By Lois Staas
The Catholic Community of St. Mary’s in Gloucester City celebrated the priesthood of Monsignor James P. Curran and Reverend Stephen Chellan on October 25.
On that day all parishes in the Diocese of Camden and throughout the nation were called to reflect upon and affirm the role of the priesthood.
St. Mary’s parishioners, with the guidance and coordination of Sister Christine Hartnett, O.P., de-veloped their own special way of honoring their priests. Gospel readings, prayers, and hymns like “Here I Am, Lord” were selected to mark that day.
St. Mary School children created colorful posters and class Spiritual Bouquets to enhance the interior of the church. Families created their own Spiritual Bouquets consisting of prayers and acts of charity offered for the priests and their intentions.
Seasonal floral arrange-ments were accented with wheat sheaves and grapes, symbols of the priesthood.
After all Masses, parishioners gathered at the rectory to say “Thank You,” extend “Best Wish-es,” and to recall warm memories. The socializing was sweetened with an abundance of delicious home-made baked goods.
Many contributed to the success of the celebration. Members of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) were on hand as a service activity.
Both priests shared stories of their callings to the priesthood.
Msgr. Curran recalled growing up in the rural farmland of County Leitrim, Ireland, where as a young boy he and his family attended Mass at the Catholic Church five miles away from their home.
Mr. and Mrs. Curran, their four daughters, and he would walk, or at times cart ride, to hear the Latin Mass. Sometimes he would bicycle alone to church.
One of Monsignor’s lasting memories was that of the priest lifting the consecrated host and cup of wine. Once, when his father and sister were ill, his mother called the parish priest, who came to pray with his father, sister and family and to hear confession, give Holy Communion, and anoint the sick.
After calling the priest, then and only then, would she call the doctor.
In his heart Monsignor knew that he would become a priest, but he kept this knowledge to himself and told no one. His father passed away. He finished high school and applied for a scholarship, knowing that even if he won that scholarship, he would not use it because his desire was to enter the seminary and become a priest.
Father Chellan grew up with his father, mother, three brothers, and three sisters in the State of Tam-ilnadu, which is located in southern India.
Father said that when he was a little boy, the priest who instructed him how to pray taught him this prayer, “Lord, if you want me to be a priest, I am ready.”
Rev. Chellan continued:
“I said this prayer somewhat casually, but God took my prayer seriously.”
Mr. Chellan’s work in agriculture provided the income to educate Father, and his brothers and sisters.
He works harvesting nectar, or juice, from the palmetto tree.
Every morning Mr. Chellan climbs the tree, which can grow 30 feet high, to gather the juice from the previous evening’s climb, which is in preparation for the next day’s harvest.
In his first year of college, Father joined the seminary. As the time for ordination approached, he was con-cerned that he would not be a successful priest. His family offered him encouragement.
His parents said, “Son, you are like a person at a pool. In order to swim, you need to jump in. We love you, and we will accept you, whatever occurs.”
After several years serving as a priest in India, it was time for Father to take a sabbatical. He requested to visit the United States to study his interests of family psychology and culture in America.
In 2006 Father began his ministry as Chaplin for Cooper Hospital, Camden. His next assignment was St. Mary’s, Gloucester City.
Father Chellan said, “My vocation has always been a search for me. I did not have a great celebration after my ordination. When-ever I exercise my priesthood, it is a celebration. When people are touched by God with my ministry, I am only an instrument. In preparing my sermons I pray, ‘Lord, make Yourself speak to them through me’.”
All of St. Mary’s extended its blessing over Monsignor Curran and Father Chellan with the “Blessing Prayer.”
“In your loving kindness, O good and gracious God, you sent your Son to be our shepherd and guide. Father Curran and Father Steephen continue Christ’s ministry of working in the vineyard
and guiding your holy people. Bless Father Curran and Father Steephen. Let your Spirit uphold them always in their service to the people of this parish.”