I just got back from the Catholic Campus Ministry association’s Conference and was so excited to catch up with Fr. Jim Bacik, who was my favorite professor in Graduate School. He taught me Rahner in his classic Midwestern drawl that’s part Jimmy Stewart and part Gomer Pyle. He just retired as the longtime director at Corpus Christi University Parish at the University of Toledo and received the big award from CCMA which I say is like going into the Campus Ministry Hall of Fame.
We’re at a strange time in the church, when often it seems like the spirit of Vatican II is under suspicion. In his acceptance speech, Fr Jim reminded us that we need to keep the spirit of the council alive. It gave him great hope to see so many of us in the audience and he was excited to see so many lay people now serving as campus ministers. He pointed out two of his staff members, Bryce Roberts, a young twenty something who Bacik has mentored into a fine minister (I even tried to steal him away once!) and his longtime associate director Pam Meseroll. He stated that a lot of priests don’t last because they can’t handle the administration. In his case, Pam handled the administration, while he was able to be a Pastoral presence and teacher for nearly 30 years. “I was the pastor, but Pam ran the place!” he stated.
Jim Bacik is a legend. He was the principle writer for the U.S. Bishop’s document on Campus Ministry “Empowered by the Spirit” and it still serves today’s generation well nearly 25 years later.
I was able to have a private moment with my old professor and he was so excited to see me. He called me “Oh! One of my prized students, one of my more famous students!”
I nearly broke down in tears.
Fr Jim’s work is central to my first book, Googling God (Paulist, 2007). Thanks to him I was able to prove much of my thesis, which led to its publication. So I am forever in his debt.
Campus Ministry wouldn’t be Campus Ministry without this great “Dean of Campus Ministers”. What’s more is the challenge that we who come after him now have in keeping his vision alive and maintaining the spirit of that vital council we know as the Second Vatican Council.
Karl Rahner taught Jim that the more that theology can respond collaboratively with the world, especially science, the more it will make a claim on people’s hearts and minds. We need to have this “Bacik Instinct” as ministers on campus, to meet our students where they are and to help them step up and shake hands with their own minds and form an adult faith that can withstand their own sense of critical thought. Our collegians deserve nothing less.
And the church has received nothing less than that from Fr. Bacik.
So blessings my friend, mentor and colleague. May you continue to teach us all as you enter semi-retirement and may you continue to bless us with the gift that is you.