The Diocese of Des Moines
Meet Our Newest Priest, Father Chinna
September 21, 2017
Written By: Anne Marie Cox

Franciscan Father Chinnappan Devaraj – he goes by Father Chinna – debated whether or not to change his flight to Des Moines to begin his new ministry at two parishes.

 He was leaving his longtime ministry to the aged and infirm in West Palm Beach, Florida and rode out the hurricane with them, getting very little sleep.

He kept his plane ticket though and, after the winds and rain ended, he left Florida knowing that the people he served were okay aside from a few days’ lack of air conditioning.

After 14 years of ministry to the elderly, he begins anew serving the parishes of Ss. Peter and Paul in Atlantic and St. Mary in Anita here in the Diocese of Des Moines.

 His move to Iowa comes after having met Bishop Richard Pates, who stopped by Lourdes Norreen McKeen Residences occasionally, where Father Chinna worked, to visit friends.

He grew fond of Bishop Pates and they visited when the bishop would stop by.

“I was deeply touched by his pastoral heart and simplicity,” said Father Chinna.

Coincidentally, the Diocese of Des Moines was in need of a priest to serve the Atlantic and Anita parishes at about the time Father Chinna needed to move on.

 Father Chinna was born and raised in southern India, the fifth of six children. He holds two bachelor’s degrees (theological studies and English literature) and two master's degrees (English literature and Franciscan theology).

After his 1994 ordination, he directed the pre-novitiate program for Indian Franciscans for six years, then moved to St. Bonaventure in New York for advanced studies in Franciscan theology. Afterward, he went to West Palm Beach, Florida, where he served as chaplain offering pastoral care at a facility that offered independent and assisted living and nursing/rehab services.

“I sought to reveal the face of God who gently transforms the world with the tenderness of love,” he said. “That has been my spiritual focus.”

His ministry in Florida extended to weekend pastoral care at three parishes, mentoring seminarians engaged in palliative care, serving spiritual assistance in Campus Ministry and a hospital and was a pastoral facilitator for interfaith marriages.

 Father Chinna has a passion and love for the elderly.

“They led me to places I would never have been able to travel and discover the beauty of human life from within its fragility,” he said.

Working with the elderly has been a big treasure.

“I was a shy, kind of closed-up individual. But they brought so much out of me, to a place of freedom and love,” he said.

One 95-year-old lady wrote him a formal letter before he left.

“I want something from the heart,” he told her. She stepped back and then said, “You know that freedom of love? That’s what I see about you. You are joyful and you relate to all”

The core of his spirituality comes from the love of God.

“The God who gives himself on the altar limitlessly, embraces our poverty and shows the way to abundance,” fuels him, he said. “Being a friend and companion of this God has been the joy of my heart and focus of priestly ministry.”

Since he is moving from Florida to Iowa, he was asked if he has a winter coat. With a chuckle, he said, “I lived in Buffalo and Boston.” He can handle winter.


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