Deacon James Kevin Fitzpatrick, known to many simply as “Deacon Jim”, passed away on Jan. 9 following many fruitful years of ministry in service to Christ and His Church.
From childhood, Deacon Jim had strong knowledge of and love for the liturgy. An altar server at daily Masses as a young boy, he at times even enlisted his siblings to act out the Mass at home. Later marrying the love of his life, Karen, in 1979, and welcoming their daughter Kristen in 1980, Fitzpatrick continued to be immersed in the liturgical life of the Church with the support and accompaniment of his family.
For more than 30 years, Fitzpatrick was honored to serve as Master of Ceremonies for Bishop John M. D’Arcy and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, assisting at numerous ordinations, confirmations, Chrism Masses, baccalaureate Masses, and other special liturgies. Fitzpatrick took on a new sense of identity and mission when he answered the call to serve the Church as a permanent deacon, being ordained by Bishop Rhoades on May 21, 2011. In this new vocation, he served principally at the parishes of St. Vincent de Paul, Fort Wayne, and St. Joseph, Roanoke.
Throughout these many years of ministry, Fitzpatrick left a profound impact on many in the local diocesan clergy.
At his funeral Mass, Bishop Rhoades exclaimed, “Deacon Jim has been a blessing in my life. He wasn’t only dutiful and amazingly skilled at fulfilling the responsibility of MC, it was something he truly loved. After his ordination to the diaconate, he was able to serve the liturgy even more closely. I am especially grateful for his generous commitment to our Catholic schools and for the many years he provided me great advice. I am going to miss him — not only his wise counsel, but also his friendship.”
Bishop Rhoades also emphasized, “Deacons are to be a sign of the ancient yet ever new ideal of dedicating oneself to the kingdom of God and the holy service of His Church.” In his homily at the funeral, Father Daniel Scheidt, Pastor of St. Vincent de Paul, Fort Wayne, expressed how this identity of service had been present throughout Deacon Jim’s life.
Father Scheidt stated, “From an early age, Deacon Jim came to know that the church was his home and that he was to help take care of this home. His favorite thing to do in his diaconal ministry at St. Vincent’s was baptismal preparation, to bring new souls into the family of the Church. As St. James the Apostle pointed others to Christ, so too did James Fitzpatrick point those he came in contact with toward the immensity of the divine love of God. Often arriving at a liturgy before anyone else and sometimes the last to leave, he was a servant of the joy of God.” Adding that their last conversation was about him decreasing so that Christ could increase in him, Father Scheidt emphasized, “Deacon Jim reminds us to keep our eyes fixed on Christ, to follow Him through the waters of baptism, and to enter into His prayer to the Father that we all will be one, welcomed as His children into the home of Heaven.”
Father Scheidt also emphasized the supportive roles Fitzpatrick’s wife Karen and daughter Kristen played in his ministry to the Church and how their relationships prepared him to serve as both spiritual leader and father to many. To this was added a heartfelt reflection from Daniel Fitzpatrick, Deacon Jim’s brother, who emphasized how deeply Karen had shared in his diaconal vocation through her sacrifices, support, and participation in his ministry. He also commended Kristen for the profound care she showed to her father through his physical sufferings and final days, reflecting back to him the loving pastoral service he had provided to so many others during his lifetime.
Other priests from the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend gratefully shared their fondness for a man who had been a tremendous influence on their own vocations. Father Royce Gregerson, Pastor of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen, came to know Fitzpatrick while a seminarian. He stated, “I was always impressed with Deacon Jim’s dedication, commitment, and knowledge of the liturgy. He helped us take it more seriously and more deeply appreciate what the Lord was doing through those beautiful liturgies. He was always very encouraging and allowed me to participate with him at larger events, providing guidance and instruction throughout. When I was ordained to the diaconate in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, he was there with his family to vest me as a new deacon. Very few people were present from back home and the fact that he was willing to be there meant a great deal. Years later, when he began to experience health problems, he and Brian MacMichael invited me to temporarily take over some of his MC assignments. As always, he was very encouraging and supportive, welcoming me to his home, and going over lots of details. Although I am sure there were many things he could have corrected, to point out mistakes I made or things I did differently than he would have, but he was so gracious, supportive, and humble. I don’t know that I could have resisted the temptation if I was in his position to correct all the errors he probably watched me make! I definitely experienced spiritual fatherhood from Deacon Jim and am deeply grateful for him.”
Five years after Deacon Fitzpatrick vested Father Gregerson, Father Logan Parrish invited him to have the same honor at his own diaconate ordination. Father Parrish, Parochial Vicar at St. John’s in Goshen, emphasized, “For dozens of priests, Deacon Jim was a father figure. He was helpful but direct, he always told you what you needed to hear, even if you didn’t want to hear it. He served as a prophetic witness, as one most focused on giving away the gifts God had given to him. The words, the gifts, and even the love that God had given him, he knew it was all meant for others. He taught many of us seminarians how to serve God well at Mass, how to serve with dignity so that the people of God could pray even better. In his final years, when his health declined and he slowly lost his mobility, he continued to give away his joy in suffering. When he was confined to a wheelchair, I wheeled him into the sanctuary for Mass and he couldn’t help but make fun of himself. After all those years serving the bishop at the Cathedral, his prophetic example was most moving when he struggled to stand to read the Gospel. It took all his strength to bear the pain for just a few minutes, but he insisted that he stand to proclaim the Gospel, if possible, because it was his most sacred duty. He had such a love and reverence for the Word of God, a love that suffered for the Word to be proclaimed.”
Father Jay Horning, Pastor of St. Bernard, Wabash, offered his gratitude as well, saying, “When I first met Deacon Jim, I was a new Catholic and even newer seminarian, and he was Bishop’s MC. To say that I was intimidated by him would have been an understatement. However, that wasn’t because he was overly stern, mean, or angry, it’s because his presence demanded respect and what he did garnered respect. Deacon Jim loved the Church, the Mass, and us. Through the years, serving with him brought great joy and it culminated when I was assigned to St. Vincent de Paul in Fort Wayne where he would serve as Deacon. Having him alongside brought great joy, the servers saw it, the other ministers saw it, and I was fortunate enough to live it. All the times I walked into the sacristy I was met by, “Jaybird, how you doing?” which I loved. That was a nickname from my childhood and our camaraderie was something I always looked forward to. After his surgeries, I longed to serve with him, not for any other reason then to aid him as he had aided us. We had an understanding of how we worked and we were flexible with each other. My life was richer because of him and will continue to be. Thank you, Deacon Jim!”
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