by Karen Laurie
Father Anthony Patole (36)
"Many say you are the first priest from the parish and your mother was a Hindu. My mother is a born Hindu. My father's and her's was a love marriage and after that she was baptised," Father Anthony Patole, said.
The first vocation in his Salesian parish Sacred Heart in Yerwada, Father Anthony is a living testimony of God's wonders. "My parents used to always force us to go for Mass, but they could not go themselves; as my mum was a nurse and was working three shifts and my dad was a policeman and was working two shifts. The day, I told them my decision to join in 2007, they had tears in their eyes. I see it as a miracle because from that day, till today, they are daily Mass goers."
When Father Anthony was in class three an announcement was made in church, 'All who want to become priests, please approach the parish priest'. Father Anthony went home and told his parents, "I want to become a priest! Should I meet the parish priest?"
His parents laughed it off. Father Anthony didn't forget the announcement. In class seven he approached his parish priest asking if he could join the Don Bosco boarding in Lonavla, which is also an aspirantate for those wanting to become priests. He was told, 'This life is not for you,' as he was very mischievous and was even expelled from school for a day.
"I got addicted to tobacco, gutka, smoking and drinks, in school itself," Father Patole said, adding, "But by the second year of college I felt, I needed to change my life. And the turning point came when I got into a conflict at a party. I decided not to touch liquor again. God helped me to never look back. My new parish priest also came to my rescue and kept urging me to join the priesthood. I would give him the excuses of all my vices and say I would be a misfit; he encouraged me saying, 'Worse people have become priests, so you can join'."
Soon for Lent, Father Patole gave up smoking. He became more involved in parish activities, even leading important events. He now seemed to have built an impeccable resume as a candidate for priestly vocation. "The difficulty of my initial journey, made me strong. It was God's grace and perseverance that saw me through," Father Patole said.
Father Velasli Bandya (31)
Father Velasli Bandya comes from a family where being religious (priest or nun) is the family's primary occupation, fishing comes a close second! He is the youngest of nine siblings. His elder brother is a priest and two sisters are nuns. Many in the extended family too religious. When he told his parents he wanted to become a priest, they were generous, yet again, in giving their child to God.
"After class 12 exams, my sister and I both expressed our desire to join religious life. In all my excitement, I did not see the emotions of my parents. Later, an aunt told me, 'the day before you joined, your mummy broke down, saying, my elder two children (daughter and son) have gone, the youngest girl is gone and now he is the last one. After him, there is no one in the family as a male in the house. All other children are married and have families of their own. I don't want to stop him also.' ''
"My aunty replied, 'you have nine children and I also have nine children. I am sending my children to become religious and none of them are going. You without telling them, they are willing to go.' Then my mother took a little courage. Later, when I found out about this, I would always tell my mum, 'Why didn't you tell me? I wouldn't have joined.' She said, 'No, no you must carry on. God will take care of me.' "
"I have seen Divine providence working in my family. Don Bosco said that when a child leaves the family for God, Jesus and Mother Mary take the place of the child in the family. Four of us have left. In the years of my formation lots of doubts came, to go back and take care of my parents. But their faith and the fact that they never obstructed me, kept me going."
While still in formation, Father Velasli's father died. Little before that he called him and said, 'Son, you have taken the good path. I have no oppositions. But I only wish one thing - if you put your hands to the plough, never turn back. Make sure you carry on. Once you set your mind on God, you belong to God.'
On his death bed, his father handed over his savings to his eldest brother, instructing him to ensure Father Velasli had a grand Ordination. And it was indeed! With over 150 religious in attendance and lay people outnumbering them, God remained faithful!
Father Renold Lemos (30)
Father Renold Lemos had a fairytale entry into the Salesian congregation. "When I told my parents I wanted to become a priest, my parents were happy. I had become quite naughty, so in a way they wanted to get rid of me and they had the consolation that there were two other sons to look after them," Father Renold, said.
Born to farmers, Father Renold had grown up with sound religious instruction. "We did not have a TV in our family. So we would go to our neighbours house to watch TV. When we wouldn't come home for the family rosary, my dad would chase us with a broom."
"My parents worked very hard. My mother would get up early and go to the market to sell vegetables. My father would get us ready for holy Mass and school. My mother with all the baskets, would come directly for Mass and meet us there. Then we would go to school and daddy to work. All my 10 years in school, I was a daily Mass goer and an altar server," Father Renold, said.
Father Renold's parents lived by example. So when he faced storms in his vocation, he knew the tide who pass. "My practical training (internship) was tough, yet a very enjoyable learning experience. We are placed with youth, whom we Salesians serve. We have to be with them 24x7, as a companion. There are times when it can be very draining and you want to leave everything. But then there are also good moments, when the kids do something wonderful for you and suddenly it is all worth it. Of course, there are the Sacraments and spiritual direction that strengthens you along the way."
God's grace sustained him, when his father passed away, while yet in formation. "I was in Madhya Pradesh looking after boarders, when my dad succumbed to a snake bite."
The family was in shock. "It didn't shake up my vocation," Father Renold, said. Such is the love in the family for the Sacraments and reverence for religious life that Father Renold's brother postponed his marriage by two years, so his brother could bless his wedding, after his Ordination. Father Renold's first Mass was the Wedding Mass of his brother.
Father Evangelo D'Souza (29)
When Father Evangelo D'Souza was seven, he knew he wanted to become a priest. He was a menace at home though. His three siblings and cousins, who lived with him in a joint family, were often victims of his pranks. The domestic helpers at home didn't last long, thanks again, to his antics. He would not share his desire to join the priesthood with anyone though, for fear of being ridiculed. After all, he was a self-professed 'nuisance' in the family.
Father Evangelo was a good student. In his class 10 board exams, he secured 87.7%. While all thought he would become an engineer or doctor, he shook the ground of their feet, saying, "I want to become a priest!"
Coming from a pious family, there was no opposition, but bewilderment; that the mischievous youth they knew, now wanted to trek the road to sanctity and take them along. Father Evangelo joined the Don Bosco Lonavla boarding, where he completed standard 11 and 12. Here, he was exposed to the Salesian way of live.
Learning music, playing sports, growing in learning and living in a community, propelled Father Evangelo to pursue his pre-novitiate, novitiate, philosophy, practical training and theology - thereby completing 14 years of formation to become a priest of Don Bosco. "During our formation for priesthood, we get a well-rounded training," Father Evangelo, said.
The journey however, was fraught with problems. He contracted Herpes that almost claimed his life. With help from his Salesian fraternity, he bounced back. Serious illnesses, death and struggles in the family, disturbed him enough to desire to return home, but his loving parents, assured him that the situation was not so grave and that in his prayers - help was at hand!
"I have found so much joy in my vocation. As a Salesian brother, when I visited families going through crisis in their married life, I was able to listen to their problems and at this young age could help them. I was able to save two- three marriages as a brother. I was able to help youngsters and elderly from committing suicide. I'm still guiding them. God has been working tremendously. "
Father Ranson D'Souza (30)
Father Ranson D'Souza was in the third standard when he accompanied his parents for a retreat. There he had a God-experience. "When I was praying, I felt the Lord holding my hand. I was called by my name, and since then I have had the desire to become a priest. I told my parents and they have been open to the idea ever since," Father Ranson, said.
In the 10th standard, a Salesian priest visited Father Ranson's catechism class for vocation promotion. All were given a questionnaire to fill. One questions was, 'What do you want to become?' "Among the many choices, I had ticked priest as one of the options. After some time the father followed-up with phone calls and even a visit to my house. That really touched me and that's why I am a Salesian today."
Father Ranson joined Don Bosco Lonavla for junior college. While in school, he wasn't involved in music or games. Soon he started playing football, hockey, volleyball, carrom, chess, table tennis and badminton. He learnt to play musical instruments like the keyboard, guitar and clarinet.
He enjoyed the many picnics he went on. He was even part of the seminary band. During his practical training, he learnt Marathi and Gujarati. He also did his Bachelor's in Education (B.Ed) alongside his priestly studies.
While still in formation, Father Ranson lost his brother. The family was devastated, yet his parents encouraged him - now their only son - to continue his vocation. He strived towards his goal with great determination.
Father Ranson said, "Priesthood is not an ordinary journey. Like when we are in the confessional, people share with priests what they do not share with anyone. Without priests there are no Sacraments, without Sacraments, there is no Catholic Church. We are ordinary people on an extraordinary journey! "