Holy Communion has a special place in his heart

October 25, 2011

LA MARQUE — Born in Kerala, India, Father Chacko Puthumayil said his parents trace their Catholic roots to first century Christians from Syria and from Jewish Christians who migrated to India in 345 AD.

He explained that his name Chacko is the local derivation for Yacob, which is Latin for Jacob and English for James. According to tradition of Kerala Catholics, the second son gets the name of his mother’s father. Chacko was the name of his maternal grandfather.

The future priest spent much of his early childhood with his maternal grandparents, who were daily churchgoers and regularly held family prayers in the evening.

“My grandparents took me to church almost every day from the time I can remember, and I enjoyed going with them to Holy Mass,” said Father Puthumayil, pastor at Queen of Peace in La Marque. 

Growing up, he attended a local Catholic parochial school and was actively involved in Mission League activities for children and in various Sunday school activities, along with other cultural programs.

“This gave me a great desire to go to the missions and become a missionary priest,” he said.

In 1990, he joined the Missionary Society, which sent out priests to different dioceses in need of clergy. Father Puthumayil served the Society in the spiritual formation ministry of the seminary, as mission representative in the U.S. and as the Director General of the Society.

From 1991 to 1994, the priest served in the Diocese of Lake Charles as pastor while serving as the Mission Representative of the Missionary Society. In 1997, Father Puthumayil came to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and served as parochial vicar at St. Laurence Church in Sugar Land. In 2001, he was incardinated into the Archdiocese. 

On Dec. 14, he will be completing 40 years of priestly ministry. Father Puthumanyil recently visited with the Texas Catholic Herald about his life as a priest.

Texas Catholic Herald: When did you originally consider becoming a priest? Was there a precise point when you actually heard “the call,” or was it a gradual process for you?
Father Chacko Puthumayil: My first inkling to become a priest dawned in my mind on the day I received First Holy Communion, because I also wanted to give Jesus to others as [a]priest. 

In our Catholic high school, missionaries used to come and speak to us about the need for priests in the missions and that inspired me to want to go to the missions and become a priest to bring the Good News of salvation to so many people who want to hear the Word of God.

In our neighboring parish there was the first Mass celebration of a missionary priest, and the priest who gave the homily said, “we have many priests from our parish. Today we have a missionary priest. We have to be proud of him. He is a cause for joy and pride to our parish, because he is a missionary.” It stuck in my mind that I can also be a cause of joy and pride to my own parish by becoming a missionary priest.
Immediately after finishing high school, I went to the Mission Seminary of a diocese about 700 miles away from my hometown where they spoke a different language and were of a different cultural background. That was an area of great mission opportunity and there were many conversions there.

In 1971, I was ordained a priest for the Mission Diocese of Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, India. I served in that diocese until 1990 in different capacities. Meanwhile I had [the]opportunity to go and study in Rome for two years, and take up different spiritual formation courses in India.

TCH: Did you have a role model in the priesthood growing up or in the seminary? 
Father Puthumayil: There was not just one role model. In my early childhood and life with my grandparents, it was the priest who gave me First Holy Communion — [he had] great reverence for the Holy Mass and the Holy Eucharist.
Later, when I was in high school, it was one of the principals, a wonderful priest of great discipline and one greatly committed to his teaching ministry.

In the early minor seminary days, [I was inspired by] the Italian foreign missionaries and their whole-hearted dedication to the missionary journeys to remote villages.

In the major seminary, three of my professors were also my spiritual fathers.

TCH: Do you have any time to pursue hobbies? If so, what are some of your favorites?
Father Puthumayil: I do not consider it really a hobby, but I always like to hear the stories of the people who wanted to share with me their difficulties. Pastoral listening and pastoral counseling are among my interests.

TCH: What has being part of a parish community as pastor meant to you, both personally and spiritually?
Father Puthumayil: Though I liked being in the formation ministry in the seminary, I prefer to be in the parish, being with people and doing all I can to help them grow together spiritually. I am aware that I grow spiritually when I help people grow spiritually.

TCH: Do you have any advice for anyone discerning the priesthood or currently in the seminary?
Father Puthumayil: To all those who discern a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, I say give it a try! It is the “lived experience” that will help you discern better. Many are called, but a few are chosen. Allow yourselves to be chosen by God, if He wants to choose you. You will come to know His choice for you either to priestly or religious life, married life or to single life. Take time to discern. Going to the seminary is not forcing you to become a priest. But it is a very good way to discern what [it] is that God is calling you to become. †