First professions in India

Fr. Tom was among those who took part in this year's profession ceremony in India.

Fr. Tom was among those who took part in this year’s profession ceremony in India.

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about today’s First Professions in India. Congratulations to the Novitiate Class of 2015!

This morning the big day for the novitiate class of 2015 finally arrived. After 13 months as novices they would finally become full-fledged members of the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart by making of their first profession of vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Our day began early, especially for those family members who did not arrive last evening and choose to travel to Nambur in the morning. A good example is my own Eluru community who left the house at 4:30 am to arrive in time for the 6:30 am start of Mass.

Actually, for those of us living in the house the start of the day wasn’t much different time wise, in fact just a half hour later then the normal start for prayers. This morning we began our day with morning prayer at 6:00 am after which all went about getting ready for Mass.

A special banner was made to welcome the VIPs: Fr. Tom Cassidy, Fr. Thomas Vinod (district superior) and Fr. Stefan Tertünte (director of the Dehon Study Center in Rome; he was in India giving formation workshops).

A special banner was made to welcome the VIPs: Fr. Tom Cassidy, Fr. Thomas Vinod (district superior) and Fr. Stefan Tertünte (director of the Dehon Study Center in Rome; he was in India giving formation workshops).

For some the arrival of morning didn’t come soon enough. We had power problems in the house, and in this case it was a local house issue so many rooms were without fans (and air conditioners) for parts of the night. Frankly, life is unbearable in the sleeping rooms without some form of ventilation at this time of year! Some opt to sleep outside and enjoy the cooler temperatures but then they must deal with mosquitoes and who knows what other critters of the night.

As for the Mass of First Profession, our chapel isn’t all that large so each of the ten novices were limited to about 15 guests. These were added to the many SCJs who came for the celebration along with sisters, novices and priests from the surrounding area.

I was able to catch up with some of our Eluru brothers who have been on their vacation/pastoral time. This group returns to the scholasticate on May 10, and the four students now in the house will take their holidays.

We were able to start the Mass pretty much on time with Fr. Thomas Vinod, SCJ, district superior, as the main celebrant. Joining him on the altar were three members of his council, Frs. Jojappa, SCJ, Jesu Manuel Baena, SCJ, and Mcqueen, SCJ (novice master) along with Fr. Stefan Tertünte, SCJ and myself.

Fr. Thomas Vinod presents Br. Siddela Jesuprasad (Jesu) with his cassock.

Fr. Thomas Vinod
presents Br. Siddela Jesuprasad (Jesu) with his cassock.

The profession including three distinct parts: First, after the novices professed their first vows all the SCJs present were invited to rededicate themselves as expressed in this sentence taken from the prayer: “We rededicate ourselves to you [Lord] and commit ourselves to share with al people the love we have from you in Jesus.”

Then there was the presentation of the profession cross and cincture (vows cord), and the presentation of the Rule of Life and Divine Office.

After communion two of the novices expressed thanks on behalf of the entire profession class to the many people who have influenced their lives and brought them to the altar this day, as well as to all those who helped make today’s celebration such a festive occasion. We ended the Mass around 9:00 am and this was followed by brunch on the basketball court. Of course it began with the obligatory cake cutting to be shared by all.

By 11:00 am things began to wind down and families returned to their homes. Most of those who came hail from Andhra Pradesh, in fact four of the newly professed come from the Diocese of Guntur and two from Eluru while for the rest, two are from Kerala, one from Vasai (Mumbai) and one from Odisha.

The newly professed plus the six remaining novices and a few of our own brothers from Eluru were quickly put back to work to tear things down and get the house back in order. It’s somewhat of a rush job because tomorrow morning at 6:00 am most of the newly professed will travel with Fr. McQueen to Mumbai for a quick four-day visit to the family of Br. Sajeet, SCJ, as well as to our SCJ Vasai parish.

A promise kept

Fr. Tom took this photo in March 2014 when this years novitiate class was completing its postulancy. The students were on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Health, Vailankanni, India. Fr. Vimal (pictured in the middle of the group) was their postulant master. Fr. Tom promised the group that if returned to India this year that he would attend their first professions. This week he makes good on that promise!

Fr. Tom took this photo in 2014 when this year’s novitiate class were postulants.

Fr. Tom Cassidy wrote the following just before leaving Eluru to travel to Nambur, where the Indian novitiate is located. When he was in India last year, Fr. Tom promised the postulants that if he could, he would attend their first professions. This week he makes good on that promise. Fr. Tom writes:

Today is my last day in Eluru; tomorrow after lunch Fr. Mariano, scj, will drive me to Nambur. The whole purpose of extending my time into the hot season was so that I could attend the first vows of the current novice class. I grew to know this novice class last year when they were postulants and their program was held in Eluru. [Fr. Tom was assisting in the formation program at Eluru last year] Normally the postulancy would not be housed in the theologate but due to the small numbers of theologians (eight) the postulants were there in part to help maintain the house.

The novitiate

The novitiate

The low number of theologians was due to a change in the district formation system that ended up with only the first and second year theologians in the house following the first semester of the 2013-2014, school year. The low numbers were also in part due to four of the theologians from the first two years being sent to Cameroon and Venezuela to learn the language and do their theological studies in these two countries.

When I knew I would be coming back to India this January I told the novices that I would arrange my trip so that I could attend their first profession before returning to the States — even though I was well aware this is now the hottest time of year in this part of India.

Because of the heat the Mass for the first vows will take place at 6:30 am!

Novitiate chapel

Novitiate chapel

Our Nambur novitiate house is built in the style of an Indian ashram. Unfortunately the architects did not take into account the summer climate in Andhra Pradesh. Many of the rooms, including the individual bedrooms of the novices and staff, are not well designed to dissipate heat. Add to that the frequent power outages when fans and the few rooms that are air-conditioned do not function makes Nambur a difficult place to live and work from April to well into June. Nambur has installed a solar photoelectric system but it has had problems of its own so that as of this moment it too can’t be relied on to provide a steady supply of electricity either during the day or by battery at night. Happily they are working to resolve this issue.

Despite the problems of heat the campus itself is conducive to a novitiate’s contemplative atmosphere. I particularly like the chapel with its stain glass window of the Sacred Heart. Our philosophy house in Aluva, Kerala, also features an Indian-styled Sacred Heart figure.

Vacation time is work time in India

Vacation days for the SCJ students in India often mean work days!

Vacation days for the SCJ students in India often mean work days!

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from the SCJ scholasticate in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh:

With this being vacation time the scholastics spend more time at work, and work right now it is concentrated on the front drive and small plots of land in front of the refectory for grass and flowers. Currently there are 10 students in the house though all but three of them will leave next week to begin either their vacation or their 20-day pastoral experience. Some of the students who left on April 1 will return to keep the work force up. The returning group is splitting their ministry time from their vacation time. They began their ministry time helping out during Holy Week and with the Indian custom of house blessings following Easter.

After eight or ten years in the seminary system the students pick up all sorts of trades and skills. Some have learned a lot about electricity and technology, while others carpentry and masonry and still others cooking and hospitality skills. Some, given their physical size, are usually the first given work requiring strength — some might call that the grunt work!

Landscaping at the community house

Students at work

Fr. Mariano has spent lots of time over the past year or so working on the grounds. Right now he’s trying to level part of the front drive by removing the paving stones to even out the ground and then putting the puzzle back together. While this is going on Brs. Manu and Ajith, who have masonry skills, are building border areas for several small plots in front of the dining room destined to house plants and perhaps grass.

Sometimes when I think of India I think of headgear. If you mention the word “Sikh” almost everyone would picture in their mind’s eye the turban worn by Sikh men. Mention the word again in the same breath with India and some might think of the towel some men wear when they are working. While there are many reasons why a man would choose to use headgear, for example the Sikh using it for religious reasons, the hot Indian climate is inducement enough to warrant something to either offer protection from the sun or perhaps to keep sweat out of one’s eyes.

One of the drawbacks of work during the summer vacation season is heat. From about 10:30 am to 4:00 pm it is often simply too hot to work, or at least to work with any degree of enthusiasm. One of its few advantages on the other hand is that there are very few days where outside work is called off because of rain. Rain won’t be a problem until June or later depending on when this year’s monsoon season begins and, in any case, it won’t start until after the school year has begun and the time for work is greatly reduced.

There is one daily compensation enjoyed by the brothers, or at least by the sports enthusiasts among them, and that’s the nightly cricket match on television. The Indian Super League has begun play. The season lasts two months and features a set game that takes about three hours to play (a far cry from the Five Day Test Match!). Many of the major cities have teams consisting of Indian and international professional cricket players. Each team is limited to four foreign players.

The brothers each have their favorite team and since practically all of them come from small towns and villages their choice of team is often determined by what Indian or world star they admire. Last night Br. Franklin was the lone rooter for the Mumbai Indians in its match against Rajasthan Royals. Sadly for Franklin, to quote the Deccan Chronicle: “Mumbai Given A Royal Beating!”

As for me when I’m asked who do I follow? I tell them: Why Chennai, of course, we have a ‘house’ there!

Sacred Heart Devotion starts in the home

Shrine in a family home in India

Shrine in a family home in India

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India:

One of our students took this photo and it clearly shows the devotion his family has to the Sacred Heart; one of the pictures should be very familiar to North American SCJs. This little shrine is a feature of many homes and certainly of the few I have had the opportunity to visit. These are the homes of our students and it should not be surprising that faith plays such an important role in the life of the family and is the seed of vocations. Parents and grandparents are so important in the transmission of their faith to their children and grandchildren.

Sacred Heart devotion has a long and strong tradition here in India. The fact that our title “Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart” speaks of that tradition and devotion has been a positive influence on the decisions of many young men who join our community. Just as strong has been their awareness (or perhaps better to say, their growing awareness) of our SCJ charism as beautifully expressed in #31 of Our Rule of Life:

“This mission, for Father Dehon in a spirit of love and oblation, entailed Eucharistic adoration, as an authentic service of the Church (cf Notes Quotidiennes, 1.3.1893), and ministry to the lowly and the humble, the workers and the poor (cf. Souvenirs XV), to proclaim to them the unfathomable riches of Christ (cf Ephesians 3:8). With this ministry in mind, Father Dehon gave great importance to the formation of priests and religious.

“For him missionary activity was a privileged form of apostolic service.”

“In all this his constant concern was that the human community, sanctified in the Holy Spirit, would become an offering pleasing to God (cf Romans 15:16).

Good Friday in India

Jesus falls for the first time

Jesus falls for the first time

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from our SCJ scholasticate in Eluru, India

For Good Friday six of our brothers plus, John our cook and his wife Rahka, came with me for the Stations and liturgy. The other four brothers opted to go to the cathedral in Eluru for their Good Friday prayers and devotions. Since tonight’s Holy Saturday vigil begins late (10:00 pm) we’ll all be going over to the Holy Family Brothers house. I was the celebrant at the Good Friday service so Fr. Gustavo, a Spaniard, will be tonight’s principal celebrant.

Things were rather quiet around our house as the brothers observed Good Friday; a number of them fasted, skipping both breakfast and lunch. Our supper (following the Good Friday service) was their Friday penitential meal, as I like to call it. It’s a dish of watery rice and curd. I opted for a repeat of breakfast, i.e., peanut butter augmented with mayonnaise.

good Friday India 2The brothers’ high school students did a pretty good job of giving a dramatic presentation of The Way of the Cross. It took us about 45 minutes to make our way around their athletic field finally ending up near the entrance to the chapel as we laid Jesus in the tomb.

From there it was my turn to guide the community through the Good Friday service. From the start of the stations to the conclusion of our Good Friday liturgy took just about two hours. This evening service promises to be just as long, if not more so depending on how many readings Fr. Gustavo decides to use, it could be as many as nine, we’ll see…

Our own SCJ brothers spent most of the week working outside so it was suggested this morning that work be devoted to cleaning the house for Easter. I thought it a good idea and off the brothers went to work, including cleaning my room. I escaped to the small community room on the second floor with my iPad to continue reading.

Shortly after settling in for a good read Br. Martin, SCJ, came to say that the Holy Family Brothers were downstairs. Indeed their entire community of high school students, aspirants, postulants, novices, and professed brothers were on their annual Holy Saturday pilgrimage. Since we are the closest house to them we were their first stop as they began to pray the rosary. From here they will visit a number of other religious houses on their pilgrim’s journey.

For now the rest of our day will be spent quietly waiting for this evenings Holy Saturday Vigil to begin.

Visiting with seniors in Nambur, India

Students serve the seniors their meal

Students serve the seniors their meal

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about a recent visit with students to a residence for seniors in India:

Yesterday we went to St. Joseph’s Home for Seniors run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Our priests frequently say Mass here though there are two retired Indian priests living in the home; both are ambulatory and one kind of acts as the daily chaplain to the residents. The vast majority of the 85 +/- residents are Hindu with maybe about 20 to 25 actually being Catholic. Traditionally Hinduism is a very tolerant religion though their now exist a fundamentalist wing that does not look kindly on other faiths. I would say the residents come from the tolerant majority as they attend the Catholic services, pray the rosary in common, etc. This is not the first time I have heard that Hindus like coming to Catholic liturgies and frequently attend major feats such as Christmas and Easter.

Mass

Mass

Our Mass was scheduled to begin at 4:30 pm and because of that the first group left the house at 3:30 pm. Nambur has the same transportation problems as Eluru in that with only one car (van) it can’t possibly carry the entire community at the same time. I opted to wait for the second group as it would mean less downtime waiting for Mass to begin.

By the time we arrived and things got sorted out it was about 4:45 pm when Mass began. It was held outdoors just next to the main entrance. Fortunately, the way the building is situated and with the vegetation that surrounds it the temperature was very comfortable. It helped that their was a slight breeze as well. I’ve quipped a couple of times: India would be a very comfortable place to live if it was in the shade all the time.

Our own Fr. Sunder, SCJ, was the main celebrant joined by Frs. McQueen, SCJ, Christy, SCJ, and Marianand, SCJ, plus the two retired priests from St. Joseph’s. Fr. Marianand led the choir, which consisted of our novices who speak Telugu. That’s also why Fr. Sunder was the principal celebrant as he is from Andhra Pradesh and Telugu is his native tongue.

The Mass took just under an hour as Fr. Sunder kept his homily to around 15 minutes keeping his audience of senior citizens in mind. Obviously I did not understand a word of it, but I too was grateful for its length. I must say though, I’ve gotten use to sitting and thinking to myself for 30 to 40 minutes while the preacher goes on in one of the local languages.

Happy dining!

Happy dining!

After Mass ended the next task was to get all the residents heading inside and towards the dining room. St. Joseph’s is a complete facility and they have a wing for those residents who need full-time care and cannot take care of themselves. We didn’t spend anytime with that group though one of the sisters who works on that wing encouraged Fr. McQueen to include them next year when the novices come for St. Joseph’s Feast Day.

Actually, several of our novices told me they come to St. Joseph’s from time to time to put on shows for the residents. The home as a small auditorium with a stage that lends itself well to putting on a performance. I asked Jesu if they do dance routines (he’s one of the better dancers) and he said yes and sometimes they get the residents involved as well. In that case they do what here is called an action dance. Some of you might be familiar with these as ice breakers with youth groups or other such gatherings if not think of the famous chicken dance and you get the idea.

Fr. McQueen told me we would eat with the sisters following the residents’ meal. A number of us were sitting out in front shooting the breeze when one of the sisters came to Fr. McQueen to remind him part of this annual event included the novices helping to serve the residents.

While Fr. McQueen may have forgotten not all of the novices did for when I tagged along with the slackers we found four or five of the novices already hard at work (two more were in the scullery helping with dishes).

The dining room serves both men and women though it seemed to me most tables were either all men or all women but I was not really paying too much attention to that. Of course rice was an important component of the meal. The favored drink was buttermilk which, according to Indians, helps cool you down. It will be a standard drink until the rains come. Once the residents finished their meal and were off and about their merry way we all gathered back out in front by the main entrance to enjoy our own evening meal with the Little Sisters.

They put on a pretty good feed for us including a cake, fruit cocktail and topped off with ice cream. If anyone starved it was their own fault. Conversations ebbed and flowed in one director or another but one question kept popping up from group to group: I wonder who won the cricket match? — Happy to report India by 109 runs!

cream. If anyone starved it was their own fault. Conversations ebbed and flowed in one director or another but one question kept popping up from group to group: I wonder who won the cricket match? — Happy to report India by 109 runs!

At the novitiate in India

The novitiate cat

The novitiate cat

The day starts early in the novitiate with rising at 5:00 am, that’s about a half hour earlier then Eluru. In part it’s the result of having a half hour meditation at 5:30 am before 6:00 am morning prayers followed by Mass at 6:30 am. At the moment I’m the only priest in the house as the novice master, house treasurer and the two priests assignedto our nearby Sacred Heart parish are all on this week’s retreat. Since that’s the case our morning Mass crowd more then doubled from the norm. One of the priests from the house staff usually says Mass at a nearby convent so this week while the retreat is going on they walk over here to our chapel for Mass.

The convent is a house for aspiring sisters, their equivalent of our postulancy program. I must say their habit added a lot of color to our prayer gathering. The Asha Deepam Sisters (Aloysius Gonzaga Sisters)dress in a habit typical of an Indian women. I’ve noticed a number of Indian woman’s communities have adopted this style of dress and it may be they are communities founded here in India though I’m sure that’s not true for all groups.

Speaking of religious, the other day I was reading an article that pointed out that India is fast becoming the religious capital of the world. I’m not sure just how many men and women religious there are in In India in addition to the diocesan clergy. I do know the Indian Jesuit community has now passed the US as the largest single national group within the Jesuit community.

This morning at Tiflin I asked Jesu if he (the novices) are counting the days. Their first profession is on May 1st. He laughed and said not always, but then let me know there are now 45 days to go! Counting these closing days did not surprise me. The novitiate year is a once-in-a-lifetime experience but it’s a stage in life not meant to last. The novices have been at it now for just about a full year. The district has their novices enter at the end of March or early April so that in effect the novitiate year is 13 months long when the legal requirement is for one full year (365 days).

There are 10 novices in this group, which makes it one of the bigger novitiate classes, at least in the last few years. Next year there will be six and I think they are planning for seven new postulants. It won’t be much of a change for the new novices as they’ve spent their postulancy year right here at the novitiate under the direction of Fr. Christy Peter, SCJ.

While they were housed in the same complex their schedules were very different. For example, the postulants ate their midday meal at 12:00 pm and the novices at 12:30 pm. In part it had to do with the novices eating both breakfast and their noon meal in silence while the postulants were not under the same restriction.

A novice during the 2014 retreat

A novice during the 2014 retreat

This morning our classes on Our Rule of Life began. I think they are pretty well organized with the novices doing much of the work with the materials I have given them. I have to thank Fr. Jim Schroeder, SCJ for most of my materials. Jim has an intimate knowledge of Our Rule of Life having been at some of the chapters that worked on the text and then being responsible for the translation from French to English of the approved edition as well as seeing to its initial printing. He has also done some very good research into the history of the Rule as well as to its theological underpinnings.

Since the novices eat in silence for both breakfast and the noon meal I’ve decided to use his little booklet “A Safari in our Constitutions,” which Fr. Jim based on a retreat he gave to our SCJs in South Africa. We’ll begin that tomorrow morning. For today’s meals we listened to an hour lecture from “The Teaching Company” taken from a course by Robert Garland called The Other Side of History, or how the common man lived from pre-historic times through the middle ages. One of his last lectures describes the typical life of a pilgrim, especially in England. I thought we’d begin this way since on Sunday we’re going on a day-long pilgrimage to a Marian shrine. I did a four-day pilgrimage with this group to the shrine of Our Lady of Health at Vailankanni about this time last year.

I’m including two snapshots taken last year on our Lady of Health pilgrimage.

On retreat in 2014

On retreat in 2014