Father Alex points to his chili plants, which held a special place in the garden of flowers and trees he has already planted on the grounds of St. Therese. Photo by Linda Jade Fong

Escaping from a herd of elephants stampeding him? That’s just one of the distinctions that Father Alex Tigga brings as the newly arrived Catholic priest of the St. Therese de Liseux parish of Patagonia and Sonoita. There’s more to discover.

1 – “One-percenter” Father Alex was born and raised in India, the largest Hindu country in the world, where Catholics represent only 1.5% of the population. The hilly area around his hometown of Jashpur in central India has been an enclave of Catholicism for centuries.

2 – Twin with a destiny There are eight siblings in his family. His father chose professions for each of his three sons during their childhood. One was to stay at home to look after the family and farm, Alex’s twin was to go out and work, and Alex was to become a priest. His father said that would allow him to see the world.

3 – Serious studies spiced with sports In India, the system results in over 12 years in Seminary to become a Catholic priest. Father Alex also lays claim to a Bachelor of Arts degree plus a Bachelor’s in education and a Master’s in history. In college, he played basketball, soccer, volleyball, and ran track. Can a cricket pitch be far behind on the field behind St. Therese?

4 – Pioneer and planter in Africa He was serious about seeing the world, so while still in Seminary he started applying for positions on other continents. After a year in India, he
was sent across the Indian Ocean to the country of Mozambique in Africa. He was put in charge of the mission, that is, all the priests and churches in Mozambique. For 10 years, he planted in two ways; new Catholic centers and new forests of trees, including mangoes and avocados.

5 – Stunt driver to escape stampede of elephants One time, as he was driving visitors to one of his centers, they came over a hill to see a herd of elephants. The elephants got agitated and moved toward them but stopped. When he re-started his engine, they turned around and started to chase him. He used his best Indiana Jones skills to whip around his Land Rover and escape from the herd apparently protecting its young.

6 – Survivor of hammer attack Mozambique had other hazards. Besides encounters with elephants, there were those with robbers. One night thieves broke into the clergy housing and attacked residents, including Father Alex, with iron bars and a hammer. And yet he persevered in his mission.

7 – Coaxer of flowers in the rocks Father Alex came to the U.S. at the end of 2011. He worked for a year in Tucson, then Kearny and Hayden, where, unlike Patagonia, the soil was rocky and he was challenged to grow beautiful gardens. . .and succeeded, adding what he described as “liveliness” to the community.

8 – Creator of joy through gardens It is apparent even from the outside of St. Theresa’s that there’s something new. Suddenly the yard around the church has sprouted beautiful roses, flowers and trees. Father Alex has been planting these gardens and can be seen every evening tending to them. He says he knows every plant, from oleander and fig trees to chilies. He likes to see people respond with happiness to come across the unexpected gardens.

9 – Curry Chef Father Alex says he is happy to be here in Patagonia – happy with the community, the people, the place. His favorite American food is steak, although he cooks curry and dal at home.

10 – Restorer of Mary for the community On the south side of the church, in a niche, sits forgotten pieces of a vandalized statue of Mary. Father Alex wants to replace this broken Mary and make a peaceful prayer alcove in the garden. It can be a sacred place open to the whole community.

Whether it’s been learning a new language to be able to direct an African mission or toiling to bring forth a lushness of plants in rocky desert soil, Father Alex is now bringing his skills and adaptability to help our community here flourish. This he does with quiet humility and an easy smile, which you can readily see if you stop by and chat during watering times in the gardens.