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Father Joseph Arackal retires from St. John's and parish work

When the Rev. Joseph Arackal came to the small community of Vermillion in 1994, the church, its members and the entire community took him in.

He took them in, too.

"These 15 years have been a true blessing to me," said Arackal, as he announced his retirement from parish work at the end of the month. "They (the people) have been tremendous to me."

Arackal has been part of Catholic parish work for 42 years, the majority in Minnesota. Originally from India, he is a member of the religious Vincentian Community, which originated in India more than 100 years ago. The philosophy of the Vincentian Community is to preach the good news to the poor and support the schools and hospitals in India. Priests support the community with their salaries.

He has always been a member of a strong spiritual community, first in a family that included four brothers and two sisters. His mother and father were strong church people. He has a brother who is a priest, and his sisters became nuns. One died 18 years ago.

"I always wanted to be a priest," Arackal said. "Our family's prayers were answered."

When he came to Minnesota, Arackal's first stop was at St. John's University at Collegeville. There he did research and studied for his first doctorate (he has two), on medieval history. The research at St. John's was advantageous because he was able to go through old manuscripts, rather than just through microfilm.

While he was at St. John's, the Bishop of New Ulm asked Arackal about becoming pastor in that diocese. He became the pastor for two parishes initially, then two more in in Belle Plaine from 1976 to 1988.

In 1988, Arackal took a break from parish work and spent his time in study and writing. He completed his doctorate in ministry.

"I do have another post doctorate working, but I have not completed my thesis," he said. He hopes to complete it after June 30.

From 1988 to 1994, Arackal was also at De LaSalle High School in Minneapolis. He was chaplain at the school and concentrated on his writing. He also was "on call" for parishes as needed.

Archbishop John Roach contacted Arackal in 1994 about serving the parish the St. John the Baptist in Vermillion. He moved to Vermillion May 1, 1994, expecting to stay the usual 12 years. Three were added by Archbishop Harry Flynn in 2006.

Arackal knew the area, and felt at home when he walked into the historic St. John's Church in Vermillion.

"It was just like a magnet, drawing me," he said. "This is where I was supposed to be.

"They already had a good community here - we refer to the church as a community," he said. "We have about 290 families and draw from Vermillion, Hastings, Farmington and Cannon Falls."

And the parish school across the street from the church has been strongly supported through the years.

Several years ago, a large addition, including a gym and multi-purpose area, was built. The debt from the building is almost paid off, but there is a richer blessing, Arackal said.

The enrollment of the preschool-to-grade-five school has increased significantly. When the school year ended last week, there were 123 students. Before the addition, there were about 85 students.

"The teachers here have seven, eight, or nine years of experience, and several have more than one master's degree," he said. "They are high-quality."

The church and school are welcoming to all, Arackal said. A recently installed stained glass window in the church was donated in honor of John and Lenora Ries. The window, on the east side of the new gathering space, symbolizes the power of the Holy Spirit community and is a blessing to all.

"It is the community spirit that keeping our church and school going," Arackal said. "I can't take the credit - it is the people in the community who do it."

When he leaves June 30, Arackal will move to St. Cloud where the Vincentian Community has a house and he will be the "superior" for them, assisting as necessary. He will also do promotional work fro the Vincentian Community.

As he nears the end of regular parish work, Arackal said it has been satisfying.

"The best has been doing God's work," he said, "being a servant of the Lord."

He will continue to do that in St. Cloud.