by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Where did you attend University and what degrees did you earn?
Fr James: Education
Master of Divinity
Catholic University of America
Master of Arts DRAMA
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
1977 – 1979
Bachelor of Arts
English / Education
Montclair State College
Upper Montclair, New Jersey
1972 – 1976
Gordon: Why did you decide to be a Paulist?
Father James: I was returning to regular participation in the Church after a series of family challenges. The parish was St. Paul the Apostle, just down the street from where I worked.
I was the Director of Customer Service and Donations Processing at the Metropolitan Opera at the time. I appreciated the Paulist priests who preached well and conveyed an open respect for all peoples in and outside of the Church.
Gordon: In what aspects of the Paulist order were you primarily interested?
Father James: The short answer to your question: Scripture study, education, and preaching opportunities. As I became involved as a Lector, my interest in reading and studying the Bible increased. Being a Lector utilized my background and interests in education, speech, and drama. Proclaiming Isaiah 55 from memory for a program the Paulists offered (“An Invitation to Catholicism”) marked the beginning of my vocation discernment, coupled with the fact that a Paulist asked me to give workshops to the other Lectors.
I enjoyed these ministries immensely because I was always drawn to the power of stories and their impact on our lives. As a result, I engaged the Scriptures more fully with the stories I loved, my personal experiences, and those of my new friends in the lector workshops. Within a year or so I was discerning a vocation to the priesthood, and the Paulists were my only choice with their emphasis on Communication, and outreach to people beyond the Church.
Gordon: What experience have you had as an actor?
Father James: Community Theatre, day-player, and extra work on tv and film as a member of the Screen Actors' Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). Beyond my degree programs and working as a stage manager for a now defunct theatre company on New York’s “Theatre Row” (the “off-off Broadway Theaters on 42nd Street), my only live theatre roles were Charlie Brown ("You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown,") and THE BAKER in the musical INTO THE WOODS (my favorite musical). The latter was the result of my producing and directing INTO THE WOODS as part of my campus ministry assignment at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul. In 2019 I had a very small role as a Latin-praying Catholic priest in the HBO movie I KNOW THIS MUCH TO BE TRUE. My part was cut in the final edit except for a shot of my hands anointing a woman who had died in the story.
Gordon: Who is your favorite actor?
Father James: Of course, I have several. Right now, my favorites are Denzel Washington, Ryan Gosling, and Charlie Cox. My favorite actresses are Emily Blunt, Viola Davis, Octavia Spenser, and Meryl Streep.
Gordon: You are a popular presenter. Where are some of the places where you have made presentations and what are some of the topics on which you have presented?
Father James: As you may know, up until COVID, my primary ministry was as a Paulist missionary offering missions and retreats on the Gospel of Luke, and less often, on other topics, such as “Resurrection and Why It Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives,” and “The Story of St. Paul the Apostle”. I invite you to visit my website: http://www.lukelive.com Each of these mission/ retreats are semi-theatrical with commentaries and sacred and secular songs as meditations. I like to raise our consciousness that our faith and secular lives are one in the same faith journey.
As of January 2022, although I have / will offer occasional retreats like these, my new role in the Paulist Fathers is as the Director of the Paulists Office of Ecumenical and Multi-Faith Relations. It is an exiting endeavor. So far, I've visited a Sabbath Service at Central Synagogue in NYC, attended an Episcopal Sunday Service, and participated in innumerable ZOOM meetings with people of other denominations and faiths on ways to address the problems of our century! As part of that outreach, I'm on the board of Religions for Peace USA See https://rfpusa.org/
If anyone is interested in engaging in creating local ecumenical/ multi-faith groups and /or receiving our email newsletter, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gordon: You are also a popular retreat organizer. Where are some of the places where you have offered retreats?
Father James: Last fall I enjoyed return visits to two parishes: Sacred Heart in Prosser, WA, and Prince of Peace in Kearney, NE. My Luke retreats are in 4 separate events -each comprising 6 chapters of the Gospel. I love return visits because I get to know local Church communities better. I've been in 25 States so far and travelled from 12 to 18 weeks each year - one week at a time. My next Luke mission is March 12 through 15th in Erie, PA. Working out of New York City, I’ve had many missions in New Jersey, New York State, and Ohio. I have had return visits in parishes in Logan and Layton, Utah, Montgomery, Alabama, Jacksonville FL, and parishes in the Orlando, FL diocese.
Gordon: What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had upon your work?
Father James: Once Covid closed the churches in March 2020, I participated in Masses uploaded on Facebook and YouTube from my residence and home parish, Saint Paul the Apostle, NYC, NY. I subsequently took a job as the Parish Sacristan and assisted the parish in its hospital chaplaincy.
With the COVID quarantines, I began recording segments of Luke's Gospel with Commentary online (Luke Live Online!) for Facebook and YOUTUBE, as well as a weekly series I call "Young at Heart" in which I read Stories, Poems, singing songs, to keep us upbeat through a most difficult time. I'm keeping up with both uploads on Facebook and YouTube:
Gordon: There have been reports that young people are leaving the church. If this is correct, what are some of the reasons for their leaving and what can we do to address this challenge?
Father James: I'm currently working with several Young Adult Engaged Couples who clearly want to commit to a Sacramental Life together, even they do not (yet) participate in weekly worship -- mostly due to career / work responsibilities. So many people work full-time on the weekends! I think that is an important element in looking at the young adults today who are trying to establish some independence from family and make their way in the world.
Still, you are right about many leaving the Church. I know that, in part, this is because of Church scandals, but also because many young adults and others are weary of what they perceive as competition between the different Christian Churches. They don’t see strong attempts on behalf of our Church to get along with everyone – including people of other faiths or people who have no faith. That includes people who are members of their families and among their friends. This proves a major stumbling block for many Young Adults. They want to engage in truth-seeking on a variety of levels, and they want a sense of solidarity and friendship with everyone. They are tired of all the divisions. (Aren’t we all?)
I believe Young Adults, and pretty much everyone these days, want to see how eternal truths are articulated in all faiths and spiritual practices, and in all disciplines – particularly conversations about God and Evolution, Faith and Reason, Religion and Science. I am convinced we as Church need to emphasize dialogue on these topics in our preaching and teaching. We need to form new relationships with people within and beyond the Church. Happily, that is a Paulist Fathers’ directive. I hope that my new ministries will engage people of all faiths and denominations, atheists, and agnostics, too. I am eagerly anticipating making new friends.
Gordon: Thank you for a fascinating interview.