Fr. Papi Reddy Yeruva is pictured with his older brother, Fr. Inna Reddy, who is a pastor in India. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Fr. Papi Reddy Yeruva, parochial administrator of Our Lady of Sorrows in Ladysmith and the Rusk County Catholic Community of cluster parishes, was born in the Southern part of India in Agapet, a tiny village in the State of Telangana.

One of seven children, all sons, Fr. Papi is also one of three priests in the family. His mother Mariama, 92, is a widow. The Indian priest has not seen his family in more than three years, due to the pandemic and being in the waiting period for his green card from U.S. Immigration Services.

“My parents are very devoted Catholics and raised us well in the Catholic faith from our childhood,” Fr. Papi said. “I still remember those memorable moments when my dad would never serve food until we learn the payers by heart.”

The family would recite the rosary before dinner, and his father’s policy was, “No prayer, no food.” He also said his father would wear a cross around his neck like a bishop; he doesn’t remember any time he was not wearing that cross.

Fr. Papi described his parents as very simple and devoted Catholics who had received their faith from the family ancestors. His mother is not able to read or write, but he believes that her rich, deeply devoted faith was instrumental in her sons’ desire to pursue the priesthood.

Mariama would wake the children at 3 a.m. to get ready for the 4 a.m. Mass at their village’s mission church. “Never mind even if we sleep in the church, but we still must go for Mass,” he said and noted that something deeply impressed itself through this faithful practice of his parents.

One older brother, Fr. Paul, was ordained in 1977 and has spent 45 years a priest; the third son, Fr. Inna, was ordained in 1989 and has served 33 years a priest. Fr. Papi was ordained in 1995 and has been 27 years ordained.

“We three of us put together have 105 years of priestly service to the universal church,” he offered. “It makes us proud and thankful for the great honor and blessing to live our lives as priests.”

In fact, Fr. Papi received his first Communion from his brother, Fr. Paul, during the new priest’s first Mass. What he remembers is how fascinated he was by the 130 priests and 100 nuns attending and the vision they were in the village – all dressed in white cassocks and habits as is customary for religious in India.

“I was deeply impressed,” he shared, “It was an unknown force that drove me to join the seminary,” which he did after the fifth grade, entering the local minor seminary where his other brother, Fr. Inna, was already a student.

With the full support of his parents, whose words were always that God’s will be done, Fr. Papi was ordained a priest on April 3, 1995.

Since ordination, Fr. Papi has served in a variety of ministries. His first three years as a priest were spent working with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. While still directing some foreign missions responsibilities, he was put in charge of an orphanage and worked as a high school assistant principal.

Returning then to serve as a pastor in his home diocese, Fr. Papi also served a boys’ hostel from 1998-2001. From 2001-2007, he was asked to take charge of a college, which during his time went from only about 200 students to more than 1,000.

He was then appointed as pastor of another cluster of parishes – a “happy ministry,” as the priest called it. He arranged households into four groups, asking them to gather for weekly family prayer as he rotated throughout the groups, praying with them. He encouraged the parishes to undertake prison and hospital ministries and helped oversee church renovations and another church’s construction.

The bishop once again appointed Fr. Papi to a university position, directing the diocese’s own Catholic university,
Christu Jyothi Institute of Technology and Science. The four-year school offered degrees in computer science, electronics communication and electrical, mechanical, civil and mining engineering.

Besides the almost 3,000 students on campus, the university also had another 720 students enrolled through a polytechnic diploma program Fr. Papi helped introduce. He also oversaw on-campus housing and celebrated Mass for students daily.

“I am very proud to say that the CJIT college was accredited by National Board of Accreditation, National Assessment Accreditation Council and Permanent Affiliation by Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University,” Fr. Papi stated. “I had most satisfying educational ministry in this technological university from 2011-2017.”

It was at this time that he was asked to spend time doing missionary ministry, something Fr. Papi was easily disposed to. After waiting to hear from the Archdiocese of Chicago for several months, he then applied to the Wisconsin dioceses of Superior, Green Bay and Madison. “My application was honored by Superior diocese within weeks, and I came to this diocese on June 28, 2018.”

Fr. Papi expressed his gratitude for Bishop James P. Powers, “who always treats us as his loving sons,” who personally went to the airport to pick him up in Duluth even though – after a three-hour delay – the flight didn’t arrive until after 1 a.m.

He also credited the late Fr. Kevin Gordon for much help with the immigration process; Chris Newkirk and her work with the international priests; as well as other personnel at the diocesan chancery offices.

Fr. Papi gives God credit for blessing him with multiple talents, in particular being a good administrator and having a strong pastoral sense.

“I can accommodate myself with anyone, leaving aside my ego, and be easy-going with everyone,” he said, sharing that he easily makes friends. “That helps me a lot to go deeper into the lives of the people.”

In the four-and-a-half years since he arrived in the Superior diocese, Fr. Papi says he has learned much about American culture.

“As I am an international priest from India, and though my accent is different, people are very receptive and always ready to help.”

He said that he has not felt any ethnic divides. “People look at me as being Christ’s priest,” and he is grateful for their hospitality, love and concern.

Fr. Papi’s devotion to the Eucharist is a particular love he shares with his parishioners. Much of this devotion stems from a family experience of the healing power of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament through a miraculous healing of his older brother, Fr. Paul.

A tireless workaholic, Fr. Paul said after two failed back surgeries, he was virtually on his deathbed and in unbearable pain. Meanwhile, the date was set for Fr. Papi’s ordination to the priesthood and during that time, their mother and Fr. Inna decided to take Fr. Paul to a charismatic retreat as a last resort.

These retreats, he said, are attended weekly by 20,000 people. When Fr. Papi met them at the train station during a stop on their way to the retreat, he said Fr. Paul couldn’t even look at him, and his own faith and hope were disturbed.

“During retreat, they had Eucharistic adoration every day,” he said. “On Friday, while the praise and worship was happening before the Holy Eucharist on the altar, a layman who was conducting the Eucharistic adoration announced that the good Lord is touching and healing three persons who have back pain, cancer and stomach ulcers.

“At that time, my brother told me that he felt like an electrical shock on his body and felt so much comfort.

“The preacher then asked these three people to come on to the altar and give witness of the mighty deeds of God. My brother then got up and started walking to the alter without any pain and gave witness to the adorers and narrated all his painful story.”

That day Fr. Paul threw away the dozens of medicines he had been taking and has not taken any ever since. On the journey home, his family asked him to meet them again at the railway station to see his brother.

“Believe me or not, he got down on the platform from the running train,” Fr. Papi shared. “That is the power of the holy Eucharist. I always narrate this living miracle when I preach about the holy Eucharist.”

While he did not witness miracles done by Jesus in person, Fr. Papi says he always believed what he read in the Bible, “But this healing miracle is unbelievable and my brother himself the best witness.”

Among his parishioners in Wisconsin, Fr. Papi is especially inspired by the dedicated faith of older Catholics. “Though it is too cold and snowy, most of them never give up coming to the church.”

As well, he is edified by their seeking the sacrament of anointing of the sick, wanting “to receive this sacrament as many times as possible when they are sick or before surgery.”

The bone-chilling cold has been a challenge to adapt to, but he has “fought in the boxing ring” with wintertime and now even one or two feet of snow doesn’t bother him too much.

“I am very much excited to be working in this diocese,” Fr. Papi affirmed, saying he looks forward to having new experiences. “It is a great honor and privilege to give my priestly services to the Diocese of Superior.