I first met Jim when I attended a Diocese of Northern Michigan "Visitors Weekend" one chilly April morning in 1999 - his warm smile and firm handshake signaling an authenticity that was transparent from the very beginning.
Our conversation was very quickly intimate - that's Jim, I came to see - and he took me back to his office to show me a picture of his family. We were chatting about the upcoming consecration, and he told a very funny story about wanting to have nearly 30 bishops participate in the service. "815 told me I could only have five bishops", he said. "I asked them why the limit and they replied 'well, there's only room for five signatures on the certificate'!" And then he said the words I'll never forget: "Doesn't matter about the certificate anyway, it'll just go in a drawer somewhere. The only certificate I have on my wall is my baptismal certificate."
In that moment I grasped what Jim - and, I believe, the Church - was (and should be) all about. I had never put any certificates on my office wall, least of all ordination certificates. But the first thing I did on returning home was to dig out my baptismal certificate and have it framed with the most expensive frame I could find.
Somewhere on the back I wrote this note: "Thanks, Jim."
Sadness and joy are bound together for me now - he is gone. And yet he will continue to live in my memory - as he will, I'm sure for anyone who knew him. I will always remember him with that same easy grin and quick chuckle that greeted me on that April day now eight years ago.
And I have this vision of him at the Pearly Gates reminding St. Peter not to get too carried away by the way some of the Church has come to view the First Apostle, which is so much less important - Jim is saying to him - than the ministry that Peter's baptism authored!
Rest in peace and rise in glory you dear, dear man.