Be Not Afraid: Fr. Mahesh on homesickness, missionary priesthood and saying his first Mass with thousands

25 April 2024

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

Father Mahendren “Mahesh” Rathinasamy is a Pallottine priest who serves within the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He is currently pastor for St. Peter in Villeneuve, St. Catherine in Calahoo, St. Emerence in Riviere Qui Barre, and St. Charles in Mearns. Father Mahesh grew up in Thoothukudi, India, and studied at St. Charles Seminary in Nagpur, India. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1999 at age 29. In 2009, he moved to Canada and began serving in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Fr. Mahesh is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his priesthood on May 5th. Watch the video version of his story here.

When did you first think of being a priest?

I come from a traditional Catholic family and I used to altar-serve as a child.

It’s very funny because, when I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, priests in India would come around on a motorbike. I used to see through the window of my house, the priest coming on his motorbike, so as a child I thought: “In order to become a priest, I must first get a motorbike.” That was the initial start to my call!

I studied in a Catholic school, a Jesuit school. Then, in Grade 10, some priests from the Pallotine order came to our classrooms and they told us about the priesthood, hoping to recruit students. I raised my hand as an indicator that I wanted to go with them, without even knowing what it was all about.

Fr. Mahesh during his ordination to the priesthood (May 5th, 1999).

I have two sisters and one brother and I am the youngest, the spoiled youngest baby. So this was unexpected. Even my parents had no idea that I wanted to join the seminary.

I still remember the call, that day in July 1986. The same priest who had come to visit my school came to my home to see me. My parents didn’t know he was coming! I remember I was just laying on the couch and then the priest came over and everyone was shocked when the priest told my parents about my intention to go to seminary. My parents were happy-sad, because I am their youngest. But they told me I could go.

So shortly after that, I left home and that is how my vocation started. I was 16 years old.

Fr. Mahesh with his parents and family members at the celebration of his parents 50th wedding anniversary.

Why didn’t you tell your parents about your desire to go to the seminary?

Well I thought that they might not let me go. We are from a middle-class family and my father was working for the government. We weren’t very poor but we weren’t very rich either, so there were financial reasons why they might not want me to go.

But then my parents said I could go and my father said: “Remain there, don’t come back.” They believed that if you select this life, be firm. When you are in seminary you don’t know for sure if you will become a priest, but my parents still wanted me to be firm in my decision.

My parents were very instrumental in my vocation because they were praying for me every day.

 Why do you think you were so determined, at 16, to be a priest?

 It was because I saw the priests and their way of service and how they celebrate the Mass. I saw how people would approach the priests after Mass and receive a blessing and I thought I can also be like that and help to guide people.

Where I grew up, Sunday Mass would often be at 5:30 a.m. – I’m not exaggerating! – and still thousands of people would attend Mass. There would be so many people that some had to sit on the floor. So it was in the context of this Catholic tradition that I wanted to become a priest.

Nagpur, India where Fr. Mahesh attended the seminary for 13 years, prior to being ordained. Photo courtesy of

 What happened after you left home to join seminary?

When I first joined seminary, it was very strange to me. It was what you may call a “minor seminary,” except the Pallotine fathers called it a “vocation orientation centre.” We were 67 students from all over India and they were all strangers to me. I was really nervous.

I remember at the beginning, I was really crying. I wanted to go back home. This life was not for me! I went and told the lead formator that I was homesick and that I wanted to go home, but he said no, you must remain here and he encouraged me. My parents would also come to visit me once a month and so I came around slowly, and it was all well.

Fr. Mahesh celebrates the Mass for the first time (May 6, 1999).

What was it like to celebrate the Mass for the first time?

I was nervous! But I used to tell the people that a pastor is an ordained minister, so the Holy Spirit filled me. At my first Mass there were over 2,000 people and it was a beautiful experience. Even the local media was there to record it. Everything went very well.

I was very prepared, reading the Gospel days before and knowing everything that I needed to say. I was ready!

Did you ever think of getting married or wanting to have children?

Well, during my novitiate in seminary, we did some Ignatian (discernment) retreats. It became very clear to me that I wanted to become a priest.

Later on in seminary, when I was 24 or 25, my mind was once again diverted to marriage, and I was really struggling. I relayed this to my spiritual director and then I turned to prayer. God revealed to me once again that he wanted me to be a priest and I read the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 5, where Jesus says to Simon Peter “Do not be afraid, I am calling you to be a fisher of men.”

Fr. Mahesh with parishioners from the St. Peter, West Sturgeon Parish Group, where he is currently pastor.

Why did you come to Canada to be a missionary priest in our Archdiocese?

 Well, right before I came here to Canada, my order sent me to Paris, France for two years. My church was right by the Eiffel Tower. But I wasn’t happy there at all, because at my parish there were not many people – mostly tourists!

So one day my superiors came to visit me and I told them that I did not want to be there. After a while, I was given the option to come to the Edmonton Archdiocese, in Canada.

I am a missionary priest because I follow the model of my [order’s] founder, St. Vincent Pallotti. As an order, we are spread out throughout the world. I believe we are in over 50 countries.

St. Vincent says that “every baptized person is an apostle,” whether it be a younger child or an older person.  We all have our own role to play in building up God’s kingdom.

Visiting the tomb of St. Vincent Pallotti, founder of the Pallontine order of which Fr. Mahesh in a member.

What brings you the most joy in your daily life as a priest?

Most of all, it is hearing confessions. The first time I heard a confession, I cried with the penitent. It was a touching experience. In that moment when a penitent comes to you, it is a divine intervention. I don’t say no to anybody; anybody can call me for confession at any time.

Also the Mass. It is a beautiful experience, every day. Every Mass that I celebrate is like it is both the first time and the last time for me.

What have you found challenging about the priesthood?

Always meeting so many strangers was difficult for me in the beginning and then when I landed here in Canada, the culture was so different. The language difference was also hard, not only because English is my second language, but because of the differences between the British English that I learned at home and the American English that is spoken here.

First time seeing snow in Canada, at Holy Family Catholic Church, St. Albert (2009).

Back home in India, I didn’t have many struggles, because we are trained for this. At the seminary where I attended, there were 300 seminarians, so you learn to work with so many different people.

What words of counsel would you offer to a man who is considering the priesthood, but he is fearful?

When someone is going through difficulties I always tell them: communicate.

Communicate to your seminary formator, your spiritual director. Don’t struggle by yourself. Don’t keep to yourself in your struggle and make sure you say something because when you say something, people hear you.

That is what happened for me when I first told my formator about being homesick at seminary. Because I told someone, I was able to be helped.

Fr. Mahesh during the filming of his episode of Be Not Afraid.

Know that there are lots of people praying for priests and for men who are discerning the priesthood. I often go to Devon to celebrate Mass for the Carmelite sisters here in the Archdiocese and they are praying, they are praying for me!

One more thing: If you have any struggle, any problem, any difficulties, offer your feelings to our Mother Mary! Here in my parish there was no Mass on Saturdays, but then I started celebrating Mass on Saturdays because it is our Mother’s day. Offer everything to Mary!

(This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity)

Jenny Connelly – Archdiocese of Edmonton

Be Not Afraid is a series of videos and companion articles that tell the stories of 12 religious sisters and priests who serve within the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

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