On Friday night, 19 November 2021, a text message was posted by Archbishop Julian Leow in our Clergy chat group. It was the sad and shocking news about the sudden demise of Rev. Fr. John Gnanapiragasam at 8:20pm, at his residence in Seremban. I read this short text message over and over again, as I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
A day before his passing, I texted Fr. John regarding the Novena and Mass in conjunction with the closing of the Year of St. Joseph, at our Parish, and invited him to celebrate mass with us. He replied the next morning saying, “… Will surely be happy to be there [Parish of St. Joseph] to celebrate with you…” I was so glad that he accepted my invitation for the celebration of the Anointing of the Sick, Novena and Masses on days 5 and 6 (2nd Sunday of Advent). These past four years he has not failed to celebrate our Parish Novena and Feast days.
I came to know Fr. John when I was in the first year of my seminary in Penang in 1995. He wasn’t my lecturer, but he conducted a weekly seminar on “Fully Human, Fully Alive” by John Powell, SJ. His seminar and workshop helped me to discover myself and gave me new perspective and understanding. I shared with Fr. John G, the uncertainties and anxieties I was going through during my first year in the seminary. He advised me to work seriously on these four areas – self-acceptance, self-esteem, self-knowledge and self-discipline. These four key areas caught my attention and I gradually developed them over the years. I really gained tremendous insight from his formation, and till today I continue to reflect on them.
Fr. John G was a man of prayer, and he had very good methodology in his presentations. The NEWBEC (the New Way of Being Church) and Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC) reflection papers were the brainchild of Fr. John. As the first Director of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Institute (API), he spent a lot of time giving proper insight and guidance for BECs in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.
After I had completed my assignment as the Parish Priest in Church of the Visitation (May 2010), Fr. John G had become my successor. He continued some of my unfinished works, and he carried out the vision of the Parish. He was also a mentor for the ALPHA program and on several occasions, I sought his assistance to conduct this programme at St. Joseph’s Church as well as at the Church of the Visitation.
After his retirement in 2020, Fr. John would occasionally visit the Church of S.t Joseph here in Sentul. He had a special affinity to this Parish as it was his first posting after he was ordained as a priest in 1972. He was assigned as the assistant to the late Fr Anthony Thomas.
We thank God for his priestly service in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. He has touched the hearts of countless people with his kindness and dedication throughout his priestly ministry. We will miss him dearly. Our heartfelt condolences to Monsignor James Gnanapiragasam and his family on the passing of Fr. John Gnanapiragasam.
Rev. Fr. George Packiasamy