Special to The Miscellany
FOLLY BEACH – After five years in the Diocese of Charleston, Father Thomasaiah Reddimasu is leaving for India in early May.
The pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, a priest personable enough to follow in the footsteps of the late Msgr. Robert Kelly, will take the prayers and support of his American parish with him to a new parish in his native country.
Father Reddimasu felt his mission here was “to help people spiritually” by bringing them the Sacraments, having special healing services, visiting the sick and the homebound, and celebrating Mass whenever and wherever possible – sometimes saying Mass in four or five churches in one week.
Though he does not know what his new assignment will be, he hopes it will be to build a new parish. Only 3 percent of the people in his state are Christian. He told The Miscellany in an interview that he would like to find a house in a non-Christian village and build a church there while working to convert the people he meets.
He has continued his work in India even while living in the United States.
“To best use the time God has given me, I have spent 75 percent of it serving the spiritual needs of the people of Charleston,” he said. “But my second purpose has been to help my own diocese, including financially.”
Indeed, most of his salary went to his bishop, to help finance new parishes. He said that South Carolina Catholics have been very generous to his mission work, and he has continued to support four projects he began back home.
The first project has been encouraging Catholic teens to raise money to send some 48 orphans, who were living in the street, to school. Only a third of Indian children receive any schooling, Father Reddimasu said. His second project has been paying the salary of a pre-school teacher in a slum area. Children who complete this early education program can enter the regular schools taught by religious sisters.
Father Reddimasu has provided some spending money to poor seminarians for whom a few dollars make a big difference. He has also been helping about 35 elderly people in his village who have no family to support them. As little as $5 each month provides the food and medicine they desperately need. The priest said he hopes that South Carolina lay people will take over this support when he leaves.
He expects his next duties will be in a parish in his home diocese of Warangal.
Father Reddimasu was ordained in 1990. He served as the diocesan youth director for seven years, building up high school and college Catholic youth groups. He then served for two years as assistant dean of a Catholic college and as director of its men’s dormitory. Apparently, Indian college students are as much trouble as their American counterparts.
In 2001 his bishop asked, “How would you like to respond to the offer of Bishop Robert Baker and take up a tour serving the people of Charleston in the USA?”
Father Reddimasu was initially assigned to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. On his second day in the country, he found himself celebrating Saturday night Mass in a church full of strangers. But the people of the Cathedral, just like those of the other churches he later served, were so welcoming that he never felt alone. As for his listeners, his language coach, Esther Tecklenburg, found him an easy pupil, needing only to rehearse American pronunciation for his sermons, which he drew from his wealth of liturgical knowledge.
Among his “secondary duties” was to serve as chaplain to the area’s Philippine community. An encounter at the Cathedral led to his serving as the spiritual director of their Santo Nino devotions to the Infant Jesus. The group will miss their “Father Thomas.” He has been active in hospital ministry from the first, with a particular interest in bringing the Sacraments to the sick, even in the middle of the night.
In late 2002, Father Reddimasu was transferred from the Cathedral to St. Ann Church in Kingstree, St. Philip in Lake City and its mission church in Johnsonville. Sundays involved a 100-mile drive between Masses. He discovered these very small congregations to be full of dedicated, faith-filled people who were good stewards of their time, using it in the Lord’s work.
In July 2003, he was appointed to Our Lady of Good Counsel, with Mass duty wherever he was needed, especially at the Our Lady of Mercy motherhouse.
There is a long list of spiritual, social, and material programs he undertook in this third assignment, but all were aimed at increasing the spiritual participation of the laity in the church. He sought the active inclusion of as many people as possible at Mass, through the creation of a Liturgy Committee and a broadening of the pool of lectors and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist (who spent a Saturday with Msgr. Joseph Roth as their trainer). But it also included introducing a number of extra-liturgical events: family rosaries in successive homes during May and October, encouragement of Bible discussion and prayer groups; and an effort, despite Folly Beach’s small size, to form young adult and youth groups.
Our Lady of Good Counsel parishioners will celebrate a Mass in Father Reddimasu’s honor before he returns to India. The diocese will announce the new pastor at a later date.