Priest from India reunites after 10 years with old friend in Loyal
It’s not often that you will find a familiar face when traveling to a distant country you have never been to before. But for Rev. Maria Packiam Pitchai Savari, who recently arrived in America from the Diocese of Sivagangai in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, it seems that God has directed his journey, bringing him face to face with a former classmate he hasn’t seen in 10 years.
Rev. Maria Packiam Pitchai Savari, known better as Rev. Packi, arrived in La Crosse on Jan. 28 to take his first steps in adjusting to life as a pastor for the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse. Since his arrival, Rev. Packi has been moving, first staying for a time at St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church in Trempealeau before being sent to St. Anthony Catholic Church in Loyal in late February.
“I landed here on Jan. 28, in the evening in the Diocese of La Crosse,” he said. “I spent 10 days in Trempealeau with Fr. Antony Joseph and after 10 days they took me to Loyal.”
It was when Rev. Packi arrived in Loyal that he got to see a familiar face. During his time in seminary, which lasted 13 years, Rev. Packi said he had been in the same classes as Rev. Leo Johnson Stanislaus, the current pastor of St. Anthony, St. Mary’s and Holy Family parishes. They knew each other well in seminary, he said, but after ordination 10 years ago, they returned to their respective dioceses and did not see or hear from one another, until now.
“In 2010, Fr. Leo and I were ordained together,” he said. “Our classes started with 13 years of formation in seminary, very nice formation. It moved ourselves spiritually, psychologically and physically. We learned English in the seminary. Ten years after ordination this is the first time we meet, it’s the first time after 10 years. It’s very exciting.”
Rev. Packi was born and raised along with two older sisters and a younger brother in a small village called Mariannai Nagar in Tamil Nadu, India, which is located on the southeastern tip of the country. There, most residents were farmers, reliant on the season’s monsoon storms to bring enough water to grow crops.
“It was a hard climate,” he said. “People are always farmers mostly, they plant according to the rain, waiting for the rain.”
Even early in his life, Rev. Packi said there was a push for him to become a priest. As a child, that push came mostly from his parents, but as he grew older, he said the motivation and desire came more from within himself. As he attended schooling, he said much of his time was spent at a hostel about seven kilometers, or a little more than four miles, away from home.
“It was my father’s desire from the beginning, both my parents insisted I become a priest,” he said. “In tenth grade, I went into seminary. It became my desire to become a priest. From home, I would go to a hostel six or seven kilometers from family, serving as an alter server, choir member, it gave me an inspiration to become a priest.”
Rev. Packi continued to pursue his studies for the priesthood over the next 13 years along with Rev. Leo. While he was still in school, he said his father passed away, leaving his mother in the care of his younger brother who is now married along with the rest of his siblings.
“I lost my dad in 2002, he’s gone to heaven,” he said. “I was blessed to have good and God-fearing parents who gave me the most precious gift of faith and love. Because of their prayers and the blessings of the martyr, St. John de Brito, who is the patron of my diocese, I grew up in faith and virtues and received the call of God to be a servant in his vineyard.”
After he was ordained in 2010, Rev. Packi said he worked at three different parishes over the course of three years as an associate pastor and was later appointed as a Secretary for Youth, where he worked with teenagers and college-age adults. At the same time, he continued to follow his passion for music, releasing a CD of devotional songs sung in his native language and took up charismatic preaching and began posting the videos on YouTube.
“I started getting much involved in singing, I composed devotional songs in my native language and made a CD,” he said. “I took up an interest in charismatic preaching, I was interested in preaching the gospel like that.”
When his tenure as Secretary for Youth ended, Rev. Packi returned to school to further his education, achieving his master’s degree in theology. Eager to continue learning, he said he approached his bishop for permission to remain with his studies. Instead of giving permission, his bishop decided to give him a different task of foreign ministry in America. Since that decision and his arrival in the U.S., Rev. Packi has had to adjust to a new culture and a new climate. When he first arrived, he said snow was one of the first things that fascinated him, having only been able to imagine what it was like before coming to Wisconsin. “It’s very hot in India,” he said. “The climate is cold and chill here, lots of snow. I was very interested toward it and wanted to play with snow. What I’m enjoying here was in my imagination before.” The culture Rev. Packi has begun to witness around the Loyal area is also different from what he experienced back home. Schedules were not as important for people to keep back in India and he said he has come to enjoy setting up appointments to meet with people.
“They would come and go as they pleased, here it’s systematic,” he said. “I like appointments, I didn’t have that before here, people would come in any time, no permission.”
Mutual respect and compassionate care for others is another thing Rev. Packi said is nice to see in American culture.
“When I would go shop, talk to a government official, bank, people are very warm, welcoming, asking, ‘How can I help?’” he said. “In India, you didn’t have them asking, when you go to a government official, there’s no talking, no respect. Here you get a very warm welcome … it’s respecting the human person. Even when you’re doing something wrong, there’s importance to the human person. In India, government officials did not have very much respect for persons.”
Rev. Packi is expected to remain at St. Anthony in Loyal for a few more weeks as he works to attain his driver’s license, though his stay in the area could be longer depending on news from the Diocese of La Crosse. From Loyal, he will move to another parish as determined by the bishop and remain at work in the diocese for five years.
“I am waiting for an official announcement from the diocese,” he said. “It’s (a departure date) not fixed. When I get my driver’s license, I may go somewhere else to be with an American priest.”
Rev. Maria Packiam Pitchai Savari