The New Priests

These seminaries are forming the next generation of priests in India

text by Anubha George with photographs by Meenakshi Soman

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Martin Pattarumadathil first considered priesthood in 2001. Two years later, he entered a seminary in Kerala. He left soon after, however, for an opportunity he felt he could not pass up: a position in Vietnam as a merchandiser for a clothing company.

Years passed, but Mr. Pattarumadathil never felt he had acclimated to the lavish new lifestyle this change had introduced.

“I found that life of luxury, of money and of going off to clubs wasn’t for me,” he says. “I felt God was showering his blessings on me and protecting me from that which could have tainted me.”

Most of a decade later, in 2012, he left material success behind. Now, the 35-year-old is completing his final year of theological study at St. Thomas the Apostle Seminary in Vadavathoor, a small village close to Kottayam in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. In November, he will return to his parish in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu with a recommendation to his bishop about whether or not he should be ordained a priest.

“I never again want to leave the church. I just want to be a man of prayer. Through my words and deeds people should be able to see Christ,” Mr. Pattarumadathil says.

Since 1962, this seminary has been preparing its students for precisely this: a life emulating Christ.

“This is a pastoral seminary; we prepare the seminarians to be priests,” says the Rev. Joy Ainiyadan, its rector since 2015.

“The aim of the formation is to make them another Christ.”

Father Ainiyadan explains the formation process focuses on “body, mind and soul liberation” — emphasizing the need for physical, mental and spiritual fitness.

“We have daily exercise, games and daily labor for our seminarians,” Father Ainiyadan explains. “The body should never be a hindrance to our religious and spiritual endeavors.”

To strengthen the mind, seminarians study philosophy and theology. “Seminarians are taught how to present their cases in a systematic and logical way, even in the most hostile environment,” Father Ainiyadan says.

And for their spiritual fitness, they employ a disciplined regime of prayer and reflection.

“We begin the day just after 5 a.m.,” says the Syro-Malabar Catholic priest. “Meditation, prayer and the Divine Liturgy are to develop them spiritually,” he says, adding that the seminary’s spiritual philosophy is rooted in the first letter of John: “We dwell in him and he in us.”

The seminary grounds include an acre of land devoted to sports, including soccer fields and basketball and badminton courts. A well-stocked library and five chapels afford plenty of space for study and prayer. In the last 55 years, the seminary has formed more than 2,000 priests, including 42 in 2017 — about a fifth of its body of 215 students. These thousands may now be found serving communities in Australia, Austria, New Zealand, the United States and, of course, different parts of India.

“A priest takes care of the sheep. Our priests are taught to be the presence of Jesus in the world,” Father Ainiyadan says. “Ours is a ministry of preaching that’s understandable to people.”

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