Local priest, parishioners, bring hope to children in India
by Marc and Julie Anderson
It was 4:45 a.m. We had just cleared immigration and customs and had retrieved our baggage. Chennai, a city of seven million, was waking up to a sultry Monday morning, and the airport was bustling with activity. Our adventure began 29 hours earlier when my wife Terry, my youngest daughter Molly, and I left our home in Overland Park, Kan. It seemed longer, and we were exhausted — the type of exhaustion brought on not through physical exertion, but through interruption of routine and discomfort of travel.
Stepping out into the humid south Indian morning, we were surrounded by throngs of Indians and foreign travelers like ourselves, searching for friends, family and associates. People laughed and embraced as porters scrambled to earn a few rupees. Through this mass of human activity, I spotted a familiar face . . . smiling. It was Father Tom Aduri, a gentle man and a dear friend, pastor of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka, Kan. He was there to take us to the town of Porumamilla, 225 miles distant, seven hours north by car.
Thus begins a short essay by John Gillcrist, entitled “A Sojourn to India.” In it, Gillcrist, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park, gives a firsthand account of a trip he, his wife, and youngest daughter made to India to see the fruits of their and countless others’ efforts to fund, build and run the Blessed Brian Home.
The home is for young children, primarily girls, who have lost one or both parents or who have been abandoned. Located in Porumamilla, India, in the district of Cuddapah, the home currently provides a secure environment for 38 girls and 16 boys, supplying food, clothing, health care, education and guidance.
Opened in June 2012, the Blessed Brian Home has a capacity to serve 80 to 100 girls and boys ranging in age from 5 to 17 years old. The home has had what some might call an extraordinary start, given the fact that Father Tom Aduri, the vision behind the home and its ministry, has only been a priest for 10 years, all of which have been spent in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas instead of in his native India.
‘With great love’
In 2003, in his first parish assignment, Father Aduri, a native of Porumamilla, served as associate pastor in Overland Park at Holy Spirit Parish. Not only was he new to the priesthood, having just been ordained, but he was also new to the United States, having never traveled here previously. Yet, his upbringing and faith formation back home provided him with a passion for serving those in greatest need, in imitation of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. While in the seminary, he had done some work with the order founded by Mother Teresa herself, the Missionaries of Charity.
Like so many who have worked with Mother Teresa or the Missionaries of Charity, Father Aduri has never forgotten the important lessons he learned there, the most famous of which is attributed to Mother Teresa herself, who was fond of telling everyone she encountered, “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love.”
When the tsunami of 2004 struck near the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, Father Aduri started thinking and praying about what he could do to help those affected by the natural disaster, especially those in India. Eventually, through the kindness and generosity of people here in the United States — and working in conjunction with his home diocese of Guntur — he was able to help build a home for boys.
Spreading the word
But he longed to do something for orphaned girls as well. Without help or the funds to construct it himself, however, he was temporarily stymied.
Still, the idea was never far from the young priest’s mind. He prayed about it often and occasionally discussed the idea with parishioners and friends. By January 2010, he had received enough donations from people in the archdiocese to purchase a piece of land and did so during a trip to India. That’s when the project started gaining momentum.
In spring 2010, the Gillcrists, who by this time had become close friends with Father Aduri, decided to aid the effort. Together with extended family members across the United States, the Gillcrists raised and donated the money necessary to start construction and to cover the initial startup costs.
The Gillcrist family also, inadvertently, provided the inspiration behind the home’s name.
When Brian Gillcrist, John’s brother, died before the project was complete, the extended family wanted to honor his memory. As John explained during a recent interview, Brian was the type of person who would give away his coat to someone who didn’t own one. He would let people he barely knew stay at his house — many of whom were down on their luck — even if it posed a potential risk to himself.
“He was just that way,” said John. But the family stopped short of naming the home solely in his honor.
When the family, with Father Aduri’s help, researched saints of that name, they learned there was none — but there was a Blessed Brian Lacey, one of the London martyrs of 1591. The name seemed like a good fit.
One year in
In June 2012, the Blessed Brian Home opened and started receiving young people under its roof. And on Aug. 5, Father Aduri, the Gillcrists and countless others were on hand for the official dedication. Last summer, the Gillcrists traveled back to the Blessed Brian Home to celebrate its first anniversary, and John had this to write about the visit:
Entering Porumamilla, a rural town of approximately 20,000, the bulk residing on the main street (the only paved road, running through the center of town), vendors packed both sides of the road, plying their trades from stalls offering groceries, poultry, pots and pans, cellphones, clothes, hardware, and almost anything else one would need.
Turning off the main road, we spotted a brightly colored, three-story building: the Blessed Brian Home, our destination. As we drove closer, we saw 60 to 70 people, mostly young girls, waving to us. Exiting the vehicle, an army of laughing children — some still in school uniforms, others in their native Punjabi attire — swarmed Father Tom, yelling, “Father! Father!”
Today, Rani and Ravi Chitta, Father Aduri’s sister and brother-in-law, who supervised the home’s construction, manage a staff of six operating the facility. A network of 30 local donors provides critical support for the home, supplying the children’s food and clothing, among other needs. A local pediatrician provides free medical care to all of the home’s residents, and free education is provided at nearby local and private schools.
A trip to the orphanage, according to the Gillcrists, will change your life. Near the end of his essay, John writes about the children benefiting from the kindness and generosity of countless people throughout the archdiocese, the United States and India.
By day five, the children are calling Molly “aka,” or “big sister,” Terry, “auntie,” and me, “uncle.” We spent a large portion of our time speaking individually with each child. Pleased to be the focus of such undivided attention, something sorely lacking in their young lives, the children opened up and shared their stories. Most brought tears to your eyes: Salambi, 16, along with her mother and brother, was doused with kerosene and set on fire by her father; Vishnu, 16, and his brother, Nani, 10, were orphaned after their mother committed suicide due to abuse by her husband (her suicide was followed by their father’s suicide from grief); Seyatha, 12, and her brother, Marshtan, 6, were orphaned when both parents died of tuberculosis. Each of the 54 children has their own heart-wrenching story.
As our stay neared its end, the children came up to us, grabbed our hands, looked into our eyes, and said, “Auntie, I am so sad you are leaving,” or “Aka, will you write to us?” Vishnu said to me, “Uncle, are you coming back next year?” I replied, “I think I am.” He said, “Are you sure?” I said, “I will try hard to come back.”
He said, “Uncle, when you come back next year, I will be taller than you!”
I bet he will be.
For more information on the Blessed Brian Home, its mission and how to make a donation, go to the website at: www.blessedbrianhome.org.