Please allow Father Jim and Father Harry, and our status as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate parish, to continue serving at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Port Isabel. Their work here is not yet done.
Our priests are missionaries, and they are performing missionary work here, converting people to Christ every day. Father Jim and Father Harry serve the wealthy and poor alike. From rich South Padre Island to truly underprivileged Laguna Heights and the tens of thousands of visitors who come here each year, their ministries reach across the spectrum to fulfill the missionary lifestyle that they have vowed to perform.
We have had many visiting priests from various orders who have inspired us, but it is through the efforts of our full-time missionaries who understand the transient nature of our area that we are affected most strongly.
It might appear unorthodox to think that in an established parish such as Our Lady Star of the Sea there is so much that remains to be accomplished. Yet, through our missionary priests we have come to abruptly learn that many of us adults, and parents of young children, are only half Christian. We didn’t think it important to attend Mass on holy days of obligation, or the significance of them; that there is such a thing as a Triduum, and that we should actively participate in it; that Easter is significantly more central to our faith than Christmas; that we really do need to receive the grace granted through the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist; that our spouse is not the most important thing in our marriages, but God is; that our children must be taught these doctrines or they will vanish, leaving us a community with a church building, but no strong beliefs.
These are basic tenants of the Catholic Church, and Father Jim and Father Harry are teaching them to us, although we should have known them when we made our First Communion. Somewhere along the line those basic beliefs were misplaced. In this “established parish” there is so much that we do not know about Catholicism. For goodness sake, our Protestant friends are more knowledgeable of the Bible and its interpretation than we are.
Our missionary priests are teaching us so that we can fully learn, and in turn educate our children and family of the beautiful beliefs of the Catholic Church. How can you interrupt such a successful ministry in progress?
Father Jim, who has been leading us for only six months, conducts basic Catechism classes that are open to the public every other Tuesday; basic Catechism. He is teaching what many do not realize. It is like learning the Baltimore Catechism. So many people are unaware that it even exists, or of its content. He is a true missionary in that very logical sense.
The people who attend his sessions are people who desperately want to know more. Try sitting through one of them and you will easily see the depth of his missionary work here in Port Isabel and the Laguna Madre area. They are well attended because he is reaching all at a level that they can understand, a level we have never experienced before.
Father Harry is serving the very poor in Laguna Heights. The people he serves in this community are hungry and appreciative of the Church’s teachings. Withdrawing him would cause confusion and despair among those people who sincerely want to learn about our Catholic teachings. He has gained the trust and respect of those people who otherwise would remain unfulfilled.
Father Jim and Father Harry are unique to us, and we to them. This union is sacred and should be honored.
Yes, we may be considered wealthy because of South Padre Island’s high property values and the people who spend their money there, but wealth and in fact poverty — we know from Christ’s word — comes from other sources as well. If you are not rich in your faith, you are not truly rich. Our Oblate priests are converting us to receive the richness of true Catholic faith, and they are not finished yet.
We are starving for the full understanding that we believe our faith will give us. Taking our priests and our beloved order of Missionaries of Mary Immaculate from us will greatly diminish the work they have accomplished and leave us doubting the strength, dedication and longevity of the Catholic Church.
In their capacity here Father Jim and Father Harry are indeed missionaries, not just for our locals, but for many points beyond, reaching visitors from deep into Mexico to northern Canada. This fact may have been overlooked. Vacationers from around the world have on many occasions approached me immediately after Mass, and later at restaurants and stores, to express their incredulous emotions at the inspiration stirred by the messages of these truly humble Oblate priests. Were it not for the unique nature of this transient area, and our Oblate priests, those people would no doubt go through the motions of Catholicism, shrug, and continue their daily routines, unaware and untouched.
Our Oblate priests reach and inspire not only the regulars at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Port Isabel and Laguna Heights, but the thousands of visitors who leave here changed because of the missionaries who live in the persons of Father Jim and Father Harry. These priests have not lost sight of their vows, but their departure will leave a callous void in the heart of this community, especially because their work here is not yet complete.
It was incredible at a recent Mass to see the tears and pain in the eyes of those who have become closer to our faith because of our missionaries, Fathers Jim and Harry. I wish you had been there to witness it.
The decision that affects us so strongly is heartbreaking. It will leave us hanging on to the belief that there is more that we should know, and while reaching out to it, it is being denied.
We are a work in progress. Father Jim and Father Harry, through Jesus Christ our Lord, are not finished with us yet. It is so obvious, if only you could see.
Tom D. Keelin and Martha McClain live in Laguna Vista.