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St. Luke's priest bids Barrington good-bye

Father Varghese transferred to North Providence parish

By Josh Bickford
Posted 6/30/20

On Friday evenings, Father TJ Varghese travels to Providence and volunteers his time feeding meals to the homeless. Rain or shine. In warm weather and cold.

He enjoys the opportunity to help, to …

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St. Luke's priest bids Barrington good-bye

Father Varghese transferred to North Providence parish

Posted

On Friday evenings, Father TJ Varghese travels to Providence and volunteers his time feeding meals to the homeless. Rain or shine. In warm weather and cold.

He enjoys the opportunity to help, to serve. He said it does not matter who he is helping, or what decisions they made that brought them to the plaza outside Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral downtown. He greets each person with a smile fueled by love. It is the same smile he has shared with parishioners at St. Luke Church for the last two years while he has led the church as pastor.

"Whether poor or rich, we are all the same in the eyes of the Lord," Father Varghese said during an interview last week.

His work has offered an interesting contrast these last two years: Time living and serving in a parish that is consistently one of the top fund-raisers in the diocese during the Catholic Charities Fund Appeal, and where the parking lot is dotted with BMWs, Mercedes Benzes and other handsome SUVs and sedans; meanwhile, the local priest spends his free time visiting veterans at the VA Hospital, feeding the homeless in Providence, and taking the eucharist to shut-ins.

But wherever he goes, he said, he shares the same warm embrace. He does not waver, and he never judges.

"I see Christ in everyone," he said.

Father Varghese celebrated his final weekend Mass at St. Luke's on Sunday morning — on July 1, the diocese is transferring him to Mary, Mother of Mankind parish in North Providence.

Father Varghese said he was expecting to spend about six years at St. Luke's, that is the typical amount of time a pastor is given to serve in a parish. But in May, the priest at Mary, Mother of Mankind passed away. Facing the unexpected vacancy, the bishop turned to Father Varghese, who grew up in North Providence.

The news was bittersweet. Father Varghese is excited to greet his newest challenge, but he said he has grown so close to St. Luke's.

"I am going to miss this place," he said. "It is a jewel."

The priest compared St. Luke's to a precious gem that he was tasked with watching over, polishing it, helping it to shine. But he knew from the start, that the more he gave of himself to the church, the more it would hurt when it was time to say good-bye.

On Sunday morning, inside the Washington Road church, Father Varghese celebrated Mass as he always does — with passion, with smiles and even with a short joke to start his homily. During that sermon, a moment arrived when the parishioners shared a farewell with the priest, rising for a standing ovation. He smiled and held back more emotions welling inside.

During the recent interview, Father Varghese said the parishioners at St. Luke's welcomed him with open arms when he first arrived in July 2018. And, he said, they have continued to help him over the years. When he needed people to volunteer as eucharistic ministers, they stepped up. When he needed more alter servers to help with Masses, they volunteered.

"God has given me a special grace," he said. "People come forward to help me. Whatever I need, they help me."

No plowing

Father Varghese quickly learned to love all that St. Luke's had to offer. Even before he first arrived, he was excited about what life at the church would be like.

At his former parish, Father Varghese was kept busy with a variety of tasks, including having to plow the parking lot and walkways when it snowed.

That was not the case at St. Luke's.

Barrington was very nice, and his routine worked well with parish life. He woke early each day, traveled to the Bayside YMCA to swim laps in the pool. He visited the church's school often, and one night a week he joined some of the parishioners for a game of pick-up basketball.

"I love, love, love basketball," he said.

He also enjoyed growing to better know the people in his church, through the conversations he had between games or stretching out on the sidelines.

Mary, Mother of Mankind does not have a gymnasium, but Father Varghese's mother told him the other day that she plans to buy him a basketball hoop that he can put outside near the church. She told him it will bring him closer to those who attend that parish and live near the church.

Father Varghese said he is excited about his new assignment and the challenge it will bring.

"I am a hard worker. I love being a priest. I love helping the poor," he said. "I would never trade it. Never."

Father Varghese said many parishioners reached out to him upon hearing the news that he had been reassigned.

"It was very emotional, very heartfelt," he said. "The letters and the emails were very nice."

Now the task at hand is preparing for his move from the church rectory on Washington Road to his new home on Mineral Spring Avenue.

"The worst part is the packing," he said.

His mother stopped by recently to help him a bit, he said, but she kept placing his clothes and books into boxes to be donated. She told him that she would buy him new clothes when he arrived in North Providence.

Mass in Arabic

Father Varghese has a passion for knowledge and learning, and recently received his master's degree in psychology and counseling.

"I love studying. I am very passionate about it," he said.

The local pastor can also speak seven languages and regularly celebrates Mass in Arabic; a group of people come from all over the state once a month to attend the Mass.

Parting gift

A few months ago, Father TJ Varghese's father passed away unexpectedly and left his son some money. Father Varghese knew quickly what he wanted to do with the inheritance. He established the Father Varghese Endowment Fund for St. Luke's School, which will be used to help less fortunate boys and girls attend the local Catholic school. He gave the rest of the money to parish.

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