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Answering the call to Carmel

Boise’s Paul Punnoose begins discernment to become Carmelite friar

The following story appeared in the November 19 Idaho Catholic Register.

Paul Punnoose, third from left, prays with children and a Sister of the Family of Jesus the Healer in Peru, during a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) mission trip in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Father Tom Lankenau, SJ)

by Emily Woodham

Staff Writer

When Paul Punnoose was 8, he wrote in his journal that he knew he wanted to join the Carmelite priests. However, over time, he forgot about his childhood longing, even though he felt called to live a consecrated life. Even years later when he was in seminary discerning diocesan priesthood, he told friends that the one vocation he couldn’t see himself doing was the religious life. However, according to Punnoose, Jesus never gave up calling him to Carmel, inviting him into a deeper trust.

“Jesus doesn’t want us to white-knuckle our way to intimacy with Him,” Punnoose said. “Rather, He invites us to recognize our weaknesses and inabilities, and to come to Him in those weaknesses. I know that this isn’t easy, but I pray that someone can see me as a witness to this truth,” Punnoose said.

On Sunday, Nov. 14, the Feast of All Carmelite Saints, Punnoose entered the California-Arizona Province of St. Joseph for the Discalced Carmelite Friars. His journey will begin with six months of Candidacy, during which he will take classes in philosophy and be formed in Carmelite spirituality and tradition.

Punnoose comes from a strong, Catholic family. His parents, Alex and Tina, were from India and were part of the Syro-Malabar Rite, a Catholic rite that traces its roots to the evangelization of India by St. Thomas the Apostle in the first century. His family moved to Boise in 2002, when his father accepted a position as a physics professor at Boise State University. Paul was 4, and his older sister, Cathy, was 5.

“I’m incredibly blessed to have been raised by parents who made it a point to make sure that our faith was the pillar, backbone, and foundation of our lives,” Punnoose said. His fam-ily joined St. Mark’s Parish in Boise. They prayed together every morning and evening, went regularly to confession, to daily Mass and to a weekly Holy Hour of Adoration.

When his father became seriously ill, “The Lord allowed me to see the fruit of my parents’ faith and their interior lives,” he said.

Alex Punnoose went into shock that affected his organs when doctors tried to remove a non-cancerous tumor in August of 2008. He was on life support for three months and hospitalized for 11 months. Tina Punnoose was pregnant with their third child, Peter, when he was first admitted. Time and again, doctors said Alex’s death was imminent. Tina always responded with prayers with family and friends, and each time Alex would rally.

“When all medical sciences said that my dad wouldn’t make it, and that he would die within weeks, or even days, my mother knew that Jesus would heal him and pull us through that hard period, and He did,” Punnoose said.

Paul Punnoose, right, plays a game with children in Peru. With a FOCUS mission team, he helped set up medical clinics in schools and prisons in the Amazon, one of the poorest areas of the world. (Photo courtesy of Father Tom Lankenau, SJ)

“We saw many miracles at that time,” Punnoose said. “The greatest and most frequent being my dad’s regular reception of the Eucharist when he didn’t even have most of his digestive system because of his many surgeries. Jesus recognized my dad’s profound love for Him in the Eucharist and rewarded it with the grace to receive Him miraculously. This continued for the remaining eight years of his life.”

Partly due to the strong witness of faith by his parents, Punnoose did not struggle with believing in God. However, he did struggle with living out his faith in his early teen years.

“When I was in middle school and in the beginning of high school, everything revolved around being popular, rather than following Christ. In His goodness, and with the good example and prayer of my parents, the Lord kept me from getting into any of the partying and bad practices that a lot of my friends were drawn toward,” he said. After attending a retreat in 10th grade, his conviction to live for Christ was rekindled.

Punnoose felt called to the priest-hood, but not to religious life. He graduated from high school in 2016 and was accepted into Bishop White Seminary in Spokane.

By that time, doctors believed his father had overcome his illness and would live to see old age. However, his dad told Punnoose that the Lord revealed to him that he would be calling him home soon. Two weeks later, Alex Punnoose passed away. His death in July 2016 was just two months after Punnoose graduated from high school.

Following his dad’s funeral, Punnoose continued with his plans to go to seminary. While at Bishop White Seminary, in the spring of 2017, he read “The Interior Castle” by St. Teresa of Avila, who founded the Discalced Carmelites in the 16th century. It was then that he began to more strongly consider joining a religious order rather than pursuing diocesan priesthood.

“After reading ‘The Interior Castle,’ I found myself deeply drawn to the Carmelite saints and spirituality. I began to recognize in prayer, with the help of my spiritual director, the voice of the Bridegroom inviting me to His Holy Mountain. At first, I was scared because I didn’t think I could possibly be a holy Carmelite, so I would try to ignore this tugging on my heart,” he said.

Paul Punnoose helps in a clinic in Peru. Serving in missions helped him discern his call to religious life. (Photo courtesy of Father Tom Lankenau, SJ)

Punnoose left Bishop White in 2017 and returned to Boise. He enrolled at Boise State and became involved with St. Paul’s Catholic Student Center and with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). In 2018 and 2019, he went on a short-term FOCUS Medical Mission to Peru, helping destitute communities.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Punnoose continued to discern whether to join a Carmelite order. He worried about living a life of poverty and obedience, community life and being away from his family. “Jesus kept gently and tenderly inviting me to place my trust in Him, assuring me that He would be my strength, my capability, and my everything,” he said.

In prayer, he was directed to 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Another prayer that helped him was the St. Faustina prayer, “Jesus, I trust in You.”

After his six months of Candidacy, Punnoose will enter the Postulancy, typically three months, where he will prepare formally to join the Carmelite Order. This is followed by Novitiate, which is when he will receive the habit and his new name and title. The Novitiate is usually two years, but can change according to the community’s discretion.

At the end of his novitiate, Pun-noose will be permitted to make his First Vows, which are renewed annually for five to seven years. When the Community has discerned that enough time has passed and that he is ready to make a permanent commitment, he will be able to make his Final Vows. If the Community discerns that he is called to the priesthood, he will prepare for ordination following his Final Vows.

“As for plans, I really have none other than to love Jesus, who is loved so little,” he said.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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