The Paulist priest returns to Immaculate Conception Church for an anniversary Mass ‘with a deep sense of gratitude’
By Dan McWilliams
The Immaculate Conception community and parishioners from around the United States and Canada all came together May 3 to wish Father Jim Haley, CSP, a happy 50th anniversary in the priesthood.
Knoxville’s downtown parish hosted a Mass for Father Haley’s golden jubilee on the feast day of St. James the Apostle, and a dinner attended by nearly 300 followed at The Foundry.
Father Haley was principal celebrant of his anniversary Mass, with Father Eric Andrews, CSP, president of the Paulist Fathers, concelebrating. Bishop Richard F. Stika and Cardinal Justin Rigali attended in choir.
“Thank you for coming,” Father Haley said to the assembly at IC, where he has served two assignments as pastor over the years. “We gather with a deep sense of gratitude on my part for 50 years of priestly ministry; and as you join with me in praising and thanking God for this time, in many ways the Lord has been with me and all those I have served. I invite you to also take a moment and think of a moment in your own life where you would like to also give gratitude to almighty God and to join your prayer of gratitude with mine, as we gather before a heavenly and most forgiving Father.”
Among the 20 priests present were six additional Paulist Fathers, including the four local Paulists: IC pastor Father Ron Franco and associate pastor Father Tim Sullivan, and St. John XXIII pastor Father Donald Andrie and associate pastor Father Bob O’Donnell. Also attending were homilist Father John Duffy, CSP, a former president of the Paulist Fathers, and Father Sean Foley, CSP, a former vice president of the Paulists.
What makes ‘a good priest’
In his homily, Father Duffy quoted Pope Francis on “what should be the characteristics of a good priest, a true pastor of the people.” He said a good priest “‘knows the smell of his sheep,’” in the words of the Holy Father. “He knows the smell of his sheep because he is available and is in direct contact with them. . . . He is present; he is incarnate in the lives of the people with whom and for whom he is called to serve. . . . The greatest present that a priest can give to the people is his presence.”
To proclaim the Good News, Father Duffy said, “good priests exude a sense of joy, a positive attitude, a feeling that no matter what might be happening, all is in God’s hands; in the end all will work out.”
A good priest, the homilist added, “takes seriously the importance of preaching, proclaiming God’s Word.”
Father Duffy said he “took the liberty to speak with a few lay leaders in communities where Father Jim has been stationed this half-century. And the qualities mentioned by Pope Francis very much resonate with their experience of Father Jim.”
“Yes, [Father Haley] has been present, in a quiet way to people, always available, with that inviting smile, to proclaim the Good News,” Father Duffy said. “And to proclaim the Good News, one has to be Good News. The words of one source: he is very funny, with a dry sense of humor; people relate to him easily, both as a priest and as a friend.”
As a proclaimer of the Good News, “a priest must be steeped in the Word of God. To quote one of my contacts: ‘Father Jim has the ability to make a deep or challenging point . . . with just the right words. He is in contact with the real lives of people and speaks to that,’” Father Duffy said.
Father Haley “draws upon the insights of others,” the homilist continued. “Another quote: ‘at meetings, he listens carefully to all concerns, ideas, and questions before he puts in his word or his answer, or makes his decision.’”
“Why did Father Haley join the Paulists?” Father Duffy asked.
“He wanted to be a missionary to North America—his background has served him well. Born in the United States but his formative years in Canada—and I think the latter has been a gift to the Church, his experience of being raised north of the U.S. border. We in this country frequently use the image of the United States as a melting pot. The image Canadians use is that of their country as a unified mosaic. I would ask, does not the idea of a mosaic capture more truly the image of the Catholic Church?”
Father Haley has served in numerous assignments for the Paulists, with stops in Utah, West Virginia, Michigan, Toronto, and New York City among them. Father Duffy spent two summers in Utah when he was a seminarian and came to know Father Haley when the latter was associate pastor at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Layton, Utah.
“The diversity of North America—he is so adaptable to many different situations and people: a truly Catholic priest,” Father Duffy said.
Father Duffy called Father Haley “a gentleman.” He said the jubilarian described his relationship with the Lord throughout the years thusly: “He has always been a companion to me.”
‘A gentle breeze’
Bishop Stika spoke at the end of Mass.
“Father James, in the name of his eminence, Cardinal Rigali, and myself, and actually in the name of the entire Diocese of Knoxville, and maybe I’ll stretch it out to all the people you’ve served throughout these 50 years—it’s very easy to say thank you for your priestly service.”
The bishop remarked on 1968 being the year that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated and on being the year of Blessed Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, the infamous Democrat Party Convention, the ongoing Vietnam War, the Cardinals losing to the Tigers in the World Series, and Bob Gibson’s ERA record for the St. Louis baseballers.
“It was good that the Lord sent a gentle breeze into the world when he called forth a young man who decided to say yes when Jesus Himself called him to the priesthood,” Bishop Stika said.
Instead of the usual ad multos annos wish, Bishop Stika said he would rather offer Father Haley the Polish sto lat: “may you live to be 100.”
The bishop posed a question about Father Haley.
“With all those assignments, didn’t he really have a hard time keeping a job?” he asked. “It just shows that he was open to the Holy Spirit, when he had those invitations to go and serve particular communities in particular places in this world. What a tremendous gift he has been to the Diocese of Knoxville, to pastor this parish, this wonderful and historic parish of the Immaculate Conception, twice.
“And last year when I had a great need, he accepted my invitation to serve at St. Mary in Athens. He stepped up to the plate when I needed a pastor in a beautiful community, again dedicated to the Blessed Mother, St. Mary in Athens. It’s authentic when I say ad multos annos or sto lat, because you never know when I might need another pastor real quick. So may you live to be 100 with many more years. Congratulations.”
A long applause and a standing ovation followed the bishop’s words.
Mary Catherine Willard has been a parishioner of IC for more than 60 years and recalled Father Haley’s terms as pastor of the parish from 1979 to 1987 and again from 1998 to 2003.
“When he came back the last time, he came to George, my husband, and he said, ‘Now, George, you think it’s OK if I come back again?’” Mrs. Willard said with a laugh.
When asked what Father Haley has meant to IC, Mrs. Willard said, “Oh, wonderful, wonderful. Just think of all the children he’s baptized, all the first Communions he’s had, all the weddings he’s had, all the funerals. I remember my mother-in-law’s funeral, Helen Willard—he did such a wonderful job. He embodied everything that all of the people here wanted out of a priest. He was a wonderful, wonderful pastor.”
Janet MacNeil, one of Father Haley’s sisters attending the Mass, lives in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, the jubilee priest’s hometown. She said the anniversary Mass was “beautiful.”
“He’s so loved here,” she said. “I didn’t realize that people were so close to him. He’s so well-respected, and that’s really kind of nice.”
Father Haley’s other sister, Dorothy Alward of Halifax, Nova Scotia, attended the Mass and dinner with husband Dave. A brother, Hugh, was unable to attend.
‘One of our most beloved’ Paulists
Father Haley said the Mass “was wonderful. It was just a great expression, and I’m kind of overwhelmed by it all.” He said IC “has always been very special” to him.
Father Andrews, a former pastor of St. John XXIII Parish on the University of Tennessee campus, has been president of the Paulist Fathers since 2014.
“Father Jim has been one of our most beloved and faithful members of the Paulist Fathers,” he said. “Father Jim has served in so many different arrays of assignments, from parish to campus ministry to serving the community in the treasurer’s office to being a superior of our motherhouse. Father Jim has done it all and with great grace. I know as president when I’ve asked him to do some difficult things, he’s always told me what he felt, but he would always serve where he was needed best.”
Father Haley and IC “go together,” Father Andrews said. “They’re just meant for each other. Father Jim’s temperament and his way and his easy style suits East Tennessee and has suited the people of Immaculate Conception. I think he knows all the Catholics of this parish and how they’re all related to each other, so he’s a great resource to the rest of us.”
He ‘will always be there for you’
Father Andrews emceed the dinner following Mass.
“Jim is one of those rare Paulists who if you call on him and you have a need, first he’ll tell you what he thinks about what you’ve just asked him to do, in a very Canadian and gentle spirit of course, but then will always be there for you, however you might need,” Father Andrews said in his opening remarks.
The dinner tables sported American and Canadian flags. Parishioners attending came from places Father Haley has served, including Toronto; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Morgantown, W.Va.; and his current assignment of St. Mary-Athens. IC parishioners provided the loudest cheer when called upon, and St. John XXIII parishioners and Paulist Associates also were present.
Father Andrews also welcomed IC’s three deacons, Joe Stackhouse, Hieu Vinh, and Doug Bitzer, as well as Sisters of Mercy who attended. In a video that played during the dinner, Deacon Vinh spoke of Father Haley’s influence on his call to become a deacon.
The hit of the video with the dinner crowd was IC’s ROMEO group: Real Old Men Eating Out. The ROMEOs later presented a gift to Father Haley.
The Paulists ‘became his family’
Mrs. Alward, one of Father Haley’s sisters, spoke at the dinner.
“It’s just so wonderful to be here, with all of Jim’s friends and colleagues, celebrating his 50th anniversary,” she said. “Seeing the numbers here today certainly shows what a great impact Jim has had on the people he’s met while in the ministry. . . . When Jim told me about this celebration, I knew we had to come and celebrate with him. I knew our mom and dad would want us here.”
As a young man, “Jim described himself as being quite shy,” Mrs. Alward said. “Well, he certainly has blossomed! I think leaving home, family, and friends at the age of 19 was very courageous. He obviously had a desire to fulfill, and that desire led the way to a more spiritual life, and he ventured into the unknown. Answering his calling has certainly helped Jim to open up, to shine, and to bring forth his inner potential, alive as demonstrated by his involvement with the Church community.”
Mrs. Alward recalled the future priest’s moneymaking effort of hunting nightcrawlers after rains—he would sell the worms to fishermen.
Father Haley’s many travels included a trip to Las Vegas.
“I know Jim liked to play cards, but you have to really see him at the blackjack tables and the one-armed bandits,” Mrs. Alward said.
He also liked to kayak, until one outing when a motorboat passed him and turned his craft upside down, Mrs. Alward said.
“I think that was his last kayaking trip,” she said.
Mrs. Alward spoke of the Paulists.
“They became his family, and his parishioners were like family to him. But Jim always loved to come back home to visit his brother and sisters,” she said, adding, “Jim to me will always be my big brother. Thanks, Jim, for everything, and a special thanks to the Paulists for bringing you happiness and contentment in life.”
$5 into $500
Monsignor Bill Gahagan, who hails from Maine, a “down-easter” along with those from Nova Scotia, spoke on behalf of Diocese of Knoxville priests.
“Jim is indeed a great friend to me, and on behalf of all the priests in the diocese, the bishop, and cardinal, we just thank him for the love and ministry he has given to us in this city,” he said.
Monsignor Gahagan told of a gambling trip to Cherokee, N.C., with Father Haley.
“The one time we went, I said, ‘How much money did you bring, Jim?’ He said, ‘$5.’ I said, ‘$5! You can’t play for $5. You’ve got to have some more money than that.’ He said, ‘You go your way, and I’ll be on my way.’ When he came back about five hours later, we were sitting where we were going to meet, and I said, ‘How did you do?’ He said, ‘I won about $500.’ He said, ‘How did you do?’ I said, ‘I lost about $400.’ That quiet, gentle approach . . .”
Recalling Diocese of Nashville days before the Knoxville Diocese was formed, Monsignor Gahagan spoke of the honor Father Haley had of being voted the first Paulist chair of the Knoxville presbyterate:
“Everybody just loved you and enjoyed what you gave to us that time,” the monsignor said. “So that being said, God love you and bless you, and next time bring $10 when we go to Cherokee.”
Also at the dinner, Father Duffy led the Paulist anthem, “Lead Us, Great Teacher Paul,” and Father Andrews led a singing of “Rocky Top.” Earlier Father Andrews led the singing of “O Canada” over the video’s end credits.
‘Gee, I hope some people are going to show up’
Father Haley received his second standing ovation of the evening when Father Andrews introduced him at the dinner.
“Well, you know me, I don’t have many words,” Father Haley said. “I just want to express my sincere thanks for your being here and for all these tributes. I don’t think I recognize myself. I remember talking to somebody about the dinner, and I said, ‘Gee, I hope some people are going to show up.’”
Father Haley said, “It’s been a wonderful 50 years. There were times I wondered whether I was going to make the year 50. But it’s been great. It’s been a lot of memories, a lot of good times, and a lot of blessings. I have much to be thankful for and much to be grateful for, especially to almighty God, but especially to all the people I’ve served and touched in some way.
“I want you to know, and I speak I think for every priest, the ways that you have touched us are much more important sometimes than the ways that we have touched you. I’m so grateful for the many people I’ve met and the many people I’ve been with and the associations and the memories and the blessings that I was able to share with you. A priest can only be a priest because of the people that we serve, and it’s the people we serve who make us really who we are, and I think I speak for all of us priests.
“And so as you are thanking me, I just want to offer my sincere thanks to each and every one of you for helping me and being with me and guiding me during this time. There are times in every profession when you wonder whether you are really doing the right thing, but I have a deep sense of God being with me and God guiding me all this time. It’s been a great journey and a great time, and I am sincerely grateful to each and every one of you. I would pray that let us continue the journey together and continue to pray and continue to support one another. Thank you very much.”
‘Thank you for all the thousands and thousands of people you have touched in 50 years’
Bishop Stika led the closing prayer at the dinner.
“As I said earlier, I just want to thank you, from the other bishops who have served in this diocese and all the priests that Monsignor Gahagan represents and all the people from IC and around the world,” the bishop said. “I just want to say thank you for all the thousands and thousands of people you have touched in 50 years—thousands. As you were saying, it’s not so much how we feel we are ministering to all of you—you’ll never know the effect that you have on all of us. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart and the cardinal’s heart and all the people who know you and love you and care for you a great deal.
“Remember I said sto lat—may you live to be a hundred-plus, because I’m going to have another assignment for you down the line.”
The dinner concluded with a singing of “Happy Anniversary to You,” to the tune of “Happy Birthday to You.”