This is the first in a series of articles introducing readers to the five men who will be ordained priests of the Milwaukee Archdiocese this year. Four will be ordained Friday, May 15, and the fifth will be ordained July 17, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee.
As Antony Primal Thomas played with his friends and two brothers as a little boy in Kerala, India, God awakened pieces of his heart. He remembered feeling the best when he helped others, whether it was his family, teachers, friends or his parish.
“I used to go to church every day as a child; I was an altar server and loved to help out my priest,” he said. “I looked at the priests who served our parish and thought they always seemed so happy.”
Throughout his years of grammar school and while attending St. Thomas Catholic High School, Thomas felt the Holy Spirit was calling him to the priesthood.
But he also began to experience the world. The tugging, while still present, was overshadowed by his newfound ambition for higher education and a career. He attended college and earned an engineering degree.
“I worked as a civil engineer for a while, but started to realize that doing service for others gave me more happiness than a lot of money,” he said. “As a professional worker, I didn’t have that kind of social work available to me and my job became monotonous doing the same thing every day.”
Thomas quit his job, joined the Missionary Community of St. Paul, and left home in 2001 to serve as a Missionary in Kenya, Africa.
The Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle is an international association of Catholic priests and lay people. They live the spirituality of Christ the Good Shepherd, based in daily prayer and working in unity with the local bishops.
As a missionary, Thomas worked in Kenya for seven years, with an additional year in the Dominican Republic to assist with evangelization, development projects and education. As he worked with the people, God’s call grew louder, and in 2008, Thomas arrived in Milwaukee to continue his relationship with the Community of St. Paul and to study for the priesthood.
The 35-year-old will be ordained by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on May 15.
“I know that I am a human being, failings and all; I feel that I am not worthy, but with God’s mercy, I respond to his call,” said Thomas.
As a transitional deacon, Thomas has served the community at St. Andrew in Delavan under the leadership of Fr. Jim Schuerman. While some parishioners might have struggled to understand his Indian dialect, Thomas was equally challenged to understand and learn sign language, as the parish serves the Delavan School of the Deaf.
“I was interested in learning sign language before, and thanks to working at St. Andrew, I am able to sign a few things in the Mass and have learned from the deaf members of the parish,” he said. “They have also had to learn from me. I have known English for seven years, but it can be difficult to understand me at first, so I slow down and once people get used to it, they understand me perfectly.”
Working closely with Fr. Schuerman has offered Thomas glimpses of parish life, he said, describing Fr. Schuerman’s approach as something he hopes to emulate in his own parish work.
“I really admire him,” said Thomas. “He is so dedicated to the church and I love the way he listens to the people, talks to them and especially the way he cares for the schoolchildren and the parish.”
Following his ordination, Thomas looks forward to serving St. Patrick and Cristo Rey parishes in Racine, and hopes that his good listening skills will be an asset to the community.
“I am so excited to be ministering to the people through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist,” he said. “When I say the words to change the bread and wine into the Body of Christ, I do know that I am an unworthy man, and God is going to do some kind of wondrous thing through me and it doesn’t make sense. To me, he is doing something through his love and I just get excited, but I don’t know how to explain it. He is using me through his love to change himself.”
While his hobbies are few, Thomas is a self-described “reading freak,” and reads whenever he has a spare moment, which for a transitional deacon is not too frequent. He admitted to reading several books at once and is currently devouring three: one on Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, another on St. John Vianney, and “Priesthood Imperiled” by Bernard Haring.
“Reading is really one of my things,” he said. “I don’t get into sports too much; my sport is reading.”
Despite the distance from his neighborhood in Kerala, and missing his family and culture, the opportunity to serve as a priest in the Milwaukee Archdiocese will be a joyful, prayerful and powerful moment, Thomas said.
“My parents and brothers will be here for my ordination and I hope to go back to India to visit on holidays, but I am so happy to be here to serve the Milwaukee area,” he said. “I just always believed that the life of a priest and serving the Lord is wonderful. My prayer is that many young people will join the seminary and want to be a priest to work for the kingdom of God. I am looking forward to gaining more youth for the church. I always keep the young in my prayers because we always need more priests.”
Once he begins serving the Racine parishes, Thomas hopes to organize a youth group that will eventually lead to missionary work.
“If I can start a youth group and lead them toward a prayerful life, maybe we can do some mission trips,” he said. “I believe that once we do that, some of them will be interested in doing social work and will serve the church either as a priest or lay person. Our youth of today don’t seem to have good leadership and guidance. One thing that we can do as a priest is to guide them and see what they want, whether it is the priesthood or a good married and family life.”