Seminarian brings medical background to Pro-Life Office

Fri, Nov 16th 2018 09:00 am
Staff Reporter
Director of Pro-Life Activities Cheryl Calire speaks with field education student Kevin Upendran at the Catholic Center. (Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)
Director of Pro-Life Activities Cheryl Calire speaks with field education student Kevin Upendran at the Catholic Center. (Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)

The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of the moral vision of society. Kevin Upendran, a student of Christ the King seminary studying for the priesthood in Hamilton, Ontario, has seriously considered that idea. He holds a medical degree and has met with several women who did not see new life as such an important thing.

Upendran has volunteered to spend his field education with the office of Pro-Life Activities, shadowing Cheryl Calire, director of the office.

"Of course it's going to be very active, because Cheryl's a very active lady," Upendran said. "I hope to be kept busy and I know she's going to keep me busy. I'm really looking forward to this."

A little background on the 43-year-old seminarian. His parents fled Sri Lanka during a time of political strife and spent time in Malaysia where Upendran was born, before settling in Brunei. He then studied medicine and earned a medical degree in Russia, before moving to Hamilton. His road to the priesthood is even more complicated.  

"My journey in faith is very, very strange. It's something inexplicable. My dad was from a royal family in Sri Lanka and from a very powerful house. One of the oldest Hindu temples in Sri Lanka belonged to him. That was the seat of royal authority. He was hoping that we, as his sons, would take over the temple, but God had other plans. My mom was Catholic, but we were all expected to be brought up in the Hindu faith, but God intervened and I was drifting towards Catholicism."

At the age of 15, not even knowing what a Catholic priest did, he wanted to be one. But his parents pushed him into medicine because of the old caste system having a professional career placed him in the upper echelon, and as a man he was expected to have a solid occupation. He realized while studying in Russia that he did not want to be a doctor. His mother also realized he wanted to be a priest, but told him to get his degree first, then he can do what he wants.

"As all mom's go, when I got my diploma she said, 'See, you meant to be a doctor,'" he said with a laugh.

His faith and profession conflicted in Canada, where he worked as a physician's assistant in a family practice. His medical license isn't valid in North America.

"When ladies used to come to me and say I'm pregnant, my first instinct was to congratulate them. They would say, 'No, you don't understand. I want to get rid of it.' At that point I would freeze. I wouldn't know what to say to them or direct them in any way."

He saw a Muslim woman come in wanting her second abortion within six weeks. A woman from mainland China didn't want her husband to know of her abortion. Upendran saw that abortion is not a North American issue. It is a problem with all cultures.

"What is this? How do we solve this problem?" he asked.

Canada has unrestricted abortion. Upendran said he was not allowed to counsel the women. He asked to do his field study in the office of Pro-Life Activities to learn the words to explain the value of life. He also wants to learn how to draw back people who have had abortions or encouraged others to have abortions without adding on to the guilt they may have. He wants to "be pro-life, but also have a message of mercy."

"It is the respect for life that contributes to real social justice. If we respect the life of the person; that's the nucleus of it, right?" he asked. "Then everything else falls into place. Then you'll want them to have justice in the workplace, health care. All that starts with life."

His stint with the office will last until next summer. He is the 12th seminarian to work for the office of Pro-Life in recent years.  

"I couldn't be more thrilled with his enthusiasm and his desire to really find out what the ministry is all about," said Calire. "I'm really looking forward to working with him this year."

Upendran expects to be ordained in 2022. He will serve in the Diocese of Hamilton.