Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 26, 2010
Passionate priest traded pipes for pulpit
God walked beside Fr. Jim Corrigan as he trekked many paths until he heard and obeyed the Father's call
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - Faithful parents and a Catholic education paved the way for Father Jim Corrigan to become a priest . . . eventually.
Born in Calgary, the eldest of seven children, Corrigan had a strong Catholic upbringing. This was during an era when attending Sunday Mass was a given and not a matter for debate.
Immediately out of high school, he joined the workforce. His basic goals were similar to that of other young men: work hard, get married, start a family. He married young, at age 22, and divorced three years later. At that stage of his life, God was not deemed a high priority.
While he was growing up, his parents gave him the gift of faith, and as he found himself in a dark place in his life, in his mid-30s, struggling with divorce and alcohol addiction, he finally turned to God and asked for help.
"I realized two things at that point in my life. First, God was in charge and not me. Second, I realized that he'd been walking with me the whole time. It's just that he had been waiting for me to ask for help.
"With that, I did get back involved in the Church and practised my faith on a regular basis. Really, it was a beautiful time in my life," said Corrigan.
Following his "homecoming" to the Church, Corrigan fell in love with a woman. She had an 11-year-old son, and the three of them lived together as a family. He had the wonderful opportunity to experience both the function and dysfunction of family life.
"If you want to make God laugh, just tell him what your plans are. My goal, of course, is that I always saw myself as being a dad, married and having a large family. I saw my own family of origin as a gift and that's what I wanted to emulate."
Distraught when the couple broke up after about six years, his mother told him that maybe being a husband and father was not his true calling and God had other plans for his life.
"The thought of the priesthood occurred at that point. I was in my late 30s. I immediately blocked the idea out because God knew what a sinner I was and I knew what a sinner I was. I knew that he didn't need me working in his Church. I knew there was lots of room every Sunday morning for me in the pews."
Unlike what St. Paul experienced, there was no "bright light" epiphany, just little affirmations along the way that the priesthood might be in his future. He was in contact with the vocations director, worked with the Oblates' parish mission team, got involved with ministry at the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre and took a lay formation course.
"In those early days I used to pray, 'Lord, just tell me what you want me to do and I'll make it happen.' The only problem with that prayer was the 'I' part - I'll make it happen. I finally gave up that approach."
Stripping away all egotism and, instead of examining who he thought he was, he searched for what God was calling him to be. In 1999, at age 37, he quit his high-paying job at Sherritt-Gordon in Fort Saskatchewan, where he had worked as a pipefitter and project manager.
HERO TO ZERO
He had three trade tickets, but gave up the job he loved to pursue what God was calling him to be - a priest. As he puts it, overnight he went from hero to zero.
"We think we know what's best for us and what will make us happy. But if we are only willing to open our hearts to God's will, it's amazing the places it will take us."
His goal of having a family had eluded him. But during his five years in the seminary, he learned that he could find the love he wanted, not necessarily from a wife and kids, but from the people of God.
He was ordained June 28, 2004 at age 42. His first year was spent as an associate pastor at St. Theresa's Parish. He served the next three years at churches in Wetaskiwin and Ponoka, before returning to St. Theresa's, one of the largest parishes in the archdiocese, as the pastor.
"I always hoped and dreamed of having six or seven children of my own. But the Lord in his abundance has blessed me with 6,000 or 7,000 children. It's really quite amazing. It's also a sign of God's true love and providence."
While he is not particularly proud of some aspects of his past, he is ever grateful. His life experiences help him relate with others and empathize with their struggles. Where a person has been is not as important as the direction God is sending him, he said. That is where he concentrates his energies.
St. Theresa's is a big, beautiful, diverse parish blessed with many goodhearted, service-oriented people, he told the WCR.
"We celebrate lots of Masses, and we're in lots of schools. Lots of people come seeking advice and guidance. I love it. God has blessed me with this opportunity to be of service in a very real and pragmatic way."
Exercise is pivotal to a healthy priest. He keeps fit by working out on an elliptical machine at home. With local priests, he curls in the winter and golfs in the summer. He also travels, convinced that, from a mental health perspective, a break about every three months keeps him focused.
The Church is moving in a positive direction in the formation of new priests. Many young men are entering the seminary. Father Michael Schumacher, the archdiocese's newest priest, started work as associate pastor at St. Theresa's April 8.
Corrigan described him as "intelligent, zealous and having a good foundation." Finding priests like him is a positive sign for the Church.
"In our Church, there are always lots of struggles. Will we have enough priests? Can we ever do this or that well enough?
"I think it's important for us to look at the good that's out there because there is much, much good that's in our Church.
"There are men saying they want to find out what God's will is for my life. They are taking that courageous step to discern."
He believes that more men should be encouraged to enter the seminary. To plant the seed, ask them if becoming a priest is something they have considered.
"If young men really knew what the gift of the priesthood is, there would be a lineup at the seminary door."
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.