Father James Hynes, OFM, dies at 76
Father Jim Hynes, OFM, died peacefully October 2 at Padua Place retirement home, where he resided for the last several months. He was 76 years old.
He suffered for years with mesothelioma, but few knew how sick he was because he never complained and always remained as engaging as ever with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. During his last months there was a constant parade of visitors all of whom agreed that they always felt better after they left than when they arrived since it was hard to find the words to tell Jim how much he had impacted the lives of everyone who knew him. His most cherished visitor was his dog, Bobby, one of Jim’s many rescues, who was brought to his room three times a week. Jim surrounded himself with pictures of his dogs whom he loved passionately and filled his shelves with books he had collected over the years dealing with subjects ranging from theology to quantum physics. Science was a particular favorite subject of his which he felt strengthened his spirituality.
Jim was born on March 24, 1945 in Dublin, Ireland in a working class neighborhood. He said “We had enough to each but damn few extras.” He was the oldest of eight children and frequently took on the role of head of the household when his father — who was in the Merchant Marines — was away, which was often. Following in his father’s footsteps Jim also joined the Merchant Marines as soon as he was old enough.
At home on leave he would visit the library across the street from his grandmother and would be drawn to an array of books on theology. His interest turned to passion and eventually into a spiritual conversion which led him back to the Catholic Church he had abandoned in his youth. He used to quote C.L. Lewis, who he said was the most reluctant convert of all time. Jim said he knew his “calling” was authentic because “the last thing I even imagined myself doing was becoming a priest.”
After the Marines, he joined the Jesuits to complete education concentrating on philosophy and theology. The academic and scholarly environment for which the Jesuits were known fit Jim’s intellectual curiosity like a hand in glove.
Just as he never thought he’d be a Catholic priest, Jim never thought his first mission, as an intern, would be in Peru, a country, which at first, intimidated him because of its poverty and distance and foreign culture. However, he quickly adapted because of the love of the people he encountered who had so little but were always willing to share what they did have. Jim said, “I loved Peru. I never wanted to leave. These were poverty stricken people, dealing with life and death issues. We went down with a certain arrogance. We were going to evangelize them but it was they who evangelized us. They were living the gospel.”
It was here that he honed his own spiritual path and what it truly meant to be a Christian … which was faith in ACTION … and justice for all based upon the liberation theology principles of the Jesuits in Latin America in the 1960’s, who were seeking social justice for the poor and political liberation for repressed people. Routinely, he rode for hours on horseback into impoverished villages preaching the gospel, administering the sacraments and educating the poor that it was not in God’s will that they should live in such poverty. Catholic nuns and priests who talked about the principles of liberation theology in a country rife with political corruption were soon persecuted. Many were killed. Jim was forced to leave and was sent to the United States. In Texas, where he would reside for the rest of his life, he was assigned to a parish on the far west side of San Antonio, Our Lady of the Angels Church. A poor parish on a poor side of town where most of the parishioners still spoke Spanish as their given language. As he did in Peru, Jim adapted well and he became a favorite with his parishioners administering to all the day to day activities required of a parish priest.
Still, he never missed an opportunity to get politically engaged if he felt the circumstances warranted it, like when he read about a military training camp in Fort Benning, Ga., called the School of the Americas. Jim went with friends to protest the activities of the Georgia training facility. Jim knew and several of his close friends knew that if they crossed a certain boundary line they would be arrested. To be true to his convictions he and a few of his seriously dedicated friends crossed the line. They were arrested for entering a restricted area on base. They were sentenced to six months in jail where fellow inmates applauded the “Padre” who fought “the man.” Jim became fast friends with many of his fellow prisoners. Once more he was walking the walk and staying true to his spiritual principals…of faith in ACTION. Jim, was once asked, if he would categorize himself as a “progressive.” He said, “I categorize myself as a follower of Christ, who was a radical.”
Upon his release, Jim went home and stumbled into another rescue mission that would occupy him for the rest of his life. It started with a gift of a small dog. He had never had a pet as an adult and it didn’t take long before he was smitten … so much so he added another puppy to his parish household. He soon realized how many dogs needed homes. How many were wondering the streets, abandoned, hurt and hungry. Whenever he came across one he would take it to his vet and then home. His vet bills were mounting astronomically and his house was reaching full capacity. Fortunately, his reputation for saving dogs spread beyond his parish location and dog rescue groups came to his rescue and assisted him in finding homes for all his dogs, most of them finding homes out of state. Jim and the new owners stayed in touch and his walls were filled with pictures of happy families showing off their adopted pets. Once Jim had help in his mission, it only increased his desire to save more dogs which he did for years earning him the reputation of the St. Francis of the Westside. In all, 500 dogs were saved as a result of his tireless commitment to this worthy cause. Jim said the only thing he regretted was not being able to save more deserving animals dumped on the streets of San Antonio.
Jim’s love of animals was exceeded only by his love of babies. When a program opened up at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital asking for volunteers to hold and comfort babies through drug withdrawal whose parents were often absent he was one of the first to sign up. Twice a week he went to the hospital and spent hours holding and comforting these babies. Their constant cries wore out the most patient of caregivers but never Jim.
In addition to his faith, AA was a vital source of strength for him. He was a proud member for the last 30 years of his life and was never afraid to talk about this “demons” … depression and loneliness … which dissipated with diligent adherence to the program which he practiced … one day at a time. He mentored many in the program and never refused a call from anyone in need. AA’s fundamental 12 steps necessary for sobriety and the camaraderie of its member became a second home for Jim where he always found strength, commitment, and lifelong friendships.
From the time he started his spiritual journey to a country far removed from his own country and loved ones … to the political stands he took even if it meant going to prison … to taking care of all animals who needed a home … whether he could afford it or had room … Jim always took a leap of faith … that God would guide the way. Jim’s final words were “I am at peace.”
Jim is survived by brothers, Richard, Peter, George, Danny, Christopher, John and sister, Margaret Gunnery.
Eulogies and funeral Mass were held October 11 at Our Lady of the Angels Church, followed by internment at the Missionary Servants of St. Anthony Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, those interested may wish to make a memorial contribution to Veterans Pet Rescue.