Relationship with Lord key to jubilarian’s happiness

Father James Gordon

Father Gordon grateful for 40 years of parishioners’ love, support


What is the key to remaining happy in a 40-year vocation to the priesthood?

“First and foremost, my relationship with the Lord for sure,” said Father James Gordon, pastor of St. Ann, Ashland. “Without that, none of it makes any sense.”

The priest grew up in North Springfield, Virginia, and attended St. Michael Church in Annandale. Beginning in third grade, he was a student at St. Michael School.

Because the Richmond Diocese served all of Virginia at that time, Father Gordon attended high school at St. John Vianney Minor Seminary in Richmond.

“Back then, they would do workshops for seventh and eighth graders, and I can’t say for sure that I knew I was going to be a priest, but I did feel at an early age kind of a call to want to explore it,” he recalled.

That call became stronger at St. John Vianney, Father Gordon said, as he found the priests working at the seminary to be “very inspiring.”

“My father died when I was a sophomore in high school, and I felt lucky to have father figures in my life because of the priests that were there,” he added. “Certainly, by the time I was in college, maybe even more so, I felt a personal call from the Lord and a deepening of my faith and my vocation.”

Father Gordon graduated from St. John Vianney in 1973 and decided to continue his formation.

‘Thrilling moments’

Because Msgr. Thomas Shreve, then-rector of the high school seminary, had a friend who was working at Gannon College (now Gannon University) in Erie, Pennsylvania, Father Gordon and four of his classmates had the opportunity to receive their college formation at St. Mark Seminary and Gannon College in Erie. Before that, seminarians for the Diocese of Richmond attended either St. Meinrad in Indiana or St. Mary in Baltimore for college seminary.

After graduating from St. Mark and Gannon, Father Gordon enrolled at The Catholic University of America in Washington and finished his theology studies there in 1980.

Father Gordon was ordained a priest on Nov. 21, 1981, by Bishop Walter F. Sullivan. His first assignment was at Church of the Epiphany, Richmond, which had been newly established.

He next served as parochial vicar at St. Mary, Richmond (1985- 1986), and administrator of Prince of Peace, Chesapeake (1986-1987), before enrolling at George Mason University and earning a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1995.

The priest’s vocation next took him to Portsmouth, where he served as administrator of St. Mary (1995- 1996) and pastor of Church of the Holy Angels (1996-1997).

One of the “thrilling moments” of Father Gordon’s priesthood was serving as the founding pastor of St. Stephen, Martyr, Chesapeake, from 1997-2005.

“There was really a sense of the spread of the Gospel and the spread of the Church,” he said, adding that the process wasn’t focused on the building itself; it was focused on the ministries. Masses were held in schools and even at a local funeral home on Saturday nights.

“I think it brings you very much Father James Gordon in touch with the heart of the Gospel, evangelization,” Father Gordon explained. “It’s the call to be disciples.”

‘Helping the helpers’

After leaving St. Stephen, Martyr, the priest was a psychologist at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, from 2005-2009. He worked with priests and men and women religious who came for help for “all different kinds of reasons – everything from depression and anxiety to addictions, interpersonal problems.”

“Really the ministry was about helping people return to a full and happy ministry to serve the Church, so it’s a different kind of ministry because you’re helping the helpers in a sense. So it’s very rewarding,” he said.

Father Gordon was pastor of St. Therese, Chesapeake, from 2009- 2011 and then returned to Church of the Epiphany as pastor until 2013.

“That was another special moment for me, to return to the parish that gave me my start,” he said. “And actually, the first baptism I did as pastor there was the child of someone I had baptized like 30 years before. It was really quite something.”

The priest then served as director of clinical services at St. Luke Institute until he was named pastor of St. Ann, Ashland, in August 2020 in the midst of COVID-19.

“I really felt for the people of St. Ann’s because my predecessor, Father Chris Haydinger, had been here for over 15 years, and they didn’t really get the chance to say bye to him,” Father Gordon said, adding that he appreciated the parishioners there for making him feel welcome in the transition even though that process “probably was difficult in some ways.”

In times of struggle, whether in his personal life or within the Church, Father Gordon has found comfort in the communities with which he has been involved, including staff at St. Luke and all the parishes in which he has served.

“All the parishioners, they’re very supportive of priests, and I’ve always felt appreciated and loved, and I’m very grateful for that,” he said.

Parishioners of St. Ann will help Father Gordon celebrate his 40th anniversary the weekend of Christ the King with “something simple” – cake after each Mass with the primary reception taking place after the 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday.

Remarkable people

Reflecting on his vocation of four decades, Father Gordon highlighted the great impact of the religious women he has known on his life and the diocese.

“I’d love to acknowledge the religious sisters that I’ve worked with over the years and known, in particular the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia… One of them, Sister Anita, actually taught me all the way back at St. John Vianney High School,” he said. “So in my own life they’ve just been an important presence.”

He also mentioned the Daughters of Charity, with whom he worked in the Tidewater area, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters from Philadelphia, who taught him in grade school. His appreciation also includes the lay faithful.

“My vocation has brought me in contact, I think, with some remarkable people of faith in terms of the laypeople that I’ve worked with as well,” said Father Gordon. “I’m just very humbled by people’s commitment to their faith and putting it into action.”

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