December 28, 2023 // Diocese

‘He Is Going to be an Amazing Bishop’

St. Mary Community Reacts to News of Father Jayasuriya’s Appointment

Parishioners at St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church always knew Father Wimal Jayasuriya’s time as pastor would be limited; they just didn’t realize his next appointment would come so soon – or from Pope Francis himself in the form of Bishop of the Diocese of Chilaw, Sri Lanka.

I knew he wouldn’t be here as long as our previous pastors. I believe we only had nine in our first 172 years,” Rosemary Mausser said. “When I suggested to him in 2020 that he would be here a long time, he said, ‘No, my bishop needs me.’ I just didn’t know he would be the bishop.”

On Wednesday, December 6, Vatican officials announced that Pope Francis had appointed Father Jayasuriya as Bishop of Chilaw, Sri Lanka.

The initial surprise of the announcement quickly gave way to acceptance, contentment, and humble pride, knowing Bishop-elect Jayasuriya has all the qualities necessary to guide his home diocese.

I was shocked and first felt sadness for the loss to our parish, but then I felt joy that this unassuming man of God is being named bishop in his home country,” St. Mary Parish Council President Kathleen Smith said. “He is going to be an amazing bishop. The Diocese of Chilaw is blessed to be getting this humble shepherd.”

Bishop-elect Jayasuriya’s quiet leadership quickly endeared him to the parishioners of St. Mary when he was appointed to the parish at the height of the pandemic.

He was very sensitive to not step on Father Phil (Widmann)’s toes during the transition but very interested in how we did things,” Mausser said, referring to the previous pastor of St. Mary, who led the parish for 15 years.

Father Wimal Jayasuriya greets parishioners after Mass on Sunday, December 10, at St. Mary Mother of God Parish in Fort Wayne.

As he got to know the members of his parish, Bishop-elect Jayasuriya would often encourage members to get more involved in the many ministries of St. Mary.

“I think he’s made a real effort to bring people together and bringing people forward to use their talents,” said Jane Wick, who has been a member of the parish for 50 years. “He’s very warm and approachable. I’ll miss him.”

The ability to gently lead people to where they are most needed and where their talents fit will be a benefit as he takes on a diocese, said parishioner Celeste Streicher.

“He’s not afraid to reach out,” she said as she stood in a long line of well-wishers patiently waiting to congratulate Bishop-elect Jayasuriya after Mass on Sunday, December 10.

The soft-spoken Bishop-elect was a frequent guest at parishioners’ homes, who would invite him to dinner and family events. Val Vorndran, the weekend Soup Kitchen Volunteer Coordinator, welcomed him to her family’s Easter dinner in April.

“He shared our traditional meal amongst the chaos of little ones from 1 to 16,” she said. “He then joined us outside and taught us a yard game that is played in his home country. He watched and helped the kids with their egg hunt.”

Father Wimal Jayasuriya greets Azalea (being held) and Francesca Silkworth after Mass on Sunday, December 10, at St. Mary Mother of God parish in Fort Wayne.

Mausser and Vorndran said Bishop-elect Jayasuriya has been especially dedicated to sick or dying members of the parish. In 2023, the parish lost two long-time members who were instrumental in many of St. Mary’s ministries – Dottie Carpenter, Founder and Director of Ave Maria House, and Barb Chmiel, who was known as the “Parish Grandma” to many.

“He worked hard getting to know his parishioners and their families,” Vorndran said. “He was extremely caring and accommodating to Dottie Carpenter and her family at the time of her death. He truly cared about her. He would tell me that he knew who truly loved to serve the poor.”

As Bishop-elect Jayasuriya shared his news during Mass on December 10, he told those in attendance about his home diocese, something he didn’t often talk about at St. Mary.

“When I came here, my priority was St. Mary’s,” he said. “Wherever we go, we have to give our total life for the bishop and for the people there.”

The Diocese of Chilaw serves about 300,000 Catholics in an area where the total population is about 900,000, with the predominant religion in Sri Lanka being Buddhism. Bishop-elect Jayasuriya will shepherd 243 churches throughout his diocese.

“I have 243 St. Mary’s back in my diocese,” he said. After witnessing the dedication to serving the poor, Bishop-elect Jayasuriya is confident in St. Mary’s future.

“St. Mary is stable and will continue to be so,” he said.

The parishioners share that faith, while acknowledging the transition from one pastor to another is difficult.

I think whoever comes to replace Father Wimal will be surprised and impressed at how well we, the parishioners and staff, operate and run our missions,” Vorndran said. “We are a very unique parish. Many have the spirit to serve. No matter what the need, we always seem to find it. We roll up our sleeves and put in the work.”

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