Monsignor E. James Hart transitions from diocesan administration to increasing his sacramental administration
It’s not a retirement, as most people think of it — it’s more a restructuring of a priest’s life.
On June 30, Monsignor E. James Hart will relinquish the responsibilities of chancellor and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Fort Worth, allowing him to spend more time serving in priestly ministry.
Msgr. Hart has served two periods as chancellor and moderator of the curia: from 2005 – 2010 under Bishop Kevin Vann, and again beginning in 2016 for Bishop Michael Olson. The position’s responsibilities include overseeing and coordinating diocesan administration under the authority of the bishop.
“I’ve been able to assist my bishop in this particular position and time, in a way that’s important for the life of the diocese,” said Msgr. Hart. “I’ve enjoyed building a team that will take us into the future.”
The decision to step away from the duties of the chancery was Monsignor’s, and it came after careful consideration and prayer, which are hallmarks of his modus operandi.
Canon law stipulates that, normally, a priest can no longer be a pastor once he reaches his 75th year. He reached that age in February, “and that being the case, probably it’s a good time to make the transition,” he explained.
Father Jonathan Wallis will take on the role of moderator of the curia, in addition to his position as vicar general. James Suter, JD, general counselor for the diocese, will assume the responsibilities of chancellor, and Steve Becht will undertake those of finance and operations.
STRONG AND BRIGHT
In his administrative role, Msgr. Hart served on several leadership committees, including the presbyteral council, diocesan finance council, diocesan pastoral finance council, college of consultors, and Advancement Foundation, where he served as chairman of the board.
Bishop Olson has asked him to remain on the diocesan finance council and the board of the Advancement Foundation.
His work with other leaders has convinced him of a strong outlook for the diocese, as evidenced by the establishment of new parishes and schools and the growth of the Advancement Foundation.
Another promising indicator, according to Msgr. Hart, is the presbyterate.
He said, “I’m very encouraged by all the seminarians. I’m equally encouraged by the new priests of the past few years. That, honestly, is the fruit of Bishop Olson’s central commitment to the priesthood and to building a presbyterate.
“These are all good, good men, and I think we have some very fine priests coming along, who can carry on with integrity the priestly work of the Local Church. It speaks well for the bishop’s administration, his priorities, and I think it augurs well for the future of the diocese, a bright future,” he continued.
Even with full-time administrative responsibilities, Msgr. Hart centers his life around the sacramental life of the priesthood. He believes “it’s important to remain connected sacramentally to a parish,” and he has continued to hear confessions and celebrate the 7 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, where, as of July 1, he will be pastor emeritus.
He also regularly celebrates Mass at Catholic Charities Fort Worth and at the Catholic Center, and this too will continue.
With weekday availability increasing, he anticipates helping the pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton by celebrating additional Masses as well as assisting with hospital visits and other responsibilities.
“As long as I’m compos mentis, I want to continue to exercise my priesthood, to teach and to preach,” he said with a smile.
He will also have more time to dedicate to spiritual study and prayer, a longstanding habit that begins at 4 each morning.
Reading and prayer led Msgr. Hart to the Catholic priesthood after a long spiritual journey.
Baptized as an infant into the Catholic faith, he was raised in an Assembly of God church. As a young adult, his prolific reading of Christian authors led him to enter the Episcopal Church, where the then-business executive confirmed the whispers of a call to ordained ministry that had been with him many years.
In his late 30s, he heeded the call and moved from his native California to enter seminary in Pennsylvania, and he was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1990. He began ministry as the associate rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fort Worth.
But God still beckoned him onward. His continued spiritual studies led him to writings of the early Church Fathers, especially regarding the Eucharist. In 1995, he renounced his orders in the Episcopal Church USA with plans to enter the Catholic Church.
Several like-minded parishioners sought him out, and, having been accepted and sponsored by Bishop Patrick Delaney, for about a year he pastored about 30 individuals in an independent Anglican community, under the direction of the Ecclesiastical delegate for the Pastoral Provision and Bishop Delaney. He and 26 members of what eventually became St. Thomas More Catholic Church, a Personal Parish under the Pastoral Provision, were accepted into full communion with the Catholic Church on August 18, 1996.
As a former Episcopal minister, Msgr. Hart requested ordination as a Catholic priest under the Pastoral Provision established by St. John Paul II. After a year and a half of waiting, Msgr. Hart’s Vatican indult was granted, followed by written and oral examinations, then ordination to the transitional diaconate and priesthood.
Since his presbyteral ordination in September of 1996, Msgr. Hart has served at St. Thomas More as pastor, St. Michael Parish as parochial vicar, St. Peter the Apostle Parish as pastoral administrator, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as pastor.
As he prepares to devote more time to parish ministry again, Msgr. Hart said, “I want to serve my Lord in my priestly vocation, and this will be a new chapter.
“All of us, by our baptism, are called to be disciples. That takes on different dimensions depending on the vocation to which we’re called,” continued the priest.
Discipleship is impossible, Msgr. Hart said, “unless we have a deep union with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, sacramentally and personally. So, follow Him, and the means to do that is the sacramental life of the Church, which includes the Word of God and the sacraments.”