Sister Joanne Heim’s favorite story begins when she was in parish ministry at Saint Paul’s Catholic Church in St. Cloud.
“My personal goal is to always relate to another’s dignity, especially the poor and unrecognized. This includes using people’s names.
“At daily Mass I noticed an elderly man who sat in one of the last pews and who would receive communion. He would leave during the last song. One day, in order to speak to him, I joined him after communion in the last pew, introduced myself, then asked his name. ‘Jim.’ ‘Jim what?’ His reply: ‘That’s enough.’ After that, whenever I was Eucharistic minister, I said to him, ‘Jim, Body of Christ.’
“I began to notice that often he was in the church at various times throughout the day, many of those times praying the Stations of the Cross with a tattered book. I gave him new Stations books, but he always used the worn one.
“After several months, I was in the church when I heard steps coming toward me. It was Jim. He joined me in the pew and proceeded to talk for 45 minutes. It was a breakthrough in his trust in me. He asked for prayers for an upcoming surgery. He spoke of his life:
· how he and his dad worked together putting up TV antennas.
· how he took care of an elderly woman who wanted him to inherit her house after her death (her family refused).
Jim said he gradually came to a spiritual awareness that he was called to live a simple life. He lived in his van—homeless by his own choice—his clothes clean though worn. There was no sense about him that he was disturbed in any way by this choice. He had an intimate relationship with God and was satisfied. He had a special devotion to the Suffering Christ.
“Very often Jim could be seen at the Cathedral as well. When I talked to various chaplains, they were aware of him. Some liked him, some feared him, some thought him to be a holy man. Once St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., hosted a presentation by a Muslim professor from Berkeley. Jim was there, and he asked questions of the speaker.
“Jim reminded me of Saint Francis:
· Love for the Suffering Christ
· The choice to live a simple life
· Interest in the Muslim people
· Appreciation of the Mass and Holy Eucharist
“Later I served as chaplain at St. Cloud Hospital, which is where I finally learned Jim’s last name. It was a French variation of the name ‘Francis.’ How appropriate!”