(VMO) For the first time in 13 years, Holy Name of Jesus Parish, in Laval, has a new pastor. In its 50-year history, Fr. Joy Abraham Kulanjiyil, of the Order of the Carmelites, will be only the third man to shepherd Holy Name's flock.
On the Solemnity of All Saints, Bishop Thomas Dowd, auxiliary bishop of Montréal, presided over the installation mass of Holy Name's newest leader, to the acclaim of parishioners and visitors alike. A busload of Fr. Abraham's former parishioners, along with five other Carmelite priests from Mississauga and Niagara, came down to Laval to show support for their former associate pastor of 12 years.
Holy Name parishioners were rocked this past summer by the unexpected news that their beloved pastor, Fr. Peter Sabbath, and his associate pastor, Fr. Jason Piper, were to be included in the Archdiocese's clerical shuffle. Holy Name of Jesus is well known for its vibrant and rich parish life, which flourished under the leadership of Fr. Sabbath and Fr. Piper, who was well known and liked, having grown up as a child of the parish.
Amid a summer of questions and speculation as to why their priests' got moved, Bp. Dowd gave the answers "Holy Namers" sought during his November 1st homily. The bishop explained how three priests, who were at the helm of four parishes, had to step down due to various health and personal reasons. The need to regroup and redistribute diocesan resources was self-evident. The bishop candidly admitted he disliked moving priests from their parishes, and much preferred stability and continuation. Yet, the need was real. He confirmed Fr. Sabbath was indeed consulted during the process and that it was his generous acceptance that made this all possible.
That said, Bp. Dowd revealed he had a soft spot for Holy Name, as it was the first parish he served after his ordination, and wanted to make sure she was well taken care of.
In what initially resembled a series of unrelated events, the bishop found himself in the midst of an unraveling of a narrative authored by God. This past summer Dowd discovered that the parents of his retiring Associate Director attended a Carmelite parish in Mississauga, aptly named St. John of the Cross Carmelite Church. They spoke to their priests about the dire need for clergy in Montréal. One thing led to another and soon archdiocesan officials were speaking to the Carmelite provincial to explore the possibility of the Carmelites coming to Montréal - a first for the Archdiocese's English sector in 30 or 40 years. Bishop Dowd noted, "Given the situation and the opportunity, it seemed like the Holy Spirit. I don't know if He was tapping me on the shoulder or smacking me upside the head."
Thus, since the beginning of September, Fr. Abraham assumed pastoral duties at the Laval parish, where for the past 2 months he has worked hard as the sole clergyman. Fr. Deepak Jose, another Carmelite, who comes straight from India, had to wait for his immigration papers to be processed, and could only join Fr. Abraham for the first time the day of the installation mass. Visibly relieved, Fr. Abraham joked, "and since Fr. Deepak is here, I can finally take my day off".
Indeed, relief, joy and levity were in the air that Sunday. During his closing remarks, Fr. Abraham introduced Fr. Jose as his associate pastor, and Bp. Dowd interjected "Just so you know folks, he is the priest, not the youth group leader" - referring to the fact that at 31 years old, Fr. Jose is definitely one of the younger members of Montreal's clergy.
Admittedly this is a big change for Holy Name, as Fr. Abraham remarked "the first pastor was an Irishman, he was there for 40 years, the second pastor was Jewish, named Sabbath, but was still Catholic, and was there for 13 years, and now they are going to get an Indian." Yet, there is an air of optimism for the future of the Archdiocese that accompanies this wave of change. And Bp. Dowd is at the forefront of it. Recounting his meeting with the Carmelite provincial, the bishop said to him "I don't want the Carmelites to come to Holy Name of Jesus just to fill a hole. I want you to come here as Carmelites." In fact, His Excellency suggested a condition for the Carmelites arrival at Holy Name: that they establish a Carmelite prayer group so that the wisdom and the teachings of St John of the Cross can help nourish the spiritual lives of parishioners and, more broadly, the faithful of the archdiocese.
The parish of Holy Name of Jesus is experiencing a season of change, but parishioners and the wider archdiocesan community can pray as St. John of the Cross did, '"Well and good if all things change, O Lord God, provided I am rooted in You."