Father Shibu Puthenpurakkel, a member of the Carmelite of Mary Immaculate religious order, desired from a young age to serve God’s people as a priest. He never dreamed that desire would lead him to the United States, he said during a recent interview in his office at St. Gabriel Church in Fern Creek.
Father Puthenpurakkel, a native of Kerala, India, came to the United States in 2016. He served first as an associate pastor of St. Margaret Mary Church and later of St. Gabriel Church.
While serving parishioners, he also earned a master’s of business administration from Bellarmine University. He is a member of Bellarmine’s class of 2019, its largest class to date.
He will return to India on June 18 to begin a new appointment as the associate director of the Amala Institute of Medical Sciences, a 1,200-bed teaching and multi-specialty hospital run by his congregation.
“My heart is thanking God for this incredible gift. I see God’s blessing in my life in the U.S.,” he said of his time here.
Father Puthenpurakkel’s ministry here — and the ministry of other missionary priests like him —is also a gift to the Archdiocese of Louisville, said Father Jeffrey Shooner, who serves as the vicar for priests.
The archdiocese is no stranger to the work of missionary priests. The earliest priests to serve in Central Kentucky were from abroad, mostly Germany, France and Ireland. In the last several years, the archdiocese has welcomed priests from India, Africa and Central and South America.
Currently, 19 priests who serve in the archdiocese are “extern” priests, those who have come from other dioceses — mostly other countries. Seven of them serve as pastors or administrators of local parishes.
Father Shooner said that when the priests return to their home countries they’ll have gained pastoral experience and, in Father Puthenpurakkel’s case, advanced education.
This arrangement of mutual relationship has served both the priests and the archdiocese, Father Shooner said.
“I think of how we are both enriched: by the priests that come to us and the cultures they bring and also what we have to offer,” said Father Shooner.
With the increase in missionary priests in the archdiocese, Father Shooner said the nature of the relationship between a priest and the archdiocese should never be approached as “transactional,” but rather with a sense of “mutuality.”
“It’s not just about paying for a service or a product but instead it’s based upon a human relationship,” he said.
Father Puthenpurakkel said his graduate studies at Bellarmine have prepared him for his new position in India. He noted in particular the experiential hands-on learning he received at Bellarmine.
“This kind of practice really helped me acquire leadership skills, which I’ll use in my new role at the hospital,” he said.
He also fondly recalled his experiences with the parishioners of St. Margaret Mary and St. Gabriel, adding that he would always remember them and hoped to visit again one day.
“In both parishes, I had wonderful people, very loving people with strong faiths,” he said.
He also noted that pastors and other priests provided support during his time in the archdiocese.
Another Carmelite priest — Father Benni Pengiparambil — is expected to arrive later this summer from India. He has been assigned associate pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church and St. Teresa of Calcutta Church in Fairdale, Ky.