Lebanon NH Parish Losing Its Priest

Lebanon — The Rev. William Kaliyadan, the Indian-born priest who has led Sacred Heart Parish for 11 years while reaching out to the broader Lebanon community, is being transferred to a larger parish on Cape Cod. When he leaves in January, he’ll especially miss how active and participatory worshippers have been during his tenure.

Untitled-1Christine Gillis (right), a licensed nursing assistant reacts to the news that the Rev. William Kaliyadan (middle) will transfer in January, 2015 (Valley News - James M. Patterson) After the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester appoints a new pastor, Kaliyadan hopes that laymen will take over his initiatives, such as Catholics Come Home, a national program to reconcile and bring back “un-churched” parishioners. “I empowered the laity to take leadership,” the 49-year-old Kaliyadan said.

It’s too early to say whether the priest’s replacement will work full-time at Sacred Heart, since the Diocese of Manchester only recently heard about Kaliyadan’s reassignment, spokesman Patrick McGee said in a telephone interview Thursday. But “we’re not anticipating any major changes,” McGee said.

When Kaliyadan moves to Brewster, Mass., he’ll also leave behind St. Helena Parish and the La Salette Shrine in Enfield. St. Helena serves about 275 families in the Enfield area, while the congregation at Sacred Heart numbers about 1,000.

Kaliyadan’s departure is part of a national redistribution of his order, the Missionaries of La Salette, toward the southern United States, stemming from an ever-present shortage of priests. The personnel problem has also led to the recently announced closure of the La Salette shrine in Enfield.

For years, the Roman Catholic Church and its religious orders have been addressing the need for clerics in the U.S. by bringing them in from developing countries. Kaliyadan, originally from southwest India and now a U.S. citizen, is one of them.

“In First World countries, we always sent missionaries to Third World countries,” he said. Today, the third generation of converts abroad is bringing faith back to the Western world. “A reverse mission,” Kaliyadan called it.

Untitled-2Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lebanon, NH, served by the La Salette Missionaries since 1979Kaliyadan considers himself a missionary to the United States, a calling that he was born to follow. Two millennia ago, his family was among the first in India to be converted to Christianity by Saint Thomas the Apostle. In Kaliyadan’s family, two uncles and two cousins are priests. Seven of his aunts are nuns.

His path to priesthood wasn’t always straightforward. In India, he was first attracted to the church because it could afford the resources for tennis, basketball and soccer. Later, after committing to the ecclesiastical life, he took a year off from the La Salette seminary in the Philippines to confront his spiritual doubts.

Yet if there were detours, the experience has only made his faith stronger, he says, and has shaped his conception of what a priest should be. He’s not, as some may imagine, an infallible, unreachable authority. “A lot of people think that priests have a direct line to God,” Kaliyadan said, but “I look at priesthood as an earthen vessel.”

Priests are fragile, like a piece of pottery, and conflicted, like any other human being. This understanding of Catholicism translates directly to Kaliyadan’s relationships with his parishioners. “We all go through those dark moments in our life, in our journey, and I relay that to people,” he said.

Dottie Moffitt, a eucharistic minister at Sacred Heart, says Kaliyadan’s inclusive, forgiving outlook was what first attracted her to the Lebanon parish two years ago. “That’s the way he presents himself — with his faults and his failures — and (he) never presumes perfection,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

Moffitt and Kaliyadan first met in September 2012, at the funeral of Natalie Perriello, the Lebanon High teacher who was murdered by her husband, James, that April. Perriello had been Moffitt’s close friend since childhood, but was not a Catholic. At the request of Perriello’s parents, Kaliyadan agreed to hold the service at Sacred Heart.

Untitled-3Fr. William gets a hug from Margaret Truman of Lebanon after a short visit at Lebanon Center Genesis in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)“He just made people who aren’t Catholic feel very welcome there that day, and so for me, that guided my decision when I was looking for a new parish to join,” Moffitt said.

To join Sacred Heart, Moffitt left St. Anthony’s Parish in White River Junction, which at the time had just lost its own religious order, the Marists. After the Marists left, many of the programs that Moffitt had enjoyed at her home church were abandoned, she said. Now, St. Anthony’s has an assistant full-time priest, but shares its pastor with Woodstock and Windsor, Kaliyadan said.

As to whether Sacred Heart would see the same lapse in activity, Kaliyadan said that he couldn’t affect matters after he left the parish, but “I hope it won’t happen.

The Most Rev. Peter Libasci, the Bishop of Diocese of Manchester, has promised to meet with Sacred Heart’s parishioners in October before appointing a new priest, Kaliyadan said. “Our bishop is very sensitive to these things,” he said. After Kaliyadan moves on, even those who aren’t affiliated with the church will remember him.

Untitled-4Fr. William meets with Kait White, left, and Sean Sletten, right, of Minot, N.D., to make final preparations for their upcoming wedding ceremony in Lebanon, N.H. (photo: Valley News, James M. Patterson) “I know he was much beloved by my mother and she was one of the parishioners that enjoyed him a lot,” said Mark Aldrich, whose father, Fred, is a former Lebanon mayor. Aldrich and his father are Episcopalians, but when Mark’s mother, who was Catholic, died, Kaliyadan came by to comfort Fred Aldrich over the loss of his wife. “It was lovely; he did a great job and he was very attentive to my dad,” Aldrich said.

The directive of outreach and reconciliation that Kaliyadan follows is not confined to him; it’s the “charism,” or motto, of his order. “It’s about God’s love. It’s not about punishment and fear,” Kaliyadan said.

His tenure at Sacred Heart has brought worshippers back to the church, although it’s hard to tell just how many. Some come back through Catholics Come Home, some come to speak to him in his office, and “others, they just slide into the pews one day without anyone noticing,” Kaliyadan said.

The welcoming spirit of the La Salette ministry is what Karen Boucher, a former religious educator for the parish, will miss the most. Boucher worked with Kaliyadan for 10 years and has been a parishioner for the entire 36 years of the La Salette order’s stay. “I think the more important issue is we’re losing the La Salettes in Lebanon,” she said. Kaliyadan, as well as the Priest in Residence, Raymond Vaillancourt, will depart for Brewster, Mass., on January 3.

(Reprinted with permission; original title, “Lebanon Losing Its Priest: Sacred Heart Pastor to Depart for Cape Cod Parish”  by Rob Wolfe, Valley News Staff Writer, Saturday, August 23, 2014)