Rev. Fr. Bruno Venturin, PIME
“A promise made and kept” best explains Rev. Fr. Bruno Venturin, PIME, the pioneer and founder of the Church of Our Lady of Health of Velankanni, Irla, which has come a long way on the devotional path and brought us to the celebration of our Golden Jubilee (1968-2018).
Born on June 14, 1909 in Camposampiero, Treviso, Italy, Fr. Venturin joined the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) and was ordained a Priest in 1932. Fr. Venturin was deputed to Vijayawada in 1935 and worked as a Missionary for over thirty years attached to various parishes and missions in Andhra Pradesh.
In 1967 Fr. Venturin was appointed PIME Procurator and took up residence in Dil Pazir, Irla. A dedicated Missionary of petite stature and a long flowing beard, Fr. Venturin was well liked and loved by everyone. Gentle and soft spoken, he soon became popular in Irla as the blue-eyed priest, exuding warmth and kindness.
Fr. Venturin would celebrate daily Mass at the Convent of the Carmelite Sisters of Charity (Vedruna), housed in the building which is now Jewel Nursing Home. Realising the need for a place of worship for the considerably large number of Catholic families in the vicinity, Fr. Venturin ventured to celebrate the midnight Christmas mass 1967 in the open space outside his residence. Moved by the overwhelming response, Fr. Venturin promised the assembled faithful that he would build a church in the neighbourhood. Indeed a bold promise from a Missionary, with neither land nor structure to have to start with.
With great trust in God and drawing strength from his missionary zeal and past experience, Fr. Venturin, took up the challenge and commenced his pastoral work in Irla by erecting a temporary shack on donated land and began celebrating Holy Mass on Sundays. Through sheer grit, dedication and great devotion, backed by the Church Committee, a chapel was soon constructed, where the Prayer Hall now stands, and was dedicated to Our Lady of Health of Velankanni.
His deep devotion to Mother Mary, led him to initiate the Novena in honour of Our Lady of Health of Velankanni and the first Annual Novena commenced with hoisting the ceremonial flag on August 30, 1968 and concluded with the Feast of the Nativity. To foster continuity of the devotion, Mass and Novena services were introduced every Saturday in English, moving on to introduction of Marathi Mass and Novena in 1970 and adding Konkani services in 1976. Carrying the statue of Our Lady in Procession was a great devotional attraction begun by Fr. Venturin.
In September 1968, Fr. Venturin was installed as the first Parish Priest of Irla Quasi Parish. The next priority for Fr. Venturin was to choose an appropriate location to house the church. Amid differing opinions and bracing diverse temperaments of the then parishioners, and as Divine Providence would have it, the church came up at its current location.
During the ten years that he served in Irla, at various times he was assisted by PIME priests Fr. Carlo Radice, Fr. John Subramaniam Iyer, Fr. George Puthenpura, Fr. Augustine Palett and Fr. Dominico Vivenzi.
The Parish Community of Irla and the devotees are indebted to Fr. Venturin for not only giving us a place of worship but also launching the devotion to Our Lady of Health of Velankanni which continues to bestow solace to thousands of devotees. Fr. Venturin will continue to remain in our memory as a Missionary with a vision, determined but humble, with deep affection for humanity, especially the neglected and children.
In 1978, owing to his frail health, Fr. Venturin returned to his homeland Italy and was laid to rest on May 13, 1979. With deep gratitude in our hearts, his memory has been immortalised in Irla by naming the 2nd floor of the church building as Fr. Venturin Hall, as a fond and cherished reminder of his pioneering work and spirit.
Rev. Fr. Rajrussel James Tributius, PIME
Fr. Raj as he was popularly known was born on 15th July, 1929 at Jamestown, Tamil Nadu, and was ordained a Diocesan Priest on 6th April, 1957. He made his Definitive Promise on 31st July, 1967 and thereafter joined the PIME Order.
He was installed as a Parish Priest of Our Lady of Health of Velankanni Church (OLVC) Irla, on September 6, 1978. On September 10, 1978 OLVC was elevated from quasi-Parish status to full-fledged Parish.
By then, devotion to Our Lady of Velankanni was growing and attracting large number of devotees to the Saturday Novena services. He wanted to bring in many reforms in the Parish to consolidate and continue the work begun by Fr. Venturin. In order to provide a comfortable and prayerful environment for the devotees, he undertook renovation and structural changes in and around the church building. A veranda with a covered roof was added as an extension. To maintain sanctity, a separate Sacristy was added and pews provided inside the church. Available open space was converted into an office and above it a residence for the priest.
At the time, the statue of Mother Mary was at a considerable height on the Altar. Fr. Raj ordered a second statue of Our Lady with Jesus in one hand and the other hand stretched out to bless the devotees. He had this installed at the entrance of the church so that devotees could approach and venerate Mother Mary at any time even while the church doors were closed. The route of the solemn procession an annual prayerful attraction was re-routed and extended to cover part of Vile Parle, this route is being followed to date.
Though the stocky figure of Fr. Raj, gave the impression of a very stern priest, he was easily approachable, practical and always helpful. However, being a strict disciplinarian in spiritual matters, Fr. Raj emphasized the importance of the Word of God through his powerful homilies and each family was asked to consecrate the Bible in their home. He also urged the parishioners to be punctual for Holy Mass, to worthily receive the Sacraments, to occupy the pews inside the church and also follow a modest dress code. He is the only Parish Priest in Irla to have refused to start Sunday Mass unless everyone standing outside occupied the pews inside the church. Fr. Raj was assisted by Fr. Melchior Raja a PIME Priest in the pastoral and administrative work of the Parish.
Post-bifurcation of the Parish from St. Blaise Church, Amboli, there was no designated cemetery for Irla. Fr. Raj initiated a dialogue with government officials, which subsequently resulted in allotment of a plot for a Catholic cemetery at Oshiwara.
After his three-year term as Parish Priest, Fr. Raj returned to Andhra Pradesh to continue his Missionary life. At the age of 81, after a brief illness, Fr. Raj passed away on 28th April 2011 and his remains are buried at the Shrine of Our Lady of Gunadala Cemetery, Vijayawada. We are grateful to Fr. Raj for his dedicated work in our Parish.
Rev. Fr. Lino Dal Balcon, PIME
Fr. Lino Dal Balcon born on 29th November, 1912 in Malo, Vicenza in Italy, initiated his formation with the PIME Order in 1926. After he made his Definitive Promise in 1934, he was ordained a priest and came to India in 1935. He worked as a Missionary in Warangal and Hyderabad for over 45 years before coming to Irla.
Fr. Lino was appointed Parish Priest of OLVC, Irla in 1981. Though aged 69 at the time, he looked distinguished with his tall frame and imposing personality. The parishioners and devotees alike were impressed by his piety and soft spoken nature and one would see long queues of devotees and parishioners lining up for his blessing after every mass. Around the same time, Fr. Masala, PIME, was appointed on the Parish Team to assist Fr. Lino.
On taking up the mantle of Parish Priest, Fr. Lino laid emphasis on adopting the Archdiocesan Pastoral Guidelines in the Parish. He got down to activating the Pastoral Parish Council. He reached out to the youth to come together to form a formal Youth Group. On 6th August, 1983, the Irla Chapter of St. Vincent de Paul, a lay organisation to serve those below poverty line, was started. To nurture prayer life, a group of parishioners were encouraged to come together and form the Charismatic Group, which met every week and also attracted persons from neighbouring parishes.
Fostering the seed sown by Fr. Raj the previous Parish Priest, due emphasis was given to Bible study and a Bible Group was set up. Fr. Lino was very fond of children and took personal interest in Catechism classes conducted on Sundays with the help of sisters and Novices from Vedruna Convent. Group Reconciliation Services were held at regular intervals to encourage and prepare the children to worthily receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
With increase in Tamil speaking devotees, a need was felt to have Holy Mass and Novena in Tamil. Fr. Lino took the initiative to invite Tamil Chaplains from various parts of Mumbai to conduct the Novena in Tamil every Saturday. He was fascinated with the Konkani language and their soulful singing. So much so that he went to the extent of celebrating a Mass and Novena service in Konkani to the astonishment of the devotees.
A great Pastor and dedicated Missionary, Fr. Lino spent rest of his life in Lecco, Italy, and died on October 20, 1997 at the age of 85. The Parish Community of Irla remains ever grateful to Fr. Lino for his service to OLVC, Irla.
Rev. Fr. Benito Picascia, PIME
Born in Qualino, Italy on 16th February 1935, Fr. Benito Picascia joined the PIME order and was ordained a Priest on 18th June, 1961. He held a Doctorate in Moral Theology from Rome. He was engaged in missionary service in Andhra Pradesh and various Missions abroad prior to coming to Irla.
Fr. Picascia took charge of the OLV Parish in 1984 on retirement of Fr. Lino Dal Balcon. He was very learned with clear concepts on diverse issues. A devout priest, gentle in his demeanour with a smiling disposition, Fr. Picascia was extremely enthusiastic and wanted to do a lot for the Parish.
He continued to foster pastoral activities in the Parish. The Archdiocese had exhorted the Parishes to set aside a place for private adoration and prayer. Setting up of the Crypt as it was called then and its beautification was Fr. Benito’s cherished project. He arranged for the Tabernacle in the Crypt, now called the Adoration Chapel, to be brought all the way from Italy which was a gift to Irla Parish from his mother. Language being a barrier, to mingle better and know the customs and rituals of the locals, Fr. Benito made every attempt to learn Marathi and Hindi.
Three years down the line Fr. Picascia was elected Regional Superior for India of the PIME congregation and had to move to Eluru, Vijayawada. Fr. Dominico Vivenzi, a PIME Resident Priest took on major responsibility pertaining to the pastoral and administrative work of the Parish. He gave a boost to the Bible Group and also restructured various Parish organizations according to their respective charter.
Fr. Picascia, on completion of his term as the Regional Superior moved on to other missions of the PIME. Later he was closely associated with the PIME Seminary in Decenta, Italy, as a Professor. After a short period of convalescence, at the age of 82, Fr. Picascia died in Italy on 30th July, 2018. We are deeply indebted to Fr. Picascia for his pastoral work in our Parish. We had memorial service in our Parish on 19th August, 2018 during the 7:00 am Mass.
Rev. Fr. Augustine Palett, PIME
Fr. Augustine Palett was the longest serving Priest of OLVC having completed two full terms as Parish Priest from 1988 to 1994 and again from 2009 to 2017; and prior to that as Assistant Parish Priest and Procurator from 1974-77.
Born on September 20, 1942 near Kanjirathanam, Kottayam, Kerala, he joined the PIME Seminary and was ordained a Priest on May 27, 1972. Alongside his priestly studies and missionary work, Fr. Augustine pursued academic studies and acquired degrees in Theology, Law, Nursing and Literature. He was appointed Parish Priest of OLVC, Irla, in 1988.
1988 – 1994
Fr. Augustine, during first term as Parish Priest of OLVC, gave a big boost to the Novena devotions and pursued the pastoral plan and faith formation. Holy Masses followed by Agape were held in each of the eight zones of the Parish. As directed by the Archdiocese the zones were split into small clusters of 9/10 families which were encouraged to meet as often as possible for prayer and Bible sharing. Fr. Augustine often visited families and interacted closely with the Parishioners and devotees. He made it a point to personally visit the sick and homebound to administer the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. He had the knack of tracking the inherent talent of the Parishioners and inviting them to join church service by enrolling in different Lay Organisations. The Parish Council members, Sunday Catechism School, Youth Group were encouraged to initiate spiritual and cultural activities. During this time, Fr. Antonio Grugni and Fr. George Thailammanal Resident PIME Priests assisted Fr. Augustine in the pastoral work of the parish.
Following the announcement by Pope John Paul II to celebrate a Marian Year from June 1987 to August 1988 to honour the Virgin Mary as the Mother of the Church, Fr. Augustine encouraged the formation of Legion of Mary and praying the Rosary in every family. He himself would join the Rosary in the church every evening before Mass. A walking pilgrimage was held to Mount Mary’s Basilica, which is now an annual spiritual event.
Cooper Hospital being one of the biggest Municipal General Hospitals in the suburbs, sick and accident cases from far off places were admitted there. He was always on call and visited the hospital if any devotee approached him. He would also help the needy to receive medical attention by referring them to his contacts in the hospital.
Annual Novena and Feast in 1992 was eventful – Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Novena Services at OLVC. Fr. Augustine was very passionate about this celebration. A Silver Jubilee Committee was appointed. The entire Parish was involved and the Feast Mass was celebrated by His Eminence Cardinal Simon Pimenta and the Silver Jubilee Souvenir brought out to mark the occasion was officially released.
In 1994 Fr. Augustine relinquished the office of Parish Priest. Thereafter, he was assigned to the Missions in Papua New Guinea. He also served two consecutive terms as Regional Superior of PIME for India and later on as a Missionary in Ranchi (Jharkhand).
2009 – 2017
In 2009, Fr. Augustine was once again appointed Parish Priest of OLVC, Irla, on the departure of Fr. George Thailamannal. Fr. Augustine a good administrator and well known for his diplomacy could manage the situation and brought the parish community together.
By then most of the lay organisations of the Parish were well established and went about their activity and all on-going spiritual activities continued with encouragement from Fr. Augustine. The Communites held their annual mass in the church followed by a get together which was subsidized from the Community Welfare Fund. Deserving children from the parish were given education aid and every Friday medical aid was distributed to parishioners and outsiders seeking assistance.
In 2014, to commemorate 50 years of the Eucharistic Congress held in Mumbai, the Blessed Sacrament was taken in a chain among the Parishes of Mumbai. Elaborate arrangements were made and the whole Parish was involved. Fr. Augustine led the devotion right from receiving the Blessed Sacrament from St. Blaise Church, the night vigil followed by Procession to St. Xavier’s Church, Vile Parle and then he back to Irla to offer 6.30 a.m. mass.
Pope Francis declared December 2015 – November, 2016 as the Jubilee Year of Mercy. He also granted Plenary Indulgence for Jubilee Year of Our Mother of Perpetual Help from June 2015 – June 2016. Fr. Augustine made suitable arrangements and encouraged parishioners to avail of these once in a lifetime spiritual opportunities.
Fr. Augustine was totally committed to his pastoral work. One would see him coming down to distribute Holy Communion for all Novena services on Saturdays and all the masses during the 9-day Annual Novena, which he continued till the end. Besides, he made sure requests for Holy Communion from all the hospitals under Irla jurisdiction were met either by a Priest, Sister or an Extra-ordinary Minister. Always helped the poor and needy directly or inviting people to contribute towards justifiable causes.
His door and hands were always open to help the Parishioners and devotees alike. A Missionary in the true sense, he lived a very simple life, spending little on himself and his personal comfort but generous towards others.
Fr. Marlin de Cruz (HGN), PIME Priests Fr. Elson J. Galton, Fr. Vijay Kumar Raja, Fr. Vijaychandra Chigurupati and Fr. Vijay Pratap (Diocesan) were associated with the Parish as Assistant Parish Priests / Resident Priests during Fr. Augustine’s tenure as Parish Priest of OLVC.
Having celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the Novena during his first term as Parish Priest, he had an intense desire to celebrate the Golden Jubilee year 2017-18. However, this was not to be as he had to suddenly resign as Parish Priest after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and returned to the PIME Regional House in Eluru, for convalescing. He died on March 11, 2017 and his mortal remains are buried at the Shrine of Our Lady of Gunadala Cemetary in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. We are enormously grateful to Fr. Augustine for over 17 years of fruitful service in this Parish.
A memorial service was held for the repose of Fr. Augustine on 19th April, 2017.
Rev. Fr. Carlo Rimondi, PIME
Although Fr. Carlo Rimondi took over as Parish Priest in 1994, he along with another prelate of the PIME is credited with visiting Mumbai in March 1967 and identifying Irla to set up their residence in Mumbai.
He was born on 21st September, 1924 in Italy and after formation was ordained a PIME Priest on 29th June, 1947. Fr. Rimondi served in many Missions of the PIME and was also their Director for Vocations. He had excellent literary skills and was the Editor of PIME Newsletter, Asia News and Inter Nos for many years. Fr. Carlo was already serving on the Parish Team when appointed as the Parish Priest of OLVC.
Though advanced in years and restricted due to his physical ailments, he was very enthusiastic and dedicated to his Ministry, tirelessly attending to all the pastoral work of the Parish. Fr. Rimondi had a friendly disposition towards young and elderly alike. He could be having meaningful debate or serious conversation on topics ranging from religion, politics or finance and the next moment could have everyone in splits with his hilarious humour. Very generous with money, his belief was ‘money not spent on clothing and feeding the poor had no meaning’. He endeared to everyone and was fondly called ‘Our Pope in Irla’.
Over the years the role of the Pastoral Parish Council and the Finance Committee were obscure and overlapping, giving rise to undue discussion at the meetings. Around this time, Bishop Mathew Cheriankunnel PIME, Bishop Emeritus of Kurnool was on the Parish Team. Together they redefined the distinctive roles of these two important Parish organizations in line with the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan. All Lay Organisations of the Parish were revived. The number of children in Sunday Catechism School had peaked although no proper seating arrangement existed. A new face was given to the Sunday Catechism School by appointing new Catechists, adopting new syllabus provided by the Diocesan Catechetical Centre and setting up classrooms where the children could be free of distraction. Our Sunday school began to participate in Faith Formation and cultural activities at the Deanery level. Training the children to be Lectors in the church was taken up for the first time.
Fr. Rimondi closely associated with all the lay organisations of the Parish. He was the Spiritual Director of Legion of Mary. In a first, he commissioned five Legionaries as Eucharistic Ministers (now called Extra-ordinary Ministers) to take Holy Communion to the homebound and assist during the Novena services. PIME Fathers Antonio Grugni, Anthony Thota and Fr. Rayappa were of great assistance to him especially in the spiritual and pastoral work of the Parish.
Fr. Rimondi also attended to the much needed repairs and renovation of the church building, residence and Velankanni Recreation Centre which was a disputed and neglected plot of land.
On completion of his term as Parish Priest, Fr. Rimondi continued on the Parish team as Assistant Parish Priest and regaled the Parishioners comparing the PIME policy of placements to a football which could be tossed to and fro anywhere anytime and amiably accepted in the Order. He continued on the Parish Team till his health failed him. The Parish Community of Irla is very appreciative of Fr. Rimondi’s dedicated service regardless of his age and ailments.
He spent the last years of his life convalescing at the Regional House of the PIME in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh, and died on 15th October 2007 when he was 83. His wish was to be buried in India and was laid to rest at the cemetery of the Shrine of Our Lady of Gunadala, Vijayawada.
Rev. Fr. Antonio Grugni, PIME
Fr. Antonio Grugni, was born on 4th July, 1941 in Legnano, Italy. He came to India in 1976 after acquiring a Doctorate in Medicine and Surgery, with specialization in Cardiology. Following an adult and conscious vocation, he joined the PIME Order and was ordained Priest on 3rd April 1989. He served as a Missionary in various capacities but most of all tending to the sick, poor and leprosy patients in interior Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh., Fr. Grugni came to Irla, first as Assistant Parish Priest from 1989 to 1992 and in 1997 he was once again back as Parish Priest.
While giving his best to the responsibilities conferred on him as Parish Priest of OLVC Fr. Grugni continued attending to the sick and rehabilitation of the leprosy patients in Lok Seva Sangam, Sion and Swarga Dwar, Taloja, Maharashtra, as well as his service to the Archdiocese of Bombay as marriage councillor and sex educationist for the teenagers. He replied to queries and problems of the youngsters’ letters which were published regularly in the ‘Teenager’ magazine.
Having resided in a Diocesan Parish of Church of Our Lady of Good Council, Sion, Mumbai, Fr. Grugni was well acquainted with the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan and got down to fine-tuning its implementation in OLVC. He took personal interest in setting up Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in every zone. This was a project introduced at the time by Bishop Bosco Penha in place of the earlier Basic Christian Communities. The entire parish was energized through the SCCs and a number of spiritual and socio-cultural activities were held. Strengthening the Youth Group was another of his focus areas and entire youth of the Parish were brought together with the group renamed Velanka Youth Group. He took special care and interest in the uneducated and neglected youth in and around Irla, offering them shelter, medical treatment and spiritual guidance. The Alcoholic Anonymous Group started by him continues to function to date. Being a musician himself, choirs for each mass were streamlined and a Parish Choir was set up. Vacation Bible Joy for the children, career guidance cell for the youth and job seekers, Family Cell, Hope and Life Cell for the widows and Senior Citizens Association received major thrust from Fr. Grugni. The Mission Statement of the Parish “To Build a service-oriented Community routed in Love and Faith” was conceived and adopted.
Besides spiritual activities, he also focussed on beautification of the church. The front top façade of the Church building was redone to carry a mural of Our Lady’s apparition to the milk boy at Velankanni. His aesthetic qualities led Fr. Grugni to replace the Altar, Lectern and Baptismal Font from wood to marble in intricate design. The Tabernacle, stain glass windows bringing to life selective events in Jesus’ life, Last Supper carving in fibreglass and the Stations of the Cross are constant reminders of his work in the Parish. Religious Articles/Book Stall a brainchild of Fr. Grugni serves the devotees and parishioners alike. Besides these he also gave a major face-lift to Fr. Venturin Hall and Parish Office cum residence.
Fr. Grugni served the marginalised in Warangal, Telangana (India), where in 2005 he founded the Sarva Prema Welfare Society (Association of love for universal well-being), which cares for people with tuberculosis, leprosy and HIV and also looks after the welfare of the elderly and education of children from poor families. Fr. Grugni passed away suddenly on 18th November, 2018.
A memorial service was held for Fr. Grugni in our Parish on 16th December, 2018
Rev. Fr. George Thailammanal, PIME
Born on 27th November 1942 in Chennad, Kerala, Fr. George Thailammanal was ordained a PIME Priest on 28th June, 1973. He had served a short stint on the Parish Team of OLVC between 1988-94 when Fr. Augustine Palett was the Parish Priest. Fr. George comes from an academic background. He was appointed Parish Priest of OLVC in 2003.
Fr. George was a devout priest and totally committed to the Parish. Just then, the Synod of Bishops emphasized greater involvement of lay persons in the pastoral activities of the Church. Parish Lay Organisations were active at the time and he interacted closely with each of them to reach out to the Parish community. During his tenure, Fr. Sebastian (Diocesan), Fr. Showry Prabhakar (Diocesan) and Fr. Satish Adav (HGN) were on the Parish team and assisted Fr. George in the pastoral work.
In 2004, fresh guidelines were issued by the Archdiocese of Bombay, for setting up a Community Welfare Fund in every Parish. The parishioners were directed to contribute 1% of their income which would be deployed for benefit of their respective community. This task was immediately initiated by Fr. George and the fund was established under the name of Ankur Vikas Kendra (AVK). As laid down, sub-committees for Education, Medical and Maintenance were set up with a Community Co-ordinator representing on the Parish Council. Aid to deserving students, assistance for medical and maintenance purposes were disbursed under his supervision. Camps for blood donation, eye check-up and general health were organised under the banner of AVK.
‘Irla Calling’ the monthly parish bulletin had become an occasional paper. Fr. George encouraged revival of the bulletin with a new look to be brought out on the first Sunday of each month – the trend continues.
Fr. George was very systematic in his approach towards Parish matters and never hesitated to take decisions. The church building was in urgent need of repair to arrest major leakages during the rains. While attending to the exterior walls, a part of the ceiling inside the church collapsed while the Novena was in progress. Fortunately, no one was injured. To avoid further incidents, it became necessary to urgently expand the scope of repairs to the interior and exterior of the church building. The church building was immediately closed and appropriate arrangements were made to conduct Mass and Novena services in front of the church until the entire building was repaired, which took quite a few months.
The Prayer Hall was in a dilapidated condition and was demolished due to some property issues with the owners of the adjoining property. The spacious Prayer Hall that we have today was rebuilt during the tenure of Fr. George.
A meticulous person by nature, all accounting files since inception of the Parish were indexed and stored. The accounts of the Parish were streamlined and computerized for ease of access. A statutory auditor, more conversant with financial and administrative matters of the church was appointed. Developing the Oshiwara plot allotted as a burial ground for OLVC and neighbourhood parishes was once again pursued with local authorities to obtain funds for its development.
Though not very demonstrative, Fr. George always had the welfare of the parishioners at heart. Often he would be seen smoking a pipe and when he was jokingly told that he may be passively poisoning his parishioners he did not hesitate to immediately give it up.
In 2009, due to some incidents in the Parish, there was turmoil that led to communication gap between the priest and laity. Fr. Augustine Palett took charge as Parish Priest. The Parish Community of OLVC is thankful to Fr.George for his work in the Parish.
Fr. George served as Rector of PIME Regional House during 2009-2010 and was serving as Correspondent of St. Xavier’s Institutions in Eluru, Vijayawada. He returned to the Lord on 30th May, 2020 and was interred on 31st May, 2020 at Cemetery of MSI. Memorial Mass for Fr. George was held in our Parish on 30th June, 2020.
Rev. Fr. Ravi Thaniah Marneni, PIME
Fr. Ravi Thaniah Marneni was born on 5th January 1972 in Bhimanapally, Nalgonda District in Telangana. Post-schooling, he studied intermediate from Andhra Loyola College at Vijayawada and B.Sc. (Psychology) from Madras University, Chennai. He joined PIME’s Mary Queen of Apostles Seminary in Eluru for his priestly formation and went on to study Philosophy in PIME Vidya Bhavan, Pune, and Theology in Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay, Philippines.
Fr. Ravi was ordained a PIME Missionary Priest on 1st May, 2003 and worked as Vocation and Mission Animator at the PIME Study House in Chennai from 2003 – 2007. Next he went to Rome to study Italian and an in-depth study of PIME origin. In 2008 he studied Spanish in Mexico City and worked at the PIME Mission in the highlands of Guerrero State in the Diocese of Tlapa, Mexico. In the year 2010 he was assigned to USA to work in Detroit as Parish Priest of St. Francis D’Assisi – St. Hedwig Parish.
Fr. Ravi returned to India in 2015 and was assigned multiple tasks in Eluru, such as Warden of St. Xavier’s Orphanage & Boarding Home, Administrator of PIME Regional House, and In-Charge of PIME properties. In June 2016 he was appointed Treasurer of PIME in India and in September 2016 elected PIME Regional Councillor.
On sudden illness and demise of Fr. Augustine Palett on March 11, 2017, Fr. Vijay Rayarala, PIME Regional Superior for India, promised a young and dynamic priest to take charge of Irla Parish and that was none other than Fr. Ravi.
Fr. Ravi took charge on 1st March, 2017 and was installed Parish Priest by Bishop Dominic Savio Fernandez on 29th April, 2017. Young in comparison to all previous Parish Priests at OLVC, the Parishioners welcomed a tall, confident and knowledgeable Priest in Fr. Ravi; no doubt stemming from his diverse exposure and life as a Missionary in the tough terrains of Mexico. To cap it all, he is also technology savvy, a must in these rapidly changing and challenging times.
When Fr. Ravi took charge, OLVC was on the threshold of celebrating the 50th Annual Novena and simultaneously throwing open the Golden Jubilee Year 2017-18 (1968-2018). Over and above his previous assignments which were yet to be handed over, Fr. Ravi had to plan, fast track and fine-tune all activities to celebrate the events in a befitting manner.
With deep faith in God and belief that Jubilee is that ‘pause’ in time to take the best of the past and integrate into the vision of the future, Fr. Ravi immediate focus was on a two-pronged strategy – provide spiritual rejuvenation to the Parish community and devotees, while at the same time bring in physical changes to the available space in and around the Shrine to create an ambience to inspire greater worship.
The Golden Jubilee Logo was released by Fr. Ravi. On 29th August, 2017, all parishioners assembled under the newly erected Arch at the entrance to Velankanni Lane with their family statue of Our Lady. In a symbolic gesture, the Holy Eucharist was offered in the Prayer Hall which was just a shed 50 years ago, where the history of the devotion to Our Lady of Health of Velankanni was first launched.
In order to understand the dynamics of the Parish, Fr. Ravi got right down to visiting every family. Belying his age, one can’t help but notice his holistic approach to every aspect involving Parish life, be it spiritual, finance, administrative or civil.
On the spiritual front, the Golden year began with Fr. Ravi organizing a 14-church Stations of the Cross for the Parishioners, starting at Holy Family Church, Chakala, Mumbai, and concluding at Infant Jesus Shrine, Nasik. This was followed by personally leading 40 pilgrims (parishioners and devotees) to Holy Land and celebrating Mass at most of the Holy venues. In order to trace back to the root of the devotion to Our Lady of Velankanni, Fr. Ravi organized a pilgrimage for the parishioners to Our Lady’s Shrine at Velankanni, Nagapattinam, which also covered visits to Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Basilica of Poondi Madha, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Santhome Cathedral Basilica, concluding with celebration of Holy Eucharist in St. Thomas Tomb, Chennai.
A 3-day Retreat was organized at Lonavala for all Lay Leaders including Eucharistic Ministers and a 3-day Renewal Retreat for all Parishioners in the Church itself by Tabor Team. Besides, every solemn occasion on the Catholic Calendar was celebrated with greater meaning with inspiring homilies.
Fr. Ravi believed in leading the parishioners with deep faith, energetic enthusiasm and refreshing perspective by motivating the SCC Animators and Lay Organizations to reach out reawaken and rejuvenate the parish in the Golden Jubilee Year. The youth needed a fillip and Fr. Ravi backed by his experience, loving guidance and friendly approach, revitalised the youth through prayer and challenging assignments. To bring closure to the long discussed issue of dress code for the lectors, Fr. Ravi had no hesitation in introducing the capes right away.
Constraint of space did not limit Fr. Ravi from reinventing the place and transforming it into a mini shrine complex. This can be seen from the new Arch at the entrance to Velankanni Lane, the Prayer Hall with redone façade with illuminated Cross right next to the Statue of our Lady and the beautifully adorned additional statue of Our Lady adjacent to the candle stand. Sensitive to the needs of the devotees that travel from far, Fr. Ravi made sure that well done up wash rooms were built on priority basis.
The entire church building has been given a face-lift. To maintain sanctity of the Altar, the statue of Our Lady has been moved closer to the congregation from its earlier place on the Altar and mounted on a beautiful prop to be accessible to the devotees. The entire Altar and the holy sanctuary have been aesthetically redone and will go down in the annals of the Parish.
With planned preparation and precision Fr. Ravi brought the Golden Jubilee Year to a magnificent and solemn closure on 8th September 2018 with invitee Bishops celebrating the Holy Eucharist in Tamil, Marathi and Konkani through the day.
The Solemn High Mass in the evening in English with His Lordship, Bishop Cesare Bonivento, PIME, Bishop Emeritus from Diocese of Vanimo, Papua New Guinea, as the main celebrant with 19 Co-celebrant priests on the Altar, double the number of Religious and participation of astoundingly large number of devotees, was a glorious and devotional finale to the Golden Jubilee Year.
When Fr. Ravi took over as Parish Priest, he was assisted by Fr. Vijay Pratap (Diocesan) and Fr. Carlos Celestine, a Resident PIME Priest. On their departure, Fr. Rajkumar (HGN) took over as Assistant Parish Priest and has rendered great assistance with enthusiastic involvement in all pastoral activities.
A Golden Jubilee Year cannot be repeated or revoked. All we say is that Fr. Ravi is a God- sent priest at the right time, one with his own spirituality, who did all he could and more for growth of the devotion, for the Shrine, the Parish and of course for a wonderful celebration of the Golden Jubilee. We do pray the spiritual rejuvenation and devotional stirring of this Blessed Jubilee year will have lasting and pursuing effect on all the Parishioners and Devotees of Our Lady of Velankanni.
The Parish Priest of Our Lady of Velankanni have always found favour with our Blessed Mother. Fr. Ravi Marneni has been elected as Regional Superior of PIME India on 20th February, 2020 and was felicitated by the Parishioners and Devotees on 7th & 8th March, 2020.
We pray that God may bless Fr. Ravi with good health, zeal and fortitude to serve our Parish and PIME Congregation for many years.