SALT LAKE CITY — Father James Blaine, a retired priest of the diocese who died Aug. 31, had a deep faith, enormous patience and served the people of God with compassion and love, said those who recalled him at his funeral services.
“As a priest of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Fr. James Blaine gave of himself to build up the Church in service to the Gospel. With great kindness and energy, he offered his very life for the sake of the people of God in the Church of Utah,” said Bishop Oscar A. Solis at the Aug. 8 Mass of Christian Burial at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.
Fr. Blaine was a friend, mentor and confessor to many, said Deacon Dale Dillon during the Sept. 7 vigil service at the cathedral. The deacon served with the priest in ministry at the Utah State Prison and also at St. Peter Parish in American Fork.
Five words describe the life of Fr. Blaine: “Take care of the people,” Deacon Dillon said, adding that numerous people described the priest as caring, generous and thoughtful as he served as chaplain to the Knights of Columbus, the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and the Boy Scouts.
“In his many years of ministry to the people in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, so many lives were changed for the better because a young man named James Edward Blaine heard and acted on God’s call to a priestly vocation, and heard from Jesus, ‘Jim, take care of my people,’” Deacon Dillon said.
Serving in the prison ministry, the deacon came to know the stories of the men who were incarcerated, and especially with the younger men, “I came to realize that for many of them Fr. Blaine was the first positive male role model they had in their lives. Sometimes this priest was the first male figure who really cared about them and loved them with a dad’s love,” Deacon Dillon said. “He was a shepherd of faith, but he was also shepherding them on a path that led to responsibility for their lives and their actions, learning to respect themselves and their families.”
In the homily at the funeral Mass, Fr. David Bittmenn said that Fr. Blaine “had a faith, a deep faith,” and was attracted to the message of the Gospel. In addition, he had a “great deal of patience: patience for our wide variety of circumstances, patience with himself, patience with others, patience that saw him through darkness. It wasn’t a complete patience – Jim could say an angry word or two, but usually no more.”
In addition to those graces, Fr. Blaine had a good dose of practicality and common sense, Fr. Bittmenn said.
“He would work tirelessly year after year; he would work shepherding his flock, he would be there day in and day out, he would ride through the joys and he would ride through the difficulties and in it he offered a vision of the faith – the core mystery, the mystery of the Eucharist, that we heard in that Gospel reading,” Fr. Bittmenn said.
“And, there was a sense of humility that weaved its way through all of these gifts,” Fr. Bittmenn added.
“That humility would bring Jim to acknowledge that what he did here on earth was to try to use the gifts that he was given for the benefits of the Body, the Church, and that because he was humble in the truest sense of the word he would in no way assume that he was a shoo-in for heaven. He would rather turn to the Scripture passage which tells us that ‘Lord, I have done nothing but what I was meant to do, worthy of no particular great reward.’ And so, faced with the question of whether he would be in heaven or not, he would answer truthfully, ‘I hope so. I’m working toward it.’”
Bishop Solis presided at the funeral Mass. Concelebrants were Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general; Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general emeritus; the Very Rev. Martin Diaz, rector of the cathedral; Fr. Kenneth Vialpando, vicar of clergy; and numerous priests of the diocese. Assisting were Deacon Dillon and Deacon Sunday Espinoza.
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Solis said that Fr. Blaine taught him a beautiful lesson, that “no matter what challenges or obstacles or tribulations that you face in life, with deep faith nothing can take away our relationship with God.”