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Local News : Fr. Richard Saldanha
on 2010/2/20 8:40:00 (1560 reads)

TREVOR TERFLOTH
The Chatham Daily News

Parish priest dies in India

A popular Chatham parish priest, described as a jokester with an infectious smile, has died.

Father Richard Saldanha, pastor of the St. Joseph and St. Ursula Catholic parish cluster in Chatham, passed away in India after what was suspected to be a heart attack. He was 58.

Saldanha was on vacation in his home country, according to a statement from the Diocese of London. "We're shocked and we're saddened," said Mark Adkinson, the diocese's director of communications, on Friday. "It's devastating news for his family and for the community."

Saldanha is survived by two brothers and four nieces.

The funeral will take place Sunday in Kemmannu, India. A local memorial mass will be held at St. Joseph Church on Tuesday at 7 p.m., with Bishop Ronald Fabbro as the celebrant.

Saldanha and several parishioners were bringing 400 pounds of donated school supplies to New Delhi. The group was to return to Chatham at the beginning of March.

David Bondy, grand knight of the Knights of Columbus St. Joseph Council 10436, drove Saldanha to the airport.
"I had no idea that it would be the last time I would see him," he said.
Bondy said Saldanha often helped out in India with Madonna Missions and was always concerned about the feelings of others.
"He was a kind, perceptive man," he said. "He always looked at the good side of things."

Saldanha had served the St. Joseph and St. Ursula cluster since 2008.

Tony Sales, a parishioner who is also involved in the music ministry, was taken aback by the priest's death.
"It's quite a rough time for the parish and the family as well," he said. "Father Richard as a person was very loving, very caring and very faith-filled."
Sales said Saldanha was vibrant and energetic, with a great sense of humour.

Parishioner Brad Gagner said he and his choir "couldn't function" after hearing the news.
"He was one of those people you took to right away," he said.
Gagner said he had no idea how Saldanha managed both parishes, calling it a major responsibility for just one priest.
"There were times he'd finish up mass at St. Ursula's, and literally have to get in his car and race over to St. Joseph's," he said. "The kind of schedule he juggled was just insane."

Paul Wubben, director of education for St. Clair Catholic District School Board, learned of the incident during a retreat with principals, priests, deacons and other parish workers.
"We were all stunned," he said. "He was just a really fine man. Someone who loved being with kids."
Wubben, who was also a parishioner of Saldanha's, commended his support of area Catholic schools.
He said compassionate care teams were brought in to help students and staff.
Wubben said a priest's job can be hectic, especially when ministering to two churches, but noted Saldanha made the time for those who needed him.
"He always had a huge smile on his face and loved to tell a joke," he said. "He's someone who really connected with the community. It's a real loss."

Kelly VanBoxtel, principal of St. Joseph School, said a special prayer service was held on Friday.
She said many of the students were still in shock to lose the priest who would often sing with them.
"There's been the tears today, but there's also been laughter to remember those great memories," she said. "He had a heart of gold."
VanBoxtel said Saldanha would also spend time touching base with staff members.
She said the school is planning a memorial mass in March.
"We have this big heart that we're going to stuff with all our memories," she said. "And when you do it, it grows right in front of them."

Kerry Matthyssen, principal of St. Ursula School, said students wrote prayers and drew pictures.
"It's a sad loss here at the school," she said. "He certainly loved the children and the children loved him."

Saldanha was born on Oct. 2, 1951, in Mangalore-Karnatak, India.

He received a bachelor's degree in history from Karnataka University, a degree in philosophy from the Papal Athenaeum in Poona, India, a master's degree in English from Calcutta University and also in theology from Morning Star College Regional Seminary, Calcutta.

Saldanha was ordained in Calcutta in 1979. He was headmaster at St. Peter's High School, chaplain to Mother Teresa's Mother House and worked as a parish priest.

He came to Canada in 2003, serving in parishes such as Immaculate Conception (Port Perry), St. Martha and St. Mary (Mississauga), Our Lady Help of Christians (Watford), St. Matthew (Alvinston) and All Saints (Strathroy).

He served as administrator of Our Lady Help of Christians and St. Matthew until he came to Chatham.

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