An article from “The Monitor” February 8, 2007
Parishioner’s love extend to partners in India
MARLTON – St. Joan of Arc Parish and (St.) Joan of Arc Center for Integral Development (JACID) share a namesake.
The link that has bound the large, bustling Burlington County parish with JACID, the charitable trust which in 2004 established St. Joan of Arc Community College in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, India, has been nurtured from its inception by the strong hands and gentle hearts of two self-effacing priests and men of great vision, Father Francis Ravi and the late Msgr. Armand Pedata.
The college provides educational and career opportunities for the area’s underprivileged young men and women.
Fr. Ravi was ordained a priest for the Tuticorin Diocese in India in 1988. Following his ordination, he was a Pastor for seven years in two parishes, and then served for a year in St. Joseph Charity Institute in Adaikalapuram, an enormous facility situated on 20 acres that ministers to some 1,200 people “from the womb to the tomb,” with services available to the elderly, the mentally challenged as well as operating an orphanage.
Ten years after he was ordained in 1998, Fr. Ravi was granted a sabbatical year from his diocesan bishop. He came to the Diocese of Trenton, met with Msgr. Walter Nolan, who was director of Priest Personnel, and was given a parish assignment as an Adjunct Priest at St. Joan of Arc Parish.
It was to the delight of Fr. Ravi and the entire St. Joan’s Parish community when toward the end of Fr. Ravi’s first year, Msgr. Pedata asked him to stay on at St. Joan’s. Fr. Ravi made a request to his diocesan bishop, and he was granted additional time.
“I enjoyed it very much,” he said of his seven years at St. Joan’s. “I felt very welcome here. I never felt homesick. Msgr. Pedata was always kind and concerned and he treated me like a son.”
Fr. Ravi, who enjoyed being involved in a number of ministries at St. Joan’s, was especially heartened when Msgr. Pedata suggested that St. Joan of Arc Parish consider developing a twinning partnership with Charity Institute.
“The people at St. Joan’s had been so good to me and I wanted to show them my gratitude,” said Fr. Ravi. “I wanted to start something that would be in the name of St. Joan’s. I know how much Msgr. Pedata loved this parish and while I was here, I was loved by the pastor and his people. I wanted to do something to thank them.”
Thus, the twinning project between St. Joan of Arc Parish and Charity Institute evolved into the decision to create JACID, which was established as a community college that gives marginalized students who have completed the 12th grade a chance to attend college and to enhance their skills by training them in income generating activities. JACID is a one-year program that offers training in various tracks including catering, computer technology, nursing and hotel management.
Among the circumstance that would lead students to consider attending JACID, said Fr. Ravi, are that they cannot afford to attend the regular colleges, which are located in the bigger cities, the distance from their homes to the city is too great and, some of the students who may have already graduated from college, didn’t have proficient skills in order to obtain employment.
One of the advantages for students at JACID, was the three-month internship program with companies, schools and hospitals which guaranteed future employment.
For example, said Fr. Ravi, there are many hotels being built in the area and the skills in hotel management or catering that students would gain at JACID would be in demand.
The school helps students to obtain employment and about 96 percent of the students do find jobs or pursue further education opportunities, he said.
While Fr. Ravi is the director of JACID, he said that it is not a Catholic institution nor is it affiliated with the diocese. It is open to any student in need, regardless of their religion. The school is staffed by a principal and faculty for each trade. There are about 100 students in the program, with some of the students living on campus and some commuting from their homes. The students are required to wear uniforms and all must speak English, a requirement with no exceptions.
“If they are going to be in the hotel business or in nursing, they have to have a command of the English language,” he said.
“Language is based on how often it is used and it is very difficult for them to speak it. But I’m very determined that they speak English. Otherwise, their opportunities are limited. When you speak English, it opens doors.”
To serve as founding director and managing trustee of JACID sounds like it would be a full-time job, but for Fr. Ravi, it’s a responsibility he happily shares being Pastor of St. Lucia Parish, Anaikarai. The parish is about five kilometers from JACID, and is a parish that has five substation parishes.
“I love it,” he said, when asked how he manages to juggle his schedule between the parish and school. “It’s wonderful.”
Although Fr. Ravi does not teach, he surely makes his presence known around the campus and has observed that the “students are happy to be there.”
Fr. Ravi is pleased that JACID has had a successful start, but credits it success to the generosity, prayers and support the school received from the parishioners who live more than half-way around the world in St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton.
Several times tears welled in his eyes, especially when he spoke of how Msgr. Pedata and a delegation of parishioners “honored us with there presence” by coming to India for the dedication ceremony of JACID on July 24, 2005. The building was dedicated by Bishop Ivan Ambroise of Tuticorin.
Fr. Ravi returned to India to live in 2005, but twice a year, in January and June, he returns to his beloved, St. Joan of Arc Parish where he has the opportunity to visit the parishioners and give updated on the JACID’s progress. In turn, St. Joan’s hosts fundraising events throughout the year in support of JACID.
Fr. Ravi’s recent visit to New Jersey was sadly moved up to mid-December when he learned of Msgr. Pedata’s death on Dec 9th. He made it a point to say how grateful he was to the Pedata family and to the Diocese of Trenton for delaying Msgr. Pedata’s funeral until he was able to travel from India to Marlton.
Looking to the people of St. Joan’s, Fr. Ravi said he always wondered about them and the means they had to support JACID.
“After all, they don’t know my people and they have never gone to India,” and with that in mind, he said he is always reminded of the Gospel story in the Upper Room when Thomas doubted that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.
“It wasn’t until Thomas put his hand into Jesus’ side that he came to believe. And Jesus said, ‘Blest are you, Thomas, because you have seen and believed. But even more blest are those who have not seen, but still believe.’”
“The people of St. Joan of Arc Parish have not seen JACID,” he said, “and blest are they because they have not seen, but continue to believe in what they are doing.