by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — When Father Thomas R. Aduri was asked if he wanted to be a priest in Kansas, he didn’t give his bishop an answer right away.
Kansas? He’d heard of other places in the United States — Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas — but not Kansas.
Before he gave his answer, he wanted to do a little research.
“Do you know what I found when I looked online?” he said. “A sunflower. That was my first impression of Kansas.”
Well, at least it wasn’t “The Wizard of Oz.” Or a tornado.
Today, Father Aduri is pastor of Blessed Mother Teresa Parish in Topeka. He can take a “Toto” joke with the best of them.
Father Aduri was born in the town of Guntur, located in the State of Andhra Pradesh, in southeast India. He fully expected to serve his priesthood in his native land.
When he first learned about Kansas in the early 2000s, the future priest was completing his seminary studies and was preparing for ordination.
It was around that time that Archbishop James P. Keleher from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas visited India and — always quick to put in a plug for Kansas— inquired if there were any young priests there who wanted throw in with his lot.
After receiving the invitation, and doing a bit of poking around on the Internet, the future Father Aduri said yes.
Although he’d never laid eyes on the place, Father Aduri was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas on Feb. 13, 2003.
So, from the very beginning, he was one of “our guys.”
But in a sense, he wasn’t totally ours until he took the oath of citizenship on Dec. 20, 2013, at the courthouse in Kansas City, Kan. At its conclusion, he drove back to Topeka and promptly registered to vote.
The decision to become a citizen was a gradual one, said Father Brian Schieber, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood and archdiocesan vicar for clergy, and not part of Father Aduri’s priestly commitment to the archdiocese.
“It was certainly our hope that he would do this,” said Father Schieber. “He was ordained for our archdiocese and he is incardinated into our archdiocese. He will spend his entire priesthood here, but we never requested that he do this. Ultimately, it was his own personal desire to do this.”
The process was never easy, but it is more difficult now than when Father Aduri undertook the effort. Getting that initial visa under a religious worker classification was surprisingly simple.
“These days, it’s very complicated, and you have to provide all kinds of proofs,” said Father Aduri. “When I came, I had a letter from the archdiocese and a copy of the Kennedy Directory page where the archdiocese is mentioned. “
“Those were the only things I took to the embassy,” he continued. “But now, it’s more complicated. Thank God I came 10 years ago and not now!”
He actually could have become a citizen after seven years here, except that he didn’t apply for a green card as soon as he could have.
“There is a different process now,” he said. “When I came, they used to give out a visa for five years. But now they are doing it for 30 months. So every 30 months, you have to renew your visa, and you can only do it once and then you have to apply for a green card.”
It seemed that he was just barely keeping ahead of revisions of ever-more complicated and stringent requirements.
Once he became eligible to become a citizen, Father Aduri applied and was later informed that he had to go to a certain office to get fingerprinted, undergo a background check, and have his name checked.
“They will send you a notification that you are to take a test, which has 100 simple questions about the history of America, rights, responsibilities, civics and geography,” said Father Aduri.
That was no problem for Father Aduri, who loves to read biographies of notable Americans like Lincoln, Washington and Franklin.
After passing this test, he took a simple English language test.
“You had to read one sentence, which probably has four or five words in it,” he said. “You also had a written test: You had to write one sentence, whatever they told you.”
After passing these two tests, his application was checked again and he underwent another name and background check.
Finally, they gave him his swearing-in date.
Father Aduri could have stayed on the green card as long as he wanted, and he did experience a bit of an emotional struggle in deciding to give up his Indian identity.
But in the end, he recognized that he not only wanted to become an American, but eagerly looked forward to it.
“This is where I’m going to stay for the rest of my life,” he said. “I might as well become part of the country.”
“I grew up in a boarding home — I think there is something in my nature to adapt to where I am,” he said. “I have no problem adapting to my circumstances. As I came here, I just felt part of it.”
But adapting to American culture is no small accomplishment for a priest born in another country, said Father Schieber.
“[Citizenship] is, maybe, a sign of their complete investment in our archdiocese and willingness to put their whole heart into their ministry in the United States,” said Father Schieber. “It’s a wonderful sign of their commitment.”
“Father Tom has really adapted well,” he continued. “For many international priests, many things we take for granted are difficult for them. Father Tom has really jumped in with both feet and has adapted well to American culture. And he relates well to people here.”
And the people relate to him. When Father Aduri took his citizenship oath he was surrounded by family — his new American family: priests born in America and India, and members of all the parishes he blessed with his service.