By Jay Nies
Father Angelus Minj begins his second quarter-century of priesthood as well as a challenging new assignment with a song in his heart.
It is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for 25 years of Priesthood and a promise to remain faithful to his calling, wherever that may lead him.
Father Minj, a priest of the diocese of Jashpur in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh recently returned home after ministering for six years in the diocese of Jefferson City in the United States.
Bishop Emmanual Kerketta of Jashpur has appointed him to serve as rector of St. Francis Xavier Orientation Centre in Gholeng, where young men from four dioceses spend two years preparing for the rigors of studying theology and philosophy while discerning a call to the Priesthood.
The announcement came shortly before Father Minj traveled home to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination.
Bishop Kerketta and two other bishops, along with 28 priests, 15 religious sisters and about 1,000 laypeople attended the five-hour celebration in his hometown on May 18.
The Liturgy included Father Minj’s newest song, which he wrote for the occasion.
“I praise You, O Lord! From my heart, I praise you!” the lyric continues in Hindi. “You were my light when I walked in the darkness. You protected me on the path of thorns.”
Father Minj did not ask why when Bishop Kerketta asked him to join fellow two priests of the Jashpur diocese — Father Alex Ekka and Father Gregory Tigga, now deceased — in helping minister to the people of central and northeastern Missouri.
Without a second thought, he said, “If you send me I will go.”
He arrived there in June of 2013.
Bishop John R. Gaydos, now retired, assigned him to assist the pastor of St. Patrick parish in Rolla, Immaculate Conception parish in St. James and St. Anthony of Padua parish in Rosati.
He then served for a year as administrator of St. Joseph parish in Canton, Queen of Peace parish in Ewing and the Notre Dame mission in LaGrange, then for two years as administrator of St. Mary parish in Shelbina and St. Patrick parish in Clarence.
He then served for a short time as administrator of St. Michael parish in Kahoka, Shrine of St. Patrick parish in St. Patrick, the former St. Martha mission in Wayland; St. Joseph parish in Canton; Queen of Peace parish in Ewing and the mission of Notre Dame in LaGrange.
Last Summer, he moved to Jefferson City to help minister in hospitals and nursing homes and to serve on weekends as sacrament minister for St. Bernadette parish in Hermitage and the Our Lady of the Snows mission in Climax Springs.
“I’ve enjoyed working here and meeting different people, being far away from home and in the churches of this diocese,” he said. “The whole Church is truly Catholic.”
“God is calling you”
Father Minj is the oldest of three sons born to Jerom (now deceased) and Teresa Minj in the village of Basadih.
His grandparents on his mother’s and father’s sides were all Catholic. One of his grandfathers was a lay catechist.
Father Minj’s village is near where Bishop Kerketta grew up.
“I used to go to his house when I was in primary school,” said Father Minj. “His younger brother and I were friends. We studied together.”
By that time, Bishop Kerketta was already away in the seminary.
Father Minj’s mother looked after her sons while their father was away for long periods of service in the Indian Army.
The local priest would visit the homes of the people in his village during Lent and Advent.
Father. Minj decided when he was 10 that he wanted to be a priest.
“I think it was their way of life that attracted me,” he said.
Over time, he grew in the realization that Priesthood was what God wanted for him.
When he told his parents about his plans, his father said no and his mother did not speak.
Undaunted, Father Minj continued his studies in local Catholic schools and then signed up for minor seminary after finishing high school.
His father found out while he was away in the Army.
“That’s when he accepted it,” said Father Minj. “He said, ‘Okay, I can see that God is calling you.’”
On May 17, 1994, under a canopy of trees near St. Francis Assisi Church in his home village of Basen, Bishop Victor Kindo, now deceased, founding bishop of the Jashpur diocese, ordained him to the Holy Priesthood.
Father Minj’s father had died about a year before the ordination. But his mother was there to present him to the bishop.
Father Minj’s priestly motto is: “Do your best and leave the rest to God.”
He believes God called him to be a priest in order “to do His work, to spread His Good News anywhere” he is sent.
He especially enjoys celebrating Mass.
“I usually spend about 30 minutes praying before the Blessed Sacrament before the Mass starts,” he said.
He devotes many hours to his Sunday homilies, usually starting on Monday.
“I find that when I do my best, I feel some real satisfaction,” he said.
He believes concise homilies are the best but also the hardest to prepare.
“I really have to work hard to keep it short,” he said.
He worked in parishes for six years before spending a year in Bangalore studying youth faith formation and mass media communications.
He then served for four years as prefect of seminarians while living in the bishop’s residence.
Bishop Victor Kindo, now deceased, founding bishop of Jashpur, appointed him director of the diocesan catechetical center. There, Father Minj, a religious sister and a seminarian produced all of the faith formation and testing materials for 140 Catholic primary schools, 96 middle schools and 30 high schools, as well as 600 lay catechists.
They also arranged formation activities for the diocesan men’s, women’s, youth and children’s associations.
Father Minj composed many hymns in the Hindi language as well as a musical arrangement for the Mass that remains in use in the Jashpur diocese.
In 2011, Bishop Kerketta, the diocese’s second bishop, appointed him to the newly created position of director of the diocesan communications and media center. This included editing the diocesan newspaper and directing the operation of an offset printing press.
Then came the request for him to serve as a missionary priest in the Jefferson City diocese.
He had never visited the United States. It took time to adapt to aspects of American culture — especially the amount of time people spend alone.
“That is simply not the case in my home diocese,” he said. “We were never alone. Somebody was always at church.”
But he was very impressed with how the people here support and take ownership of their parishes.
“In the case of my diocese, the people believe the parish belongs to the priest,” he said. “But here, the people understand that ‘the parish is ours,’ and they do everything to support the parish and grow the parish.”
That’s an understanding he hopes to share with people back home.
Teaching by example
As rector at St. Xavier, he will oversee the academic and spiritual formation of about 50 seminarians who are serious about discerning a priestly calling.
“It’s a prime time of their formation,” he said. “It’s a time of intensive preparation for them to pursue their studies in philosophy and theology.”
He said he’ll be happy to be closer to his family. Each time he talked to or visited his mother over the past six years, she asked him when he was coming home.
He would say, “The bishop sent me to Missouri, and I’ll come home when he tells me to.”
He was quick to thank Bishop Emeritus Gaydos, Bishop McKnight and the priests of this diocese for their guidance, help and prayer.
“I hope they continue to pray for me,” he said.
He’s also grateful to all the people he’s gotten to know in the diocese over these past six years.
“I’ve been really happy to serve here,” he said. “The people are very nice and they are all good to me. And I’m grateful their love.”
He had to pause briefly at the Prayer after Communion during his last Mass in St. Bernadette Church in Hermitage.
“I told the people to sit for a while,” he said. “It was really hard to speak.”
He asks for prayers for God to help him remain strong in his faith and do a good job helping to form future priests.
“Not only teaching them, but also giving them an example — that is most important,” he said. “I want to be a model to them with my life.”
“I need to be a good and holy priest as long as I live,” he said. “In that way, I hope to help God send us good priests.”