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Archives ‘I am always happy as a priest’

Novemeber 4, 2020

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing Writer

PLATTSBURGH – “From a very young age I wanted to be a priest,” Father Tojo Chacko, of the Heralds of Good News, shared. “The nuns who taught us used to encourage vocations to the priesthood.”

Father Chacko is originally from Kerala, a state in Southern India known as the “land of coconuts.” He noted that, in the first century, St. Thomas the apostle brought Christianity to India. Born in the diocese of Changanacherry on November 26, 1984, Father Chacko is the middle child and one of three boys.

Growing up, Father Chacko’s life was situated around his parish, Our Lady of Fatima. So, he has a special devotion to her. His family’s life was their parish. He studied in Catholic schools, both in lower and higher grades. At first, Father Chacko “wanted to be a diocesan priest.” Then, when attending a vocation camp, he heard a priest talking about the missions. He was put in touch with a new order, the Heralds of the Good News.
After finishing 10th grade in 1999, he entered minor seminary to study for the priesthood. Father Chacko became a member of the Heralds of the Good News, a Missionary Society of Apostolic Life of the Pontifical Right, founded in Eluru, located in South Central India. He was ordained a priest on February 1, 2009.

A bi-ritual priest, Father Chacko belongs both to the Roman rite and the Syro Malabar Church, an Eastern Catholic Rite. One of the differences in liturgy is that, in the Syro Malabar Church, Mass is celebrated Ad Orientem, which means “to the East,” with the priest facing the same direction as the congregation. There are two altars, one for the Liturgy of the Word and another for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. They have a lot of icons and “popular devotions, like novenas.”

Many of Father Chacko’s assignments in India were at seminaries. He was the dean of studies and dean of liturgy at St. John’s Minor Seminary, Nidadavole, W. G. District, Andhra Pradesh, from March 2009-April 2010. Next, Father Chacko was vice rector and dean of studies of Heralds Spiritual Orientation Center, Kurukkuru, W.G. District, Andhra Pradesh, India from May 2010-April 2011. After, he was assistant parish priest and vice principal of St. John’s Parish and St. John’s English Medium Higher Secondary School, Barama, Baksa District, Assam, India from May 2011-April 2012. Then, Father Chacko was vice rector and dean of studies of Herald’s Bhavan, Ambabhai, Jhansi District, Uttar Pradesh from May 2012-2014.

Since there is a shortage of vocations in the United States, Father Chacko was assigned to the Diocese of Ogdensburg six years ago. First, Father Chacko was assigned to Sacred Heart and St. Lawrence in Massena from June 2014-16. Massena was one of Father Chacko’s first parishes, and he said that it was “good to have full pastoral experience working to help people in faith life and form long friendships.” It was a “good experience” to work with the pastors, priests, deacon, sister and pastoral associate, and “to be with them in ministry,” he said.
Then, from June 24, 2016 to July 8, 2020, he served as parochial vicar at St. Peter’s Parish in Massena. On July 8, 2020, he was transferred to the Plattsburgh Catholic Parishes. He enjoys working our diocese and noted that the “bishop and priests are very fraternal.”

Father Chacko’s duties include celebrating Mass, preaching, visiting hospitals and visiting the sick in homes. He “has made good friendships.” One of his biggest challenges in learning English is the “accent” to “make people understand the language.”

Although Father Chacko’s mother tongue is Malayalam, he understands several other dialects, such as, Tamil, Telugu, and a little Hindi. His multi-lingual and cultural experiences in India helped prepare him for the various differences in areas of the United States. Father Chacko was able to “adapt very fast” and was grateful that people are “hospitable.”

He is “lucky to be there for many people – anointing of the sick, experience of faith life and last rites, comforting and being with the sick.” Father Chacko relishes all aspects of pastoral life, explaining, that “God is working through us.” He said he is thankful for the “privilege of celebrating Mass, more than anything that is the central aspect of our faith.”

Father Chacko’s baptismal name is Varghese (George), after the saint. Father Chacko said that St. George, who is often depicted as slaying a dragon, is a “strong, very powerful intercessor.” He is the patron of several countries who rely on his aid during time of peril and devotion to him is “big in India.” In his parish, Father Chacko is known by his baptismal name George. However, at school or among most people, he is “Father Tojo.”
As a child, Father Chacko developed a strong love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus due to devotions at a nearby parish. Every First Friday, they had a novena to the Sacred Heart, which he recited from a young age.

Throughout his youth, his family prayed together in their house. Around dinner time, they said the rosary, sang songs, and read the scriptures.

“My Mom and Grandma prayed a lot,” he said, adding that there was always evening prayer in families.

Father Chacko also has a special devotion to St. Alphonsa, a Franciscan sister and teacher, who was canonized in 2008. She is the first woman from India to be canonized and the first saint of the Syro-Malabar Church. He made pilgrimages to her home, where she was born and buried. He walked all day, several miles, to go to her place and pray. On one pilgrimage, Father Chacko prayed to her to be a priest. He also went to the church where she was buried. St. Alphonsa, who suffered a lot throughout life, is known for working many miracles.

In addition, Father Chacko is devoted to St. Jude and St. Therese. In his formative years, “Catechism was very essential,” he said. They had a special group named after St. Therese and strict religious education training occurred every Sunday from first through tenth grades.

“Sisters used to take us to the chapel every time we had free time to pray and do Adoration,” Father Chacko said, describing his school years. “I learned from the Sisters example and life. Growing up, I was instilled with faith from my family. My Grandma always prayed. I remember always seeing her with her rosary.”

For fun, Father Chacko is learning to play golf. He has also fished a little bit.

His advice to those discerning vocations is, “giving yourself to God’s hands is worth it because God makes use of us in better ways. Trying to understand God’s will and experience and share God’s love is something I’m happy about... I am always happy as a priest.”



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