Father Marianand Mendem becomes a U.S. citizen
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Becoming an American citizen is a lot like skydiving: Either you’re all in, or you’re all out.
Father Marianand Mendem, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Burlington, knows this.
When he raised his right hand on Sept. 7 and swore to “bear true faith and allegiance” to the United States, he assumed all the rights and duties of a citizen.
He’s all in. And now that he is a citizen, he can claim all the history, heritage and political rights of being American.
And he gets his share of the current national debt of more than $16 trillion as well.
“Yes,” he said with a laugh. “That’s more than $50 thousand for each person.”
It’s not like they presented him with a bill at the citizenship ceremony in Topeka.
But he knew what he was getting into just the same.
“This is my take,” he said. “Every right has a duty. If we enjoy privileges, we have responsibilities. There is no privilege without responsibility, no right without duty.”
Never — not once — in his wildest dreams while a boy in India, did he ever think that someday he would become an American, much less become a pastor in a place called Kansas.
In addition to St. Francis Xavier in Burlington, Father Mendem also serves St. Patrick in Emerald, St. Joseph in Waverly, and St. Teresa in Westphalia.
Father Mendem was born in the village of C.N. Kota, Anantapur District, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. He has two sisters and two brothers. His Uncle Anthony was the headmaster of the village school.
It was from his uncle, cousins and books that he learned a little about America. Because his village was in a remote area, his family did not have a television or receive regular newspapers.
“I used to hear about the Kennedy family, [President] Kennedy and his words, and some pictures,” said Father Mendem. “I also learned about Abraham Lincoln. He was a great person and a great thinker, and inspiration for the United States. I learned those outstanding things, but not so much in detail.”
His parents, especially his mother, had a strong desire to see one of their children pursue a religious vocation.
“They always put before me three options,” said Father Mendem, “an engineer, a doctor or a priest.”
Father Mendem chose the path to the priesthood. He went to St. Francis de Sales boarding school, and then the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in India. He met many outstanding priests along the way who became role models for him.
He was ordained a priest of that order on Aug. 18, 1993, and served as an associate pastor before becoming dean of studies and promoter of vocations at the seminary. He taught at, and was later principal of, a high school while earning a master’s degree in arts and education. After that, he finished his licentiate at St. Peter Seminary in Bangalore, India.
Father Mendem’s American adventure began — of all places — in Italy. He had gone there to pursue a doctorate in biblical theology.
“I needed ministry for my summer vacation to support my studies, and that is when Archbishop [James P.]Keleher invited me to come to this archdiocese,” he said. “The first one I met was Father Charles McGlinn. He came to the airport, he received me, he helped me pick up my luggage, he cooked and gave food to me — everything.”
He knew very little about Kansas before that first summer of 2002.
“When I was in Rome, I got in touch with some priests who knew Kansas,” said Father Mendem. “They said Kansas is not very well-known like New York or Washington or Los Angeles, but it is a very nice state. And Kansas City is a wonderful city.”
Father Mendem continued helping out at archdiocesan parishes in that “very nice state” during the summers, while returning to Rome for his studies each fall.
During his summer sojourns, he served at parishes in Olathe, Leawood, Horton and Purcell. He was appointed associate pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park while he defended his doctoral dissertation.
The parishioners and his fellow priests were wonderful, he said. The transition from India to Italy helped him get used to the process of living in a different culture. Even so, there were challenges.
“It was mainly the food and the weather,” said Father Mendem. “The winter was a big challenge to me. I was not used to being cold. Driving in the snow and ice was a challenge. I never dreamed about it, and had no experience.”
“People were so great and good when they learned about that,” he continued. “They always helped me out. They never allowed me to drive if there was any snow or ice. They came out and took me around.”
Over time, he realized that he loved being in Kansas and loved the people. He was needed here, and he felt called to stay — a “call within a call,” as he describes it. Now, he’s truly “all in.”
“When I became a priest of the archdiocese with my incardination, then I felt it very reasonable and fitting that I become a citizen,” he said. “I will be full-fledged. I don’t have to do the paperwork again and again. I’m a priest of the archdiocese and citizen of the country. It’s better that I’m fully here.”
That doesn’t mean he rejects where he came from. It’s part of who he is.
“I love my people, I love my language and I love my country,” said Father Mendem. “I did it so that I can be a great channel, and this gives me great fulfillment.
“I am fully here doing my ministry and sharing my life with the people here. At the same time, I can also reach out to help poor people, poor children [in India] with their studies and health.”