The Rev. Norbert D'Mello transferred from Medford to Chetek's Catholic church Nov. 11. D'Mello, a native of India, has served parishes in New Mexico and Medford since coming to the United States. "I was in New Mexico from February to May . They told me, 'You are going to Wisconsin? You will freeze to death,'" he says, smiling. "So far, winter is not too bad. I'm sure I'll get used to it."
D'Mello has wanted to be a priest since childhood. The aspiration runs in his family-his uncle also took orders-but it was the influence of a dynamic pastor that inspired a number of young men from his parish to enter the seminary.
"Many followed his example. They worked in many parts of India as missionaries," D'Mello explains.
D'Mello himself served in India for a while, but has adjusted to America in general and his new assignment in particular. "I am feeling at home. People are welcoming and warm-very generous in seeing my apartment is furnished," he adds.
When D'Mello was invited to accept the position as cluster parochial vicar at St. Boniface, St. Joseph and St. Peter Catholic Churches in Chetek, Barron and Cameron, respectively, St. Boniface's revolving doors did not escape his attention.
The Rev. Eugene Hornung, who now serves in Medford, stayed at St. Boniface only four months. Ron Levra, Hornung's predecessor, transferred to Ladysmith after less than a year. Pat Hardy, who led the parishes prior to Levra's tenure, stayed less than one year, as did two priests before him. The last long-term pastor was Gerard Willger; his seven-year service ended in March 2004.
Once D'Mello was acquainted with that history, his first question, was "Is there some problem in the parish?" "That did not discourage me from taking the assignment when [Bishop Peter Christensen in Superior] offered it," D'Mello adds. "I will start fresh with an open mind."
D'Mello is unlike several of his predecessors. Hornung, Levra and Hardy were all second-vocation pastors and all American. While D'Mello is not the first non-native priest at St. Boniface-Father Ephrem Pottamplackal, also Indian, served in 2005-he may be the first who is ready to take the parish as it comes.
Open-mindedness is D'Mello's policy. He doesn't bring a personal philosophy or mission to the church, he says. In the spirit of true service, he advocates addressing the parish's needs as they arise. "I will respond to the needs," he affirms.
What D'Mello inevitably brings to-and takes from-the parish, he supposes, is a different cultural experience. The first thing he noticed about America is what he terms "the planning." "Everything is so organized. The highways, byways, towns-everyone follows the rules," he remarks.
In India, by contrast, the streets swarm with people, most of whom cannot afford the luxury of private transportation, and D'Mello was near his family members, many of whom now live in Mumbai. He's become accustomed to America's emptier streets now, he says, and the Internet and e-mail enable close contact with friends and family. Priests in India leave their office doors open, and parishioners wander in when they have anything to discuss, D'Mello says. He wants parish members to know that here, too, his door is always open. Chetek Alert