Posted March 06, 2015 in Memorials:
My Uncle Jim

by Shatzi Duffy, staff worker & niece of Fr. Duffy.

If somebody asked me to describe Uncle Jim in seven words or less, I would say, The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come" (Rev 22:17).

Unlike the rest of the Duffy family, Uncle Jim never desired to be well-known in this life. Even though he played boogie-woogie piano and sang a great rendition of the song, "Dear Old Donegal," he tended toward shyness, especially early in life.

In fact, if truth be told, he was a little overwhelmed by Catherine Doherty. He told me that he really "got" Madonna House basically through Trudi Cortens and some of the other members of the community.

Uncle Jim’s entrustment to Jesus through Mary came very early in his life—through suffering.

Uncle Jim’s mother was a genteel Kentucky lady who married an over-confident Irish-American from the North who had a lot of integrity but not a lot of knowledge about taking care of young wives.

She had three small children and was overwhelmed. When the fourth one came along—that was Jim—she was ready to have a nervous breakdown, and she just about did.

What did she do? My grandmother said to Our Lady: "Blessed Mother, I can’t take care of this baby, so you take care of him." So that’s really how Uncle Jim was originally entrusted to Our Lady—through his mother.

So it wasn’t all that surprising that one day twenty some years later when he was walking down the street—he’d been in the Navy and he’d finished college—he heard in his heart a voice that said, "Be a priest."

He said, "I don’t want to be a priest."

The voice responded, "Be a priest anyway."

Uncle Jim used to say—depending on when you asked him—that it was the voice of his guardian angel or that it was Our Lady.

It was perhaps this early detachment which he learned through suffering that pushed him into the reality that we are created for heaven and therefore called to praise and worship the God who is hungry for our love. He kept plunging into that reality.

At first his faith was experienced through the usual Catholic practices, through the family, the Church, the pope, and so forth, but later on it got more and more interiorized.

So for his ordination in 1956 he had two different cards. One was a picture of the Mystical Rose with the quote from Teresa of Avila, "Let nothing disturb thee, nothing affright thee. All things are passing; only God is changeless."

The other one showed a priest at the altar, serving Mass, and over the altar, Jesus robed in majesty on the cross.

That’s where he fixed his sights.

From the very beginning of his priesthood, at a time when this wasn’t so common, Uncle Jim wanted to work with the lay apostolate.

He said that in the seminary he learned how to be a good sacramentalist, but he didn’t learn a lot about being a good priest. But when he came to Madonna House, he got so excited. He saw men and women living together in a family of love. This is what he had in his heart, but he didn’t believe he would see it on earth.

Here he also found a formation for lay people and a universal spirituality and a vision of the Church. Not surprisingly, he ended up joining Madonna House.

Then a few years later, through the Charismatic Renewal, he accessed the Holy Spirit in a whole new way. He learned a new joy in the Spirit, and he became a person of praise.

He said, "All our joy comes from worshipping God." "Happiness in the Gospel is praising and thanking the Father." And that experience, combined with his time in the West Indies where people know joy, really lit a bonfire.

He often used the image of a sword (from one of the Church Fathers), a sword that gets plunged into the fire. If you do this long enough and often enough, the sword begins to take on the qualities of the fire.

Over the course of time, he plunged into various things. Before he joined Madonna House, he was, among other things, director of PAVLA (Papal Volunteers for Latin America) for the archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In Madonna House, he supported the Marian Movement of Priests, the Work of the Holy Angels, the Nazareth Family Apostolate, and the Charismatic Renewal. From 1980 to 1993, he was the director of the Madonna House Spiritual Formation Program for men discerning priesthood.

Meanwhile, on the inside, he plunged into the Scriptures, the lives of the saints, the prophetic word (writings of the saints and mystics pertaining to the prophecies of canonical scripture), adoration, and the Consecration to Jesus through Mary.

Here in Madonna House, Catherine Doherty taught us that mysticism is an ordinary part of Christian life. It is in this sense that one of our MH priests once remarked, "Mary is the way Uncle Jim does mysticism".

But most of all, Uncle Jim plunged into the Eucharist. He said, "The priest offers the world to the Father." The Eucharist and the encounter with the Trinity were the center of his life.

He was still kind of shy on his 25th anniversary of priesthood, when Fr. Callahan, then director general of priests, put him under obedience to celebrate his ordination.

So he did, and during his anniversary Mass, he called all the other priests up to the altar and counted all the years that they were priests. Then he said, "Today we are celebrating 250 years of priesthood!" So that’s how he got around celebrating it.

It was through the Charismatic Renewal that Uncle Jim received the gift of healing.

Over the years people have come up to me and said things like, "O yeah, your uncle prayed over me, and I had lupus and now it’s gone."

Another woman was told that if she carried her baby to term that she’d die; that she had to have an abortion. Uncle Jim said no and prayed over her and told her to go in faith. The woman had the baby, and everything was fine.

But the story I remember best happened when I was in the West Indies before I joined Madonna House. My grandmother sent me down to visit Uncle Jim in Madonna House Carriacou. Uncle Jim wasn’t too sure he wanted me but Trudi, the director, said yes so he was kind of stuck.

There was a baby there who had a heart the size of a grapefruit with a big hole in it. The parents were going to take him to Canada to have an operation.

Uncle Jim and maybe some others prayed over this child. Then the parents and baby left and when they went to the hospital in Canada, the doctor said, "Hey, there’s something wrong here. We got these x-rays from the West Indies showing a huge heart with a hole, but we examined this baby and took more x-rays, and the heart is a perfectly normal size. There is a hole, but it’s the size of a pinprick."

Uncle Jim was very generous with the Sacrament of the Sick, often inviting people up at the end of Mass to receive it. He would say, "People today carry so many heavy burdens and neuroses; most people can benefit from the sacrament."

Moreover, he often prayed the Mass for the Healing of the Family Tree—a Mass for the healing of a person’s ancestors. He believed strongly in that.

Not surprisingly, he said many things about healing. Such as: "Healing is a sign of the kingdom." "The key to healing is forgiveness. No one can see the face of God until he has forgiven every man, woman and child he has ever met on the face of the earth."

"If you want to play in the Big Leagues, you need to play in pain." But he added, "The joy of Christ is deeper than our pain."

And now the Spirit and the Bride have called Uncle Jim to come in another way.

Before Uncle Jim died, he had no fear of death. He couldn’t wait to go to heaven. "Death, to me, is peace and joy and freedom." he said. "I’m looking forward to seeing God’s tenderness and mercy from the Other Side."

I asked him, "What’s the best part of heaven—seeing all the relatives?" He said, "No. The best part of heaven is living in the Truth. We’re on earth for such a short period of time compared to a zillion years in heaven."

He loved to quote Irenaeus, who said that "The glory of God is a man or woman fully alive." In recent weeks Uncle Jim added his own ending, saying, "We’re not alive until we see God face to face."


If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!


Restoration Contents

Next article:
A Letter to Fr. Duffy

Previous article:
He Taught With Stories



RSS 2.0RSS feed

Madonna House - A Training Centre for the Lay Apostolate