For Deacon James Wilcox, it was the ‘little grass fires’ that pointed him to the priesthood

By Kathy Cribari Hamer


June 17, 2013

Deacon James Wilcox incenses the altar of St. Patrick Cathedral in Downtown Fort Worth at the Chrism Mass March 26. Dcn. Wilcox will be ordained to the priesthood at Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington June 29. 

Deacon James Wilcox did not find his 40th birthday at all upsetting. For a lot of people, 40 is a “freak-out,” he said, “using a popular term.” But April 4, 2013 didn’t bother him at all.

“When I looked at the dates, I knew this was the year I would be ordained a priest! So I was always kind of looking forward to 40, in hopeful anticipation.”

Born, raised and educated in Dallas, Dcn. Wilcox now lives in Carrollton, where he is a member of St. Catherine of Sienna Parish. He will be ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Fort Worth, June 29 at Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington.

Dcn. Wilcox trod a simple path toward his vocation, but in some aspects not just geographical; he discovered his goal largely in about a six-month period.

“Many things happened in a very small period of time,” he said, telling of his journey to the priesthood. “The way I have described it in the past is: not a burning bush, but several little grass fires. That’s the way I can think of it. And the small things happened in about six-months.”

Educated at Bishop Lynch High School, the University of Texas at Dallas, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, and the University of Texas at Arlington, where he earned an MBA, he began working in human resources at a publishing company. There, he thoroughly enjoyed his work until, while working in the company’s sales department, he was traveling on business and found himself with extra time to read and think.

“‘Is this what I am supposed to be doing?’ I thought. That time I spent traveling sort of gave me the opportunity to examine my life.”

It was his early 30s, and the young man wondered, “Am I living where I need to be? What is my goal? What’s the ultimate goal?”

“I think when we ask that question is when, if we are situated appropriately, we turn to God,” he said, “When we start looking at things like ‘should I be married, do I want a large family?’ then we open ourselves up to God,” he said.

The proverbial ‘little grass fires’ continued when he attended a CHRP — Christ Renews His Parish — retreat. Later on, “When I was thinking about ‘what shall I do?’ a friend of mine said, ‘Well, you should go be a priest — that’s what you’ve always wanted to do.’ And I thought that was really interesting, coming from him.”

And then there was his move to Carrollton. “I had played piano at Mass for church since high school, the deacon said. “And when I first walked into St. Catherine of Sienna Parish, I talked to the music director and asked if they needed someone to play. They said yes. They just had somebody who had moved away. So I was able to continue that ministry.

“But I would never put the weight of my vocation on any one event,” he said. “I would not put it on work, I would not put it on the retreat. I wouldn’t say, ‘this was the reason I went to the seminary.’”

When he began to investigate what was involved in attending the seminary, Dcn. Wilcox said, “The interesting part of that is when I told my dad that I was going to go to the seminary, he said, ‘When you were 15 I was pretty sure you were headed that way.’ He said, ‘You were interested in it, and I really felt like, maybe that’s where God was calling you.’"

Finally, in summer 2005, he attended a vocation awareness program weekend at Holy Trinity Seminary. “Without knowing how it all works,” Dcn. Wilcox said, “I thought, ‘Well I’ll go to that, make a decision and then begin in August’” if moved by God to enter seminary.

His anticipated three months turned out not to be “a very quick turnaround.” The seminary gave Wilcox a year of discernment.

The program helped confirm that he should enter the seminary, and so after a year of prayer and spiritual direction, he entered in 2006. Dcn. Wilcox did two years of pre-theology study and philosophy, and then two years of theology, a pastoral year, and two final years of theology.

“I loved the internship,” said Dcn. Wilcox, who served at St. Mark Parish in Denton under Father Tim Thompson. In addition to Fr. Thompson, he looked to the late Monsignor Charles King, then pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish also in Denton, as a mentor. “That year was really great — it was an affirmation that the Lord is calling me to be a parish priest.”

Hearing confession is one thing Dcn. Wilcox looks forward to most after ordination. “First and foremost is celebrating the sacraments — to confect the Eucharist — and also to hear confessions. It’s going to be great to be a priest and to be able to help people reconcile themselves to God — to experience the mercy of God.

“So, for me, I am really excited about being able to celebrate the Mass and to bring people closer to Christ in that way — in that pinnacle, monumental way — but then also in the wonderful sacrament of confession.”

Other priests whom Dcn. Wilcox considers strong influences in his life include Father Mathew Kavipurayidam, TOR, pastor of his home parish of St. Catherine of Sienna, and Fathers Jonathan Wallis and Ray McDaniel, who were in their last year of seminary when he was in his first and “helped in my transition.” Holding a spot of great importance to Dcn. Wilcox is Monsignor Thomas Weinzapfel, who grew up in Muenster, and has been a priest for the Diocese of Dallas for 67 years. “He was pastor of St. Pius, which is the parish I grew up in, and I am very excited that he will be one of the priests to vest me.”

“I’m really excited,” the priest-to-be said. “I am past the nervous part, although in the days leading up to the ordination, I think I’ll be nervous again.

“I think about, ‘Am I going to do this well, am I going to do that well? Is my preaching going to be good? Is it strong? Is it what the Holy Spirit wants people to hear or is it what I want people to hear? How am I being open to all of that?

“My prayer through the whole thing, especially in these latter days has been to fall in love with the entire people in the Diocese of Fort Worth,” Dcn. Wilcox said, “and specifically to fall in love with the people of the parish wherever I’m assigned. I’m just asking God to help me be who I am supposed to be for them, and to remain humble in these days.”

James-for-Button-2.jpgDeacon James Wilcox did not find his 40th birthday at all upsetting. For a lot of people, 40 is a “freak-out,” he said, “using a popular term.” But April 4, 2013 didn’t bother him at all. “When I looked at the dates, I knew this was the year I would be ordained a priest! 

Published (until 6/17/2067)