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Father Joseph Chipson serves the parishioners of
St. Agnes, St. Anthony's and St. Joseph's Catholic churches.
By Caroline Downs
“I would like to be called ‘Father,’ not ‘Doctor,’” Father Joseph Chipson said about the master’s and doctorate degrees he earned at colleges in his home country of India.
The new priest of St. Agnes Catholic Church of Kenmare, St. Anthony’s in Donnybrook and St. Joseph’s in Bowbells emphasized his personal and professional goal. “We dedicate our lives to people,” he said.
Father Joseph’s dedicated service as a priest began 28 years ago, but he realized he was destined for that vocation as a child. “My parents directed me,” he said, adding they set a good example for him. “In India, there is a saying that one son is for God, one son is for the father, and one son is for the mother.”
He attended schools and seminary and worked for the bishop for a year before turning his attention and energy toward teaching at a large Catholic school. “There were 4000 students, and I became principal of the school,” he said.
He spent 23 years there, working with students and struggling with the significance of a Catholic institution in that country. “There are not many Christians in India,” he said, “but the best education in India is given by Christian schools. It can be any denomination. The most highly prestigious colleges are run by Christians. So there’s this idea of giving money and getting an education.”
Even as some of his students went on to become famous or infamous for doing well or doing harm, Father Joseph became frustrated with the system and the parents with whom he worked.
“They’re doing this not to become Christian, but for the studies,” he said. At his own school, despite the Catholic affiliation, obvious signs or symbols of religion were prohibited, including crosses, and an emphasis on values and morals was discouraged because of complaints from parents.
The application process for students to enroll at the school became another contentious issue. “We had 600 kids in the first grade,” he said, “but we would receive 6000 applications for first grade.”
Father Joseph enjoyed his time spent directly with children, but as more of that time was consumed by other matters, his bishop recognized the need for a change. “The bishop knew about my work, and he gave me the choice to come to the United States,” said Father Joseph. “I decided to spend my time with people.”
He had three options for serving the Church in America, with parishes in New York, Chicago and North Dakota on the short list. “I read everything I could find about those places,” he said. “According to some people, North Dakota is a God-forsaken place, but that’s not true.”
In fact, he chose the plains and its small towns over the two cities. “I came from a city of 10 million people,” he said. “North Dakota is quiet. It’s a place where I can pray. This is more place and less people.”
Father Joseph arrived four years ago to lead churches in Hettinger, Scranton and Reeder, and immediately discovered the beauty of the state and its residents. “North Dakota is like a fine diamond,” he said. “People are honest here. They live in a community that is caring and sharing and loving, which they are lacking in India.”
He moved to the parsonage in Kenmare at the end of June for his new assignment. He stays busy with his parishioners and the church schedules, but he also spends time reading and studying.
“When I was a principal, I was too busy,” he said. “Now, I have time to pray. I have time to reflect.”
He likes to visit church members and other residents of the community, and he enjoys stopping by the Senior Citizens Center to chat with people there. “I like older people,” he said as he talked about his mother living to the age of 99 and teaching him respect and love for elders.
Father Joseph, who worked alongside Mother Theresa and her missionaries with beggars in India at one time, deliberately keeps his life focused on others and the good work he can do in the present moment. “My principle thought when I get up every morning is, ‘Today’s going to be my last day,’” he said. “How can I make it as big as blessing as I can?”
His answer comes in giving of himself to others. “Whatever they need, what little I have,” he said, “I would share with them.”
Father Joseph can be reached by contacting St. Agnes Catholic Church in Kenmare at 701-385-4311.