Saturday, March 9, 2013 Cardinal O'Hara High School Tonawanda, New York
The Eleventh Annual Catholic Men’s Conference presented by the Catholic Men’s Fellowship of WNY will be held on Saturday, March 9, 2013 at Cardinal O’Hara High School. This is the opportunity of the year for MEN to gather and be renewed in their faith, to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and to experience the brotherhood and sharing that has characterized each of the prior Conferences. The Theme for this year’s Conference is
Non-Perishable Food Donation:
"This year we hope to assist the poor in our community and we request those that are able, to bring a non-perishable food donation with them to the Conference. Donations will be collected at the entrance and later distributed to those in need."
John is a former Gangster turned Christian who now travels internationally speaking to others about how his life changed.I was born in the East End of London at the Salvation Army Hospital. Though I was baptised as a Catholic I never went to a Catholic school or to church. At the age of ten I came home on a normal night and my parents told me I had to choose who I wanted to live with because they were getting divorced. I loved my parents so much and I couldn’t choose because the two people I loved the most had just crushed me. It was then that deep down inside I made a choice not to love anymore because I thought if I don’t love I won’t get hurt.
After my parents split up I started stealing, I think I wanted someone to take notice of the pain that I was in, but because my dad was a policeman it just added to the beatings. At 15 I was in a detention centre which was meant to be a ‘short, sharp, shock’ but it was there that my anger continued to grow and I was always getting into fights.
I left school at this same age and the only qualification I had was stealing, so that is what I did. Since I had no love in my life I took the painkillers to go along with that, drinking and drugs anything I could find to kill the pain within. At 19 I was in prison again and the way I dealt with all of the anger that was within me was by lashing out and fighting. I was put on 24 hour solitary confinement and it was during this time that I considered taking God’s greatest gift, my own life. But God must have been there because I did not take my own life, but I came out of the prison more bitter and violent than ever.
I thought what I want from this world, I have to take because no one gives you anything. I started working as a bouncer around the East-End and West-End clubs in London; I thought I liked fighting so I might as well get paid for it. It was there that I met some of the guys who ran most of the organised crime in London, so I started working for them. Not long after this, I stopped working for them and I began to work with them. I lived the classic gangster lifestyle with plenty of money, drugs and women. I had a penthouse flat in St. John’s Wood, a 7 series BMW, Sport Mercedes Convertible and I couldn’t spend the money I got fast enough because from the protection rackets and drug dealing cash kept pouring in. My designer leather Jacket had a sewn in inside pocket so I could have a machete with me for when I went to collect debts and punish those who failed to pay.
I truly believed what the world told me was true, that having all of the possessions, relationships and drugs would make me happy, but I felt sick inside because this life was slowly destroying me. Nothing satisfied me, nothing fulfilled me. At the same time, I was trying to destroy my conscience because with the people I was involved in the more vicious and brutal you could be the more respect you got and I wanted that respect. I wanted people to walk into a club and when people saw me they would know who I was and what I was involved in.
As a child, he was the second oldest of four brothers and one sister who grew up on the West side of Buffalo. He attended grammar school at his parish, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School. His family moved to the East side of Buffalo and he spent his eighth grade year at St. Agnes. At graduation he thought he wanted to be an electrician. He told his parents he would pursue electrical engineering and they responded by saying, "Whatever will make you happy." The night before he was to commit to Hutch Tech for high school, he couldn't sleep. He tossed and turned wondering if he had made the right decision. Electricians could help people have light and warmth in their homes, he thought, but priests could give light and warmth to people in ways that will matter for eternity. It was the first time in the thirteen years of his life that he had trouble sleeping. In the morning he approached his parents and told them that he would prefer to study for the priesthood instead. They responded with the very same answer, "Whatever will make you happy."
He entered the Minor Seminary which was on Main Street in Buffalo. The seminary moved to Dodge Street where he finished out his high school years and two years of college. From there he went on to Our Lady of the Angels Seminary at Niagara University where he received a BA in Classical Languages and an MA in World History.
Father Jim was ordained at the New Cathedral on Delaware Avenue by Auxiliary Bishop Leo Smith who was the administrator of the diocese at the time. Bishop Burke had recently passed away in Rome and his successor had not yet been named. Father Jim remembers many things about that day such as lying on the cold marble floor while the litany of saints was prayed. There were 19 men ordained that day and the cathedral was filled with friends and relatives. They all wanted a blessing from every new priest. This took a very long time. Father Jim was one of the last to leave the cathedral. Spirits were bright but that day, March 9, 1963, was a cold, damp, rainy day. After the ceremony everyone rushed to their cars to escape, as best they could, the cold and rain. In the excitement his own family left for his reception without him! His dad returned a short time later to retrieve him. "Everyone at the reception had a good laugh over that one," Father said. That stood out in his mind as one of the most memorable moments of his ordination day. He remembered thinking, "This must be a portent of things to come!" He also felt akin to the astronaut who had recently landed on the moon, Neil Armstrong, who said, "I have been preparing for this moment my whole life, what am I going to do with the rest of it?" Fr. Jim had begun preparing for the priesthood when he was 13 years old. Another 13 years had passed and at age 26, he thought, "Now what do I do?"
The answer came quickly enough as he headed to Puerto Rico for the first year of his priesthood. His mission was to help out at two parishes while learning the Spanish language. When he returned to the Buffalo area, he was assigned to the Missionary Apostolate of Brant and North Collins where he ministered to the Puerto Rican farm workers and their families. After that, he became part of the first missionary band of priests from the diocese to serve in Bolivia, South America. He spent two and a half years there and then returned to SS. Columba and Brigid Parish during the time of the race riots in 1967.