Bittersweet memories cloud Ulahannan Varkey Kalathilparampil as he reminisces over the 60 years he spent as sacristan in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
“God’s grace has sustained me in these years,” says Kalathilparampil who worked at St. Thomas Church at Monipally in Palai diocese.
Bishop of Palai presented him with the best sacristan award in 2000.
However, he says that the parishioners have already forgotten him.
“It is just over a month since I have retired. They looked for me only when they needed me,” says Kalathilparampil, who is to undergo heart surgery on Friday.
He began working for the parish as a 16-year-old in 1951 for a salary of 10 rupees in the old currency, then worth about $5.
That rose to a mere rupees 3,000 ($67) at his retirement in March.
“Initially after parish duties, I worked as a daily-wage laborer for sustenance,” says the father of six children.
Two of his sons are priests and his only daughter is a nun. His eldest son died.
Kalathilparampil says he hardly took leave during his six-decade long tenure.
“In all these years I have taken very few holidays. When I was down with typhoid for 45 days my salary was cut. A second time when I was sick for three months and the parish priest gave me my salary.”
The one occasion he took leave was when his son died. The second and last time, he took leave was to take his deceased son’s daughter to Bangalore to start a nursing course.
Kalathilparampil served under 17 priests and learnt the Latin and Syriac Christian rites.
He says some priests were caring and full of love while others were indifferent. Just as there were two categories of parishioners, “those who cared and those who did not”.
What kept him going was the conviction that “I was born a Catholic. I have to follow the good I find in others and let not the bad example discourage me.”
Kurian Pandiamakkail, a parishioner, says, “Kalathilparampil is appreciated by all in the parish for his dedicated service. He has gone through hard times. All will have a good word to say about him.”