Fr. Joaquim (Jack) Pereira
On his way from Goa in India to an assignment at a Portuguese-speaking parish in San Jose, Calif., in mid-1988, Father Joaquim (Jack) Pereira was unexpectedly denied access to the United States and stranded at the Toronto airport.
A side-trip to Montreal, to stay with friends from his home community, became instrumental in diverting him from his California destination to the Diocese of Calgary.
More than two decades later, in May 2011, Pereira, the first priest from Goa to serve in the Calgary Diocese, was appointed by Bishop Frederick Henry as vicar-general of the diocese and as a diocesan consultor.
It has been a long journey from Goa, but one in which Pereira sees the hand of God at work every step along the way.
The eldest of seven siblings, Pereira attended the oldest Catholic seminary in Asia, the Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol, in the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman.
Ordained in 1974, Pereira spent several years serving in two local parishes before asking to work overseas. He joined the San Jose Diocese and spent two and a half years there before being appointed to the Portuguese parish.
Between assignments, he visited Goa, and was returning to San Francisco from Mumbai, via Toronto, when his trip was unceremoniously interrupted by an issue with his visa.
With his luggage checked through to San Francisco, holding a one-way ticket and having limited funds, he called friends in Montreal who instructed him to take the train there.
Unable to reach the San Jose bishop, who was in Rome, to clarify his work assignment, he languished in Montreal through June and July 1988. In mid-August, he approached the archbishop of Montreal about an interim assignment until things were resolved.
The following day, Pereira received a call from Bishop Paul O'Byrne of Calgary who was on pilgrimage in Quebec. O'Byrne had just contacted the archbishop to plead for priests to serve in Calgary.
Pereira met with O'Byrne, he says "for all of five minutes," and was invited to come to Calgary. Pereira did not give the bishop a definite answer.
To his surprise, a week later a one-way ticket to Calgary arrived from O'Byrne in the mail. Having heard nothing further on a position in Montreal, Pereira embarked for Calgary. Three months later, he received a letter from the U.S. consulate saying the proper papers had been filed for him to work in the U.S.
"By that time I had a taste of Canada, Calgary and the Diocese of Calgary, and the priests of the diocese, and I chose not to respond."
The first priest from Goa and India to arrive in Calgary, Pereira says there are now 10 priests from Goa and 12 from India serving in the diocese.
Initially serving in two rural parishes for more than a dozen years, Pereira oversaw the restructuring, twinning and amalgamation of parishes, as well as the closure of churches.
Recognized for his administrative ability, he was appointed to the Diocesan Planning Commission and has served as its chair. As well as his other roles, he is now also chair of the Diocesan Centennial Committee which is planning several events to begin in November 2012 running through to November 2013.
Centennial plans will include celebrations, the commissioning of a statue of Mary to visit parishes and schools, a centennial song, a commemorative video, and a pictorial history of the diocese on six panels that will travel throughout the diocese. The Centennial Prayer will be printed in 12 languages for use in the various ethnic parishes of the diocese.
Throughout his nearly 24 years in Calgary, Pereira says there have been lots of long days and longer nights, but he knows the Holy Spirit guided him and support from parishioners sustains him. He is humbled and honoured by the trust the bishop has shown in appointing him to the roles he now holds. His years here have been better than anything he imagined his priestly life would be and he would not have exchanged them, even for serving in California.
Currently the pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Calgary where he has served for nearly 10 years, Pereira will move to St. Anthony's Parish, Calgary, Aug. 1.