WENDOVER — Father Shouraiah Pudota, who served as administrator of San Felipe Parish in Wendover from 2003 to 2007, has returned to the Diocese of Salt Lake City to again lead the faithful in the same capacity.
The path that led to his return has been one of Divine Providence, Fr. Pudota said.
“I’m really grateful to God and the diocese and all of the people I’ve known here over the last 20 years,” he said. “I never imagined I would return to the parish here, and it is a great blessing.”
Fr. Pudota was born and raised in Andhra Pradesh, India. His family lived just 100 yards from the local Catholic church and had a rich Catholic heritage. He was inspired in his vocation by the Jesuit priests who served at the church and at the seminary where he, his brothers and cousins attended school.
He was ordained a priest on March 21, 1979 and began his priestly ministry in the Diocese of Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. After 10 years there, he was invited to minister in Argentina by the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo Scalabrinians, who were serving in his parish and spoke of the great need for priests in the South American country.
“That was an excitement for missionary zeal that inspired me to go there,” Fr. Pudota said.
During his time in Buenos Aires, he became acquainted with the future Pope Francis, first as Bishop Jorge Bergoglio and then as Cardinal Bergoglio. He had several opportunities to concelebrate Mass with the future pope and to participate in retreats and share meals with him. Then-Auxiliary Bishop Bergoglio was humble, friendly and outgoing with a zeal for evangelization, Fr. Pudota said.
“Bringing people to Christ was foremost in his ministry,” Fr Pudota said. “I was always touched by his earnestness and his ability to connect with the congregation through his simplicity and honesty. … Somehow his charming interactions with people betrayed the simplicity and sophistication of a seasoned pastor and Jesuit. His love for the poor, the disadvantaged, the vulnerable was legendary. Everyone could sense that Bergoglio saw Christ in the poor and was fiercely enthusiastic about serving them.”
Fr. Pudota ministered in Argentina from 1989 to 2003. After his father passed away, he decided to make a change and wrote to the Diocese of Salt Lake City to see if he could serve here. Shortly after, he was invited by the Most Rev. George H. Niederauer, eighth Bishop of Salt Lake City and later Archbishop of San Francisco, to serve as administrator of San Felipe Parish.
During his four years in Wendover, Fr. Pudota helped build up the parish, worked to see a Knights of Columbus council established there, fostered a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and installed an outdoor Way of the Cross that features wooden crosses that are 15 feet tall. In 2007, Fr. Pudota moved to the Archdiocese of San Francisco at the invitation of Archbishop Niederauer. He served there in various positions until he retired July 1 this year.
Fr. Pudota had planned to retire to India, but that was impossible with the pandemic raging. While waiting for the situation to improve, he visited his good friends Father Ken Vialpando and Monsignor J. Terrence Fitzgerald in Utah, now vicar for clergy and vicar general emeritus, respectively, of the Salt Lake diocese.
During his visit, Fr. Pudota casually told Fr. Vialpando that someday he might live in Utah again. “If some parish has a place, if I can help,” he said.
He had hardly unpacked in Dallas from his trip, still hoping to return to India in late August, when he got a phone call from Fr. Vialpando, he said.
“‘I need you here in Wendover; please come,’ he said,” Fr. Pudota recalled. “I canceled all my tickets, all my journeys, all my plans and said, ‘OK, this is really a divine call and God is calling me for some great purpose.’ So I said, ‘OK, I will come.’”
Fr. Pudota, who has been back in Wendover since Aug. 16, said it has been an easy transition. He already knows most of his parishioners and members of the community and has had no problem picking up with programs he established more than 15 years ago. He is excited to continue the work and to build up the parish.
“It is unusual for a priest to return to a parish,” he said. “That is a sign how God is calling me to be a witness in this town, a Gospel witness in a very powerful way. I’m going to give the best example I can to love the people and to love God.”
Fr. Pudota expressed gratitude for the members of the clergy who have shepherded the parish over the last 15 years.
“The growth of the parish is very clear, so it is their hard work also,” he said.
Fr. Pudota said there is no timetable for his service in Wendover; he hopes to serve as long as his health allows. He has a great regard for his parishioners, their hard work and dedication and the lives they lead in the remote casino town in the desert.
“It is our responsibility as a Church to give them the comfort and consolation after the fatigue of the day,” he said. “As such, the parish church is always open; it is a beautiful way of inviting them to pray.”