Fr. Jerome D’Souza watches as children present flowers to Mary during Mass at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Ashland. Fr. Jerome says his own Marian devotion is a source of strength and courage. (Submitted photo)
Catholic Herald Staff
“Let us foster our faith together with the community.”
This is Fr. Jerome D’Souza’s motto as listed in his biography on ourladyashland.faith. From personal testimony he shared with the Catholic Herald, that motto appears to be a continuation of his own faith experience from childhood.
Born in June 1971 and raised with four siblings about an hour from the southwestern coast of India, Fr. Jerome said his family and parish community had a “great influence” on his childhood. Sunday Mass and daily family prayer were big parts of his life as a child.
In his parish community, there was a strong vocational atmosphere – Fr. Jerome is one of five priests in addition to three nuns hailing from the Holy Cross Parish in Taccode, Karnataka, in the Diocese of Mangalore.
The first time young Jerome had the thought of a priestly calling was assisting at Mass when he was in fourth grade.
“Fascinated by the way the priest was preaching and offering the Eucharist,” he shared, “I thought for a second, ‘I should become like him one day.’ That’s it.”
And that was it until the Jerome’s senior year of high school, when his religious aunt, Sr. Joan, now deceased, asked him if he wanted to become a priest.
Fr. Jerome recounted that she was the first person to recognize and encourage the seed of his priestly vocation call.
“Even though I had an initial attraction to the priesthood,” Fr. Jerome said, “that was somehow not materialized because of various reasons.”
He admitted having forgotten the attraction of that powerful experience as a boy until Sr. Joan stirred it within him.
During the conversation in which she asked about his desire to become a priest, Jerome responded, “Yes, but not now.”
Sr. Joan encouraged him to think about it again and offered her help and support if he did become interested.
Once that interest became a decision to join the seminary, Jerome’s parents were also very supportive.
It was in 1989 that the young man joined the Claretian Missionaries and pursued studies that led to the earning of an undergraduate degree in 1993 in commerce, a degree in philosophy in 1996 and the equivalent of a Master of Divinity in theology in 2000.
On Dec. 20, 2000, Fr. Jerome was ordained to the priesthood at the Claretian Seminary in Bangalore in south central India. He began a series of pastoral ministry roles at three parish churches before being assigned as an administrator in a Claretian minor seminary in 2004.
After another move to the Novitiate House in 2006, Fr. Jerome earned a graduate diploma in the Formators’ Training Program. He spent one year in the Theology House before returning to a pastoral role from 2010-16 at St. Anthony’s Church in Nelamangala, Karnataka.
During that period, Fr. Jerome was also serving in provincial administration roles for the Claretians – as secretary cum consultor and provincial consultor, prefect of spirituality.
He describes how sometime during 2015, a restlessness began to grow, a process he called “in search of footsteps of the Master.”
“I was looking for something more,” Fr. Jerome shared. “I did not know exactly what, but definitely something.”
After waiting for a time, the disquietude growing, he attended an eight-day discernment retreat guided by a Jesuit priest.
With greater clarity and insight, Fr. Jerome began to focus on what his priestly commitment should look like.
“Surprisingly,” he said, “This brought me to this part of the world to move on with my priestly life.”
Family friend Fr. Ron Serrao, current pastor of the Northern Lakes Catholic Communities of Eagle River, Land O’Lakes, Phelps, Sugar Camp and Three Lakes, was Fr. Jerome’s initial connection to the Diocese of Superior. The two shared interest in pastoral ministry in a parish setting.
“I got an opportunity to visit in 2016, and got an appointment to Bishop Powers to visit him,” Fr. Jerome recounted, calling the visit – and his time with Bishop Powers and Frs. Kevin Gordan and Ron Serrao – “groundbreaking.”
Fr. Jerome’s first ministry in the Diocese of Superior was caring for the pastoral needs of the parishes of St. Peter’s Parish in Winter and Sacred Heart Parish in Radisson. Then in June 2019, he was transferred to the Ashland cluster after the century-long legacy of Franciscan missionary priests in the area.
“It had been a learning experience in building up the community around the Eucharist,” the priest shared. “I enjoyed this and wanted to continue.”
He appreciates the historicity of the churches now under his care and he recognizes the “big transition” it is for the community.
We are “reading the signs of the time, making use of the opportune moments to get into action to grow deeper in our faith and to respond church’s call for ‘New Evangelization’” Fr. Jerome said, “Together we march forward.”
After a canonical four-year process of discernment, Fr. Jerome was incardinated into the Diocese of Superior. This means that he is no longer a member of the Claretian religious community and remains now a diocesan priest for this diocese.
“I am so blessed that all this process took place so well,” he affirmed.
In 2018, Bishop Powers invited Fr. Jerome to serve on the Presbyteral Council for the Diocese of Superior.
Fr. Jerome cited a commitment the Eucharist, the Word, prayer and mother Mary as his sources of strength and courage.
He also shared a verse from the Acts of the Apostles he deems appropriate for his own “called north” vocation. The passage’s context is the prophets and teachers at the church in Antioch, worshipping and fasting and the subsequent laying on of hands to send Barnabas and Saul sending them off to preach – “Set apart for me … for the work to which I have called them” (Acts of the Apostles 13:2).