Fr Jose Manjaly MS believes that he has come back home after being officially installed as the 23rd parish priest of St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith.
“When I came back from [being an Administrator at St Anthony of Padua Parish] Toongabbie, because I already knew the community, [and] I was only two years away from this parish community, it’s like I’m coming back home, like a boomerang,” Fr Joe, as he is known, told Catholic Outlook.
“The people know me, I know them, that makes a big difference.
“I feel that my ministry as a priest is a special gift [and] I enjoy ministering to people in parishes. Over the past 15 years, I have been in parishes to minister, whether it is as an assistant priest, or administrator, or parish priest, so I feel that it is my special call, even though I am a missionary priest,” he added.
Fr Joe was previously assistant priest at Penrith from 2012 to 2016 under his predecessor and fellow member of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette Fr Mathew Antony.
On Saturday 9 November, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, was the principal celebrant for Mass alongside Fr Joe, assistant priest Fr Jobi Payyappilly, Nepean Hospital Chaplain Fr Porathur Joy (PJ) and the Dean of Western Deanery and parish priest of St Joseph’s Kingswood, Fr Andrew Fornal OP.
Bishop Vincent said, “we join in prayer for Fr Joe for his ministry and service and leadership, which is reflected in the ministry of Christ, which is to serve and not to be served. Your prayers ensure Fr Joe is supported in his ministry.
“Today, we celebrate a new beginning or a new chapter in the life of this community. We give thanks for the pioneers, who have left us with the legacy of service in mission. We unite ourselves with the new shepherd Fr Jose who exemplifies the missionary spirit by his embrace of the unknown.
“Together as disciples of Christ, we endeavour to be the Church that is an oasis of hope and a soothing presence for all.”
Jacinta Paulo, office manager at the parish, says that having Fr Joe installed as parish priest will reassure the parishioners.
“Fr Joe’s return means a great deal to many parishioners who formed a relationship with him during his previous role as assistant priest. I understand that it is particularly hard to get to know and understand a new leader, so his presence will reassure the community at Penrith that they are being looked after by an old friend who knows and loves them already,” she said.
Fr Joe said, “it is, of course, a very humbling and a great privilege to serve in this local church as the parish priest of St Nick’s, which has a long history.
“It’s a humbling experience to be parish priest in this local place.
“In my ministry in parishes, I feel there is a lot of acceptance for me, whichever church I worked [in], I could journey with the parishioners. So I get a lot of support and cooperation.
“I consider this as my home – this parish, this church, where I am assigned – I always work hard, as if it is my home. That makes a big difference for people, they see that I don’t do anything just for myself.
“I always consider people first, then my personal priorities. I always make it a point that I’d do anything for their spiritual needs to be met,” Fr Joe explained.
Fr Joe was born in the central Kerala region of southern India and has four siblings. He was ordained as a member of the La Salette community on 8 September 2005, on Mother Mary’s birthday.
“I used to go to the church every day with my sister, and my sister once told me ‘maybe you can become a missionary priest’, and that caught my attention. [From that day], I prayed to be commissioned as a priest, and finally, when I finished my high school studies, I joined the Missionaries of La Salette,” Fr Joe said.
Fr Joe’s first appointment after his ordination was as parish priest at the Immaculate Conception Parish in Kerala, and then moved to St Francis of Assisi Parish in North Kerala, where he had previously served as a deacon. He then moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, where he servied as an assistant priest for four years.
In September 2011, Fr Joe came to Australia, where his first appointment was as an assistant priest at St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Marayong for one year, before joining Penrith in 2012. In 2016, he became Administrator of Toongabbie, and returned to Penrith in February 2019.
Fr Joe explained, “the parish has got a vibrant and multicultural community…we have 36 countries represented here. It is a big challenge, but at the same time, an important ministry to look after, to make everybody feel welcomed and [to see] everybody consider the church as their second home.
“Whether someone has been in the parish for 60 years or whether it is someone who has [only been] here for one year, my aim is that everybody feels equal and everybody feels at home, irrespective of the duration of their parish involvement.
“I would like [to encourage] more lay leadership [in the parish], and trying to bring more awareness for the importance of people’s responsibility and the people’s church, rather than ‘the church is the responsibility of the priest.’
“A sense of belonging is my main agenda. I want to make people feel ‘this is my parish, this is my home,’ and they need to look after it, not the priest,” he said.
Jacinta explained that Fr Joe wants the parish to become a ‘lighthouse’ for the local community.
“I hope that through his leadership, Fr Joe will be able to reaffirm the Catholic community of their absolute worth and their need to be prominent examples of faith in Penrith.
“We are fortunate to be in a high traffic area of Western Sydney and many workers or passers-by often take respite on our lawns or in the shade of a tree, some may just sit quietly in the church.
“Fr Joe has said that this should be a ‘lighthouse,’ a place of Reconciliation and healing for Penrith, a place that promotes stronger families and individuals needing the grace to heal.
“We already have CatholicCare and a great Vinnies conference on site and the La Salette priests’ charism is Reconciliation, so I hope that Penrith will see a brighter lighthouse in the near future,” Jacinta said.
Parishioner and Acolyte Joe Tabone told Catholic Outlook, “St Nicholas of Myra Parish is truly blessed to have Fr Joe appointed as our parish priest.
“I felt touched by the parishioners response when Bishop Vincent told the congregation, ‘People of St Nicholas of Myra Parish, I invite you to greet your new parish priest and to make him welcome among you.’ The whole congregation in a loud resounding roar, clapped and cheered and really made [Fr Joe] feel very welcomed.
“May God bless him in his new ministry and I’m looking forward to working with him for the benefit of the parish,” Joe said.
Fr Joe said, “I would like to thank God for the great gift of my priesthood. It is because of His kindness and mercy that I am a priest.
“When I came here [in February], I said that quote from the Bible of King Solomon’s prayer, ‘O Lord God, You have let me succeed my father as king, here I am among the people you have chosen to be your own, give me the wisdom I need to serve your people with love and compassion,’
“The Diocese [of Parramatta] has been a huge support, not just now, but over my eight years of priestly ministry here. All the priests are always very supportive and encouraging.
“I was humbled and I am thankful to the Diocese and to the Bishop [Vincent] for giving me such an opportunity and trusting me as a priest to bring good things to these people of Penrith,” Fr Joe said.
Following Mass, a light supper was held in celebration of Fr Joe’s appointment.