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From India to Brookhaven: St. Francis Church welcomes new priest

The most recent addition to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church traveled over 9,000 miles and crossed an ocean to settle in Lincoln County.

It’s a long way from his hometown of Warangal, India, to East Cherokee Street in Brookhaven. But for Rev. Vijaya Manohar Reddy Thanugundla, home is wherever he hangs his robe.

Thanugundla, who likes to be called Father Mano, was greeted after his first Mass Jan. 5 with friendly smiles, handshakes and hugs. Parishioners offered advice on which college football team to root for and how to say “y’all” correctly.

He appreciated both, he said.

Born in Warangal, a city in the state of Telangana, Thanugundla comes from a country where only 1.5 percent of the population is Catholic. But he grew up in a family that practiced the faith and was called into the ministerial service as a priest. He was ordained in 2005.

He moved to the U.S. five months ago and Brookhaven is Thanugundla’s first assignment as a parish priest in the states. He lived briefly in Madison and then Grenada before moving to Brookhaven.

“My zeal to service the people of the U.S. brought me from India to Mississippi,” he said.

People are a high priority for Thanugundla, who hopes to teach those he encounters the way to God through his own example of living a prayerful and faithful life. He wants to show love always.

Thanugundla’s first homily at the Brookhaven church came appropriately from the Prayer of St. Francis, which begins “Lord make me an instrument of your peace.” He called it “The Man of God, Man of Prayer and Man of People.”

His goal as a priest is to reach the people in his community.

“Those who are in despair, those who have lost faith and hope,” he said.

He also wants to see St. Francis grow as a parish family.

Jim Bonner attended Thanugundla’s first Mass in Brookhaven.

“He’s real humble and very spiritual,” he said. “I think he’ll fit in. It’s a bit of a change for the priest and the parishioners.”

Bonner heard his new priest also likes to cook and is looking forward to tasting some authentic dishes.

Thanugundla’s food is anything but bland and he recommends a glass of water to go with any meal he makes.

“Surely, I will share my Indian spicy recipes and hot crackers with the parishioners but I am scared whether they will get into the taste of it,” he said.

The priest is settling in this week and getting adjusted to Lincoln County.

“So far, Brookhaven is very good,” he said. “People are good and lovable. Hospitality and care is taken a lot. I do appreciate Brookhaven.”

St. Francis of Assisi is located at 227 East Cherokee St. Mass times are Saturday at 4 p.m., Sunday at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday and Thursday at 12:10 p.m., Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. and Friday at 7:15 a.m. Mass on Holy Days is at 6 p.m. Confessions are heard on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. or by appointment.