CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
You said your ordination almost didn’t happen. Why’s that?
Well, we’ve got all these children, and the program calls for wives to attend the classes with their husbands on Saturdays. Eight of our children are boys, and they always had soccer games and football games on Saturday — who was going to take them? Judy had to. Just before ordination, we had to meet with the director of the program, a religious sister, who said I might not get ordained because Judy hadn’t been to the classes. Judy said, “Stop it right there. Wait a minute. How many children do you have?” Well, Sister kind of sat back and didn’t say anything. Judy said, “Well, when Jim was going to class, I was running kids to all these things. You say God, then family, then job. Family is just as important, isn’t it?” So I was ordained.
You and Judy have been working in the truck stop ministry since 2002. What is that like?
Dcn. Dale Nees and Dcn. Jim Zdeb also do this ministry with me. You walk through the truck stop, mostly in the dining area, and just strike up conversations. Talk with them, find out what’s going on in their lives. Sometimes we sit and pray with them.
What kinds of things do you talk about?
You have a lot of interesting conversations. Truck drivers can have a lot of problems — marriages gone bad because they’re gone so much, problems at home with kids and they can’t be there to help out. A lot of times we pray and talk about how God is in our lives.
Are there any encounters that stick out in your memory?
One very outstanding one that we remember — we were walking by a driver sitting at a booth and he was eating, so we just sort of said hi and walked by. He said, “Hey chaplain, wait a minute, come on back, sit down.” We could see he was having some big problems. You could tell. He told us a story about how his wife divorced him because he was on the road so much and she couldn’t stand it. They had a little girl. He still supported them every month, but he had just gotten a call from his ex-wife saying that their car was being repossessed and they were going to lose the house. He started crying. We stayed and talked with him a long time and prayed over all this, until he said he had to go get some sleep. So I gave him my card and said to call any time.
Did you hear from him?
Two months later, I got a call one night during dinner. The guy on the phone says, “Is this the truck stop chaplain? You probably don’t remember me, but I wanted to tell you God put you there for a reason. Before you came I was contemplating going out into the truck and taking my life.” Then he told me that after we talked he reconciled a little bit with his wife, they got the house back, the car back, and he wasn’t going to be on the road as much because he wanted to be there for his family. We talk to a lot of drivers, but you never know if you’ve done anything, if you’ve affected them in any way, because you don’t see them again.
Who is the person you look up to?
My wife, Judy, because of her strong constitution. We lost two of our children, and she has been through cancer. She’s put her faith in God, and it’s something you never get over, but you look ahead.
What is a Scripture verse that has been significant in your life and why?
I used to be the president of our parish council, and when I left, they gave me a plaque with Romans 12:8 on it — paraphrasing, it says “Let the man who is called to give, give freely.” And I try to live by that.
Do you have a sweet tooth? What’s your favorite dessert?
My wife can’t keep chocolate in the house.
What TV show can you not resist?
“Antiques Roadshow,” every Monday night.
If we went back 50 years and told you you would one day be ordained a permanent deacon, what would your reaction be?
Well, God was always calling, but I was never listening. My uncle had a brother-in-law who was a Jesuit priest who always wanted me to discern the priesthood, but I didn’t listen. When I started teaching at St. Joseph’s High School, the School Sisters of St. Francis were always very encouraging of vocations, but I wasn’t listening there either. At St. Mary’s, (Deacon) Ron Lesjak was always saying, “Jim, you ought to apply to be a deacon.” I said, “Ron, I’m not that kind of guy.”
When did you finally listen?
I was on a retreat, at Mass, and just as the priest was raising the Eucharist up, the Holy Spirit hit me. I’m sitting there thinking: “Yeah, I think I will. I think that’s a good idea.” Took him a long time to reach me, but he reached me.