From parish ministry to anointing COVID-19 patients, Father Meyers has journeyed with people to God during 50 years as a priest
Jul 24, 2020
The journey of Father James Meyers’ life has wound through Omaha, Nebraska, where he grew up in a devout Catholic family, to 50 years as a parish priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, to his retirement years serving at Florida parishes and hospices, where his ministry has included anointing people dying of COVID-19.
Reflecting on the 50th anniversary of his priesthood in 2020, Father Meyers said, “It’s God and all those people behind us.”
The priest, who turned 76 in March, said he was indebted to his parents and grandparents for their deeply held faith.
“I come from faith-filled families on both sides,” he said, noting he had Irish Catholic and Romanian Orthodox roots among his grandparents. His family attended St. Bridget Church in Omaha. “Church was very important (to us), and the priest was very important.”
From the age of 10, he was an altar server at St. Bridget’s, an experience that helped spark his vocation to the priesthood.
“You get a taste of God and the things of God near the altar,” he said, adding, “I felt God was calling me since I was 10 years old, and I never diverted.”
Along the way, he was inspired by the diocesan and religious order priests he met.
“I wanted to be like the parish priests I grew up with,” Father Meyers said. “They were so compassionate. Everybody went to them for help and guidance. They were literally the mediators between things of God and things of man.”
After attending Archbishop Ryan Memorial High School in Omaha, the future priest attended St. John Vianney Seminary in Elkhorn, Nebraska; Immaculate Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri; and Theological College in Washington, D.C. That time in Washington proved instrumental in his vocation journey, as he became a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington and was ordained as a priest for the archdiocese in May 1970. His ordination to the priesthood took place at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha and was attended by his family members who had inspired his vocation.
The newly ordained priest first served as a parochial vicar at St. John the Baptist Parish in Silver Spring; and over the first two decades of his priesthood, he served in that role at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, St. Bartholomew in Bethesda, St. Patrick in Washington, and St. Joseph on Capitol Hill.
“My life has been enriched by friends I met in those parishes,” he said, noting the care they extended to him, and how they nurtured his faith and welcomed him into their families. “It was just like having a new family.”
While serving at St. Matthew’s, he instructed the noted American artist Frederick Hart in the Catholic faith, and baptized him. They became good friends. Hart, who sculpted “The Three Soldiers” at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the “Ex Nihilo” (Latin for “out of nothing”) Creation sculptures at the Washington National Cathedral, died in 1999.
“Rick was hungering for beauty and the truth,” he said of his friend’s artistic and faith journeys.
In 1990, Father Meyers became the pastor of St. Aloysius Parish in Leonardtown, Maryland, where he served until 1999.
“Part of my heart still resides in St. Mary’s County,” he said, adding that after his retirement, he returned to help there during the summers, which he couldn’t do this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Praising the parishioners there, he said, “My first pastorate will always be special. They taught me how to shepherd.”
During his years there, a new wing was dedicated at the adjoining Father Andrew White, S.J. School, and he praised the caring leadership of that school’s principal then, Linda Maloney.
Noting the deep Catholic roots of the parishioners of St. Aloysius – which is located in Southern Maryland, where the first Mass was celebrated in the English-speaking colonies on St. Clement’s Island in 1634 – Father Meyers said, “Those people’s ancestors literally fought to maintain the faith, and it was obvious in the depth of their faith, they knew the struggle and would stand up for it, and I’m grateful they shared that with me.”
From 1999 to 2009, Father Meyers served as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bethesda, Maryland. He noted how the generosity of the people there resulted in renovations to the church and school. The priest praised the leadership of Patricia McGann, then the principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School and how she met the needs of that diverse school community, including serving students with disabilities.
Our Lady of Lourdes School also served the families of people who worked in Bethesda, and the downtown parish’s Masses and its daily Eucharistic Adoration drew together Catholics involved in different movements in the church, while serving its longtime English-speaking parishioners and its growing Hispanic community.
“They just grew as a family and community… In a downtown environment, they became a family of faith,” said the priest, who was going to assist at the parish in May, but couldn’t do so because of the coronavirus restrictions.
When he became pastor of St. Raphael Parish in Rockville, Maryland, in 2009, Father Meyers faced a special challenge. The previous pastor, Father G. William Finch, had died of a heart attack on Holy Thursday. Three years earlier, the new St. Raphael’s School had opened in the parish’s Duffy Center, but it did not yet have a school building.
“They welcomed me warmly. They realized I was there to finish his dream, and we did,” Father Meyers said.
Thanks to the generosity and support of parishioners and school families, the new St. Raphael School building was blessed and dedicated in 2011.
“Together, we got it done,” said Father Meyers.
The pastor praised the leadership of Teri Dwyer, the founding principal of St. Raphael School whose school in 2019 was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. He noted how each morning as the school day begins, Dwyer gathers with all the students in St. Raphael Church and talks to them about the Catholic faith.
“She’s just a paragon of faith and shares it with kids from pre-K to the eighth grade,” he said.
Father Meyers – who served over the year as dean of the St. Mary’s County Deanery and the Middle Montgomery County Deanery -- said another highlight of his priesthood has been working with and witnessing the faith and dedication of his fellow priests, like Msgr. John Kuhn, the founder of the archdiocese’s Anchor Mental Health outreach who died in 2005.
“I’ve just had the best brothers in the world through seminary and priesthood,” said Father Meyers, whose brother Tom is a retired Nabisco plant manager.
His greatest blessing as a priest, he said, has been celebrating the Eucharist, sharing God’s love with people and witnessing how “people have shared God’s love with me.”
After retiring in 2017, Father Meyers has assisted at two Florida parishes -- St. Leo’s in Bonita Springs and St. Raphael’s in Lehigh Acres, and he’s on call to two different hospices.
His hospice ministry has included wearing protective gear and anointing dying COVID-19 patients. This past December, he walked into a hospital room, and the man there said, “Father, I’m dying, please walk the journey with me.”
Father Meyers said that’s what his priesthood has been all about, walking the journey with people to God.
“It’s just like the 50 years of helping people go to God (at parishes). It’s no different,” he said.
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