WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Determined not to become a priest, Fr. Francis Mariappa entered the seminary in spite of himself.
Although his parents pledged when he was young that he would become a priest, Francis Mariappa wanted nothing to do with it.
Father Mariappa, now the 42-year-old pastor of Fort Saskatchewan's Our Lady of the Angels Parish, fought the call every step of the way until the day he was touched by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Born in Bangalore, India, the fifth of seven children, Mariappa shared his story at the Edmonton Catholic charismatic prayer breakfast, Oct. 12, at the Chateau Louis Conference Centre.
His parents were farmers who went through ongoing hardships and struggles. Living in abject poverty, they earned barely enough to feed the family.
At age three, he suffered a serious illness, akin to whooping cough and pneumonia. Since his parents could not afford proper medical treatment, they cared for him at home.
"My parents worried about my health issues, but they were helpless because they had no money," said Mariappa. Instead, they turned their attention to St. Francis Xavier, the saint after whom young Francis had been named.
They went to the church and prayed to the saint, asking him to intercede for their son's health. They promised that if Francis regained his health, they would send him to the seminary to become a priest.
The next day, a religious sister came forward and gave his parents money for medical treatment at a nearby children's hospital. There, Mariappa soon recovered.
Although he did well at school, in sports and in religious education, Mariappa rebelled, often skipping school to go to the movies or hide in the bushes with his friends. Soon, he was failing classes and had lost interest in his other pursuits.
"My parents suggested that I join the seminary to become a priest," he said. But he refused. "For three years I never attended regular Masses."
Representatives of various religious orders came to the family home to urge him to join them. He refused them all.
"I wanted to either join the military or continue with other studies to become a businessman," said Mariappa.
In March 1987, after working on the family farm, he was again sick with the same illness that had afflicted him as a child. His condition worsened and a priest was called to give him the last rites, fearing he would die that night.
Yet his parents never lost hope. "They went to the church again to pray before St. Francis Xavier to heal me of my sickness," said Mariappa. Again, they promised that if their son was healed, they would convince him to enter the seminary.
When he recovered from his sickness, to appease his parents, Mariappa said he would attend the seminary.
He and his father went to the Pallottine novitiate to set the wheels in motion. They spent the day in the parlour waiting to speak with a priest, but no one came to see them.
"My father told me, 'Son, let's go home. You can join the college, and I do not want you to become a priest.' I was so happy. My joy had no limits," said Mariappa.
At that point, his uncle, a priest, entered the scene and convinced Mariappa to enter the seminary.
Mariappa hoped the Pallottines would send him away. "Year after year passed, and I made my first religious promises, then my final commitment to the Pallottine congregation in the year 2000. My illusion that they would send me home never became a reality," he said.
Other seminarians were asked to discontinue their studies and to leave the seminary. He cursed, "Why not me?"
He never accepted his vocation until the day of his ordination to the diaconate. He had to lie prostrate on the floor for the Liturgy of the Saints before the bishop anointed him a deacon. It was during the rainy season when temperatures were cool.
When Mariappa stood, he was sweating profusely. He could not understand why he was sweating so much when it was so cold.
A priest told him the sweat was the result of all of the burdens, hesitations and reluctances within him being released by the power of the Holy Spirit.
"Twelve years wasted in the seminary, and only then did I realize my calling to the priesthood," he said.
After that, he was always faithful to his calling. He was ordained in 2001, and worked as an associate pastor for four years, in charge of a special project to build a seminary.
Upon coming to Canada, he became a priest in Fort Saskatchewan. For two years he was the associate pastor, and has been the pastor for the past four. He was appointed provincial delegate superior of Western Canada for Pallottines 10 months ago.