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Rev. Paul Murphy has become rather fond of Indian food.
Fortunately, the Holy Redeemer parish priest doesn’t have to go far to satisfy his craving for dishes from the sub-continent. In fact, he doesn’t even have to leave the Whitney Pier rectory where he resides.
“Up to about six months ago I had never even tried it — now I love it,” says Murphy, an East Bay native who has been at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church for about nine years.
The source of his new-found culinary delight is the group of young people that now lives with him in the spacious rectory. The presence of the four 20-somethings, who all hail from southern India, represents a dramatic change in lifestyle for Murphy, who has been a priest for 36 years.
“This is a big change for me — other than living with other priests when I was starting out, this is the first time I have lived with young people,” said the 63-year-old clergyman, who grew up in a crowded house with nine brothers and two sisters.
“When I decided to open the house up to them I wondered what it would be like, but I didn’t have much time to think about it because they moved in early January.
“And it’s been wonderful, it’s been great for me and I tell them that the blessing has been mine — I’ve learned so much from them, often just by watching them interact.”
Holy Redeemer Catholic Church
- Location – Victoria Road, Whitney Pier Sydney
- Established – 1901
- Priest – Rev. Paul Murphy
- Congregation – Approximately 1,000 people attend weekend mass
- Indian parishioners – About 30 people from India attend Mass each week
- Special Indian Mass – Celebrated on first Wednesday each month in Malayalam by Rev. Varghese Puthruparambil
So how does a Cape Breton-based Catholic parish priest end up sharing his digs with four young people from the other side of the world?
Sitting in an easy chair in the sitting room of the James Street rectory, Murphy hesitates and then offers up some new information before explaining the genesis of the living arrangements.
“There’s actually going to be five — she’s pregnant,” said Murphy, nodding to the only woman in the room, who is sat on a couch beside her husband.
“When you think that this house has served as a rectory since it was built in 1913, it looks like they made some history now that they’re pregnant.”
Ironically, her name is Binolin Baby and she’s a 28-year-old nurse who arrived in Cape Breton at the end of January to rejoin husband Aby Abraham. He’s been studying at Cape Breton University along with hometown friend Peter James, who is upgrading his credentials in the institution’s petroleum engineering program. The latter admits he often gets double looks when he introduces himself because his name appears to belie his ethnicity.
“It’s my real name — there are actually some 20 million Catholics in India,” said James.
The other roommate is Akhil John, a public administration student at CBU, who like the others is a member of the India-based Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, a branch of Eastern Christianity that traces its origins back almost 2,000 years when the Gospel-preaching Thomas the Apostle traveled to southern India.
Today, some 20 million Indians identify as Catholic, a number that represents about 1.5 per cent of the country’s population. Still, it is a number that puts India 16th on the list of countries with the most Catholics. Canada, comparatively, is home to an estimated 13 million Catholics, while Brazil has the most with claims as high as 170 million people within the Church.
Catholics by Country
- Brazil 125 million or 60% of 210 million
- Mexico 104 million or 83% of 126 million
- Philippines 85 million or 81% of 105 million
- United States 68 million or 21% of 327 million
- Italy 44 million or 74% of 60 million
- India 20 million or 1.5% of 1.3 billion
- Canada 13 million or 35% of 36 million
- China 12 million or .85% of 1.4 billion
- Vatican City 1,000 or 100% of 1,000
In Cape Breton, the huge influx of students from India includes many Catholics, who one might assume felt a certain level of comfort in moving to a predominantly Christian nation. And some of those Catholic Indian students found their way to Holy Redeemer.
According to Murphy, the young men approached him one Sunday after mass and asked if he might help them find a place to stay as vacant accommodation had become somewhat of a scarce commodity by the end of last year.
“After looking around a bit I started to think about the university asking people to open their homes to the international students because there was a shortage of housing,” he recalled.
“So I thought about the fact that it was just me in this big house with so many bedrooms that were being heated but not used and I began to feel guilty.”
Murphy asked them to take a look at the house and they were duly impressed. Especially Abraham, who at that point was desperate to find a decent place before wife Binolin’s arrival at the end of January.
The reverend offered the couple the housekeeper’s downstairs suite which includes its own bathroom, while James and John took bedrooms upstairs.
Six months have now passed and all is well at the rectory.
The guests enjoy the privilege of living in a comfortable and secure residence that is located along a major transportation route, while further immersing themselves into one of Cape Breton’s many sub-communities.
As for Murphy, he’s enjoying the company.
And the food.
But at some point, the dynamics at the rectory will change. Abraham and Baby plan to move to Glace Bay to be closer to her work at a call centre. Abraham said it will be difficult to leave the rectory that they have come to consider home.
“He’s like a father, a real father to me, so it will be really hard for me to leave — but we aren’t going far,” he said.
But that’s life in Cape Breton — people come and people go.
In the broader picture, Rev. Murphy’s decision to offer shelter to the four young Indians has brought the local parish full circle. After all, Holy Redeemer was established in 1901 to meet the spiritual needs of the many Catholic newcomers who had come to a Sydney that was booming because of its newly built state-of-the-art steel mill.
Today, the church has more than 1,000 parishioners who attend mass each week. There are about 30 Indians who attend on a regular weekly basis, while on the first Wednesday of every month up to 100 Indians attend a special mass celebrated in Malayalam (the language of Kerala state) by Rev. Varghese Puthruparambil.