A new priest has brought his passion for service to Fort Frances.
Father Gino Mathias is the newest priest at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. Originally from South India — “the southernmost tip” — Father Mathias has been serving in his role in various places around the world for the past two decades, including other parts of Ontario.
“I've been a priest for the past 20 years, 17 years in India,” Mathias said.
“I was a pastor for 17 years and also manager for some of the institutions there, like nursing institutions and schools. Then I thought I should have a little bit of a change in my Ministry, a change of culture, a change of people, a change of somethings so that you will be revived and regenerated.”
Mathias said he was contacted by a friend who told him that there was a position for a priest open in Ontario in the Manitouwadge and Marathon area, and asked if Mathias was interested in taking the job. Taking the position offered onto Mathias the first of several experiences that he had thus far gone without, notably because India isn't known as a cold place.
“So I came and for the first time I had the experience of snowfall in all my life,” he recalled.
“Below 40, below 50 for the first-ever time in my life. I'm a 47 year old man. I was always coming from a hot and humid country, so to see the snow and below zero temperatures, it was beautiful and the snow and the white everywhere, it was awesome for me. I started loving it. I got acclimatized so soon.”
After a handful of years serving as priest for the Marathon area, Mathias said the Bishop presented him the opportunity to take the position in Fort Frances, which the Father said he agreed to as readily as he first agreed to coming to Ontario.
“I said yes because I always like to go new places,” he explained.
“Meet new people, new experiences because I always have a philosophy that life is a journey. You are a traveller. Always you go meet new people and say hello and get experiences and learn from them life's lessons. That's how I ended up here in Fort Frances and it looks beautiful and the people are warm. That's how I ended up here.”
Mathias said he is hoping to bring to Fort Frances the kind of faith life that he is familiar with from his home, and he is looking forward to meeting people in his church and other places in the community and working with them in different ways.
“In India, you have a great faith life,” he explained.
“You know that easily they would fill up the church any time of the day. You have a mass early, five o'clock in the morning, there could be easily five to six hundred people anytime in the morning. I like to come here as a coordinator of the Ministries here. I like to be an animator for the people, just to motivate them and to be with them, wonder with them, play with them, pray with them, walk with them, walk through them and inspire them if possible. Mostly my essential ministry should be praying for them and supporting them in every possible way I can be.”
In a way, Mathias said, he wants to help build a community and a sense of community through coming together for the greater good.
While a large portion of his day-to-day life will likely be spent working for however long he is tasked with serving Fort Frances, Mathias also noted that there are many things that he is looking forward to experiencing during his time in the district.
“I like to meet every people, regardless of their race, religion, colour, caste — we call it caste in India — denomination, and I want to be part of them. I would like to belong to Fort Frances. I want to bring a sense of belonging to this community, that everybody who comes to this church and to this town, they belong to this town and if they can bring something to further development of this community, I will be happy. In whatever way possible, if I can contribute to this community I will be happy.”
Mathias also noted that he is an avid sportsman, enjoying playing soccer, badminton, pickelball and more. He also said he learned a good deal about outdoor activities that are more suited to our Northern Ontario way of life from his time in the Marathon area, which he has developed an appreciation for.
“I love to be kayaking, hunting, fishing, I am there,” he said.
I've been trained at Manitouwadge in that way. I came as a guy who knew only India but the Manitouwadge people, they trained me. They taught me how to fish, how to hunt, how to kayak, how to even master Ontario roads and highways. Also how to be polite. Canadians are super, super polite.”
Now that he's arrived in Fort Frances and begun to settle into his new parish, Father Mathias said he wanted to encourage the public to come to him for anything they might need, whether it be spiritual guidance, a listening ear, or even just to learn more about the country he comes from.
“All are welcome to me as a person anytime,” he said.
“To have me as a friend, to have a chat, a cup of coffee, to learn about one of the most exotic regions of India. If you want to learn about me, come to me anytime. I am available right here, anybody can come, not only the Catholics. If they want to have an ear, I am there for them. And I am open to this community, to the townships; if they want to invite me to anything, they need not worry. I am there. I am available.”