Byrne who had visited the Syro-Malabar Church in India was in support of it as well. He had associates from Kerala sent by Cardinal Padiyara previously. Among them were Fr. Zacharias Elapunkal and Fr. Mathew Vattakuzhy who later became the Bishop of Kanjirappilly.  In fact, I was living in the room used by Fr. Elapunkal who died there suddenly of a heart attack.  There was a plaque in his memory on the sacristy wall of St. Peter's.

Securing a Social Security number and obtaining a drivers license are the first tasks of any immigrant to Minnesota. The first was easier than the second. Ed Schneider of the parish of St. Peter's came forward to give me the primary lessons "behind the wheel." It took me a few months to master the trade of managing a moving  four-wheeled vehicle. I had been using a motorcycle for many years in India. That experience helped a little.

In the meantime I was looking for a course of studies that would fit me. Fr. Byrne had made some inquiries among his friends and he had a definite proposal.  It was to apply for the Doctor of Ministry program with the Consortium of Theological Studies in Minnesota. Monsignor Terrence Murphy, the president of St. Thomas University, had strongly recommended it. Wendell Debner the Director of that program was very helpful in the application process. Wherever I wanted to go, Fr. Chue Ying Vang was my chauffeur.  

6- Seminary Again 

In the month of August I had a call from Fr. Peter F. Christensen in St John Vianney Seminary of Saint Paul. He wanted me to work in that seminary as Spiritual Director and Formation Director to the seminarians. This was something that I did not really anticipate since I was not familiar with this ministry. However, he prevailed upon me to say "yes."   At the end of August I joined him as a member of the staff of St John Vianney Seminary in the University of St. Thomas.

The day I arrived the seminary it was the rector Fr. Peter himself who met me at the door. He directed Corey Rohlfing, one of the students who had the responsibility of being an R A on the floor, to help me unload my stuff and to show me around. In fact I had some stuff by now. At the parish of St. Peters a group of people went to the extend of procuring everything I would need for winter. This winter stuff drive was by the initiative Kay Lennon and Sr. Marlene Shwinghammer. I am eternally grateful to them especially since I still use some of that stuff.  

The work at the Seminary was very different from what I anticipated. There were about sixty seminarians belonging to different dioceses in Minnesota and elsewhere. All of them attended classes in St. Thomas University, but were housed in the Seminary which in effect was one of the dorms. The priest staff were all spiritual directors and formation directors. The five-story building was just sufficient for the Seminary. The first floor consisted of a chapel, some guestrooms and offices. The rest of the building was used for housing the staff and the students. Each floor had a priest staff member living there. The students had mostly double occupancy rooms. There were also a few single rooms. The priests on the staff at the time were Fr Paul Sirba and Fr John Ubel, besides me and Fr. Peter Christensen the Rector. I was assigned the fifth floor and the RA (Resident Adviser) on the floor was Joel Hastings. Each priest was directly in charge of the formation of the students on his floor and also had a few other students as spiritual directees. The priests also had a few classes with the students. There were also a few lay staff members on the staff. Staff meetings were on Wednesday mornings and Thursdays were adoration days. 

Getting to know the  Seminary and university systems took some time for me. Learning to communicate in the language of the local people was also a challenge. During the first three years of my time in the Seminary, I also had a parish assignment for weekend ministry. It was St. Judes's Church in Mahtomedi. The pastor there was Fr. Jerrry Vandrovec. He was very kind and considerate. Initially he had to arrange a family each week to drive me back and forth from the Seminary since I did not have a car yet. 

Living in St. John Vianney Seminary was helpful from the point of view of my studies for Doctor of Ministry. Most of my classes and my teachers were at St Paul Seminary, which was only walking distance from my place. The library there named after John Ireland was easily accessible. At that time this Seminary was a separate entity from St. Thomas University. Once in a way I had to go to the Luther Seminary on Como Avenue since it was an important institution in the Consortium of Theological Schools.

One of the essential skills that one needs to master in order to live in Minnesota is driving. I learned this the hard way. I realized that I could not reach anywhere by the use of public transportation. Buses were very few and the riders were scarce. It was Ed Schneider who gave me the primary lessons behind the wheel. Then I had a few hours of experience with a professional driving school.  In order to get a license one had to take two tests:  a written test and another one behind the wheel. The written test was easy.  But I was not yet ready to take the behind the wheel test. It was Jim Klein from Mahtomedi who took upon himself the responsibility of getting me pass this test.  It was in his car that I had practices in preparation for the test. Apparently he had more faith in my skills than I had. This road test was in Eagan and it was at the second attempt that I got a pass in the behind wheel test.  That was an important stage I had passed through and I was overjoyed when I received the license card in the mail with my photograph on it. Before the snow started flying I had to have wheels so that I could get to the places.   

In the fall of 1994 I bought my first car. This used car was a Nissan Datsun with more than 150 thousand miles on it. This grey colored, Japanese car was small and easily manageable. An amusing feature in it was that it talked to me. After parking the car when I opened the door, it said “Key is in the ignition.”  I was thrilled. Dolores Erickson whom I had befriended had arranged it for me from one of her family members.

Thrill of having a car was soon short-lived when it suddenly got stalled on the highway 36 somewhere in Maplewood. Eventually it was towed to a garage where they determined that it was ready to be totaled. I had to look for another one soon. With the help of Ed and Kay Schneider I bought another one from a car dealership in Hudson, Wisconsin. This time it was a Maui blue Chevy Corsica. Most of my time in the seminary, I used this car for conveyance.

In the school year 1997-98 I resided in the rectory of the Holy Spirit Church in St Paul. Fr. Michael Papesh the pastor there was to go on a sabbatical leave and I was to replace him as sacramental minister in his absence. I continued to be involved in the work in the Seminary though on a lesser degree.

In the beginning of the school year1998 I rejoined the staff of St. John Vianney Seminary as Fr. Michael Papesh returned from his sabbatical. In the following year we had a new Rector in the Seminary in the person of Fr. Bill Baer. As I was getting tired of the work in the Seminary I had approached the Archbishop for a move into a parish assignment. It did not materialize until the end of the academic year of 2001-2002. 

During my ministry in the Seminary I had started a once-a-month gathering of the Syro-Malabar faithful in St. Richards Church in Richfield along with a Syro-Malabar mass. It was well received by the Christians from Kerala and the meetings of the community benefitted the people very well. We had visits from various dignitaries like the Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop himself and many other bishops from Kerala. This community also gave leadership in celebrating the death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1997 and in collecting funds for the relief work in Gujarat after the earthquake of 2001. This community became more organized when the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar diocese of Chicago was erected by the Holy See in March of 2001.    

7 - Pastor

When I moved out of the City of St. Paul to assume my duties as the Pastor of Sacred Heart Church of Rush City, I also had to resign the position of the Chaplain of the Syro-Malabar Catholics of Minnesota.  I began my ministry as the pastor of Sacred heart of Rush City on the1st of July 2002. It was a small Catholic community of more than three hundred households situated halfway between the cities of St. Paul and Duluth. This Church situated at the border of the archdiocese had a lot of history and was the mother church for many of the nearby Catholic churches. Since the centennial celebrations of the current church built in 1905 was coming up soon, I began to do a comprehensive study of the past history of that community.  A year-long celebration was concluded with Archbishop Harry Flynn being the chief guest and presider of the Eucharistic celebration. Presentation of the history of the Church and internment of a time capsule were parts of the celebrations.   

The appointment of Archbishop John Nienstedt as the Co-adjutor auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Harry Flynn of St Paul and Minneapolis in 2007 was a significant event. He became the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the following year as Archbishop Flynn retired. With due permissions from both the Archbishops I undertook a sabbatical leave of four months in 2008. I drove to California and was stationed in the St. Albert's Priory of Oakland for these four months, doing a sabbatical program with the School of Applied Theology (SAT). It was an exciting program, mainly because of the presence of many Religious men and women from abroad, especially Ireland. The proximity of many tourist attractions in the neighborhood made it all the more interesting. During my absence Deacon Larry Walker was the administrator of the parish of Sacred Heart.

After my return from sabbatical at the end of the year I informed the parish community of my intentions to move out of Rush City since I had completed a term of six years there. It was very difficult to bid farewell to the people of Rush City with whom I had established a bond, especially as I knew the history of the place.  In October of 2009 I bid farewell to the parish of Rush City and moved to the clustered parishes of St. Albert's of Albertville and St. John the Baptist of Dayton.                                  

These two small parishes have been together under one pastor since 2002 and had grown considerably through that relationship. Interestingly the two parishes had their own different personalities.  The ministry here had some variety to it since the two parishes had very different personalities. I preferred to live in the rectory of St Johns since the living room in St Albert's was too close to the offices.          

 

                                                                                                                                        

 

(To be continued) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 More photos