His dark shades below a dropped cap with ponytail- J fits the guise of a war veteran. Then, he smiles-takes off his sunglasses showing his smiling eyes-and you feel at home.
Since 1984, J has been involved in a threefold ministry of reaching out to help, bringing God into everyday conversation, and introducing persons to the gospel rosary. His real name is James Wallace, but everyone in the streets and veterans hospital call him J.
Veteran Marcia Nagles- outpatient at Menlo Park Veterans Hospital- says,” J make you feel like part of the family.” She was sitting in a hospital corner in 1990 when he said, “You don’t look like your doing well, do you want to talk?”
Marcia said, “He shopped, picked things up, walked me home, got me to daily mass and rosary. He made me a better Catholic and I’m a convert. James said “I consider Marcia and many like her to be my family, now.“Nagles connected with him because when she converted to Catholicism in 1964 her family kicked her out. J says his family, also, booted him out, in 1985, but “because of military Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] and an antsy personality.”
Ironically, J’s lay ministry began- with family in 1982- when his grandmother lay dying in Alaska. He said “No other family member was willing to take the dying woman home to Iowa. It was not easy to go because Grandma didn’t like me because of my Hippie appearance.”
According to James with a sarcastic tone, she remarked upon seeing him, “I knew you would be the one to come for me. But, after that I saw only the love in her eyes for me. She had always wanted a priest in the family, so I promised her to enter the seminary.”
In 1984, after two years of study at the Mt. St. Claire Seminary and University in Diwitt, Iowa, J was told he wouldn’t make it. He recalls, “They told me, I wouldn”t make it because I was too much of an adventurer. I would go out racing cars and horseback riding. I was just too antsy.” They suggested he get involved in a rosary ministry.
J said, “The ministry is waiting for the God given moment when I realize I have to talk to this person. Starting a conversation about anything for about half an hour -then bringing in God. Finally, giving them a rosary with explanation and instructions.”
De Anza College student, Gordon Straight, said,“ He gave me a rosary, and we chat regularly even though I’m not a Catholic.“ The chats are largely on gospel matters.
“But, most of all my heart goes out to the women on buses with children and their hopeless looks.” James said, “When I politely approach -they are scared to death -but once I take off the glasses, they look in my eyes and see hope.”
Many times these women are broke, so J gives them ten dollars to buy pampers along with the rosary. The most rewarding part of his work is the bus ministry. Since 1984- starting in Iowa -the bus ministry has followed him wherever he goes. His bus ministry on the Santa Clara County Transit takes him all over the California Silicon Valley usually stopping at his center of gravity the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital.
From 1990 to 1994 he was an inpatient at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital for alcoholism and PTSD. James is still in Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12 Step Program that he got involved with through the hospital. He said,” I was seeing three psychiatrists who helped me put my life together. I owe them my life. They helped me come to terms with my problems, which were a mix of family experiences, heredity and military experiences.”
He was a Coast Guard sailor from 1977 to 1980 stationed in Morro Bay, California on a 95-Foot Coast Guard Rescue Cutter. From 1980 to 1982 he was at Westport, Washington on the Search and Rescue Station where he retired. His July 1982, DD 214 discharge papers say he was “ permanently retired by reason of physical disability.”
James remembered, ”I returned fire with an M-16 at narcotics boats when under attack. But, my most nervous moment in the West Coast waters was when I and a petty officer boarded a drug boat. The petty officer was attacked and mauled by a black Labrador Retriever - I had to kill the dog.”
During his term of duty, he says “34 lives were saved from ship fires and sinkings.” J said,” Three times I was thought to be dead, once with a broken back and hip which forced me to retire. I’m like the trout that’s too small; God keeps throwing me back. That’s why I have the ponytail so He can pull me back.”
In 1982,the broken back and hip ended his Coast Guard career. James recalled, ”The transition to civilian life was hard because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and my antsy personality. There were flashbacks from past rescue and law enforcement episodes. Nor did it help that I refused to take pain medication for the constant back pain.”
He says, this led him to difficulties in holding down a job or residence because of depression. Finally, he ended up at his Mother’s Silicon Valley house. James said, “It was a dysfunctional family with alcohol involved and I had a lot of problems myself.”
In 1985, on Thanksgiving Day J was booted out by his family. J said, “There was the alcohol and my problems, but I just don’t know the answer to why they did it. I asked them. They just said they didn’t want to see me anymore.“ That’s when he started saying the hour and half gospel meditation rosary, praying especially for his family.
He knew he needed help, but had never known where to turn. After, he started the gospel rosary everything fell into place. He found the Bay Area veterans hospitals, which-from 1986 to 1994 - helped him overcome PTSD and a drinking problem. He says, in this times of despair the rosary helped show him Gods love.
James mused, “There is a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel that says no matter how bad we feel; all of us are precious in Gods eyes and heart. I know he will always love me and for that I am thankful.”
He says we should never lose hope because suicide is losing trust in God. Twice after spending days with despairing persons- he had met thru his ministry- they committed suicide. He believes if parents taught their children the rosary there would be less despair.
James as a 6th grader-visiting Grandma-remembers waking up at 3:30AM to go to 5AM Mass in Waterloo, Iowa. “The Church was so old you could smell God. It was there that he was taught the rosary. It has never left my lips and heart ever since.”
He prays two complete rosaries everyday-twenty to thirty minutes on waking plus an hour and half one later in the day. In the morning, he focus is on the gospel words of the Our Father and Hail Mary in the manner of the Jesus prayer.For the second rosary, he uses an old method - the scriptural and gospel meditation rosary book. Sometimes staying as long as five minutes- in meditation-on one bead. He, also, prays for specific persons on the beads. There are 20 to 30 persons who receive prayer everyday starting with his family. About 20 people are continuously included while he adds and drops others every nine days.
Today, James considers his gospel rosary ministry and prayers a small way of helping in the new evangelization. J said, “Pope John Paul II believes the rosary is one of the most powerful instruments for developing faith. It is the instrument that could spread the faith to all people.“-----
“J” tries to give specialized rosaries to fit each person so if anyone wants to help him in his ministry sends unique rosaries to:J. Wallace1260 W. Washington Ave #5Sunnyvale, Ca. 94086
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