Pictured: Fr. Johnson George stands in front of the grotto at St., Joseph Catholic School. He said he feels at home surrounded by the Hispanic culture of Alice, and that he's glad to serve the parishioners of St., Joseph Catholic Church. Fr. George came in Dec. from India. MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

St. Joseph Catholic Church's new priest arrives from India

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

From one side of the world to another, Father Johnson George is the newest arrival at St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Originally from the city of Cochin, in southern India, Fr. George has spent the last 21 years as a Jesuit Priest in northern India, preparing and educating young people at school, and in preparation for becoming Jesuits themselves.

As a religious order focused on the importance of education, Jesuits take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Fr. George has also served the last nine years as a priest. Unlike diocesan priests, who serve Mass at local parishes and are in charge of performing the sacraments, Jesuits spend their life giving to others, through both education and good works. Fr. George arrived at St. Joseph Dec. 15.

"In a religious order we stay together and live in a community, taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The priesthood is something that comes later on," Fr. George said.

Southern India has a long history of Christian practice. In the first century, St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, traveled to Southern India, according to the church, and baptized the Indian people. The Catholic Church in India is part of the Eastern Rite, and George said his family has practiced Catholicism for several generations. He entered the Jesuits at 21 years of age.

"Our state has a large number of Christians, about 20 percent Christian, 20 percent Muslim and 14 percent Hindus," George said.

The story of how Fr. George decided to join the Jesuits started with a picture.

Fr. Johnson was in college, as a young man in India. There was a harsh drought ongoing in Ethiopia that the media was covering.

"I was living my own life, free, doing what I wanted. Then I saw this picture of a woman, skinny, trying to feed a baby, who was skinny also, and I felt…somehow that picture caught my attention, and I felt…inside me something happened," Fr. George said.

"You have everything for yourself, and there are so many people who have nothing," Fr. George said to himself. "You have lived your life for yourself, why don't you live your life for others. So that…that disturbed me. I don't know where it was coming from, but it was there, every day disturbing me."

He prayed all day, looking into himself, and he realized that he had spent all his time living for himself, he had a happy life, and now he wanted to live for others. To dedicate his life like Jesus. He joined the Jesuits soon afterward.

Twenty years later, he finds himself in the heart of South Texas, getting to know a new culture in a new country. Fr. George said getting to know a new culture is always a challenge.

"The world view of this place and my world view are different. We had American Jesuits come over to the school where I was working, so I'm used to American Jesuits. Plus the media nowadays, helps us to be more aware of things," Fr. George said. "My mother tongue is not English, so I have to communicate in that language, and eventually pick up Spanish. So that is perhaps my greatest challenge, with the language."

Fr. Johnson said he's found the Hispanic people are very warm in South Texas.

"I find myself welcome and accepted. When you love, you're loved back one hundred fold. The Hispanic culture, they are very expressive as to who they are and what they feel, in that way I feel at home, because that is just how I was brought up. This made my coming out here much easier. I don't have to worry about how I would be labeled. It is something I like about here, there is so much warmth in the Hispanic culture," Fr. Johnson said.

He said since there is a shortage of priests in this area, he felt his services were needed, and his intention is to share with others and serve the people of this community. That has always been his goal both as a priest and as a Jesuit.

"To live a life of service and give of my life to others," Fr. Johnson said.