Fr. Mendam adapting at St. Francis of Assisi Parish

Fr. Bhaskar Mendam has been serving St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wichita for over two months. (Advance photo)

Climate here is colder but parishioners warmly welcome him

Fr. Bhaskar Mendam knew he was in Kansas when he looked out his window several weeks ago and saw a snow-covered landscape. He had seen snow on distant mountaintops, but never before had a face-to-face encounter with the makings of a snowman.

That is one of the differences he is experiencing compared to his birthplace of Andhra Pradesh, India, and his most recent posting in Australia. But the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales priest is quickly adapting a little over two months into his assignment as a parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wichita.

“I came here on Nov. 1 – it was a busy day,” he said last week from his office that features a large sliding door exit to a climate he is still adjusting to. “It was very nice. There was a big crowd of people in the church and a lot of activities going on.”

Fr. Mendam serves the large west Wichita parish with parochial vicar Fr. Andrew Meng and Fr. Jarrod Lies, the pastor.

Loves his ministry at SFA

Fr. Lies showed Fr. Mendam around the campus and discussed the new priest’s duties when he arrived. “I’m really enjoying the ministry that he entrusted to me.”

In addition to the necessity of a sweater, Fr. Mendam said there are several differences between St. Francis of Assisi Parish and his assignment Down Under.

Mass attendance after the pandemic at his Sydney parish was much less compared to attendance before the outbreak, he said. “Before Covid we would get 1,200, 1,300 for the weekend Masses. After Covid it came down to 700, 600 and they have not picked up.”

Parishioners are faithful

Mass attendance at St. Francis didn’t suffer nearly as much, Fr. Mendam said. “The number of families here is almost 2,500 – something like that – but Mass attendance is massively more, almost 4,000 people. That is a big difference.”

The operation of the parishes’ Catholic schools are also different. The Catholic school in his former parish is subsidized by the government.

In addition to their regular classes, he said, children at St. Francis attend Mass, and the priests are free to visit the children in class and speak to them. “That freedom is not given to the priests in the Sydney Catholic schools,” he said, in part, because of the strict government academic program they must follow.

SFA faithful are active

Another eye-opener for Fr. Mendam is the large number of parish associations and activities at St. Francis. “The parish has a lot of very pius associations here,” he said ticking off a list of men’s and women’s Bible study and other groups. “These are really amazing.”

Yet another difference is the stewardship of the faithful of the parish, he said. “So many are actively involved in cleaning and maintaining the church. There are a lot of people helping us. This is really inspiring to me.”

Fr. Mendam said the day he woke up to snow he began taking photos and recording video to share with family and friends back home. “Meanwhile, Fr. Jarrod came by and asked what I was doing. I told him it was his first experience of snow.”

Fr. Jarrod announced to Mass-goers at that morning’s liturgy that it was Fr. Mendam’s first snowfall. That prompted one of the couples attending Mass to celebrate by taking both priests out into the snow to breakfast. “It was a good experience. It was wonderful.”

A note from Fr. Mendam detailing his life

I am Fr. Bhaskar Mendam, belonging to the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. I was born at C. N. Kota, Andhra Pradesh, India in 1972 in a very devout Catholic family, as the fifth child of the eight siblings. I grew up in a Catholic family at St. Joseph’s parish C.N. Kota, India. Attending daily Mass and praying the family rosary was a common practice of our family that I grew up with.

I was blessed to attend Catholic schools from Kindergarten through College and there were Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales Priests present in each of my schools. As I was studying in a catholic school run by the Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales, the seed of my vocation to priesthood was planted in my heart. I continued studying, and discerning in secret for months. I thought this was a phase and the attraction to religious life would fade out, but in fact, it continued to intensity. Finally, I told my family that I was pretty positive that God was calling me to religious life. Things started to move very quickly. As I discerned where God was calling me, I met some priests who came to our school to speak about priestly life and expressed my desire to be a religious priest. After completing my High school, I expressed my desire to become a priest to my parish priest, who encouraged and supported me to discern my vocation to priesthood.

Entered seminary in 1990

I entered into the seminary in 1990 and made my first religious profession in1994. After my 1st religious profession, I completed my graduation in philosophy (B.Ph.) and another graduation degree in Economics and Sociology then I was asked to complete theological studies and I completed graduation in Theology (B.Th.). As I was studying Theology, I made my perpetual religious profession on 6th of January 2001 and I was ordained as Deacon on the 7th of January 2001 and after serving as a deacon for a year, I was then ordained as priest on the 9th of February 2002.

In these 20 years of my priesthood, I have served as an associate pastor, pastor, finance officer at a major seminary, provincial bursar, in charge of a printing press and then I was sent to serve in the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia from 2018 to 2022.

Enjoying his ministry

As a Priest, I enjoyed meeting with parishioners, interacting with them and assisting them on their faith journey. I hope and pray that I continue to live my vocation to priesthood, always relying on the grace and strength that comes from God. I request you all to kindly keep me in your valuable prayers. I am really excited and looking forward to being with you. I thank wholeheartedly Most Reverend Carl A. Kemme, The Bishop of Catholic Diocese Wichita, graciously invited me to minister in the Diocese of Wichita.

I am greatly indebted to Rev. Fr. Brian who worked strenuously for my visa, and Tracy Winslow the executive Secretary to the Bishop for guiding me and updating the visa process. Finally, I thank Rev. Jarrod Lies, the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi church for accepting me to assist him in the parish.
With Prayerful greetings,
— Fr. Bhaskar Mendam M.S.F.S.