India covers more than 1 million square miles and has a
population of 1.2 billion people. It's a big country. It's
also the birthplace of many religions including Hinduism,
Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
According to the Census Bureau of India, the country has a
Hindu population of about 80 percent, followed by Muslims
with 14 percent and Christians coming in at around 2 percent.
Catholics comprise only about 1.5 percent of the total
population. It's a small percentage, but it numbers about 17
According to tradition, the apostle Thomas brought
Christianity to India in the first century. There was a
steady stream of missionaries throughout the end of the first
millennium and the beginning of the second, with the
Portuguese spreading Catholicism through India beginning in
the 16th century.
Father Devaraju Arockiasamy, parochial vicar of Sacred Heart
Church in Manassas, was born into this predominantly Hindu
country May 27, 1974, in the state of Tamil Nadu. Father
Devan, as he is known, lived in Melapatti, a village of 250
families, all Catholic.
His mother, Leely Pushpam, and father, Arockiasamy, and seven
siblings worked a small farm. It was a poor village, without
electricity, and young Devan did his homework by oil lamp.
St. Antony Catholic Church served all the families. There was
only one Sunday Mass.
Father Devan's grandfather, Sebastiyar, was the most
influential person in the young man's life. His grandfather
took him everywhere, sometimes carrying the boy.
"I heard stories from him about building the church in my
village," said Father Devan. "He was a community leader."
His grandfather taught him to read Tamil, the official
language of Tamil Nadu. He also taught him the English
alphabet so when he began first grade he was ahead of the
One of the places Sebastiyar took Devan almost daily was to a
tea shop near his home.
"My grandson is going to be a priest," he told the customers
as he drank his daily tea, always leaving half for the boy.
Of course, Devan was too young to know what that meant. But
now he acknowledges that the seed of the priesthood was
planted at that tea shop.
Devan was a good student and excelled all the way up to the
eighth grade, when his father decided that he needed him to
take care of the sheep on the family farm. There was no
questioning his father's orders; even his grandfather
deferred to him.
Young Devan went to the fields to tend the sheep. His
grandfather, who still had an influence on the boy would
bring him food daily.
This family obligation took a toll. He fell behind in his
studies, and all his friends were in school.
Finally, the school headmaster, a Hindu man, Narayanaswamy,
came to his father, reminding him of his son's academic
"Can't you find someone else (to tend the sheep)?" the
His father eventually relented, and after tending sheep for a
year, young Devan's education continued, but it was a
After graduating from eighth grade, his parents enrolled him
in a boarding school about 100 miles from his home for his
ninth and 10th grade.
After 10th grade, his mother encouraged him to discern the
"Did you hear the announcement today in church?" she asked
Devan, telling him there was a weeklong vocations camp. He
went, but was not enamored with the priesthood.
He did as his mother wished, after some encouragement from
his cousin, a priest, and he enrolled in St. Augustine Minor
Seminary in Tiruchirappalli.
It was not an easy road for Devan. He had difficulty
adjusting to seminary life. Not long after entering, he
called his father and asked him to come and get him and take
The seminary rector, who blessed his parents' marriage,
smoothed things over with Devan. "Why do you want to leave?"
Father Devan said this continued all through seminary, with
God telling him to continue, with him fighting back. But he
always said yes.
It was in the major seminary, St. Arulanandar College in
Karumathur, where Devan flourished. He said studying
philosophy is what enriched his life.
"I came to know many things," he said.
He was always a shy young man, but one day at college there
was a speech contest.
"I wrote a speech. I practiced, and I delivered that speech,"
He won first prize. From that point on, "I wanted to bring
the best out of myself. I always wanted to challenge myself."
After completing his theology studies at St. Paul's Seminary
in Tiruchirappalli, he was ordained May 6, 2002, in the
Diocese of Tiruchirappalli.
After ordination, he was assigned as a parochial vicar and
eventually a pastor in his diocese.
In 2008, he received an opportunity to go to the United
States to help at Holy Rosary Church in the Bronx, N.Y., for
a few months.
As his English got better, his confidence rose.
In 2011, his bishop sent him to help Father Michael J. Bazan,
pastor of Sacred Heart, who needed an assistant. It was
considered mission work by Father Devan's bishop.
Transitioning from life in a quiet and rural diocese to the
hustle of the Washington metropolitan area was a challenge,
but he was helped by the parishioners.
"I love this parish," Father Devan said. "They received me
and showed me acceptance."
When he was growing up in India, he remembers the Angelus in
his village. Bells rang and people prayed three times a day -
6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.
One day at Sacred Heart, he heard the chapel bell ring after
weekday Mass, and he felt a connection between his new home
in Manassas and his village in India.
At Sacred Heart, he enjoys preaching and Bible study. His
Bible study group has 80 members. He also goes over to St.
Thomas Aquinas Regional School to visit students and teach.
He knows that soon he may be called back to India, but he
"God never lets me say no," Father Devan said, "Always yes.