James Honner was born at Brentwood on Yorke Peninsula, the son of James (Jim) and Veronica (Vera) nee Shanahan, older brother of Margaret IBVM and Anthony, brother-in-law to Sue, and uncle to their six children.
All Jim’s ancestors on both sides arrived in Australia from Ireland in the early part of the 18th century, bringing with them a depth of faith and intimate, personal communion with God that sustained them in the challenges of making a home in such a foreign country. Their vibrant, practical, courageous and persevering commitment to the welfare of family, community and Church set a standard for future generations.
Jim was the third Honner generation to attend the Brentwood rural school, which had seven classes in the one room. His secondary studies were at St Francis Xavier Seminary, where he also commenced his ecclesiastical studies from 1949 to 1956.
From childhood he developed a great love of learning. Often he could be found, ensconced in his bedroom reading. His scholarly interests developed into a love of the physical sciences, particularly physics, archaeology and geology, technology, languages and history.
Seven Years in Tibet, published in 1953 by Heinrich Harrer, friend and tutor to the Dalai Lama, captivated his interest and sparked an enthusiasm for understanding world cultures, meeting the people and learning to appreciate them with sympathetic understanding.
Not long before Jim went to the seminary in 1949 Pope Pius XII had issued his encyclical, Divino afflante Spiritu in 1943, encouraging Catholic scripture scholars to engage with the truths being unearthed in archaeological and geological discoveries and emerging insights into the languages, the literary forms and history of the Bible. Jim was fascinated and embarked on a lifetime pursuit of ordering, integrating and orienting the various areas of truth, secular and sacred to the spiritual bedrock of Christian faith, the Sacred Scriptures, the science of the soul.
Over the years Jim assembled a magnificent library specialising in his studies that complemented his primary focus on Scripture. His thoroughly researched and valued sermons emerged from this background.
From St Francis Xavier Seminary Jim went to St Patrick’s College Manly for Theology and was ordained a priest in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral on July 16 1960.
On returning to the diocese after completing his studies he was initially appointed assistant priest in Mount Gambier, replacing Fr Bob Tully who was tragically killed in a car accident a couple of months prior. This was a short term appointment as in 1961 he was transferred to Salisbury parish and two years later, he moved to Thebarton, followed by St Peters in 1966.
Fr Jim took up service in the country as parish priest of Tailem Bend in 1968, remaining there for the next seven years, before returning to the city as the administrator of the Glenelg parish.
At the end of January 1976 he was appointed parish priest of Penola and during his time there took extended leave to further his interest in world cultures in the Middle East.
Throughout his life, Fr Jim enjoyed pursuing his interest in world cultures. He wandered the earth from east to west, following the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes connecting the East and West, East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North African countries, Egypt and Europe. His travels in Russia included following the route of the Trans-Siberian Railway and a highlight of time spent in Europe was a visit to the Vatican.
One overseas journey took him to Tantur Ecumenical Institute of Theological Studies, between Jerusalem and Bethany. There he studied Judaism, Islam and various Christian and non-Christian denominations in the country that gave rise to so many religious movements.
On his return from his extended leave Fr Jim was appointed parish priest of Greenacres where he remained until the end of 1993.
Fr Jim then moved to Victor Harbor, before his final appointment in 1999 to the Blackwood parish where he served for 12 years. During this time his health declined significantly and while planning another overseas trip he discovered he had a major heart problem. He was lucky to survive the surgery that followed and at the beginning of 2011 Fr Jim retired and took up residence at Villa Murphy.
In November last year he moved to full time care in Conifer House, Southern Cross Care at The Pines, where he peacefully died on January 16 2019.
Requiem Mass was celebrated in St Peter Claver Church at Dulwich on January 25 and in accordance with Fr Jim’s wishes it was a very simple Mass celebrated by Fr Philip Marshall, and attended by more than 30 priests and a large gathering of family and friends and former parishioners. Long-time friend, Fr Jack Boog delivered the homily.
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