By Barb Umberger Catholic News Service
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Father Benny Mekkatt Varghese, who served in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis from 2008 until this May, was elected superior general of his religious congregation July 26 during its General Chapter meeting in Rome.
He is the first non-Italian to serve in that position for the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, founded in Italy by Blessed Luigi Monti in 1857.
Father Mekkatt, 47, a native of India, was ordained a priest Oct. 9, 2004. In Minnesota, he served in prison ministry and as parochial administrator and pastor before assuming duties as parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Winter Haven, Florida.
The priest also served as vocation director for his congregation from 2008 to 2022, and as delegate superior of the North American delegation, which includes Canada, Mexico and the United States, from 2017 to 2022.
Father Mekkatt will serve his six-year term as superior general in Rome, where he will work with a newly elected council with members from Argentina, Africa and Italy in the governing body for the congregation, which ministers in 24 countries.
Father James Chitteth, a priest of the same congregation and pastor of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington, Minnesota, said he has known Father Mekkatt since the new superior general was a 16-year-old high school student in India.
Father Chitteth, who was the congregation's vocations director at the time and visited high schools in India, said the Father Mekkatt was attracted to the order for its charism of caring for the sick, needy, poor and abandoned.
Father Antony Skaria, also a member of the congregation, is pastor of St. John Vianney in St. Paul and parochial administrator of St. Matthew in St. Paul and a longtime friend of Father Mekkatt.
He described his fellow priest as someone who can build relationships with people "like no one else" and said he takes the initiative in identifying needs and new avenues for the religious order's growth.
"I'm so proud of him," Father Chitteth told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "I'm sure that he is capable of leading the congregation. He's young, full of energy and with his gentleness, warmth and love, he will be able to create a difference for the congregation."
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Umberger is on the staff of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.