By Rev. Dr. John Pozhathuparambil
There was excitement and eagerness in the air as the Indian Conventual Friary received the first group of Bellarmine University staff and students in Cochin, Kerala, India. It was 2009, and I was a 35-year-old priest. In one of my interactions with the Bellarmine group, a staff member said, “You look like someone who can work among young people. Would you like to come to Bellarmine?” I laughed and brushed off the idea with a firm No.
I was content with my work in Kerala. As a young priest, I enjoyed working with young people and immersing myself in writing as director of Franciscan Publications and editor of a vernacular magazine. I wrote editorials, poems and short stories. I also enjoyed preaching and visiting families frequently. My whole family, my friends and the friars I knew were all in Kerala, India, and I did not intend to uproot myself.
My time at Bellarmine has shaped me into who I am today, and I am proud to be part of this institution.
However, a few months later, I was called into the office of my Provincial, who suggested that I visit Kentucky for four months and decide if I wanted to work at Bellarmine University and in young-adult ministry. I knew then that God was kicking me out of my comfort zone for His purpose. Many questions came to my mind, and I was apprehensive about the unknown.
Nevertheless, I held on to my faith and landed in Kentucky in July 2010. Franciscan Friars welcomed me into their house, and soon I found myself adjusting to the cultural differences, such as the weather and American accents, specifically the Kentucky accent. Others had trouble understanding my thick Indian accent. That did not stop me from becoming involved in campus ministry work. I started celebrating Holy Mass, organizing programs and forming connections with the Bellarmine community.
From an initial tryout of four months, in the blink of an eye, I have been with Bellarmine for 13 years! Why did I stay? The first reason is that I felt at home at Bellarmine. I lived my childhood in a village in Kerala where faith was shared actively in the community. Hospitality was a valuable spiritual asset in the village. I saw that in the Campus Ministry Office. Campus Ministry welcomes students of all faiths and no faith. It respects each individual as a child of God. Everyone is treated equally, no matter the color of their skin, ethnicity, religion or gender.
Second, Bellarmine educates the whole person—body, mind and spirit—focusing on the holistic development of students. Often, we hear the mantra Be You at BU. Thomas Merton’s spirit and legacy are living in the community. His spirit encourages all to find their “true self” and what God wants them to be. In all these ways, Bellarmine prepares students for distinguished careers and to be world-class citizens, future leaders and missionaries.
Bellarmine is proud of its Catholic tradition and the values that the founders envisioned. Catholic values and teachings are reflected in decision-making, curriculum planning and campus life. The Campus Ministry office in Centro and the Our Lady of the Woods Chapel proclaim that we are a Catholic institution.
As I take on the role of director of Campus Ministry, I am working with the Campus Ministry Team on exciting goals and plans for the coming academic year, especially to cultivate and impart an understanding of Catholic tradition and teachings and their role in the global Catholic community.
Being part of Bellarmine gives me a sense of purpose, and I am grateful to be part of the community. I may have initially laughed at the idea of coming to Bellarmine, but now I cannot imagine my life without it. As a Franciscan priest and staff member, I have found a family here and touched countless students’ lives. My time at Bellarmine has shaped me into who I am today, and I am proud to be part of this institution.
Regardless of where my journey takes me, I know that being a Franciscan Friar and working with young people will always bring me joy and fulfillment.
Rev. Dr. John Pozhathuparambil (“poy-ya’-too-par-am’-bill”) is the new director and chaplain in Bellarmine’s Campus Ministry Office.