‘Unlikely’ vocations candidate celebrates jubilee

MERRICK — When he was growing up in India, Father Josep Augustine Kadungamparambil recalls with a smile, he was not considered an ideal vocations candidate.

“I was always in trouble,” said Father Augustine, associate pastor at Curé of Ars Church here, who teaches at Molloy College, Rockville Centre.

The sixth of nine children born to Josep and Philomena Kadungamparambil in Cochin, Kerala, a southern region of India, he was the most aggressive of his siblings, often getting into fights and facing discipline at home and at school.

One day, however, when he was in eighth grade, a bishop who was from his parish visited for Mass. The young man was struck by the gathering of many priests and seminarians from his parish, which was a hotbed of vocations.

At that moment, he began thinking about the priesthood. When he told his parents that he wanted to attend minor seminary to study to become a priest, many of his relatives and neighbors warned his parents that he would never make it.

His parents began walking daily 45 minutes to Mass to pray that their son would be a good priest. Earlier this year, Father Augustine celebrated the 25th anniversary of his priesthood at a parish Mass at Curé of Ars.

Father Augustine gives credit to the seminary for helping him mature. After finishing the minor seminary his vocation took an unexpected turn.

A visiting bishop from Varanasi, northern India, where there are fewer Catholics and fewer priests, noted the number of seminarians, and asked that two of them be sent to his diocese.

So Father Augustine was sent to a major seminary in Nagpur, India. Though he had to learn a new language and go to a region where Catholics were less easily accepted, he progressed through the seminary and was ordained April 4, 1987, at his home parish.

His first assignment was as associate pastor at Fatima Church in Birabhanti, Varanasi.

“It was the best experience,” he recalled. “We didn’t have electricity or running water. We had to bicycle from place to place and it was a long walk to get a bus or a taxi. But I learned what it meant to be a missionary.”

After three years he was transferred to administrator of a regional pastoral center. From there, his next two assignments were as pastor at two parishes. The second parish was Our Lady of the Rosary in Baijalpur.

“It was a notorious area. I didn’t want to go there,” because of incidents of attacks on Christians, Father Augustine said. “But God is generous,” and he found his missionary work fulfilling.

He served there three years but was then assigned to study for a master’s degree in theology at St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute. Completing his studies, he was assigned to St. John the Baptist, a minor seminary, as rector for five years. “I love teaching,” he said.

His bishop then sent him to France for doctoral studies in biblical theology. During summers, he went to Bohemia, Long Island, assisting at St. John Nepomucene.

“I loved it there,” Father Augustine said. “The people are so open and welcoming.” There he met Father Charles Mangano, associate pastor at the time, and the two became friends.

Father Augustine completed his studies and returned to the minor seminary as rector but continued to come to Long Island during summers. In 2006, when Father Mangano became pastor of Curé of Ars, he asked Father Augustine to come as associate pastor.

Here, Father Augustine said, he has found that same kind of welcome. He also enjoys teaching at Molloy.

Upon coming here, he and Father Mangano decided to try to reach out personally to the parish, undertaking to bless all the homes. “We blessed almost 400 homes,” but found it difficult to schedule more “because people are so busy. We still get calls from people asking us to bless homes and we go to them.”

Looking back on his last 25 years, Father Augustine said “I find no significant difficulties. There are challenging things, but I find happiness in my challenges. God can bring good from them — grace-filled opportunities.”

What he likes best about his priesthood, Father Augustine said, “is you are connected to God, connected to the people.”

Though he is happy here, he plans to return in a few years to India. “Here life is beautiful, but the challenging life of the missionary is always there waiting for me.”