Father Robert D’Souza let Jesus engineer his life, and it made all the difference in the world.
The oldest of Joseph Benjamin and Marcelin D’Souza’s nine children, Father D’Souza thought he would become an engineer after high school. His plans changed when he accepted an invitation from his parish priest in Kirem, India. The priest took Father D’Souza to a local home where a man lay dying. After administration of Sacraments and prayer, the pair left, but the spiritual impact of that visit remained with Father D’Souza. Shortly after, a retreat helped Father D’Souza make a decision about his vocation, and on March 19, 1973, after much training and schooling, he was ordained by the late Archbishop Albert V. D’Souza.
As a newly-ordained priest, Father D’Souza spent two years at his first appointment about 50 miles outside of Calcutta. An area where only Bengali was spoken, Father D’Souza practiced and taught the faith. “My first appointment to the priesthood was tough, where everything was new to me,” he said. Despite the challenges, he liked his work. “I liked going to the villages, celebrating Mass, and teaching Catechism to the people.”
New challenges awaited Father D’Souza at his next appointment. Transferred to Calcutta and a parish where 60 percent of the population lived in the slums, Father D’Souza soon found himself the leader of a facility of 300 orphan boys ages five to 20 who were either just from prison, found on the streets by Mother Teresa, or similarly delivered from destitution. After six months of running the institution, he saw the difficulty of caring for the basic needs, like food and education, for the large group of boys.
Father D’Souza sought assistance from St. Mother Teresa, who co-founded the organization. The saint promised financial support for his programming, but the meeting paid bigger dividends in Father D’Souza’s life. She told him to pray each day in front of the Blessed Sacrament and ask Mary for guidance in his struggles. “I still follow her advice strictly and I am happy to tell that her advice helped me to live happily,” he said. With these stresses and then recovery from a motorcycle accident, Father D’Souza found himself ready for a change, and in 1985 spent a year working at The Herald as the Assistant Editor and Circulation Manager of that Indian Diocesan publication.
Missing the life of a parish priest, Father D’Souza requested a return to such a role and soon found himself at Sacred Heart (India) Parish in 1986. As priest and dean of the Asansol region, he held many responsibilities. Father D’Souza said his “main trust was to educate the poor children and pastorally reach out.” Alongside the multiple schools and convents of St. Mother Teresa’s in the area was a leper colony in which 800 men, women, and children lived. “Every Sunday,” he said, “I used to say Mass to these lepers, the most enriching days of my ministry.”
While enriching, it was not permanent. Five years later, St. Antony’s School became his home. With 1500 students, he said, “It was very strenuous and demanding. After five years in the school, I asked for a sabbatical year.” That bishop’s refusal of time for rest blessed our diocese.
Describing her as “my good friend,” Father D’Souza was offered a role in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese by Bishop D’Arcy at St. Mother Teresa’s recommendation. As an Associate Pastor at St. Jude, Fort Wayne, and Chaplain for Parkview and St. Joseph Hospitals, he said, “I did only the pastoral ministry celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, and visiting the hospitals and nursing homes every day. Here I was spiritually enriched and touched the lives of people. These were the best days of my priesthood.”
After retiring, Father D’Souza took a 2020 trip home to India. Covid kept him from returning to the United States. Now at home in India with his family, Father D’Souza lives with 15 members of his family. “There is [a] lot of fun, frolic, and joy. Every evening at 8:30, we pray together, say the Rosary, read the Scripture, and sing the hymn to Our Lady,” he said. “That keeps us together. I am glad to be back with my own people and my family here in India.”
Their unmediated communication models solid advice Father D’Souza offers. “The world is changing every day and we are bombarded with new culture and technologies. Use them in a more positive way than for the pleasures of your life. Today, cell phones are the big killer of persons and families. Parents, advise your children to use them for the good. Media can make your life and destroy life, too. It all depends, so use it for the goodness.”
Using that life that he handed over to Jesus continues to engineer goodness in the hearts of countless others.
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