At St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Charlotte on March 12, the day of his ordination, a crowd of friends and family came together to celebrate Father Ayathupadam’s golden jubilee. He was accompanied by his brother priests, Fathers Cherian Thalakulam, Philip Kolithanath and Jacob Vadakkekudy, plus his cousin Father Benny Ayathupadam.
“We are thankful to God for this special gift of the priesthood shared with Father Joseph through Jesus Christ,” said Father Thalakulam, CMI, homilist and pastor of St. Edward Church in Murphy Village, S.C.
“Father Joseph accepted the call of Christ to follow. He took the challenge, believing in the providence and care of God,” the priest said.
Father Thalakulam praised Father Ayathupadam for participating in the great joys of the priesthood with love and commitment.
For half a century, Father Ayathupadam willingly went where his vocation took him, trusting and believing in God. He was born in Kerala, India, in 1934 and ordained to the priesthood in 1961. He spent the first 13 years in India, then offered to serve as a missionary in Africa, calling those three years one of the most memorable of his priesthood.
“The poverty and simple faith of the people in Africa inspired me,” he said. “During Mass, you would hear them speak and sing in three different languages, yet they came together as one community.”
He then volunteered to work in Canada as a hospital chaplain, associate pastor and then pastor. Ten years later, he was ready for a warmer climate and applied for a job as hospital chaplain in Asheville, which led to 19 years in the Diocese of Charlotte.
Since his retirement, Father Ayathupadam has continued to help parishes in South Carolina, especially in York County.
“After 50 years he is clearly still committed to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. He is always conscious and reliable and we are blessed that he “retired” [here]. He is a pleasure to work with,” said Father David Runnion, pastor of St. Catherine Church in Lancaster.
Father Ayathupadam celebrates Mass at St. Philip Neri Church in Fort Mill and was their spiritual director for the Legion of Mary.
“I am grateful for Father Joseph and for his work,” said Father John P. Giuliani, pastor of St. Philip Neri. “He has shown us that you may retire from being a pastor but you never retire from being a priest.”
St. Philip Neri parishioner, John de Jong has known Father Ayathupadam since he first arrived in North Carolina.
“Father Joseph has shown us that the work of the church never ends. He is still in the race, not walking, but running to the end,” de Jong said.
Father Philip, pastor of Christ the King in High Point, N.C., called the older priest his mentor.
“Father Joseph never says ‘no’ to anyone. He is the model priest in everything. He knows what to do and if he doesn’t know he will find out,” Father Philip said.
Father Ayathupadam said the greatest thing about being a priest is to serve the people as his brothers and sisters.
“There is no retirement for a priest because the vocation is life and we are priests forever, until the last breath, and hopefully after that moment we will be at the altar in heaven,” he said with a gentle smile.