ONE of the first Indian priests from the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament to serve in Australia has been named a provincial superior for the order.
Fr Joseph Thottankara, one of two India priests invited to serve in Toowoomba in the 1980s, is the new provincial superior for the Zion province in Kerala.
As the new provincial superior, Fr Thottankara will be in charge of encouraging nearly 200 priests in the Zion province, which includes several priests serving in Brisbane.
Brisbane is home to eight MCBS priests and there is another serving in Toowoomba.
Before his appointment as provincial leader for the congregation, Fr Thottankara was undertaking his third posting in Australia as parish priest for Holland Park Mt Gravatt parish in Brisbane.
“Australia has become part of my life in a sense,” he said.
“Maybe half of my priesthood has been here, ministering here, so my priestly life is partly influenced by the Australian community.
“I call this my second home.”
But no matter how much Australia has felt like home for Fr Thottankara, he just can’t shake his support for Test cricket’s new number one team.
“Some people ask me, ‘Who do you support in cricket?’” he said.
“I say, the ‘Indian team’ – whether they lose or not doesn’t matter.
“Second, (the) Australian team – when any other people come to play (I support) the Australian team, I tell the people that.”
After his initial mission in Toowoomba, Fr Thottankara moved back to India before returning to Australia to work in the Brisbane archdiocese in 1997.
He spent more than four years at Surfers Paradise but was called back to India for another 13 years, serving as rector for the minor seminary and as a mission superior.
“I came back to Australia in 2013,” Fr Thottankara said.
“I have been in the country parish like Roma, and I had experienced the city, Gold Coast and Brisbane, so I had a variety of experience in this place.
“I found it very rich and precious; those experiences made me who I am.”
Fr Thottankara was also instrumental in opening the first mission house base for his congregation, located at Holland Park.
Ordained a priest in 1981, Fr Thottankara followed a deep desire to serve the poor.
“That was my attraction, helping the poor,” he said.
“I visited so many remote areas of India (and) that gave me an incentive to work for such people.”
The desire to serve the poor never waned, even in his missions in Australia.
“I have seen in the Gold Coast and in other areas, really people on the street,” Fr Thottankara said.
“I was also getting involved in Rosies and I have seen real street kids.
“People were sleeping outside our church at St Vincent’s (in Surfers Paradise) and when we go to Monday morning for Mass there were so many people sleeping there, we had to move them to get into the church.
“There is poverty in Australia in that sense.
“I buried so many people, those who have taken drugs and died.”
Fr Thottankara returned to India on May 1 and began his new role on May 2.
Fr Joson Antony, former associate pastor at Caboolture, will take over from Fr Thottankara at Holland Park Mt Gravatt.