Faith-filled homes helped Indians discern vocations

Fr. Joby Augustin attended daily Mass as a child.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Fr. Joby Augustin attended daily Mass as a child.

October 12, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Growing up in India, Joby Augustin and his siblings' main daily knew they had an important tasks before heading out to school each day.

"We attended Church every day," he recalled. "We would wake up at 5 a.m. and then go to Mass."

As a youngster, Augustin served as an altar boy and joined a Marian youth group. One day after Mass, a priest asked him what his life plan was. He wasn't sure, so the priest asked him if he would like to be a member of a religious order. Augustin said yes, and at age 15 he joined the Sons Of The Immaculate Conception (CFIC).

Augustin became a nurse before completing his seminary studies. He was ordained in India April 25, 2007 and came to Edmonton in 2010.

Today, he is one of seven CFIC priests serving in the Edmonton Archdiocese.

The 38-year-old priest served as associate pastor at Santa Maria Goretti Parish before becoming pastor of the twinned parishes of St. Anthony's and St. Agnes in August, 2013.

He is also a top leader in his congregation's North American Delegation, which has 27 priests in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

"My first challenge was to adapt to the culture, the weather of Edmonton and then to learn the language of Italians," he smiled. "I can speak a little bit. I can read. I can celebrate Mass."

Since their arrival in Edmonton to serve at Santa Maria Goretti, the CFIC priests have expanded to a number of other parishes, including Lacombe, Ponoka, Edson, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Joachim, Ste. Anne.

One priest is serving as associate pastor at St. Andrew's Parish in Edmonton.

The congregation was started in Italy 1857 by Luigi Maria Monti, a consecrated laymen and a brother.

He founded small communities of lay men to serve in hospitals and as traveling nurses to scattered, impoverished farmers of the region of Rome.

In 1882 the community started founding orphanages with attached schools.

Eventually the Sons of the Immaculate Conception was established within the Church as a Congregation of Religious Brothers and Priests dedicated to the care and medical assistance of the sick and to the shelter and education of needy young people.

GLOBAL PRESENCE

Today, more than 500 members of this Congregation are present in over 20 countries around the world including Italy, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Canada, India, Cameroon and the Philippines.

In some of these countries the CFIC members work alongside existing agencies and other religious orders.

Fr. George Puramadathil, pastor at Santa Maria Goretti, was the first priest of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception to come to Western Canada.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Fr. George Puramadathil, pastor at Santa Maria Goretti, was the first priest of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception to come to Western Canada.

This could be in such diverse places as leper colonies, institutes for the handicapped, community centres for the mentally ill, shelters for families and children in need, secondary schools, assistance for homeless and street children, inhabitants of squatter settlements, hospital facilities and counselling for the sick.

Parish ministry is a relatively new ministry for these priests, some of whom had little exposure to parish work. Augustin, who had served as religious superior and manager of an English medium school and college back in India, said he struggled with his new ministry at first but parishioners helped him.

"We had to adapt to parish ministry because of the needs of different diocese around the world," he explained. "There is a lack of priests."

ITALIAN PARISHES

The CFIC first came to Canada some 40 years ago to serve Italian parishes "because of the congregation's Italian origin," noted Augustin. The order came to Toronto in the mid-1970s and then moved to Calgary and Edmonton in the late 2000s.

Indian-born Father George Puramadathil, the pastor at Santa Maria Goretti, was the first to come to Western Canada. He came to Calgary in 2007 and was transferred to Santa Maria Goretti in 2009.

A year later, Augustin joined him in serving the 1,200 registered Italian families. Others joined later.

In 2010, the 49-year-old Puramadathil went back to India to serve as provincial superior of the CFIC's Indian Province and returned to Santa Maria in September 2014.

Today he is alone at the parish, but he is not complaining.

"I'm really grateful to the archdiocese for offering this opportunity to us (to serve in Edmonton)," he said. "As parish priests we have more exposure (to different ministries)."

EARLY DISCERNMENT

Like Augustin, Puramadathil comes from Kerala, a state in the south-west region of India on the Malabar Coast, and also joined the CFIC order at age 15. He grew up in a family of eight children and was involved in parish activities as a young boy.

One day in Grade 10 a missionary priest come to his high school to speak about religious life and he mentioned the work of the CFIC in Africa, specifically in Cameroon. That impressed young George.

"I wanted to become a missionary in Africa."

He joined the congregation right after high school. He did his theology studies in Kerala and Rome and was ordained in 1993.

Ironically, he was never sent to Africa, although he went for a visit a year ago. Shortly after ordination, he was appointed rector of a major seminary in Bangalore.

"In 2007 I came to Calgary because the bishop made a request for a priest who speaks Italian and I speak Italian."

Both Augustin and Puramadathil are confident about the future of their congregation because they still have plenty of vocations in India, Africa and recently in Asia.