LINDA REEVES, Florida Catholic correspondent
NORTH PALM BEACH | Passionist Father Junesh Xavier finished one phase of his life, leaving childhood behind, and as he was about to start a new phase in high school, he heard God calling him in another direction.
“I was 14 and had just finished my exams,” said Father Xavier. “I walked into the seminary and expressed my desires to join the Passionists.”
Fast forward. Father Xavier, 38, is celebrating 10 years as a Congregation of the Passion priest and one year as director of Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center.
“The Passionist didn’t come to me. I came to them,” he said. “I told myself that I would give it a try. From day one, I knew I was on the right path, and that this is where I was meant to be.”
Last September, Father Xavier joined Our Lady of Florida with a community of seven Passionists. Every year, more than 5,000 people travel there to seek personal and spiritual growth and the wisdom of the Passionist retreat team.
Father Xavier said he experiences his own personal and spiritual growth becoming enriched as he ministers where God calls and through the experiences with people he meets. He confessed the past six months have not been easy with the pandemic and the quarantine lockdown.
“We are hoping and praying that we will survive the pandemic,” he said. “We are doing what we can do.”
The retreat center, where its sprawling ground meet the water’s edge in North Palm Beach, reopened Oct. 5 with a retreat for priests. The center is offering in-person and limited programs including a series of virtual presentations with speakers beginning this month.
Father Xavier’s was born in Kochi in southwest India with Christians, Muslims and Hindus. The Diocese of Kochi serves 175,000 Catholics with 46 parishes and 10 missions. The Passionist order, which was founded by St. Paul of the Cross in the 1700, came to the area in India in 1981 and built a mission and minor seminary.
Father Xavier’s grandparents lived across the street from the Passionists. Father Xavier recalls that it was his “pious” grandparents and the Passionists next door, who greatly impacted him and his love for Christ.
“I remember getting up early in the morning and going to Mass with my grandparents at the monastery,” he said. “The Passionists were very influential in the faith commission there, not only in the way they preached but by the way they lived. Young men started to join them. That inspired me.”
After his family’s approval, Father Xavier entered the congregation in 1997. One week turned into a month. One month turned into a year. He completed studies and earned degrees and was ordained April 27, 2010.
Ministry that taught him and changed him
He cherishes time spent ministering to the poor in Jharkhand an impoverished area where people have no electricity, transportation and live in the simplest of housing. “The people had so much joy in the way they celebrated the Mass,” he said. “The singing. The dancing.”
The area is known for its militants, who are against the Church and people of faith. One of the priest ministering there was repeatedly attacked. “He was in his 70s. I asked him why he continued to work in the unfriendly environment, and he said, ‘it’s my calling.’”
Over the years, Father Xavier has been blessed with many assignments that have given him the opportunity to serve as a priest in the fullest sense and meet people. He served in campus ministry working with young adults. He was an associate pastor ministering to a parish flock. His role as director of seminarians was an opportunity for him to help other men seek their calling. A highpoint was his parish mission work in India. “No one had ever done it,” he said about pioneering the outreach.
In 2015, he came to America joining St. Paul of the Cross Retreat Center team in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, until coming to Our Lady of Florida replacing Passionist Father Paul Wierichs at the helm 14 years. Father Wierichs stepped down due to health issues.
“When my provincial asked me to come here to follow Father Paul, I knew it would not be easy. I know I can’t be another Father Paul.”
Father Xavier plans to carry on the ministry work built before him strengthening it and expanding it. “We want to start some new ministries and open up to new groups.
“We hope that a day will come when there is not a single day without people here in our spiritual home,” he said with strong hope and faith that the day will soon come.
To learn more about Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center visit: www.ourladyofflorida.org.