Frazee priest celebrates 25 years of service
It was more than a bit of a shock for Father Xavier Ilongo when he experienced his first Minnesota winter, upon moving to Moorhead eight years ago.
“I was used to it being 100 degrees outside,” says the native of southern India.
But he has come to love his adopted country so much that, though priests are typically reassigned after a six-year stint in one parish, Father Xavier hopes to continue in his dual assignment at both Sacred Heart Church, Frazee, and Church of the Assumption, Callaway, for as long as he can.
“I would like to stay in this parish for as long as the bishop will allow me to,” he says.
Ilongo began serving the Frazee and Callaway parishes in 2008, after three years at St. Mary’s in Moorhead.
Though he initially approached the assignment with some concern about how a dark-skinned man from India would be received in a community made up predominantly of fair-skinned Germans, Ilongo found his concerns to be essentially baseless.
“The whole town likes me now,” he laughed.
Part of that is because he’s so obviously a good man. Another reason could be his talent for cooking; Ilongo has taught community education classes on Indian cooking in both Detroit Lakes and Frazee on three separate occasions.
“I love cooking,” he said, explaining his fondness for teaching the classes. “It’s a fun time. They learn to cook, and we all eat a meal together.”
In addition, Ilongo hosts a “Taste of India” program every other year, as a church fundraiser. The event serves as a showcase for Indian culture and cuisine.
“It’s a fundraiser for the church, but it’s also a fun event,” he said. “It’s always been well attended.”
In fact, the attendance at the first event soared to more than 400, which proved to be more than the venue could handle — so after that, Ilongo limited the event to 350 tickets sold.
“We’ll be having it again this year, in October,” Ilongo added.
One other accomplishment that Ilongo achieved during his tenure at Sacred Heart is the building of a church addition, which was completed last summer.
“It’s a big project for a parish this size,” said Ilongo, noting that the addition cost the congregation about $650,000 — which could have come much closer to the original estimate of $750,000 if so much of the labor for the project hadn’t been donated by parishioners.
“You wouldn’t believe how much volunteer work was put into this project,” he said. “Wiring, sheet rocking, taping, painting, everything … we probably did save about $100,000 because of that.”
Ilongo said he’s very happy to have an office for the first time.
“My priority in ministry is building communities of people — that’s what Jesus did,” he said. “But sometimes building a structure can help build that community … and this structure was very much needed.”
Besides cooking, Ilongo’s other hobbies include motorcycle riding, fishing, reading and writing.
“I love to fish,” he said. “When I moved here from Moorhead, the people in the parish gave me a fishing rod and said, ‘You’re going to lake country. You need to do some fishing! It was nice that they encouraged me like that.
“It’s a good hobby. Most people like walleye, but I like sunfish — I cook it Indian style (with curry), and I love it.”
In honor of the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a Roman Catholic priest, Ilongo wrote a book, “Dynamic Faith,” which was published in his native India when he went there to celebrate his Silver Jubilee in January.
The collection of daily devotionals “has been well received,” he said.
Ilongo will have copies of the book available for sale when his Silver Jubilee is celebrated at Sacred Heart Catholic Church this afternoon (Sunday) at 3:30 p.m.
Members of both the Sacred Heart and Assumption parishes will be present, along with about 150 other special guests.
The celebration will begin with Mass, followed by a program and reception.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.