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Innovative, inclusive approach to ministry


Monsignor James (Jim) O’Loughlin – Born: May 25 1931 | Died: December 11 2019

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Born in Pinnaroo, James and his five siblings lost their father when he died suddenly from the flu at the age of 41. The bank reclaimed the family farm but the Mallee community rallied together to build them a house.

Inspired by his mother’s deep faith, James had a strong conviction about being a priest from a very young age. He loved attending daily Mass and serving at the altar.

While attending St Joseph’s primary school, James was approached by the parish priest about entering the minor seminary and at the age of 12 he left home to join the third intake of seminarians at Rostrevor in 1944.

His youngest brother Kevin later joined him in the priesthood and his other four siblings were actively involved in Church life. James once said they all could have been priests, including his sister Frances!

The seminary was a strange and lonely world for a 12 year old from the bush. His family had very limited opportunity to visit him because of distance and lack of transport. He was a shy and studious boy who disliked wearing soutanes because it made him look ‘special’.

After five years James was chosen to go Rome, a decision which he never really understood, believing there were other more worthy Rostrevor seminarians. Besides, Rome was the centre of the ‘world of soutanes’!

Despite the strict and structured life of the seminary, it provided the foundation to James’ life-long approach to prayer and spirituality, giving added depth and meaning to his priesthood.

After his ordination in Rome in 1954 he returned to Adelaide and was appointed to the Thebarton parish, which included prison chaplaincy. In recent times he admitted that he was a bit “pompous” and a typical pre-Vatican II priest during his nine years in the parish but this changed over the years and James became a genuine champion of inclusive and collaborative parish teamwork.

He was sincere in his belief that before God all people were created equal and that they had a philosophical and theological right to exercise their call to ministry in the Church.

He was one of the first priests in Adelaide to courageously attend lectures on feminist theology and was often the only man in the room. This openness to an inclusive and welcoming Church for all lasted his entire life.

James valued his ministry in all of his parishes, however he felt his time in the Barossa Valley during the heady post-Vatican II days ‘really matured’ him as a priest.

The strong sense of community life in the Barossa, the positive and strong ecumenical relationships between churches and the people he met in the parish and in general left a lasting, loving impression on him.

In 1986, much to his surprise he was one of two priests elected by his peers to be put forward for the role of Vicar General and a member of the newly formed Archdiocesan Pastoral Team.

He was even more astonished when Archbishop Len Faulkner appointed him as his preferred candidate to these roles. He had no personal ambition for official office in the Church, never thinking himself good enough.

Being chosen by the Archbishop to work closely alongside him and the other members of the DPT (Sr Pat Fox RSM and Madge McGuire) was one of the many mysteries in his life for which he was enduringly grateful.

James was a loyal brother priest to Archbishop Faulkner and a thoughtful, supportive and wise member of the DPT for three years.

Although modest and unassuming, he had the audacity to state his views and liked to posit an opposing opinion at times to get things stirred up a bit.

At the heart of his theology, and consistent with his innovative and creative approach to ministry, was his passion for collaborative ministry and adult learning. He was always reading, studying and encouraging others to also learn –about themselves, God, the wider community and its cultures.

His inquisitive interest in other faiths led James to reading more and more about the ancient texts and history of the Eastern Rite Church.

He was captivated by the deep wisdom in its teachings and spirituality, leading him at the age of 65 to become an avid collector of icons. Displaying these in his home at Paralowie gave him great joy and he welcomed the opportunity to explain to visitors their significance and meaning. It also gave him a way of being surrounded by the love of God in colour and form every day, enriching his deep faith and enhancing his contemplative prayer life.

For James, art sparked a moment of transcendence, a glimpse of grace, an experience of God that he wished to share with others. This was evident through his storytelling and commissioning of several works over the years for different parishes.

The icon in St Augustine’s of The Crucifixion and icons in St Thomas More Church including The Holy Trinity, and The Baptism of Jesus are amongst some of his gifts to the Elizabeth and Salisbury communities.

To share his deep appreciation of icons, he led a prayerful icon pilgrimage one Lenten season, visiting different Christian churches in the northern suburbs.

James excelled at art himself: the art of observation. He was curious and his observation skills were exceptional.  His ministry with those from migrant communities and vulnerable groups was an example.  Meeting people and engaging with their story regardless of their situation and status, Jim brought meaning, comfort, light, relief and healing to many.

In the days before his death, he stressed that he had had “a good life” and that he had been always very well looked after.

“I am who I am, I like being myself,” he insisted.

James lived the mysticism of daily life – the confidence that ordinary daily life is the fabric of an authentic life. The more deeply we experience God, the more deeply we experience our own identity.

His legacy of leadership, teaching, love, wisdom, faith and spirituality will endure for generations.

James is survived by his sister Frances and brother Fr Kevin O’Loughlin.

Taken from the eulogy delivered at the funeral Mass by Madge McGuire and the tribute by Josie Cirocco at his Vigil.


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