Bishop Stika installs him as pastor, and the priest celebrates an ordination anniversary and a birthday
By Dan McWilliams
Father Joseph Kuzhupil, MSFS, of Notre Dame Parish found himself with three things to celebrate Jan. 10.
First, Bishop Richard F. Stika was on hand to install him as pastor of the Greeneville Catholic community.
Plus, the date was his 35th anniversary of priestly ordination.
And, the date also fell on his 65th birthday.
Bishop Stika celebrated the Mass with Father Kuzhupil and Father Neil Pezzulo concelebrating. Deacon Wil Johnson assisted. Father Pezzulo, a Glenmary Home Missioner priest, is the new pastor of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish in Maynardville and St. John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge.
“It is a great joy for me to be here at Notre Dame, as it always is these last almost 11 years now,” Bishop Stika said in his opening remarks, “to be with Father Joseph, who is celebrating 35 years of priesthood and 65 years of life. I never realized he was so much older than me, because I’ll be 63 this year. And also as we formally, even though he’s been here six months, install him as pastor. Is he doing a good job?”
“Yes,” came the reply from the assembly, along with a round of applause.
Father Kuzhupil, a priest of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, is a native of India who served 20 years in his own country before coming to the Diocese of Knoxville. His first assignment in East Tennessee was to serve as chaplain of the Alexian Village in Signal Mountain.
In his homily, Bishop Stika spoke on trust and forgiveness.
“Today, I’m trusting in Father Joseph. He is a Fransalian. He belongs to a religious community, and he’s a true missionary from India,” he said. “He started out at the Alexian Village as a chaplain. I saw good zeal in him, and so I invited him eventually to be the pastor of a big parish in Signal Mountain, St. Augustine. And little did he know or little did I know is that eventually we were going to have to add on to the church and renovate it. So he spent a lot of his time building and trying to pay it off.
“I saw in him kind of the zeal, like the Curé of Ars, always willing to say yes. How long were you there? Nine years!”
The bishop and Father Kuzhupil have something in common.
“I know that Father Joseph has a great heart, because about a year ago this time he had heart-bypass surgery,” Bishop Stika said. “But he’s kind of a rookie with that, because I had it 14 years ago, but we both had four bypasses. So I have a heart, and now you know that he has a heart: the heart of Jesus, the heart of faith, the heart of charity— he’s a very kind man, as a missionary, so pray for him. Make sure that he stays healthy.”
The bishop added, “There’s a trust I place in him to be your shepherd, and there’s also a trust I have in you to work with him. And in those moments when you might not agree with his decisions, don’t write to me! Go to him first. . . . Work together to build the kingdom of God. . . . Love him, embrace him, challenge him when he needs to be, and affirm him also—and the same thing for you, Father.”
In the rite of installation, Father Kuzhupil promised to the bishop “to proclaim the Word of God in the tradition of the apostles, compassionately and faithfully, to the people trusted to your care,” “to celebrate the sacraments of the Church, and thus nourish and sustain your brothers and sisters in body and spirit,” and “to guide, counsel, and cooperate with the people Notre Dame Catholic Church in the work of building up the Church and in the work of service to all who are in need.”
Bishop Stika then spoke to the assembly, and they promised “to hear with open ears and open hearts the Word of God as it is proclaimed to you,” “to encourage and support Father Kuzhupil in his responsibility to lead you in prayer, nourish your faith, and especially to celebrate with you the Lord’s sacrifice,” and “to cooperate with him as he exercises the service of pastor, enabling this community to grow in the light of the Gospel.”
Father Kuzhupil then took an oath of fidelity, in which he promised many things, including to “always preserve communion with the Catholic Church” and “hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety.”
After the rite of installation, the bishop and Father Kuzhupil signed official documents, witnessed by parishioners Sharon Folk and Larry Dolese.
Father Kuzhupil then received seven symbols of pastoral responsibility: the parish register, the parish history, a vessel of water, the Book of the Rite of Penance, the holy oils, the Word of God, and the sacred vessels.
“Receive these sacred vessels,” Bishop Stika said of the seventh presentation.
“When you celebrate the Lord’s sacrifice of the Mass, imitate what you are to celebrate, and see that all who are nourished at this altar of Notre Dame become what together we all pray to be: one body, one spirit, in Christ.”
The bishop then said what everyone was waiting to hear.
“Now, after six months, he is officially the pastor of Notre Dame,” and a hearty round of applause followed.
Then it was Father Kuzhupil’s turn to speak.
“Thirty-five years of priesthood—I don’t know where those years went by. It’s like a few years ago I was ordained,” he said. “Twenty years I spent in India in the mission field and in formation houses, and then 15 years in this country, and all those 15 years in the Diocese of Knoxville. I’m grateful to the direction God gave me through these years of priesthood.”
During his first assignment in the diocese, the priest and the bishop had a talk that would change Father Kuzhupil’s ministry in a big way.
“When I was in Alexian Village as a chaplain . . . Bishop Stika and I had a conversation, and he asked me, ‘Why don’t you serve in the diocese a few years?’” Father Kuzhupil said. “And those few years became nine years. Right when he appointed me a pastor, that was the shock of my life, because I didn’t have any experience as a pastor.
“I thanked Bishop for the confidence he placed in me, and that confidence continues. Thank you, Bishop Stika. I’m very grateful for you to come over here to officiate this celebration and install me as the pastor of Notre Dame Catholic Church. Thank you, Bishop Stika, for being here.”
Susan Collins, Notre Dame director of religious education and youth minister, then presented a spiritual bouquet to Father Kuzhupil from the parish youth.
“I just want to thank each one of you, my brothers and sisters, for accepting me for what I am. Your acceptance is overwhelming,” said Father Kuzhupil, who became a U.S. citizen in August 2015.
He concluded by thanking three friends visiting from his former parish of St. Augustine. Evelyn Davis, Rosemarie Kos, and Vanessa Young brought up the gifts at the installation Mass.
The bishop ended the Mass by telling of his recent ad limina visit to Pope Francis.
“Pope Francis said, ‘Bishop, I like your joy, especially your sense of humor,’” Bishop Stika recalled before adding, “So if you don’t like my sense of humor, I have papal approval.”