By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Foreign-born priests are not new here in the Archdiocese of Louisville — the first priests to serve the area were French and later German, Irish and Italian priests came.
In the last few years, the archdiocese has welcomed priests from India, Africa and Central and South America to the area. And archdiocesan leaders hope that the priests who eventually return home, will have gained something — including knowledge and experience — to take with them.
Currently 18 men from other countries are serving in this archdiocese. Five were ordained for the archdiocese, meaning they intend to serve here permanently. Six are religious order priests and may be moved around by their order. And seven are temporarily serving in the archdiocese. An additional five religious order priests are expected to arrive this summer from India and Africa.
At the center of the archdiocese’s arrangement for those serving here is the notion of “mutuality,” according to local church leaders.
Father Jeffrey Shooner, vicar for priests in the Archdiocese of Louisville, explained that mutuality intends for the home diocese or religious order of the priest to gain a certain benefit, such as education, by the priest’s service here.
The Archdiocese of Louisville, in turn, gains the pastoral care of the priest and may be enriched by the priest’s presence and culture, bringing the global church to Kentucky, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz noted.
The archbishop acknowledged that having a priest from another country isn’t always easy. One of the biggest roadblocks is language. But, he said, if one sees the person first and appreciates the gifts he brings, the rest will follow.
Each situation, he said, must be tailored to best meet the needs of the priest and the local church.
The archbishop also noted that the notion of mutuality involves a sense of union or communion among all the parties involved — the dioceses or religious order and the local church.
Similarly, Father Shooner, who is also pastor of St. Patrick Church, warned against viewing the priests as functionaries — assuming that they are simply hired to do a job.
“It’s about a relationship we share,” he said.
Numerous parishes in Marion County have experienced the spiritual care of Father Emil Kander, a priest of the Diocese of Jasikan in Ghana, Africa.
Nancy Ballard, a member St. Augustine Church in Lebanon, Ky., said the parishes in Marion County feel blessed by the presence of Father Kander.
Father Kander resides at St. Augustine and celebrates Mass at a number of neighboring parishes in the Kentucky Holy Land, including Holy Cross Church in Holy Cross, Ky.; St. Francis of Assisi Church in St. Francis, Ky.; and St. Charles Church in St. Mary, Ky.
Ballard described Father Kander as a joyful man who has filled the parish with the Holy Spirit.
“He grew up in a different country, in a different environment. He brings a great joy from his country,” she said.
She added that Father Kander is “so easy to talk to and is very accessible.”
Ballard noted that early on there was a barrier in terms of language but no longer. She said the more time they spent together and the more they conversed the easier it became to understand one another.
Father Kander was scheduled to return home to Ghana this week. The local Knights of Columbus in Marion County provided him with a car, and people from the parishes where he served filled the car will supplies to use in his ministry when he returns home, Ballard said.
In Louisville, Jim Gadlage, a parishioner of Holy Family Church, said the presence of the Conventual Franciscan Friars from India have been inspiring.
Fathers John Pozhathuparambil and Tony Vattaparambil are sacramental moderators of Holy Family. A third priest, Father George Munjanattu assists there also.
Gadlage credits the men with a renewal of energy at Holy Family.
“I have never met more devout, caring or kind people in my life. You get that feeling when you go to Mass,” he said. “When they step behind that altar you feel that caring spirit, that this is a liaison to you from Christ. They have been very well received by the young and old alike.”
Gadlage noted that the priests also teach at Bellarmine and they have attracted some students and others active on the campus to Holy Family.
“I think, because they give of themselves, people are more willing to do the same,” said Gadlage, a member of Holy Family’s parish council. “No matter what you do these guys are there. When we have fish frys they come over and don aprons and work.”