Earlier this year, Father George Devanapalle, administrator of SS. Joachim and Anne Parish in Attica, came to the Diocese of Buffalo after previously serving downstate in Kingston. Before coming to New York state, he served in his native India. Experiences Father Devanapalle had as a youth led to his pursuit of the priesthood.
Father Devanapalle was born in the village of Marlapalle, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, located on the southeastern coast of India. Much of the state is coastline and it is known for beaches and tourism, although it has many farming communities as well. Andhra Pradesh is one of two states nicknamed "the rice bowl of India" due to its agriculture production. Father Devanapalle was born into a farming family.
"I had two sisters and four brothers," he said. "My parents were daily laborers on a small farm. Almost all (people in our village) are farmers. We used to depend on cultivation. We had a little land, maybe two, three acres of land."
Father Devanapalle's family, being large, struggled at times to make ends meet. He praised his parents for feeding and providing for seven children to the best of their ability. His mother passed away when he was only 9 and his father never remarried. His father cared for the children by himself.
Father Devanapalle was raised Catholic and attended public schools. Catholics in Marlapalle generally knew each other since there were only 15 Catholic families out of 250. Most families were Hindu.
"Luckily, I had two Catholic teachers in the village up to fifth grade," Father Devanapalle said. "They were my neighbors, but in a public school. After seventh grade, my teachers saw me and my cousin were being so good. They thought we would be good to go to the seminary and become priests. The Catholic teachers proposed (this idea) to my pastor."
His large family is 100 percent Catholic. Between his brothers and sisters who married, he has 18 nieces and nephews and 13 grandnieces and nephews. His ancestors first received the faith around the 18th century. Early on, he went away to boarding school, but he became homesick.
"My pastor opened a boarding home," Father Devanapalle said. "I stayed there up to 10th grade. After 10th grade, I went straight to the seminary. Our bishops run the seminary, like St. John's Regional Seminary (Philosophate) and St. John's Regional Seminary, philosophy and theology separately."
Whenever he came home, Father Devanapalle looked forward to going back to the seminary. They gave him many responsibilities in the seminary. He never had any problems and often misses the experience and lifestyle of being a student. He was ordained April 20, 1995, and received his first assignment only one week later due to a vacancy in a local parish.
"They made use of me," he said. "By seeing them, I became confident in myself, because they were so happy. They were giving me the responsibilities, more than I was expecting. I was really feeling sorry for myself. 'They're going to throw me somewhere (I don't want to go),' I thought. Every year, it was something I never believed. After three years, I stopped thinking about it."
Eventually, Father Devanapalle said he stopped worrying about where his next assignment would take him and left it up to God. Since he decided he wanted to see new places, along with serving people, Father Devanapalle came to the United States nine years ago to serve as parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish in Kingston, part of the Archdiocese of New York City. Since moving from there to Attica in January, Father Devanapalle said his parishioners have welcomed him.
"People are very accepting here," he said. "They love, they accept and they keep me going. I'm enjoying being in this country, being different from India. There are so many great things that I'm able to see, that I'm not able to see back there, especially this being a Christian country. India is a Hindu country, but here, being in a Christian culture, I see the culture, the Christian values. The values are deep down. That is what I see. I enjoy the great values."
Father Devanapalle also said he enjoys the liberty and freedom of life in the United States, although at first there was what he called a "cultural shock." It took him two or three years to get settled in, but each day he learns more and enjoys what America has to offer. Now he has two churches to care for, since St. Joseph in Attica and St. Vincent in Varysburg merged in 2008 to form SS. Joachim and Anne Parish.
"I am independent," he said. "I have my own place. I have two churches and two parishes. I have so much to look forward to. I never felt lonely. I am really given freedom, as a priest, to do the best I am able to do. The best thing is people accepting us for coming from outside, and encouraging us, loving us. That is something amazing. That is one of the main things that I see here."