A Priest in the Family: Father James P. West

Requiescat in pace.

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This will not be enough.

It was the early Summer of 1986.  We met him shortly after his ordination to the Priesthood.  It was after one of his first Masses as the new associate pastor of our parish.  My parents loved getting to know our priests and this brand new baby priest loved babies and children (of which our family had some), so it was a quick and easy friendship.

He was young and fun and effervescing with the kind of joy everyone wants to be around.

We loved it when he came to our classroom at school.  He was so good at teaching and preaching just the right thing to young people.  He wrote in Korean on the chalkboard for us and told us stories about his childhood overseas.  His light was brightest just sitting with us at the lunch table or walking though the playground, greeting and knowing each of us by name.

At Mass, he would say the Eucharistic prayer slower than any priest I had ever known.  And, because of him, I really heard each and every word of it for the first time in my life up to that point.  He held up the Body of Christ longer.  He lingered on his knee longer.  We joked that sometimes his homilies were a little too long.  But, if anything is true, his impact on our lives will hold the record for longevity.

He would visit our home often in those first few years and became all at once a brother, an uncle, a father, and a friend to each of us in a special way.

He was our champion.  A trusted advisor.  A loyal friend.  Forgiving.  Remarkably reverent.  Infectiously joyful.  When he was tickled (often at his own wit!), his face would turn bright red and his kind eyes would tear up behind his glasses.  He was a true and great man.  He was generous to share his heart and humanity with us.

He was a beloved confessor.  After he was transferred from our parish to another, he would still visit our home regularly.  Upon arriving, he would tuck himself away in a back room of our house and allow each member of our family to make his or her way to Reconciliation before dinner time.  If dinner ran late or time got away from us with visiting, he would sleep on our living room couch and awake early the next morning before any of us to make it back to his little parish he loved so much for daily Mass.

He dropped in unexpectedly to visit before cell phones and texts were even a thing.  He would also drop everything, when needed.

Even when our family moved many hours away, he was always only a phone call away when we needed an answer from a priest or just word from a friend.  He shared so much happiness with us.  But also allowed us, as any of us is able, to see and help carry the crosses he bore in this life as he helped us bear our own.  Over decades, he never stopping visiting us and showing us the beauty of a priesthood well lived.

He always said his daily prayers. . .with constancy and devotion.  If he was with us, he would invite us to join him.  Sometimes he would pray alone on the porch.  Or, if he was in a Suburban filled with children on a trip to Six Flags he broke out the brievary and prayed amidst the chaos.  If he was visiting from out of town and hadn’t said Mass that day, he made our dining room his chapel no matter what time it was.

He was one of the good guys.

He was a convert to the Catholic Church and loved sharing his faith in Jesus, his Savior.  He was the first priest to know and love my husband into the Church. He travelled many hours and rearranged his schedule at great lengths to concelebrate our wedding Mass.  One of my most cherished memories is the gentle tap I got on my shoulder just minutes before walking down the aisle.  He invited me to prepare my heart for my marriage with one last Confession and that is a gift I could have never expected and for which I will always be so grateful.

He was always up for a dinner or lunch date.

When we moved back to Little Rock after many years away, we ran into him everywhere—at football games, restaurants, March for Life, social gatherings—in the company of other friends and loved ones which made us feel like we all belonged to each other in a way.  His hospitality to our family was unmeasured.

He was my brother Jarod’s Confirmation sponsor–with his hand on his shoulder, he was with Jarod as he completed his initiation into the Church.  And, many years later, he would appear at the hospital to sit with Jarod during particularly difficult times at the end of his earthy life.  And, he was there for his funeral as a member of our family.  He celebrated each of my siblings’ wedding Masses.  He baptized many of our babies.  He was always one of us–I hope he felt that.

In the order of telephone calls for babies born, test results in, jobs lost and found, nuptials announced, and news to be shared, he was next in line after parents and siblings.  Every September 2, I called to wish him a Happy Birthday right after I wished my parents a Happy Anniversary (or sometimes before—do not tell my parents).  He was so good about checking in, even when I wasn’t.  My last text from him was just a couple of days ago to check on us after Nashville, TN was hit by terrible tornadoes.

So many of our happiest and most sorrowful times in this world were accompanied by this priest, Father James Philip West.

I pray he will continue to share them with us in the glorious peace that only Heaven affords.  I know he carved his way into many more lives than our own.  And, I hope that when he entered into eternity that Jesus allowed him to know the depth of our love for him—all of us.  He was and will always be the priest in the family.

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Franchelle Jaeger

Franchelle Jaeger

Franchelle writes from Nashville, TN.

49 thoughts on “A Priest in the Family: Father James P. West”

  1. Our hearts are broken, yet, I can see him grinning. Watched “Man For All Seasons” last night. That movie will never be the same for me.

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  2. Jim was a huge part of our family as well and the main reason my husband and I converted to Catholicism, he baptized all of my children. This is a beautiful and perfect tribute. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

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    • Not only was he a huge part of our families, but he made us all part of one huge family, didn’t he? Thank you for sharing more of his goodness.

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  3. Simply beautiful!! You described so much of Father West’s wonderful attributes perfectly!! He will be missed so much!! Thank you for sharing!!

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  4. Simply beautiful!! You described so much of Father West’s wonderful attributes perfectly!! He will be missed so much!! Thank you for sharing!!

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  5. So very sorry for the loss you all will feel in your lives having to let go of this faithful servant of God. He has earned his eternal reward. Blessings to your family, his family, and all his friends.

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  6. Fr. West was a very big part of my children’s lives. He was our pastor in Hot Springs when they were young students at St. John’s School. He developed a very close relationship with every child. He loved them and they loved him! During our years there, our small close-knit community experienced more than our share of tragedies and deaths, and his guidance and shepherding of the children was phenomenal. He will be remembered with much love by all of us forever! May the angels come to greet him and lead him to his much deserved reward in Paradise!

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  7. Very nice tribute for a priest who lived his vocation to the fullest. One could always tell the he loved being a priest with every fibre of his body.

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  8. What a beautiful soul he was.
    My heart breaks for Evelyn Anne, Kyle, Misty, Dawn, and Christopher. Prayers for Peace that surpasses all human understanding for his family. He touched my life and so many others.

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    • He loved his family so very much. . .I hope that all of our tributes of love and prayers for him is some measure of comfort for his mom and his whole family.

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  9. You have painted a perfectly detailed picture of this wonderful man. I had the honor of playing for his first mass as a priest, and Monday, I will be blessed with the opportunity to play for his last. He was only with us three years, but in that amount of time, he made me better. He made mass holy and heavenly, as it should be. We shared favorite hymns, and those that weren’t our favorite. His RCIA classes were beyond amazing…a true scholar. I feel like something horrible knocked me off my saddle, but know Father Jim West will be forever telling me to play all the verses of all the hymns…..RIP, my friend. I’ll remember you in my prayers daily.

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    • Thank you for sharing these wonderful remembrances! He as a man of opinions, for sure! I will miss hearing them.

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  10. Although I love & appreciate all our priests, Fr. West was the only one I felt I could claim as a close personal friend. My children loved him from Day 1. He did love being a priest and showed it in every way. Yours is a beautiful tribute to him. Thanks for sharing.

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  11. This could not be more true for the Elser Family in Hot Springs as well. Beautifully stated and timely. Thank you for sharing.

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  12. Thank you for a beautiful story. I have known Father for many years even before he became a priest. He did my mother service.

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  13. Beautiful tribute to a most giving priest! He always took time to walk with his parishioners whenever they needed him! I don’t know how he did it, but I never knew him to say no when called on! We will miss his loving ways!

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  14. Beautifully written. Father West was all this. Words can not begin to express my love for him and the sadness I feel in my heart. He was always there for me and my family. Always a phone call away even when he was in Mexico for a Spanish immersion program. I know he is rejoicing with God and that comforts me. He will be greatly missed.

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  15. Father West was a good friend to my family! He helped us in the early years after Joe’s ordination! He was a good spiritual director. Many years ago Joe was very ill with MRSA an infection after spinal surgery. He was in isolation but it did not keep Father West away! He was the only priest that came to his Deacon for the 28 days of hospitalization! Once Joe was telling him he needed to slow down or he would burn out! He smiled and said “I will burn my life for Jesus”ad he did! May he rest in the arms of his Savior!😇

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    • Thank you for sharing! He was so very special and it is a privilege to hear all the many ways he blessed all of our lives.

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  16. Thank you so much for sharing exactly who the man Fr West was. He was a gift to our family. Often I needed guidance with life’s challenge’s & he never failed to answer my questions. He loved his Lord, his faith & the flock he served. I celebrate his entrance into God’s kingdom but I will miss his presence in our lives

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  17. Beautiful tribute, thank you for sharing. I’m still so shocked and saddened by this news. His was a life well lived in service. Sending love…

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  18. That is a fantastic tribute, Franchelle.

    Father West was not just one of the most influential priests in my life — he was one of the most influential people, period — just an amazing man. I met him in 1989, when my family moved in the middle of my 5th grade year and I attended Christ the King while Father West was still just a baby priest. He was my confirmation sponsor when I was confirmed at CTK. And even though he still lived in Arkansas, he found time to preside over our wedding (in Albuquerque) and baptize all five of our children (mostly in Denver…one in Albuquerque). Every time, he made an impression on people. We were consistently complimented by guests, including those of different faiths/beliefs, about the “amazing priest” who made everyone feel welcome at the ceremony.

    Father West had an fantastic sense of humor. He was literally one of the funniest people I ever met. I don’t recall an encounter with him during which he didn’t make me belly laugh.

    I loved talking about both faith and politics with him. Whenever I needed guidance on an issue, Father West was there to provide it. And did the same for many other family members.

    We talked about death on occasion. I remember one of those conversations vividly. He was visiting and staying with us in our prior house. At some point late one evening, we heard loud noises – almost like gunshots. We would later learn that a car was stolen from across town, ditched on the next street, and set of fire. The loud noises were coming from that fire. Father West was awaken by the noises, and he came downstairs to join the rest of us who were still up and startled. I apologized for the noises, assured him we lived in a safe neighborhood, and asked him if he was scared. He said, “Afraid? Why would I be afraid? When it’s my time, it’s my time. And when I go, the next part is going to be the best. Heaven is going to be amazing. I look forward to that day. The Good Lord can take me whenever he wants.”

    If there’s one man I know who died in absolute peace, it was Father West.

    Rest in peace, Father West.

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    • Ben, yes! I spent yesterday and today at his funeral talking to other Fr. West friends who shared your and my experiences! It is so amazing how many of our stories share such similarities of this wonderful man. Thank you for sharing this story of his reflection on death. . .would that we all could imitate him in such hope. Especially in these days.

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  19. What a loving and personal tribute to an extraordinary man who touched so many lives. My older two children were blessed to know how warm and caring, and the same time devout and joyful, a priest can be. When he left St. John’s, we realized there was simply no one else like him.
    Father West profoundly influenced on my older son, who to this day speaks of him as a vital mentor in his life. Father West made you feel good about the priesthood because he obviously was fulfilled and inspired by all that his vocation enabled him to accomplish as a humble servant of others. He is deeply loved and will be deeply missed.

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    • Terry, thank you. I know how much he loved his St. John’s parish. . .I think we all realized at some point that he was one of a kind! So loved and so missed.

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