St. Mary’s welcomes Father Joe

S t. Mary’s is buzzing with activity these days.

Parishioners zip in and out of the doors as they help the Rev. Joseph Arockiasamy (pronounced A-row-ki-sa-mi) get settled on Bulkley Avenue.

Someone is helping to clean the kitchen; another parishioner helps by taking cardboard boxes to be recycled, and still another is taking out the garbage – it seems like the front door to the rectory is open more than it’s closed.

Through it all the man who asks to be called Father Joe is smiling. “People are giving their time; you can make miracles and magic when people come together,” Arockiasamy said.

Since taking the helm at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Jan. 1, Arockiasamy has been working to learn names and meet people as well as sending the word Granville’s Catholic community has a permanent priest again.

“I came with hope because I did not know anything about Granville and the parish or the church – like Abraham, when the Lord asked him to go …” Arockiasamy said.

His reception in Granville can only be described as “warm-hearted,” he said. On his first day in town he said he received a box of chocolates dropped off by some of the children along with a card saying they were happy to have him here. “That was really wonderful,” he said.

Arockiasamy said he wants people to know two things. First he does not plan to change anything from what was waking place before he arrived and two, he is hoping to see some new, old faces.

Although some parishioners might have stopped coming to Mass or come less often or even started to go to another location for services, Arockiasamy said he’s looking forward to seeing those folks come back.

The departure and drop in attendance had a real dollars and cents impact on St. Mary’s and what it can do. Arockiasamy said contributions were down by $35,000 versus the previous year — something he chocked up to the instability and unhappiness brought on by the Rev. Thomas Zelker’s reassignment.

Arockiasamy is confident parishioners and the contributions will come back. “As a servant of God – it is his church – he will provide that is my faith,” he said. “Priests will come and go. … You have to take ownership. It’s your church.”

As someone who’s new in town, Arockiasay said he plans to observe and learn. “I’m not going to change anything. I plan to study and learn the culture and traditions of this community and learn the good things from it – I don’t want to stand apart; that’s not good,” Arockiasamy said.

Although he’s new, he’s here to stay and he wants everyone to know that, he said.

“I’m going to laugh with you, cry with you. I’m going to walk with you on your journey,” he said.

Arockiasamy, the first half of his name translates from Sanskrit to “good health” and the second part “God of” grew up Catholic in southern India. Arockiasamy said religious service in the Catholic Church is a tradition for his family; one sister is a nun and there are five other priests and three more nuns on his family tree.  

Coming to Granville represents a personal challenge for him, Arockiasamy said.

His own situation parallels the one that took place in Granville during the past spring and summer; after working in Stamford, Conn., for many years he was, like Zelker, suddenly reassigned and pushed out of his “comfort zone.”

Without a priest since Zelker was reassigned to Hoosick Falls, parishioners at Sunday’s welcome dinner matched Father Joe in heartfelt enthusiasm for having a permanent priest at the helm of St. Mary’s once again.

Parish Council member Rita Devine said in opening remarks the congregation was “wounded” but beginning to heal.

It will take time, but it will take place, she said. “We are here to help you restore the trust and enthusiasm of our past.”

More than 100 parishioners gathered with other well wishers to welcome Father Joe Sunday afternoon at the Knights of Columbus Hall on East Potter Avenue. Representatives of the Granville Ecumenical Council, including the Revs. Jim Peterson, Jerry McKinney and Ginny Deyo, joined members of the St. Mary’s congregation in the first of what everyone hoped would be many communal meals together. 

“I’m honored to be here. I’m happy to stand in the midst of holy and caring people – I’m so happy you cannot measure,” Arockiasamy said.

Arockiasamy said he planned to be in Granville for a long time. “I’ll be with you – unless you give (me) trouble,” Arockiasamy quipped, drawing laughter from the assembled crowd.

From the back of the room a voice chimed in “and we’ll be with you, Father.”

Members of the congregation were obviously thrilled to have a new priest.

“It’s a good thing he’s here; it’s good for the whole faith-based community – he’s a wonderful treasure,” parishioner Paul Labas said.

“He’s awesome. We love him. We’re happy he’s here and we’re happy to welcome him to our family,” Patti Perry said.

Arockiasamy said he doesn’t have plans to change anything that’s been happening at St. Mary’s, but he does plan an addition or two. After finishing his meal Sunday, Arockiasamy was on his feet shooting pictures of members of the congregation as they ate.

Arockiasamy said one of the things he wants to do is create a website to help show off all of the events at St. Mary’s.

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