I know exactly where I was 43 years ago today. I was attending my brother’s first Mass as a Catholic priest. Since both of my parents came from very large families we had hundreds of family and friends from near and far attending Jim’s ordination and first Mass. My mother was so very proud. My dad beamed. Everyone celebrated and the weekend was a memory remains vivid for those of us who are still around to remember.
But none of us will ever forget the rest of the story. Two weeks after this exciting long anticipated event, my family was gathered around my brother’s intensive care unit at an Evanston, Ill., hospital. What none of us knew as we celebrated Jim’s ordination two weeks earlier was that he was scheduled for a serious cancer surgery; surgery from which he was not expected to recover. But Jim is a trooper. After surgery and two very long weeks in intensive care, we accompanied him home from the hospital and worried ourselves sick for a long time not knowing whether he would survive or not.
Since that weekend, Jim has had two more rounds of cancer and three eye surgeries that should have left him without vision.
The surgeons are still scratching their heads when they examine his eyes every few weeks. They are quite aware that his healing was not just because they were excellent surgeons.
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Frankly, we are all scratching our heads about Jim’s health. Obviously Jim is a survivor. He clearly has a mission and he has touched the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people. He is also humble and will be embarrassed by this column.
When my mother died three years ago last week, hundreds of people attended her wake and funeral. The vast majority of those people were Jim’s friends and they were disappointed when they could not even say hello to him after he presided at Mom’s funeral Mass. You see, he was recovering from those eye surgeries and the physician gave him permission only to say the Mass.
As I type this column, Jim is in Florida speaking to a group at a parish in Cape Coral. He is often told by pastors who invite him to preside over the parish retreats that he should not expect maybe 50 or perhaps a hundred people to attend the four evening retreats but tonight when I spoke with him there were, as usual, about 700 in attendance.
In his humble way, he jokes about the crowds, but those who know Jim and love him also know that his charisma, compassion, spirituality and integrity draws crowds hungry for what he has to share.
It has been a long road for Jim. But we all know that his path has had a purpose and today we celebrate his life as a priest who walks the talk. Most of all we celebrate who he is: a loving and compassionate man dedicated to his mission, his passion, and to the people he serves.
I did not know in late February of 1965 that my brother would be around to see his upcoming 72nd birthday. Frankly I have no clue where all those years went.
What I do know is that Jim, my brother, friend and mentor, was meant to live and for that we are all so very grateful.
Happy Anniversary, Jim! We celebrate your life.
Mary Friedel-Hunt, freelance writer, publisher (Voice of the River Valley) and a licensed clinical social worker, has been a psychotherapist for 32 years. Her column runs weekly in Faith & Values. You may contact her by writing to: P.O. Box 189, Lone Rock, WI. 53556.