Learning From a Gentle Giant of an Oblate

Rio Grande Valley

By Fr. Andrew Sensenig, OMI

(L-R) Fr. Jack Lau, OMI, Fr. Jim Foelker, OMI, Santa, Fr. Andy Sensenig, OMI, Maurice Lange

Early last week, members of the Rio Grande Valley District of Oblates came together at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle – National Shrine in San Juan, TX.  There were two items on our agenda: the first was to discuss the possibility of new mission initiatives among the Oblates of the Rio Grande Valley; the other was to renew our Oblate vows.

The first part of the discussion looked at how we as a community of Oblates, may determine new ways to reach out to the refugees.  I have to admit that I am intimidated at the massiveness of this challenge and feel like I am facing Godzilla armed with only a feather duster. But as the discussion led by Fr. Michael Amesse OMI progressed, my brother Oblates talked about how they are reaching out here and there, in small ways at various detention centers, while still meeting the demands a rich parish life.

Fr. James Foelker, OMI, sitting beside me quietly listened to the group discussion.  He is the Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Sarita.  He commented humbly of what little he does at the parish, but I know for a fact that just a few weeks before, he helped a refugee in need.  Fr. Jim’s method is simple: just be a prayerful priest and a helpful neighbor, especially to those in need. Not bad for an Oblate priest, 88 years old, who plans to stay on at Our Lady of Guadalupe for two more years! Fr. Jim thinks that 90 years is a good age for retirement.

(L-R) Fr. Kevin Collins, OMI, Fr. Jim Foelker, OMI with candle.

When it was time for those present to renew our vows, and as Fr. Jim raised the lighted candle, I reflected on how his method of mission will not get much media attention just helping one person at a time. But it is a great way of being a shining light in this world, which is so often darkened by despair.

Gentleness is a hallmark of Fr. Jim’s ministry. You see it in the way he lets parishioners take charge of the monthly distribution of food to the poor. And how he trusts them to do a good job operating the little outreach and Christmas Party for families in Kenedy County. Interacting with Fr. Jim, I have learned that being a good missionary is not having all the answers, but its having a willingness to travel with others, so that the answers can be found together.

I am grateful for what Fr. Jim Foelker, OMI has taught me, so when I face other grand challenges, like the refugee situation on our border between the US and Mexico, I will not fret that all I have is a “feather duster.” I will remind myself that all I need to do is to help one person at a time, just like Fr. Jim, and the world will be changed.

May we all take time to be helpful to just one person this Christmas Season, and then we’ll see Christ’s Kingdom come together!