The Humble Beginning
1. Earlier Liturgical Services
In the greater Charlotte area, the growth of Malayalee Catholic families started from the early years of 1992 onwards. Fr. Philip Kolithanath was the Parochial Vicar of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Charlotte, N.C. During that period, the Catholic Malayalee families would meet each month at St. Vincent de Paul Church for the Malayalam Mass celebrated by Fr. Philip followed by Bible study. After a couple of years, Fr. Philip transferred to Christ the King Church in Highpoint, N.C. After he moved out from Charlotte, he drove each month from Highpoint to St. Vincent de Paul to celebrate Holy Mass and lead the Bible study in Malayalam. This continued for two years.
In the early 2000s, an informal Malayalee Catholic Community gathered under the leadership of Fr. Joseph Ayathupadam, who was the Pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Denver, NC. Fr. Joseph Ayathupadam filled the role of a spiritual leader in the Charlotte area by occasionally celebrating Holy Malayalam Mass during the auspicious occasions and at St Vincent DePaul and St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church from 2000 to 2006. Since his retirement in 2006, Fr. Joseph Ayathupadam has continued to help our community by celebrating Malayalam Mass at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church every month until 2012.
2. Prayer Groups
Starting from 2003, St. Mary’s Prayer group was formed in North Charlotte, and the members of this group gathered every week to pray the Rosary and other intersection prayers. The number of Catholic families in the Charlotte area grew over the years, and this large growth raised the need for another prayer group. By 2008, The Holy Family Catholic Prayer group was formed mainly for the Catholics in the South Charlotte area. In those days, the retreat and other spiritual activities conducted by the prayer groups became the cornerstone for the Charlotte area Catholics to receive the sacraments in our Syro Malabar rite.
3. Charlotte Syro Malabar Catholic Mission
Due to health reasons, Fr. Joseph could not continue to serve the Malayalee Catholics in the Charlotte area. In 2013, the community leaders reached out to Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath, of the St. Thomas Syro Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, to express our interest to continue the religious services in Malayalam. Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath gladly asked Fr. Paul Chalissery, who was the Vicar of the Lourdes Matha Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Raleigh, NC, to travel down to Charlotte each month to continue the Malayalam mass. During the early stages, Monsignor John J. McSweeney, pastor of St. Matthews Catholic Church, in the Ballantyne neighborhood of Charlotte, approved our request to open their church chapel, which enabled our growing community to celebrate Malayalam mass each month. When Fr. Paul transferred from Raleigh, Fr. Jobymon Joseph Chelakunnel, newly appointed Vicar of the Lourdes Matha Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, traveled from Raleigh each month to continue the celebration of the Malayalam mass at the St. Matthews Catholic Church.
The desire to have our own place to celebrate mass in the Syro-Malabar rite had been growing among the community for a long time. We needed a church facility to congregate, to share in friendship, to build common bonds, to receive the sacraments in our rite, and to celebrate our traditional activities like the annual retreat, perunnals, the parish feast, etc… Introducing the next generation to the “traditional values with which we all grew up” was valuable, and still is highly regarded, to many of the community members as well.
Fr. Jobymon Joseph Chelakunnel explored the possibility of starting a Malayalam church in the Charlotte area, and he discussed this with our community leaders and members. They searched for a suitable location for the church. They identified a partially built depleted church building near uptown located at 715 E Arrowood Rd Charlotte, NC 28217, which was a convenient location for both the North and South Charlotte community members. Fr. Joby informed the diocese about the opportunity to build a church in Charlotte, and the diocese appointed Fr. Paul Chalissery, who knew the Charlotte area well, to spearhead the initiative. Fr. Paul took the initial pain to coordinate and convince the broader community about the need of a Syro Malabar Catholic church. Under the leadership of Fr. Paul, a General Body meeting was conducted at St. Matthews Catholic Church and formed a sixteen member committee to drive the initiative. Fr. Paul with the permission of the diocese officially started the St. Mary’s Catholic Mission.
The committee agreed to move forward and Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath signed the contract in October 2014 to buy a partially completed church building, near uptown Charlotte. The committee members worked along with the community to drive the various fundraisers to funnel the fund for the construction of the church. This can be seen with the two major community level fundraising events the committee hosted – The Mega Stage Show “SIDDIQUE-LAL SPEAKING” and the Car Raffle. These fund raising events turned out to be a great success due to the support and dedication from the all helping hands in Charlotte as well as other parts of the country. By the grace of God, the purchase of the property was closed on June 29th, 2015. On December 26th, 2015, Auxiliary Bishop Mar Joy Alappat conducted the ground breaking ceremony for the Church construction.
It took another nineteen months for the church to be fully operational. During this time Fr. Binoy Davis, Assistant Parochial Vicar of St. Matthews, helped Fr. Paul conduct the monthly mass and extended his service for the church construction and community activities. He provided his time and energy for the church construction and other church activities, such as organizing the choir service.
4. St. Mary’s Syro Malabar Catholic Church
On July 22nd, 2017, Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath consecrated the parish and changed the status from St. Mary’s Catholic Mission to St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, with Fr. Paul Chalissery becoming the first pastor.
With the help of the Malayalee community, the starting Parish Council, Fr. Paul Chalissery, Fr. George Danavelil, Fr. Siby Sebastian, Fr. Binoy Davis and the St. Vincent Sisters, our small community has since grown from thirty-five families to over a hundred families.