Seaview parish’s new leader inherits busy schedule

By PATRICK WEBB

Observer correspondent

Pastoral leadership of the several hundred Catholics in Pacific County has taken on another international flavor.

Last month, St. Mary Parish in Seaview welcomed a new priest administrator, Fr. Zevier Hirudayaraj Arockiam.

Known as “Father Zevi,” the native of India is enthusiastic about settling into his new job, which covers congregations totaling about 500 at five churches, plus the upkeep of a couple of cemeteries, as well as a prison ministry.

Having a pastor from overseas is not unusual for the Seaview parish, whose members welcomed Fr. Peter Gillette, who was born in Ghana, some years ago. Fr. Zevi takes over from Fr. Paul Kaech, who has moved to Shelton after nine years in Southwest Washington.

The assignment means shuttling between church communities at Seaview, Raymond, Frances and Pe Ell.

In Seaview, weekday masses are 9:30 a.m. Thursdays and Fridays. But Sunday’s summer schedule means Fr. Zevi is more like race car driver than a priest. He begins the morning at Seaview with mass at 8:30 a.m., sets off in time to conduct mass at St. Lawrence Raymond at 11:15, then stays to conduct a mass in Spanish at 1 p.m. before traveling to Frances for a 6 p.m. start. His Sunday rarely ends before 8 p.m.

Occasionally that schedule means a further detour to the McGowan Chapel (the last summer service there will be 3:30 p.m. Sept. 3).

Parishioners are quick to mention his upbeat attitude.

“He’s a smiling man — he loves everybody,” said Dick Wallace, one of two deacons at St. Mary. “He is so happy and energetic — a fine gentleman.”

Fr. Zevi likes that image. “Coming to the United States, I am the joyful, smiling, mobile priest!” he laughed, saying his philosophy is to “stay positive, even though you see challenges and the negative.”

He comes to the Peninsula from short assignments in Everett and Aberdeen during the past two years.

The new priest is a member of the Heralds of Good News, a Catholic missionary society with adherents around the world. It was founded in India in 1984 and members venerate the Virgin Mary.

He grew up as the seventh of eight children, earning a bachelor’s degree and beginning a career as a teacher of mathematics and science after overcoming English learning difficulties. His native tongue is Tamil, one of six languages in which he can celebrate mass. He says he now thinks in English and can get by with everyday Spanish.

After years of contemplation, he felt compelled to attend seminary and was ordained in 2004. During his training, he became excited by the idea of serving as a missionary in Papua New Guinea. After a brief period teaching in India, he was assigned his dream job, spending 10 years in the island nation north of Australia.

About one third of its 7 million population are Catholic. Fr. Zevi considers it “the last paradise” and splits his annual vacation with return trips there, as well as visiting his family in India.

He said the challenges of poverty among Papua New Guinea’s inhabitants are offset by their welcoming, trusting culture. “I have unforgettable memories,” he said. “The people’s lifestyle is more primitive, but there is more generosity — and they live the values of the Bible.”

He savors their emphasis on the welfare of the extended family, which reflects that of his homeland. “This inspires me,” he said. He sees a similar caring trait throughout the Hispanic communities of his Washington parishes and mentioned that the quinceañera, which celebrates a teenager’s emergence, has a parallel celebration in India.

Once in Papua New Guinea, he was walking 20 miles between mission stations when he became disorientated and realized he would have to spend the night on a trail. He recalls using his teeth to tear palm leaves for a makeshift shelter. “I said two rosaries and lived through it!” he smiled, pointing to a quote on all the printed literature he shares about his faith: “One lesson my journey through life has taught me is the virtue of perseverance and the importance of facing new adventures with a committed missionary spirit.”

Fr. Zevi sees his vocation dividing itself into three phases, having completed his first, 10 years as a missionary in the South Pacific, during his youngest, fittest years. “I have planned for my life to keep me growing,” he said. He turns 50 next month and expects a total of about 10 years working for the Seattle Diocese. Once that is completed, he anticipates concluding his career tending to the spiritual needs of his countrymen. People in India practice more religions that just about any country, but Christians comprise only 3 percent, of which two-thirds are Catholic.

As he settles in Seaview, he is developing a web site, act-upon.org, and adding Facebook links to help spread the word, saying his job is to enhance people’s faith while strengthening their relationships with each other.

“Right now it is listening and responding to needs,” he said.

‘I am the joyful, smiling, mobile priest!’

— Father Zevi

Seaview’s new Catholic priest

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