By Fr. Thomas Thennadiyil, CMF
My discovery of a call to religious life began within my family. I was incredibly blessed to be born of parents who loved God, were faithful to the Catholic traditions, loved each other, and loved their children immensely. I was the fourth of six siblings. In that family setting, I came to experience a loving God, and my parents instilled in me the conviction that serving God is the greatest adventure of life. The environment in which I grew up was very supportive of religious vocations as well. The central part of Kerala, the southern state of India, where I grew up, is over 80 percent Catholic. Every mile or two, there is a Catholic church. The Catholic faith is very much alive. My growing up years had everything Catholic about them: attending daily Masses with my grandmother, being an altar boy from fourth grade when I received my first Holy Communion, active involvement in the pious parish organizations for teens, daily prayers and rosaries at home, CCD classes, and attending a Catholic school. I was once asked by my second-grade teacher—a religious sister—what I wanted to be when I grew up. My instant response was—a priest.
Well, the spark and the inspiration came early on from my family and traditions. However, growing into my teenage years and being in high school, I needed a personal reason, meaning, and purpose to say ‘yes’ to the big challenge of religious life. That spark came again from the example of service that my mother had shown. Her strong faith, resilience, and service-mindedness always inspired me. She is a homemaker. She would take care of all the chores at home, work on our farm, and attend to all the needs of her six children. Then she would volunteer for work in the parish community. If someone from our extended family, such as our uncles, aunts, and cousins were admitted to the hospital, she would volunteer to attend to them. She did not have to, but that was meaningful to her. That is how she lived her life. She has been the most beautiful example of self-giving service I have witnessed. In 1985, when I was in the 10th grade and with all my siblings still in schools and colleges, our father, the only earning member of the family, was diagnosed with tuberculosis in the brain. He lived on for another 29 years but was confined to bed for the most part of those years. Our life turned upside down. Suddenly poverty and lack of resources hit us very hard. Our mother was our grace. She had insatiable energy. She made sure that all of us children received a good education. All those 29 years, she took great care of our father single-handedly until 2014 when he passed. In addition to all those chores at home, she still had time and energy to volunteer and help others.
In my mother, I witnessed the beautiful integration of faith and service. I wanted to follow that example. I asked myself, “How could my life be of service and meaning to people in need?” There came a longing for something more profound, spiritual, and meaningful. Religious life was the best answer to that longing. Around this time, a Claretian priest served for a short while in our church, and the Claretian charism inspired me.
My life as a professed religious for 30 years, and a priest for 22, has been fascinating. I consider my call within the call is to work in Catholic higher education. Working for young people, nurturing their future, teaching, and influencing their lives gives my religious vocation meaning and fulfillment. I find it to be the most effective way to give back to the community. I can’t thank God enough for this special calling.
Have you considered if God may be calling you to this profound, spiritual, and meaningful service? Our vocation director would love to accompany you in your discernment to make a conscious choice. Contact him today!