Msgr. Kochery participates in a Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany with Bishop O'Connell in St. Thomas More Church, Manalapan. A native of India, Msgr. Kochery said the seeds of his priestly vocation were planted at an early age. Monitor file photo
Msgr. Kochery participates in a Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany with Bishop O'Connell in St. Thomas More Church, Manalapan. A native of India, Msgr. Kochery said the seeds of his priestly vocation were planted at an early age. Monitor file photo
For Msgr. Peter Kochery, the seeds of his priestly vocation were planted at an early age – during Mass with his bishop as a young teenager in India.

“My vocation was very straightforward,” recalled Msgr. Kochery, who is celebrating his 50th priestly ordination this year. The priest, who retired last year as a parochial vicar from St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, continues to serve there as senior priest.

He shared that his family of six lived a religious life, dedicated to the belief that Christianity was brought to India by the Apostle Thomas. The four children – Peter, Abraham, Babby and Elizabeth – accompanied their parents, Thomas and Mary, to church every Sunday. They prayed as a family twice a day, morning and evening, he said.

“We grew up in a tiny church. … It was a small mission station, and priests used to visit every now and then. I was the only Catholic in a non-Catholic school,” he said.

In 1957, the bishop of Msgr. Kochery’s diocese came to visit a neighboring church, and young Peter was chosen to be an altar server. Afterward, he was told the bishop wanted to see him. “I had been playing and running around [with friends] and I got worried, but when I went to see the bishop, he was smiling.”

“I liked your reading. Do you want to become a priest?” Msgr. Kochery remembers the bishop asking. The young Peter responded “Yes,” and the bishop, referencing the political climate of the time, said, “The communists are going to beat and persecute priests. Are you afraid?”

“I said, ‘No,’” Msgr. Kochery recalled, and the bishop said, “Please come and see me after you finish high school.”

“I knew and the family knew that I was going to be a priest,” he said. “I have never regretted that for one single moment. I believe it was God’s call.”

Journey of Ministry

Msgr. Kochery was born in 1943 in Thammanimattam, India. He completed his preparation for the priesthood in the Pontifical Athenaeum, Pune, India, where he received a licentiate in philosophy and theology. He was ordained in 1970 in Tiruvalla, India, by Bishop Zacharias Mar Athanasios. After 13 years as pastor serving in three different parishes, he was sent to pursue doctoral studies in theology at the Toronto School of Theology, Toronto, Canada.

Upon his return to India in 1993, Msgr. Kochery, who also completed a three-month residential course in pastoral counseling in Vellore Christian Counseling Center in India, was appointed rector of the diocesan junior seminary and director of priestly formation in the Archdiocese of Tiruvalla.

Msgr. Kochery was sent to the United States in 1997 as coordinator/president of Malankara Catholic Missions of North America to minister to the growing number of Indian Catholics. He was temporarily assigned as pastor of St. Mary Malankara in the Diocese of Dallas. His first assignment in the Trenton Diocese in 1999 was as parochial vicar in St. Veronica Parish, Howell, where the mission had a headquarters.

He recalled that there came a time when he had the option to return to India or remain in either Canada or the United States to teach or continue in pastoral ministry. “I liked everything here,” he said. “So I decided to continue here in parish work.”

Priestly Journey

Incardinated into the Trenton Diocese in 2007, Msgr. Kochery was assigned as parochial vicar of St. Thomas More Parish in 2008. In 2012, he was named a chaplain to His Holiness with the title of monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI.

Now, as a senior priest in St. Thomas More Parish, his enthusiasm for his vocation and pastoral ministry remains strong.

“The title has changed, but as long as God gives me health and enthusiasm, my heart desires to serve. I thank God that I am able to do so,” Msgr. Kochery said.

He added that he feels humbled to be where he is in this time of COVID-19, serving a community with strong commitment to the Catholic faith.

“It is a hopeful place of Catholic faith,”  Msgr. Kochery said, confident that when COVID-19 cases subside, there will be a great opportunity for rebirth and renewal in the Church. At that time, Msgr. Kochery said his focus will be on re-evangelization.

“There is still faith, and according to my experience, I think we need to help revitalize it,” he said.