Holy Week sees priest island-hop through San Juan County to celebrate Masses

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Heralds of Good News Father Rajasekar Savarimuthu, shown aboard a Washington State ferry, is traveling among Lopez, Orcas and Shaw Islands to celebrate Easter triduum liturgies for the Catholic communities in the San Juan Islands. Father Savarimuthu is parochial vicar at St. Francis Parish in Friday Harbor. Photo: Courtesy St. Francis Parish Heralds of Good News Father Rajasekar Savarimuthu, shown aboard a Washington State ferry, is traveling among Lopez, Orcas and Shaw Islands to celebrate Easter triduum liturgies for the Catholic communities in the San Juan Islands. Father Savarimuthu is parochial vicar at St. Francis Parish in Friday Harbor. Photo: Courtesy St. Francis Parish

SAN JUAN COUNTY – A pair of priests have a unique challenge during Holy Week — bringing the sacred liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter to Catholics on four islands in the Salish Sea.

Based at St. Francis Parish on San Juan Island, Heralds of Good News Fathers Watson Paramasivam and Rajasekar Savarimuthu serve their flocks on Orcas, Lopez and Shaw Islands with the help of the Washington State Ferries system and a charitable seafaring parishioner.

“We both share the ministry. He helps me and I help him,” said Father Paramasivam, priest administrator of St. Francis, which has about 250 households, including a growing Hispanic community.

“On all islands, the population of people attending Mass [has] increased,” Father Paramasivam said.

In addition to serving as parochial vicar, Father Savarimuthu is chaplain for women religious living on Shaw Island at the Benedictine Our Lady of the Rock Monastery and the Religious Sisters of Mercy convent.

The two priests take turns ministering between St. Francis and the faith communities on the other islands. Getting to Shaw Island each day to celebrate Mass for the sisters means one priest gets up at 5 a.m. to make the one-hour ferry voyage. Meanwhile, the other priest celebrates the 9 a.m. weekday Mass at St. Francis. (Mass is also celebrated on each island on Sundays and holy days of obligation.)

When Father Paramasivam takes the morning ferry, he prays the Liturgy of the Hours and reviews the Mass readings for the day.

“Taking the ferry every day is a challenge,” Father Paramasivam said. The tight ferry schedule often doesn’t leave him a lot of time to visit with parishioners on the islands after Mass. But when the ferry system is operating on its winter schedule, Father Paramasivam spends hours on Orcas Island after Sunday Mass, giving him time for lunch with a parish family.

On Saturdays, after daily Mass on Shaw, the priest travels to Lopez Island Station to celebrate Sunday Mass for about 25 people (it’s celebrated a day early with the archbishop’s permission, Father Paramasivam said). On Sundays, a parishioner on Shaw Island transports the priest to Orcas Island to celebrate Sunday Mass for about 90 people at Eastsound Station. (Those numbers double on holidays and during the summer tourist season, according to Jan Steckler, pastoral assistant at St. Francis Parish.)

If that schedule sounds confusing, add to the mix the special liturgies of Holy Week.

Father Paramasivam is celebrating triduum and Easter liturgies at St. Francis in Friday Harbor, while Father Savarimuthu takes the traveling duties. On Holy Thursday, he will celebrate Masses on Orcas and Lopez Islands before finishing the day with an evening Mass for the women religious on Shaw Island.

Good Friday brings a similar schedule for Father Savarimuthu: services on Orcas at 1:15 p.m. and Lopez at 4:15 p.m. before returning to Shaw Island. On Holy Saturday, Father Savarimuthu will celebrate Easter Mass on Lopez Island in the afternoon and then the Easter Vigil Mass on Shaw Island. On Orcas, Easter Sunday Mass will be celebrated in the morning.

Despite the schedule, and even though the ferries are sometimes late, Father Paramasivam said he hasn’t had to cancel a Mass since becoming priest administrator in 2017.

Who are the Heralds of Good News?

The Heralds of Good News is a Missionary Society of Apostolic Life founded in India in 1984. Its priests promote vocations to the priesthood and provide missionaries to dioceses in India and areas experiencing a shortage of priests. Nine Herald of Good News priests serve in parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Seattle.