St Francis de Sales, the patron of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales (MSFS), has been called “the Gentleman Saint” because of his patience and gentleness.
The same qualities can be said of Fr Clifford D’souza MSFS.
Fr Clifford is the parish administrator of the parish of Richmond.
Fr Clifford says that he grew up in a “happy” and devout Catholic family in Mumbai, India. He is the eldest of three siblings, following his older brother’s death.
“We went to church every Sunday. I received my sacraments at my home parish of St John the Evangelist in Mumbai,” Fr Clifford said.
“I remember my Mum teaching me some prayers in preparation for my First Eucharist.
“I was an altar server during my middle school years, and we would have weekly devotions and pray the rosary at home as a family.”
Fr Clifford attended primary and secondary schools run by the Jesuits in Mumbai. It was during a retreat in Year 10 that he felt called to the priesthood.
“During prayer time, I asked myself what I wanted to do with my life, and the desire to become a priest was the answer.
“I wanted to serve God and society. It was what I felt my heart wanted.
“My parents were happy and supportive of my decision to join the priesthood. My mother was a bit protective of me, not wanting me to leave home,” he explained.
Fr Clifford entered the Fransalian seminary in Goa, India in 1981, and completed his studies at the Papal Athenium in Pune, India, in 1991.
“I encountered some Missionaries of St Francis de Sales priests and I was inspired by their life and work, especially in the missions,” Fr Clifford said.
“St Francis de Sales’ writings, specifically the spiritual classic Introduction to the Devout Life, and his personal life of gentleness continue to inspire me.”
Whilst in his formation years in the seminary, Fr Clifford completed a Bachelor of Arts, a Masters of Arts and a Bachelor of Education to qualify him as a teacher.
He was ordained a priest by Bishop Thomas Dabre, then-Auxiliary Bishop of Mumbai at the Congregations Community parish in Mumbai on 4 May 1991.
“I was sent to do missionary work in some of the poorest, most-remote parts of India. Wherever I was sent, I was happy.
“My first posting was as a teacher at a secondary school in Goa, where I was the director for the boarding school and I taught scripture. I was there for three years.
“I was then sent to be an assisting priest at a mission parish for three years in a remote area of southern India, where I was helping and serving the parishioners.
“I then returned to Goa and was a secondary school teacher, teaching English and History.
“In 2000, I was sent by my Superior to come to the Diocese of Parramatta in Australia,” Fr Clifford said.
Fr Clifford assisted at multiple parishes across the diocese including Mary Immaculate Parish, Quakers Hill, St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith, Holy Trinity Parish, Granville and the neighbouring St Matthew’s Parish in Windsor, before settling at Richmond.
Fr Clifford was appointed parish administrator of the Parish of Richmond in May 2015.
“The time has gone by so quickly,” Fr Clifford laughed.
“A highlight of my time at Richmond has been meeting with parishioners, conducting pastoral care work in the local community, attending reflection days with the parish groups and celebrating the Eucharist.
“We have three different communities in the parish from Richmond, North Richmond and Kurrajong. It does have its challenges, but it is a joy interacting with all our parishioners.”
The interaction with every parishioner has been Fr Clifford’s biggest reward of his vocation.
“I enjoy meeting with parishioners, interacting with them and assisting them on their faith journey,” he said.
Fr Clifford believes that the biggest challenge he faces in his priesthood is the balance between pastoral and administrative duties.
“Sometimes, the administrative work gets in the way of my pastoral ministry. There are times where I feel I don’t spend enough time with the parishioners in the parish,” he explained.
Looking to the future, Fr Clifford hopes that the parish and the diocese continues to grow in faith, and that his own priesthood is strengthened in time.
“My hopes for the future of Richmond is that the community will continue to be nourished in faith and that more people will volunteer and take up various ministries in the parish.
“I hope that I continue to live out my priesthood and my vocation every day.
“I hope that the Diocese of Parramatta continues to grow and that it becomes more vibrant in its multiculturalism and its outreach to other communities.
“A piece of advice I would like to give it to always rely on the grace and strength from God to do what you can. Leave the rest to God. Trust in Him.”