Holy Spirit Catholic Church parishioners gathered on Sunday to say goodbye to the churchâ€™s longest-serving priest.
The Rev. Joseph Ayathupadam spent over six of his 45 years in service to Holy Spirit.
â€œHe believed in us and he believed in this parish,â€ said church member Steve Beatty.
Many credit Ayathupadam with spearheading efforts to build a new parish activity center. The addition was greatly needed. In his time at Holy Spirit, the congregation grew from 260 to 476 families.
Others are thankful for his commitment to childrenâ€™s activities.
â€œHe told me, â€˜At Holy Spirit, the children come first,â€™â€ said Tony Fea, high school youth group director. â€œI appreciate his support and dedication.â€
This dedication has circled the globe in his nearly half-century of religious service.
During his tenure, he worked as a volunteer priest throughout India and Africa, assisting with small, newly-established parishes. He also traveled to Europe and Canada before emigrating to America in 1978.
â€œI wanted to see the world,â€ he said. â€œMostly, I succeeded in that.â€
Growing up in southern India, Ayathupadam knew early on that he wanted to serve in religious life. Because his elementary and middle school was connected with the Catholic Church, he saw first-hand the importance of clergy in spiritual life.
â€œI was attracted to their way of life,â€ he said.
Upon graduation from high school in 1952, Ayathupadam immediately joined the seminary. He was ordained as a priest in 1961.
From the beginning, he knew what he was called to doâ€” serve.
â€œMy mission as a priest is to serve the people, to do what is needed to help,â€ he said.
Because of his background in India, he felt equipped to deal with the poverty of other countries.
â€œSince I am from a poor country, I have all kinds of relationships with people from them.â€
Yet, he feels like living and working in America is to his advantage.
â€œIf I lived in India, I wouldnâ€™t be able to afford to give someone dinner on a priestâ€™s pay,â€ he said. â€œHere, I could do so many things.â€
For all his worldwide travel and aid, America is home for Ayathupadam, and itâ€™s where his heart is.
â€œI canâ€™t return to India,â€ he said. â€œI donâ€™t know many people there anymore. All my friends are gone or they are dead.â€
He recently bought a â€œfixer-upperâ€ in Charlotte and will spend his retirement years there.
Though happy for him, parishioner Jane Swengros will miss his presence.
â€œAs long as heâ€™s been with us heâ€™s been a great priest,â€ she said.
Church member Bob Johanssen agrees.
â€œHe was a very dedicated priest.â€
For Ayathupadam, he leaves Holy Spirit with little regret.
â€œI did my best to make a community of believers. Did I fail? No, I donâ€™t think so,â€ he said.
by Katie Rozycki