Iowa Priest Has Helped Missions as Volunteer, Donor, Annuitant

Posted: 11/4/2014

Father Jim McAlpinFather Jim McAlpin, 76, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, is celebrating his golden jubilee as a priest this year. But two of his most memorable ministry experiences date back even further. As a seminarian, he volunteered at Glenmary missions in the summers of 1962 and ‘63. Now, more than five decades later, he’s still supporting Glenmary.

“Those two summers gave me a larger view of the Church and world,” says Father McAlpin, who retired in 2008 after 44 years as an assistant pastor and pastor in the Sioux City diocese. “They also gave me an understanding and respect for Glenmary’s work that have grown over the years. When I read each issue of the Glenmary Challenge magazine, I can identify with their ministry. And I can really appreciate how it has evolved.”

Father McAlpin has been a donor since the 1960s. And he established a charitable gift annuity with Glenmary in 2005. “Anything I can do to keep Glenmary’s efforts going is well worth it.”

Reading the magazine during seminary gave him the idea to volunteer. While many other seminarians chose to take education courses those two summers, he decided to pursue home mission work. “I wanted to serve others in need. And I was very interested in what life and ministry in U.S. mission areas were like,” says Father McAlpin.

In the summer of 1962, he and a fellow seminarian were assigned to the Idabel and Plunkettville, Okla., missions, where they assisted the pastor. They were serving in a typical Glenmary mission area, where fewer than 3 percent of the county population were Catholic, many people had no church affiliation, and poverty was widespread.

The two students were given a few main tasks. The first was to knock on doors to let people know there was a Catholic church nearby in the county. These visits also allowed the seminarians to invite residents to evening gatherings where they could learn more about Catholicism and enjoy entertainment such as gospel-music records.

The seminarians assisted with setup for the well-attended presentations, too. “The pastor kept it basic, positive and welcoming, and the sessions seemed to have a great impact on people,” Father Jim says. “I think the response showed the deep-rooted spiritual hunger there.”

The other message for people during door-knocking trips was that the children were welcome to come for Vacation Bible School (VBS) and free lunches about three mornings a week, with the seminarians as drivers and leaders. “The parents seemed to be extremely appreciative,” says Father Jim.

The next summer, he was eager to go to another mission area—in this case, St. Paul, Va.—and was teamed up with still another seminarian. Their tasks were much the same, but programs were more extensive because of assistance from Glenmary Sisters and other coworkers. The children’s program included VBS and confirmation preparation.

During these summers, Father McAlpin recalls, “I saw severe poverty for the first time, the reality of segregation in the early 1960s, and some anti-Catholicism.” He grew to admire the deep commitment of Glenmary missioners and coworkers. “They did everything they could to serve people in the mission counties in the face of many challenges,” he says. “What I experienced opened my eyes and galvanized my opinions about Glenmary.”

Later, at a 1980s clergy conference, Glenmary Father John Rausch’s presentations on social justice and the environment “gave me very valuable insights,” says Father McAlpin. “I could identify with Glenmary once again, and they lived up to their reputation.”

In retirement, he still provides sacramental ministry in his hometown area of Fort Dodge. And he knows that his annuity—besides providing him with another source of income—is supporting Glenmary’s important home mission work, now and in the future.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 Planning Ahead newsletter.