Priest Spotlight: Fr. Philip Theempalangattu
There is nothing extraordinary in my vocation. I was very fortunate in being born to a Catholic family who were very religious. We still maintain the good tradition of praying together both in the morning and evening at home. I remember well the way I was taught prayers by my grandfather. He was very strict and from my early childhood onward, I had to sit up with him for long hours of prayer. He initiated me into a religious and prayerful life. He used to take me to church daily, walking almost three miles per day. I had an inclination to become a priest from my early childhood. Maybe I saw the priest everyday and wanted to be like him.
When I completed my schooling, I realized my vocation was to be a priest. As I went on in my training, it became more and more clear to me. I had ups and downs in my life of formation, but I realized God has a definite plan for me and there are many instances where I felt the special providence of God. These instances reassured my vocation to priesthood.
I was born in 1952 in a village in Kerala in the southernmost state of India. After the initiation to education at home by the help of a teacher, I joined the primary school in our village at the age of four. I graduated from the school in 1967 and immediately I joined the minor seminary to become a priest. After completing four years there I was sent to Papal Seminary. After completing my Baccalaureate in Philosophy I joined the University of Poona and took my Masters Degree in Sociology in 1975. I completed my Theology course in 1980 and was ordained a priest in the same year.
I started my pastoral ministry in the Diocese of Kanjirapally as an Associate Pastor and after two years I was appointed the Joint Director of Social Work in the diocese. This was also my choice as I had a special interest to work for the development of the poor and the marginalized people, which I consider one of the major missions of Christians. In 1986 I went to Canada to do post-graduate diploma course in Social Development at the Coady International Institute.
After returning home in 1987, I continued social work in the diocese until 1997. Then I was appointed Financial Officer of the diocese and I continued in this office until 2000. I was transferred to a parish as pastor and I worked in this parish until I came to the United States in 2002. Since then I have been at St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe as a priest chaplain.
My life as a priest has always been exciting and fulfilling. When I look back at my priestly ministry, I feel the most rewarding time was my early ministry–working in the field of social work and working for the development of the poor and marginalized people, especially poor farmers with small landholdings.
It was also very rewarding to work for the orphaned children and physically and mentally challenged children. It was very challenging to organize the women who were otherwise confined to their homes, through self-help groups, to find employment.
One of the major achievements of the social work department was starting the Milk Producing Cooperative Societies and starting the Milk Processing Plant. Within a period of one year, over 10,000 families were made members of the Cooperative Societies. They started cattle rearing and collected over 100,000 liters of milk every day and distributed it. This project gave direct employment to over 800 people. It was very fulfilling and satisfying to see that I could be a part of these activities which made a real difference in the lives of thousands of people within our diocese and outside.
There are a number of people who were role models for me and very inspiring in my journey to priesthood. It was my grandfather who initiated me into prayer and religious life. My father and my mother were always helpful and encouraged me to be a good priest. It was because of their prayer that I am who I am today.
The pastor in my parish in my early days had great influence on my vocation and my life as priest. He was a very socially concerned man. It was he who brought some development in our small village. He was instrumental in starting an upper primary school, a hospital and constructing roads and bridges. He had a special talent for bringing all people together beyond caste and religion. He had a great influence in my life.
With regard to my hobbies or activities in my free time, I spend a lot of time cooking. I also enjoy reading, especially books on religion, society and culture. I also spend some time watching sports. My favorite games are cricket, basketball, soccer and tennis.