Requiescat in pace.
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.