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Silver jubilarian Fr Vincent Savarimuthu

Fr Vincent Savarimuthu
Fr Vincent Savarimuthu. Photo: Virginia Knight.
By Virginia Knight

As the Assistant Priest at St Matthew’s Parish, Windsor, and Chaplain to the Tamil community in the Diocese of Parramatta, and Chaplain, NSW Corrective Services at John Morony, Rev Vincent Savarimuthu’s priestly ministry has been distinguished by his willingness to champion the cause of the poor and disadvantaged in his home country of India and the Philippines and now in Australia. This year he celebrates his silver jubilee of ordination to priesthood.

Born on 31 May 1959 in the village of Puliadithammam in Tamil Nadu, Fr Vincent is one of 12 children. He was educated in Catholic schools in the parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Sarugani, walking 4km every Sunday to Mass.

Fr Vincent credits his parents as the most significant influence on his faith life.

“They initiated me into the life of prayer and implanted in me the value of respect for other human beings and the importance of upholding their dignity,” he said.

Despite the strict parameters of India’s caste system, his parents welcomed all people into their home as equals, something that would impact his view of the world.

He was also attracted by the simple lifestyle of the Parish Priest, a French missionary Fr Louie Levi, and his dedication to the poor and marginalised.

Consequently, the young Vincent was inspired to enter the preparatory seminary in Gnanaolivupuram, Madurai at age 13. However, he said he did not really understand the nature of priestly life until he went to Arul Anandar College, Karumathar, where he completed a BA in Philosophy.

After his Theological studies at St Paul’s College, Trichy, he was ordained on 21 April 1985 in Madurai and celebrated his first Mass in his home town.

His first appointment was as Assistant Priest in the parish of Sacred Heart of Jesus, Srivilliputhur. As there was no chapel or church, Fr Vincent celebrated the first street Mass with the people congregating on a corner under the street light.

“It was a beautiful experience and drew a lot of people back to the church,” he said. From this experience he realised the importance and the impact of reaching out to the people at the grassroots.

On Social Justice Sunday, in the parish of Kamuthi, he preached against discrimination and the caste system. The rich and famous of the parish threatened not to attend Mass again if he persisted.

However, his professor in the seminary was quick to offer encouragement. “He said, ‘Fr Vincent, you should be proud of this, because, so many people don’t even listen to the homilies!’.

“Sometimes we need to run against the current and do something good for the sake of the people.”

During his posting to the Philippines, Fr Vincent completed his Masters in Family Counselling while Assistant Priest of Lord of Divine Mercy Parish. He studied Cultural Anthropology and was the first foreign priest to celebrate Mass in the Philippines Senate.

When he arrived in Australia on 1 June 2005, Fr Vincent said it was a huge cultural shock to see only a few people attending Mass. He was appointed Assistant Priest at Holy Family Parish, Luddenham, and Chaplain to the Tamil community in the Diocese.

With the encouragement of Fr Paul Marshall, currently the parish priest at Toongabbie, he was able to minister to the Luddenham Community.

Every last Sunday of the month, he celebrates the Eucharist with the Tamil Community of Sydney at Sacred Heart Church, Westmead. Every time the church is packed with more than 200 people.

Fr Vincent encourages the adults, young people and children to be involved in planning and participating in the Mass. They take turns to organise the celebrations.

He extends his heartfelt thanks to the Tamil Community for a wonderful celebration of his jubilee at Seven Hills on 13 June this year.

Fr Paul’s presence on this occasion and the participation of the representatives from Luddenham and Windsor parish communities added colour to the celebration.

For Fr Vincent, the marvellous gift of priesthood is celebrating the sacraments and to be a part of people’s life. He is able to be a source of consolation, comfort and guidance for many people who are in trouble. “We are an icon of the face of Jesus in building the atmosphere of love in the family and the community.”

To young people considering a vocation he would encourage them to embrace the spirit of service in what is an uplifting and fulfilling ministry. “Life is not easy, but since you are responding to God’s call, I am sure that He will be there with you.”

Now incardinated in the Diocese of Parramatta, Fr Vincent’s motto for his priesthood is “bloom where you are planted” and “never be a reason for another’s misery”.

« Return to Catholic Outlook August 2010