By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 12, 2014
ATLANTA—Father Balappa Selvaraj now realizes that his experiences as a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta have uniquely prepared him for his new endeavor—forming a seminary in India.
Father Selvaraj, chief advocate in the Metropolitan Tribunal, will be leaving the archdiocese June 17 for a period of five years. With the permission of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and at the request of Bishop T. Anthony Swamy of the Chikmagalur Diocese in south India, Father Selvaraj will be establishing The Little Way Messengers religious congregation.
Just prior to his ordination, Father Selvaraj and two other Indian seminarians spent time in north Georgia learning from Maryknoll missionaries. Born in Bangalore, India, Father Selvaraj was ordained a priest in May 1986 by the late Bishop Joseph Rajappa of the Diocese of Kurnool.
It was Bishop Rajappa’s dream to start a religious community in the Karnataka state in southwest India, and he discussed the idea with the new priest.
“He wanted to start a congregation to evangelize the people,” said Father Selvaraj. He added that in Karnataka, there are more than 65 million people and that just 2 percent of them are Christians.
The timing proved wrong for the seminary, but Father Selvaraj would think of Bishop Rajappa’s idea throughout the years.
The idea that simmered on a back burner for nearly 30 years came to a rapid boil last year when Bishop Swamy began to revisit the plan for a seminary. “He wanted to start this work,” said Father Selvaraj.
Bishop Swamy and Archbishop Gregory began a correspondence with the archbishop agreeing to release Father Selvaraj until May 2019.
Father Selvaraj is grateful for the “global view” of Archbishop Gregory.
“He’s sending his own priest for the benefit of the universal church,” said Father Selvaraj.
The Little Way Messengers will work for the spiritual and liturgical formation of priests to go wherever requested in the world as missionaries.
Father Selvaraj said that Archbishop Gregory put much thought into this decision and is willing to sacrifice his own priest for the salvation of souls. “He listened to the Holy Spirit,” said the priest.
Future priests may serve in Atlanta
Father Selvaraj said that his first priority will be in sending priests to serve in Atlanta.
“Charity starts at home. I am a priest of this diocese,” he emphasized.
Each March through May, when the school is to have breaks, Father Selvaraj will return to Atlanta to work where most needed.
His experiences since arriving in Atlanta in 1991 have equipped him in a variety of ways for forming and overseeing the religious congregation.
Father Selvaraj served as pastor of St. Peter Church in LaGrange, St. Francis of Assisi Church in Blairsville, and St. Paul the Apostle Mission in Cleveland. He was parochial vicar at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur, Sacred Heart in Atlanta and St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta.
The priest’s friendship with Msgr. Al Jowdy, with whom he served at St. Thomas Aquinas, was important in his ministry. “He helped me in every way. He molded me. I’m grateful to him.”
Father Selvaraj was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Atlanta by Archbishop John F. Donoghue on Nov. 25, 1997. In 2010, he completed his graduate studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, where he received his licentiate in canon law.
Part of Father Selvaraj’s role in forming the congregation will be to file the appropriate canonical papers for its establishment with the Vatican.
“I never realized how much canon law would help me in this,” he said.
Father Selvaraj also completed graduate studies at Georgia State University, earning a master of science in counseling psychology. He is active as a supply priest for the parishes in the archdiocese and regularly visits the sick at the Atlanta Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Father Selvaraj and an Atlanta support committee have outlined a five-year plan, including funds needed. “God will help,” he said.
The priest personally obtained five and a half acres for the seminary, and his younger brother Balraj has begun construction. Future needs will include transportation for students, a chapel, construction of a sacristy, vestments, a dining hall and computers.
The priest’s family is “many generations Catholic,” and he recalls the rule of his mother: “No Mass. No breakfast.”
Father Selvaraj acknowledges that his work in Atlanta is more comfortable than what lies ahead in India. “Why am I doing this? Now is the time,” he said.
St. Therese will be their patron
The priest recounted the story of a serious motorbike accident he had at the age of 23 in India. An order of sisters prayed for the intercession of St. Therese of Lisieux for his recovery.
St. Therese, known for “doing little things with great love,” will be the patron saint of the community.
“Do and die for Christ,” said Father Selvaraj.
The local committee members for The Little Way Messengers Order include Janice Givens, Leslie Genske, Fran Smit, Rebecca Gilligan, Deb Hampel, Fred Lojo, Tony and Meg Jatcko, and Brian Campbell.
Father Selvaraj also expressed gratitude to Deacon Tom Badger of St. Ann Church in Marietta, Msgr. Hugh Marren of All Saints Church in Dunwoody, Father Nicholas Azar of Holy Spirit Church in Atlanta, and Father Adrian Pleus of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Dallas, for their encouragement and support.
Givens, a parishioner of St. Brigid Church in Johns Creek, said it’s exciting to see this dream come to fruition.
“If anyone is looking to support the formation of evangelizing priests, this is a perfect opportunity to find some ‘little way’ of their own to contribute—whether through prayers, talents, donations or spreading the word about the Little Way Messengers,” said Givens. “Families with young children can watch this mission grow over the years, and what an excellent way to teach your family about the power of prayer.”
Givens added that the committee’s plans are to gather monthly for Mass and to communicate regularly with Father Selvaraj about the order’s progress.
“Although we will miss Father’s wisdom and presence here in the states, it will be exciting to think of him building a community in India that will help spread God’s message of love throughout the world,” said Givens. “I guess we can share him, or rather let him return to the country of his birth, to make this happen.”
Father Selvaraj said there is one student ready for enrollment and a priest on board to help as well. First-year students will live at the seminary for a year of discernment. The cost of a seminary education per year in India is an estimated $2,000, 10 times less than in the United States.
While all are called to evangelize and proclaim the Gospel, Father Selvaraj knows that many are not able to do this on a global level.
“On your behalf, we’re going to evangelize. You’ll get the grace,” he said.
To follow the development of The Little Way Messengers of Karnataka, India, go to www.LittleWayMessengers.org. Tax-deductible donations can be made online or through Little Way Messengers, 885 Woodstock Road, Suite 430-240, Roswell, GA 30075-2274.