Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Faith Journey of James Seiffert, OFM

Childhood Journey

Br. James' childhood was spent in New York in the ethnic and religiously diverse Bronx with his German Irish family.  He attended primary school with the Carmelite Fathers. However, it would be Sr. Michelle, a Sister of Mercy, who would awaken him to a faith expressed through joy.  Sr. Michelle snuck her third grade class into a local performance of "Up with People."  Their joy filled songs and celebration of life made a deep impression on James.
Years later when James' family moved to the suburbs of Long Island he began to attend CCD.  It would be music that enkindled his desire to serve others.   His Confirmation class sang Christmas carols at the local nursing home.  James saw the impact this had on the residents.  This would be the start of his desire to serve others, especially the sick and elderly.

James' high school years were spent in Georgia.   His father moved the family there for work.  He describes the relocation as moving to another country.  As a Catholic he became a minority in the South.  However, it would be there that his faith would grow.  Baptist friends asked him if he was born again.  He said, "That question started the conversation about what I believed."

Adult Journey
After high school James' family moved to Florida where he attended community college.  It would be here that he would be introduced to the charismatic movement of the 70's and 80's.  After reading an article in the local Catholic newspaper he attended a talk by a  Catholic nun.  Little did he know this nun happened to be Mother Angelica from EWTN.  Her talk was a light hearted presentation on the twelve apostles and was filled with music and prayer.  After the presentation Mother Angelica prayed over James and he experienced the joy and love of the Holy Spirit.  The Charismatic movement helped shaped his outlook and desire to pray for others, especially the sick.
After a stint as a physical therapist assistant he found himself working for United Airlines after he got the travel bug visiting his extended family in Germany.  His time in Germany was also a transformative moment.  As part of his travels he visited Lourdes for the Eucharist Congress and discovered the universal Church, her beautiful liturgies, and her care and compassion for the sick.

AIDs Ministry
After several years with United Airlines he was transferred to San Francisco. He attended Holy Redeemer Parish located in the Castro neighborhood.  His time at the parish coincided with the AIDs crises of the 80's.  He volunteered with the parish's AIDs Support Ministry caring for men dying of AIDs. 
James told the story of one client, Thomas a former school teacher, who was living in San Francisco.  At first James cleaned his home, cooked for him, and ran errands, but what Tom really desired was to talk.  They would talk for hours about philosophy, spirituality and God.  It would be in these conversations that James was first asked about becoming a religious brother or priest.  Through his airline benefits he accompanied several AIDs patients to Lourdes where they found peace and healing in the final days of their live.

Hospital Ministry
Later in the 90's James started attending St. Dominic Parish, a culturally diverse Dominican parish.  He served in the parish's sick and homebound ministry at the local hospital.  It would be his gentle care and presence at the hospital that got him noticed by the patients and the nursing staff.  He was often mistaken for the full-time chaplain.  He soon realized this could become a future career after his retirement.  He attended SFU and earned a degree in Philosophy and Religion to pursue his goal of becoming a hospital chaplain.
Due to an office closure at United Airlines James was transferred to Hawaii.  It would be here he would encounter his first Franciscan, Sr. Candida.  She recruited him to serve as a volunteer chaplain in the spiritual service department at their sponsored hospital.  He fell in love with Franciscan spirituality and its approach towards life.  When United Airlines offered him early retirement he took it, knowing it would free him up to attend graduate school, to pursue his retirement career as a hospital chaplain.  Sr. Candida told James, if he choose to return to Hawaii, she would have a chaplain job waiting for him.
Discovering a Franciscan Call

James returned to San Francisco and began looking at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.  He was especially looking at the Franciscan School of Theology.  However, he was also interested in the Franciscan Covenant Program run by the Province of Saint Barbara.  James became familiar with the program after meeting its directors at the LA Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, California.   He was attracted to the idea of living with the friars and experiencing their prayer and fraternal life.
James asked God for guidance while walking the streets of San Francisco.  His answer came in the form of a parked car's license plate.  It read "FRE 2 SRV" (Free to Serve).  He applied for the Covenant program and was assigned to Old Mission San Luis Rey.  He became their volunteer coordinator and museum manager.  
On James first day he hosted a group of military chaplains.  After spending the day with them they asked if he planned on becoming a Franciscan.  This was not an option; he was already over the age for applying.  He simply laughed it off.  Yet, he was confronted with this question not only from visitors, but from the staff, volunteers and parishioners at San Luis Rey.  His answer was always the same," I'm passed the age limit."
The Franciscan friars at Mission San Luis Rey began discussing amongst themselves too if James had a calling to religious life.  They couldn't help but experience his joy filled spirit he had towards life and the gentle presence he had towards others.  The friars decided to approach James with an invitation to consider discerning a vocation to religious life as a Franciscan friar.  The age limit was waived for him by the friars.
Answering the Call

After careful discernment James entered the friars' Postulancy program in the Fall of 2012 and made his first vows in the Summer of 2014.  Br. James now resides at St. Elizabeth Friary in Oakland, California.  He works as a chaplain with the homeless for "The Gubbio Project" and is researching graduate programs to pursue hospital chaplaincy.
When you meet Br. James you can't help but experience his exuberant joy and his love for the goodness of life; a seed first planted on the day Sr. Michelle broke the rules for him and his classmates, and took them to see "Up with People".  Little did he know forty years later the rules again would be broken for him, this time to allow him to become a real troubadour, a troubadour for Christ, a Franciscan friar of the Province of Saint Barbara. 
Br. James Seiffert, OFM with his novice classmates.
Contact Information:
Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
2201 Laguna Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Phone:  (408) 903-3422

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