After 50 years of priesthood, he still helps out at parishes all around the archdiocese
As Father Jim Dalton was making the rounds this spring to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination, some of his fellow senior priests were quick to rib him for being the center of attention at four separate ceremonies.
But something else happened that Father Dalton really did not see coming — some flattering validation for a half-century in the priesthood and work at the four parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle where he had served as pastor.
“My thought about it was just to give thanks to all these wonderful people,” Father Dalton said. “But, gee whiz, people would come up to you and say, ‘You changed my life.’ Or, ‘You saved my life.’ And I’d think, we don’t realize that’s the significance that we have on people’s lives, especially when they’re maybe struggling.
“Just going back and remembering all that stuff … whoa, thank you, Lord!”
It was reassurance of 50 years well spent, no matter the twists and turns along the way — a form of non-monetary payment that goes with the vocation.
Monetarily, Father Dalton is among those who rely on priest pension and retirement benefits. Thus, he understands the goals and importance of the Called to Serve as Christ campaign, an effort by the Archdiocese of Seattle to address the retirement needs of priests and women religious for the long term, and also make a difference at the parish level.
Included in the $100 million campaign is a goal of putting $40 million into the priest pension fund and $15 million more toward medical benefits, moving to an endowment fund rather than the current pay-as-you-go system that the archdiocese has used for decades.
Father Dalton knows from experience the needs of retired or senior priests, but also said he’s not one to think, “Oh my gosh, we’re just scraping by and we’re not being cared for.”
“I don’t know whether I would put this campaign as, ‘Our poor priests, they’re just barely making it,’ but rather gratitude for what they have given to the church their whole life and that they deserve a reasonable retirement,” Father Dalton said.
Father Dalton felt that gratitude during his 50th anniversary get-togethers, held at Holy Family Parish in Kirkland, Immaculate Conception Parish in Arlington, Immaculate Conception Parish in Mount Vernon and St. Thomas More Parish in Lynnwood.
Father Jim Dalton remains busy as a senior priest, filling in at a variety of parishes, including St. Hubert in Langley. Photo: Stephen Brashear
As with many of his colleagues, age 76 hasn’t meant full retirement for Father Dalton, who became a senior priest in 2012. He is helping out at five parishes in the Skagit Valley and filling in at other churches, supplementing a monthly archdiocesan benefit of $1,943.
“I do need to be working on the weekends, as much as I can,” he said.
Without a home base, Father Dalton likes to joke that he’s now a “Roamin’ Catholic priest.”
With an urge to stay active, Father Dalton said he hasn’t given much thought yet to what happens when he is no longer able to be out and about doing God’s work.
“I never saw myself as retiring and going out to pasture,” he said. “I’m glad to be doing what I’m doing now, and still helping out.”
Still, celebrating Mass at different parishes can come with challenges. Each church might have a different way of distributing Communion, or using candles and incense, or wiring up the microphones and sound system.
“I kind of roll with the punches in life,” Father Dalton said. “When I go to a place they say, ‘Father, just tell us what to do, what you want us to do … but this is how we do it here.’” He laughs. “And, generally, I can comply with that. I just go with the flow. It’s less stress on me.”
Father Dalton notes that several priests from his 1968 ordination class are still active in the Seattle area, including Father Paul Magnano and Father Gordon Douglas, who have been involved in the Called to Serve as Christ campaign.
And then there’s Father William Treacy, still going strong at 99 and in his 75th year of priesthood. Once upon a time, Father Dalton served as an altar boy for Father Treacy at Seattle’s St. Anne Parish.
Father Dalton picks up his old friend every week, bringing him back to his home just outside Mount Vernon for prayer and dinner.
“I call it ‘Tuesdays with Father Bill,’ instead of Tuesdays with Morrie,” Father Dalton said.
Father Jim Dalton’s 50 years of priesthood have taken him from Arlington to Africa. Clockwise from top left: Father Dalton makes a visit to Christ the King School in Bungoma, Kenya; celebrates a baptism; and participates in a Palm Sunday procession through Arlington. Photos: Courtesy Sister Joanne Miller
Father Dalton traces his path to the priesthood back to his parents, whom he called “just the most giving people you’d ever want to meet.” And then to Father Sean Heneghan, who was an assistant at St. Anne’s, straight out of Ireland and like a big brother to him.
Still called to serve, Father Dalton’s schedule includes time with Engaged Encounter, longtime involvement with the Cursillo Movement, and work as a chaplain for pilgrimages to France, Italy, Ireland, Spain and the Holy Land.
Father Dalton appreciates what the Called to Serve as Christ campaign will do not only for future generations of priests but for those with plans to keep going.
“As long as I can,” Father Dalton said. “I always tell people I work for the Lord, and the pay isn’t much but the retirement benefits are out of this world … meaning heaven, of course.”
Editor’s note: NORTHWEST CATHOLIC is supporting the Called to Serve as Christ campaign by highlighting retired priests and sisters and their continuing contributions to the people of the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Called to Serve as Christ
The Called to Serve as Christ campaign is an expression of thanks for the hundreds of senior priests and sisters still with us and for whom we have the responsibility to offer care and sustenance. It is also an expression of hope in the young clergy and sisters who do not yet see retirement on the horizon, and those who will come long after them. God is good and faithful to every generation.
The Archdiocese of Seattle has initiated this $100 million campaign to provide long-term funding for retirement and medical needs of priests and women religious, as well as support of individual parishes. After the campaign, the archdiocese hopes to:
Establish a stronger position to provide a consistent, modest retirement for priests by moving from a pay-as-you go system to a fully funded model for priest pension plan and medical benefit for retired priests.
Increase the ability of women religious communities to care for their senior members while continuing their ministry to God's people.
Provide parishes more resources for their local ministries, services, works and programs.
Lead by example in prayer, action and generosity.
Reinforce a dynamic faith for the next generation of Catholics in Western Washington.
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