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Msgr.N.S.

Marie Joseph: The Gentleman Priest

“O Karthare mrutharige Nitya vishranthiyu dayapaalisiri;


Nitya jyothiyu avramele prakaashisali...”

The death of a priest is unlike the death of any other:


we feel it differently, deeply. We sense that in losing him,
we have lost not only the man but also his unique way of
manifesting God. The voice that spoke of God has been
silenced; hands that once blessed are impotent. Since a
priest is one who takes on the person of Christ, his leave of
us is somewhat of a loss in our very communication with
the Lord. Not many or should I say No one will ever again
exemplify Christ for us in the singular way that this
particular priest has done.

Fr. NS Marie Joe left us for his heavenly abode and


created a void in many who knew him. I do not write here
to eulogize him, that's for the Lord to do and he would do
so rightfully.
Rarely do we hear about one of God's faithful servants
who (like the large majority of priests) day in and day out
fulfills his ministry in quiet fidelity and love.
Fr. NS Marie Joe faithfully fulfilled his ministry up until the
last few months of his life, when ill health finally overcame
him. He was well known and loved by Priests, Sisters and
the Laity of not only the Diocese of Mysore, but of the state
of Karnataka itself. With his exit a golden era comes to an
end.

I find it remarkable that this man, one who did not call
attention to himself or accomplish feats that would attract
accolades—was so deeply appreciated and loved by so
many. His aura was so magnetic that he would be thronged
with the faithful wherever he went. How is this possible?
Why?
Father Marie Joe spoke to people through his priestly life,
his deeds, his virtues, his gentlemanly attitude and his
examples. I would say, here is where the greatness of this
man shone forth.

Our Lord Jesus Himself also indicated that special


relationship He enjoyed with His priests (disciples) when,
at the Last Supper, He poured out from His Sacred Heart
His own priestly prayer:
"Father, I pray for those you have given Me; keep
them in Your name; they are not of the world; sanctify
them in truth; may the love with which You loved Me be in
them, and I in them" (John: 17).

It was this union with Christ that guided and shaped the life
of Father Marie Joe. In his case this was so much so that it
would be difficult to define his personality, even to
conceive of his life, apart from the priesthood. Always
dignified, courteous, humble and kind, he seemed to
inhabit a different world from ours—certainly different
from the godless one that inspires ambition, greed and all
the capital vices to which so many have succumbed in our
day. Father stood out from the backdrop of many
accusations. Yet we know so well that the virtues he
possessed are rather the fruit of self-discipline and prayer.

He was always silent about his extraordinary


accomplishments in his priestly life, be it he holding high
office at the Diocese, the University, his foreign trips, his
academic, theological and religious qualifications, his
music…everything spoke for itself.
Fr. Marie Joe’s motive as I saw it was church building, and I
say this not as putting up structures which he did, but was
more importantly building Catholic families and the
community. This to me was ultimate evangelism. He would
pickup the downtrodden, educate them, saw that they
were up on their feet, get them jobs in whatever capacity,
in any institutions within his power or influence, start a
family for them; And lo! There was evangelism right there!
Nation building starts with community building, which in
turn starts with family building, and Fr. Marie Joe was a
champion at this.

The most eloquent and inspiring thing about Father Mari


Joe was his bearing in silence, bodily pain and mental
anguish. He kept hidden from nearly everyone, the pains he
was made to endure via his medications for his chronic
ailments.
I should guess that the most dynamic engine of the
diocese finally slowed down only after he retired from the
St.Peter’s Church, Bogadi, his last parish; He has fought the
good fight, finished the race and most importantly kept the
faith; I believe that he endured all, not out of sheer stoic
resoluteness, but as a Christian bearing his cross. You and I
may be among the unknowing beneficiaries of his heroic
endurance. I wish to thank Father Mari Joe, belatedly, for
his life as a dedicated priest and as a steadfast Christian.

The thing that stands out in my own mind about


Father is that he had a more direct and visible contact with
people through his sacramental ministry, something the
younger generation should pick up from. His daily Mass,
which he continued to offer every day, even if, on account
of weakness; He prepared his sermons with utmost
devotion even though his knowledge of the gospels were as
though it were the back of his hands; his visits to the sick
and his First Friday Communion calls, etc. He was truly the
pastor that all of us so often seek out.

Like anyone else, Fr. Marie Joe too was passionate of


Kannada in the liturgical services, I learnt from him that he
made it a point to translate most Latin and English texts
that were purview to only a few; so as to cater to the local
faithful in general in a language they understood. This
according to me was dynamic thinking and the need of the
hour. Some of his finest hymns are translations of popular
Latin works, which were close to his heart since his days in
the Vatican. He wanted to reach to the masses the
greatness of Catholicism and he left no stone unturned in
this regard.

Fr. Mari Joe’s tryst with music came naturally and


started at the St Mary’s Minor seminary and was later
nurtured at St Peter’s pontifical seminary Bangalore.

‘Dextera Domini’ by Caesar Franck was his all time


favourite Latin anthems among the others. His voice would
choke as he would often mention this hymn and how He
would sing the solo parts along with the Cathedral choir
would sing under my late father J. Francis Xavier who
played the majestic Pipe Organ of St. Joseph’s cathedral
during the 70’s. He collaborated with my father on many
occasions to put music to his songs and orchestrate them
back in the 70’s;choirs for innumerable feasts, ordinations
and consecrations were undertaken by the duo, though my
father was decades older to Fr. Marie Joe they had a
smooth rapport.
Music was his soul, and everything that he did had
rhythm and harmony to it. His devotion to the Sacred
Heart, Mother Mary, St. Joseph, St. Philomena is so evident
in the lyrics of his songs that he wrote. His innumerable
hymns and songs are household even to this day.
No one has had an impact on liturgical music in Karnataka
as much as Fr. Marie Joe’s songs have and I am sure his
contemporaries would agree on this.
His passion for releasing tapes of the recordings of his songs
was unending. He would travel as far as Chennai, Bangalore
and other places to record live instruments such as violins,
cellos and other wind instruments to give a new sound to
Kannada Christian devotional music. He has worked with
numerous film composers and musicians.

Be it his famous ‘Mahonnatha’ (Glory to God) or ‘Dayamaya


Thandeye’ (Translation of the famous requiem hymn
‘Libera me domini’) he had soul to whatever he did.

He went on to release a number of cassettes and CDs


namely ‘Maatheya Smarane’,’Om Shanthi’, ‘Vandane’ and
’Christmas Geetha Guccha’ to name a few. Numerous songs
of his are on the lips of any chorister, which are also added
in the Chethana Hymnal, the famous yellow book that is
widely used across Karnataka.

His connection with our family easily spans four


generations and music was the connection. His respect and
regards even to the youngest person was so humbling, truly
a gentleman.
Personally, Father mentored and played an important
role in the little milestones of my journey in the cathedral
music scene; in 2003 he conceptualized a 50 member
strong children's choir, I remember he said “ invest in
them, they Are the church, they’ll give you more mileage”
indicating kids will be in the choir for lot more years than
elders. In 2011 he gave me ideas to form a youth choir
comprising good young singers of all parishes, so we did,
and it was certainly a successful venture with about 80
singers.
In 2013 he solemnized my marriage with a galaxy of
priests and nuns, and appreciated the massive 100 member
choir that my uncle Felix M. Joseph had put up. I had
included ‘Pater Noster’ (Our Father) only because father
loved singing it. He certainly belonged to the old school
and somehow I knew his soul was with ancient church music
and the importance of it. In 2014 he attended my mom
Dorothy Francis’ 80th birthday, Subsequently Father
inaugurated our new home at Lourdh Nagar, at that event
along with Rev Msgr.JB Xavier they recalled all the fond
memories of my father and grandfather and the music
connection with the church, In Feb 2018 Father Marie Joe
inaugurated my new Recording Studio, which he was very
happy to see and stated, “What you and your family have
given to the church in terms of service, the Lord is giving
you back, use it wisely”, I can never forget those words to
this day; he again visited us to see my aged mother, his
long time family friend once more, then who knew that we
would never see him again at our home.

Father was hardly a person much attached to worldly


possessions. Books were his biggest treasures and I am
witness to this, as he sought my help in packing his books
when he had finished his tenure at the cathedral. He had
little and seemed to need little. A minimalist of sorts,
having said this, he was generous and involved in a number
of charities to which he frequently donated. Dena Ashrama
will sorely miss its mentor and more importantly a father
figure. It appears that his death is a loss for many more
than we know.

The Lord once told His disciples, "You are the salt of
the earth" (Mt 5:13). With this expression, Jesus refers to
all Christians, but especially to those called to labour in His
vineyard. Through this fidelity, the life of a priest serves as
salt in the eyes of God, making the whole people of God
pleasing to Him. But what keeps the salt salty and useful is
not just the faithfulness of the priests to their own
vocation, but also the prayers and sacrifices and aid
offered in support of them.

Father Marie Joe was that support to most priests; he was


their guide, their go-to man and their troubleshooter. He
was also their good shepherd, a model and an icon. Many
priests of our diocese and religious swear that he was their
inspiration to join the priesthood. Now, there will certainly
be a vacuum in his place.
Father once told me “Living as a priest is like
swimming upstream, always facing the odds so they
constantly need your prayers”. He was right, there are so
many priests—young, old, inexperienced, wise, weak,
struggling, suffering—all of them need our prayers and our
support. Often we perceive their weaknesses, faults and
even sins, because in their human weakness they have to
struggle with the effects of the original Sin like anyone
else. Nevertheless, we must always remember that they
are the primary targets of the Evil One.
For Satan knows that when a good priest falls, he takes a
thousand souls with him. When God allows us to see priests
failing in their ministry we should not take this as an
opportunity to criticize him, but we should understand it as
God's appeal to us for prayer and sacrifice for His priests.
Hence, what we do for priests, we do for Christ; and this is
exactly what Father meant.

We will all miss Father Marie Joe, but we will rely on his
continued help from the next life.
So long Msgr. Marie Joe, we will surely meet one day,
till then, we’ll continue to sing your songs.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the
mercy of God rest in peace. Amen

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