A Franciscan for over 60 years, Fr. James (Jim) Van Vurst, OFM, is truly a renaissance man, sharing a wide variety of talents throughout his priestly ministry.
Some assignments bore heavy responsibilities, such as his 19-year ministry at Duns Scotus College in Southfield, Mich., which included teaching psychology and spirituality and working with friar and lay students at the college, teaching psychology and medical ethics at the nearby Province Hospital School of Nursing and doing counseling in the hospital’s mental health clinic. During his last four years at Duns Scotus, he was also President of the college and Guardian of the large friary.
From 1981-1990, he was Vicar Provincial for St. John the Baptist Province. For 11 years he served as Director of Pastoral Care at St. Leonard Retirement Center in Centerville, Ohio. While there he became a certified nursing assistant.
For the past eight years he has worked for Franciscan Media (formerly St. Anthony Messenger Press) and the www.americancatholic.org website, doing a monthly column as well as answering questions that come to the website’s popular “Ask a Franciscan” column. It receives over a thousand questions each year plus many letters. “I see each question, whether with a personal problem or something about scripture or theology as very important and when I am at my computer I often imagine the person to whom I am writing as if I were talking to them in person,” Jim explains.
He finds great satisfaction using his first love, theology and spirituality, in his work. “The beautiful thing about theology and spirituality is that at its core, it remains the same revealed truths but it must always be adapted and explained to the condition of our own present time and circumstance.” That, and utilizing his psychologist skills, has been the thread binding most of his Franciscan assignments.
Jim is also busy as Associate Pastor at St. Clement Church in St. Bernard, Ohio, working with people as a spiritual director and hearing confessions and counseling those who need assistance. He also teaches art to the seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Clement School who come up with interesting questions like, “Is it a sin to get a tattoo?” and “How big is God?”
In his limited time off, Jim does watercolor painting. His gallery of quality abstracts, nature and architectural paintings decorate the office halls at St. Clement. He also enjoys spending time with his only sibling, Sr. Mary Ann Van Vurst, a Sister of Charity.
Jim turned 80 in February and says he is aware he is slowing down. “But please don't bring up the word ‘retirement’,” he asked. “I can go a long time doing what I am doing.”