Father James McCormick spent much of his career doing missionary work in Africa. He hatched the idea for a reverse mission that brought religious sisters from Africa and India to Carroll where they continue to serve.
Father James McCormick spent much of his career doing missionary work in Africa. He hatched the idea for a reverse mission that brought religious sisters from Africa and India to Carroll where they continue to serve.
April 15, 2013

Fort Dodge

Mark McCormick said his little brother showed early signs of the compassion and love that would lead to a lifetime calling in the Catholic Church.

"I believe a person doesn't become a good person by becoming a priest," McCormick said. "A person needs to be a good person to be a priest."

McCormick joined about 500 people Friday morning at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Fort Dodge to celebrate the life and faith of Father James McCormick, the former pastor at Holy Spirit Catholic Parish in Carroll who died April 5 at age 76 following a year-long battle with cancer.

Mark McCormick recalled his brother, an Eagle Scout, reaching out to immigrants as a teenager and instinctively caring for those at the margins of society.

"He was truly a priest's priest," said Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Sioux City Diocese.

About 50 current and retired clergymen - including Father Tim Johnson of Holy Spirit and Father Timothy Schott of St. Lawrence in Carroll - attended the Fort Dodge Mass and formed an honor guard for McCormick as his mortal remains were transported from the church to Corpus Chrisi cemetery in the city where he was raised.

"He did so many wonderful things," Nickless said.

Dozens of African and Indian nuns - the international Holy Spirit sisters McCormick brought to the United States - filled pews in the church. Throughout the two-hour Mass, the sisters wiped tears as they sang and prayed with rural Iowans. The African sisters performed a native song and sang Psalm 23.

"Because of Father Jim we have been blessed by your presence," Nickless said of the sisters.

Nickless said McCormick developed the idea for what the bishop called a reverse mission.

"We're so used to going to these countries ourselves, but Father Jim brought them to a place where we would never see people from Africa or India," Nickless said. "They were so talented in their nursing skills that the hospital in Carroll and other places throughout the diocese have benefited from them."

Nickless said McCormick fulfilled the church's calling for missionary work.

"Our faith is something so great that we want to share it with others," Nickless said. "Father Jim McCormick is a great example. Let's just not keep what we have here. Let's share it wherever we can."

In his homily, Sioux City priest Thomas J. Topf said McCormick possessed great "human-ness."

"He was smart, he was gifted," said Topf, a longtime friend. "Different cultures didn't bother him in the least."

McCormick spoke German and Swahili.

Topf said McCormick enjoyed good food, movies, novels and delighted friends with a "joyful, joyful sense of humor."

"He even liked bad jokes," Topf said.

But McCormick also struggled with doubts of his own.

"I remember him telling me how fragile he felt sometimes," Topf said.

Topf said McCormick would speak of feeling guilty because he didn't believe he was doing enough to help people.

In describing his friend, Topf quoted Saint Irenaeus, who said, "The glory of God is the human person fully alive, fully human."

The Carroll area was well-represented at the Mass.

Dozens of Carroll-area residents traveled by Windstar Lines bus from Carroll to Fort Dodge to pay final respects to McCormick - who played an integral role in Carroll's community life.

McCormick hatched the idea for the construction of the Bishop Greteman Center.

"I think the whole thing was just providential," McCormick said in a 2002 interview of the timing for the fundraising and development of the center next to Holy Spirit Church. McCormick said in the interview that he was particularly pleased that families can hold lunches and other events following funerals and weddings in a fine facility.

His reach also has extended into one of the more forward-looking organizations in Carroll - CANWork, a group that worked to build the area's labor pool. McCormick chaired that committee a decade ago.

Topf said McCormick often spoke of the value of community, of how diocesan priests need the support of their cities. McCormick counted hundreds of Protestants and people of other faiths as friends.

"He was particularly good at the ministry of one-on-one counseling," Topf said.

Throughout his service in Carroll, McCormick sought to bring a world vision to his work. That's included the recruitment of two Indian priests who served as associate

pastors at Holy Spirit, Father Siby Punnoose and Father Sunny Dominic.

"The overwhelming response from people is that they appreciate that we have Mass, that they are here," Father McCormick said in the 2002 interview.

In addition, Carroll - and the full Diocese - has African and Indian sisters as a result of McCormick, Nickless said.

"He had a particularly respectful love for women that blessed him with many friends," Topf sid.

It's no surprise that McCormick would bring a decidedly more international flavor to the church here.

McCormick's experience includes missionary work in Africa where he promoted the teachings of the church and pushed for economic development.

He served as a missionary in Tanzania from 1975 to 1984 near Mount Kilimanjaro and returned to that nation to do follow-up work.

"We are a world church," McCormick said during an interview about 10 years ago.

He said the United States consumes a dramatically disproportionate amount of natural resources.

"So if you look at the entire picture, it's not fair," he said. "Also, our economy, to some extent, is the result of us getting cheap raw materials from Third World countries who benefit very little."

That considered, McCormick says those who are blessed with more should assist wherever possible.

McCormick graduated from the public school system in his hometown of Fort Dodge and then from St. John's in Collegeville, Minn.

He graduated from seminary in the former Mount St. Bernard in Dubuque, a facility from which Breda obtained the statue of St. Bernard.

While at the Dubuque seminary, McCormick was a classmate of Father Joe Kerwin of Carroll and Marvin Boes of Breda.

McCormick's brother, Mark, a former state Supreme Court justice, ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1998, losing the primary to Gov. Tom Vilsack. Mark McCormick, who lives in Des Moines and practices law, turned 80 on Saturday, a day after eulogizing his brother. Another brother, Richard, 72, of Denver, served as CEO of US West and president of the International Chamber of Commerce. A third brother, the late John McCormick, was an accomplished geophysical engineer.

For his part, Father McCormick, born on April 23, 1936, was ordained in Sioux City in 1962.

He taught at Sioux City Heelan and also served as principal at St. Edmond Catholic High School, in Fort Dodge.

But while there was fulfillment in those positions, McCormick said in several interviews through the years with the Daily Times Herald, he wanted his experience in the clergy to include missionary work.

"I always thought I wanted to help people, and the people I thought needed the most help were the people in the Third World who not only had religious needs, but agricultural, education and health needs," he said.

In 1975, he was given the assignment of serving as a teaching missionary in Tanzania, an eastern African nation that had been a colony of Germany.

McCormick taught African religious sisters, preparing them to be teachers in their own communities.

"It's giving help to others so they can help themselves," he said.

McCormick taught in English and also used the native derivation of an African language to communicate.

In terms of the environment at the mission, McCormick said, the village where he was located had a cluster of 2 or 3 acres.

The economy was based on subsistence farming.

His mission included about 11 acres of land with gardens, pastures, houses and facilities to teach about 100 sisters.

"The people talk about the same things the average Carroll citizens talk about - the price of things, health issues, family issues, probably less politics," McCormick said.

He said one reason churches are so vital in terms of aid is because they are not faced with the same bureaucratic challenges as governments in the developing world

- so there is a better stewardship of money and aid and through the churches.

McCormick finished his first African missionary assignment in 1984, about a decade after it started.

From 1985 to 1994, he was based in Germany where he coordinated training programs for Catholic religious leaders in Africa, India and the Philippines.

Father Craig Collison, the last priest-president of Kuemper Catholic High School (2000-2003), had McCormick as a guidance counselor and senior theology teacher at the former Ryan High School in Boone.

"He had a profound effect on my vocation more than anything because I saw him as a very happy priest, as someone who really saw the opportunity to be a servant of God to the servants of God," said Collison, who is now at Sacred Heart Parish in Sioux City.

Added Collison, "He was a priest who was not only very kind but seemed to know what people needed in so many ways."