Many times during my life, I have reflected on the question: Who am I? If I were to meet you personally and attempt to tell you who I think I am, what might I say? Who |s Fr. Jim? I am a creature, the son of a loving God, a human being completely dependent on God. I am, if I may borrow a page from Pope Francis, a forgiven sinner who has been graced and called to be an Augustinian friar and an ordained Catholic priest, gifts for which I am ever grateful.
I was born, some who know me might say quite appropriately, on the first of April 1930 in a small town some nine miles north of Boston, Massachusetts, the third child of four children to William L. Wenzel, Sr. and Gertrude McFadden Wenzel. I was named to honor my maternal grandfather, James Andrew McFadden. After attending St. Joseph's Grammar School in my home town, I spent four years at Wakefieid High School, graduating in June of 1948.
In April of that year, hoping to attend college, I visited a new school about ten miles north of Wakefieid in North Andover, Massachusetts. Merrimack College had begun the prior year; I was accepted into the second class but more importantly, I was introduced to the Augustinian Order.
Although ! was very familiar with a number of communities of religious men, I had never heard of the Friars. Impressed with the seven or eight Augustinians I met over the next two years motivated me to apply to join them which I did on August 29,1950, going to Augustinian Academy on Staten Island, New York, for a ten day retreat before beginning a year of novitiate at New Hamburg, New York. I professed simple vows on September 10,1951, graduated from Villanova University in Pennsylvania, in 1953; professed solemn vows on September 10,1954, and was ordained a priest at the Chapel at Merrimack College on May 26, 1956. In eight years, I had, so to speak, come full circle.
I have enjoyed a fulfilling and personally enriching ministerial life as an Augustinian friar and priest. After a brief assignment as a theology teacher at Villanova University. I waS in parish ministry for the next 28 years in four different parishes, three in the Merrimack Valley area north of Boston, Massachusetts and one in the borough of Queens, New York in the Brooklyn Diocese. Nine years were then spent in Augustinian Formation ministry as well as teaching and engaging in doctoral studies in Washington, D.C.
In May of 1995, I moved to San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy to join a newly formed International Augustinian Community of hospitality, which provided opportunities for people to come for personal renewal; I offered a good number of individuals the opportunity to engage in an Augustinian Retreat. In 1999,1 returned to the United States and to Merrimack College, not as a student but as a professor and pastoral minister. A few of the most exciting and fulfilling aspects of this college ministry, in addition to teaching courses on St. Augustine, has been leading a ten day pilgrimage to Augustinian Italy for students, professors, staff, and alumni, being chaplain to several of the athletic teams, celebrating many Marriages of Alumni and baptizing their children and being able to celebrate Sunday Masses at my home parish of St. Joseph in Wakefield, Massachusetts. My work of more than fifty years of ministering to Special Needs Friends has been an exceptional gift for me.