Canon James Collins, ‘Father Jimmy’, died on the afternoon of Thursday 19 April at the age of 94 and just three months short of the 70th anniversary of his priestly ordination.
A much loved Parish Priest, writer and bringer of healing to many from throughout the world, Father Jimmy was small in stature but mighty in ministry.
James Daniel Collins was born in Blundellsands on 27 January 1918, the son of John and Anne Collins. He was educated at St Thomas’ Elementary School, Waterloo, before studying for the priesthood at St Joseph’s College, Upholland. He was ordained to the priesthood on 26 July 1942 at St Edmund’s, Waterloo.
He had three appointments as curate: St Oswald, Ashton-in-Makerfield from 1942 to 1944; St Joseph, Birkdale from 1944 to 1959 and St Mary, Woolton from 1959 to 1966. In April 1966 he was appointed parish priest, in succession to Father John Henry Smith, of the then recently-established parish of St Joseph the Worker, Kirkby. This was to be his only appointment as parish priest, though he was also Administrator of St Laurence, Kirkby, between March 1981 and September 1985. He retired, after thirty years as parish priest, in April 1996.
It was whilst in Kirkby that he became a champion for the poor and disenfranchised when he found people struggling with difficult conditions including poor transport and a lack of shops and community resources he became a community activist, setting up a credit union and an unemployment resource centre.
His service to the Archdiocese and the wider community was recognised formally on at least two occasions. On 1 September 1989 he was appointed an Honorary Canon of the Metropolitan Cathedral Chapter, and earlier this year he received an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Liverpool Hope University in recognition of that lifelong work with the poor, and also his significant role in the establishment of the Northern Catholic Conference, which is based at Hope University.
He wrote of the Conference: ‘at this conference there is no unhappiness, only that sense of joy, relaxed and beautiful and only this by the Holy Spirit, it is available, it flows from the people themselves. What is spoken about and discussed gives a meaning to life, a meaning to life touched by the light of the Spirit, a life of joy, abandonment. It is happy at what it has, a desire to Love, Love, Love not just oneself but the neighbour who is next door, and the whole of society and the community of which people live. God bless the Northern Catholic Conference it is a very special gift of God to this part of the world, please pray that it will be able to change the atmosphere for many people’.
Father Jimmy helped countless people through his ministry, whether as parish priest, spiritual director of the Cursillo Movement in the Archdiocese, and his involvement with the Healing Masses. He also shared his spiritual insights with a wider audience through a number of books in the ‘Reflections’ series begun in 1999. Following his retirement he made a pilgrimage on foot to Walsingham and his reflections on that experience bore fruit in the book ‘Soft Blows the Wind’.
He was a regular pilgrim to Lough Derg in Ireland where he entered fully into the penitential spirit of the retreat writing:
‘I knelt at the ancient stone pillar that stands by the stone Basilica. It was the start of my third Station, the last of the day. I move to St. Bridget’s Cross cut into the Basilica. Three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, kneeling and then standing. There is a cold rain now, sweeping in from the Atlantic.
‘The Mass at 6.30 is a foretaste of the Heaven which awaits those who are faithful to the lessons of Lough Derg. The music steals into hearts, the coming of Jesus breathes peace and joy into many who are feeling that they have made a descent into darkness, but it is a darkness of peace. The Holy Spirit hovers over the bowed heads. The world has drifted away. A new vision is emerging.’
His Funeral Mass was scheduled to be celebrated in the Metropolitan Cathedral on Tuesday 1 May, the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. Following a meeting at the Quaker Meeting House in Liverpool Father Jimmy once wrote:
‘I walked uphill to the Cathedral, my head full of unanswered questions. I climbed the steps leading up and faced the great doorway and went into the vast space coloured with the red, blues and greens of the afternoon sun. I went to the Lady Chapel. I find a mysterious peace and joy there as though it had been actually visited by the Blessed Virgin and she had left an imprint of her presence. I could still see the young eager faces of the group. They had listened so intently. They were searching for something; something which eluded them. I was aware of the kindness I had always received from the Quakers in the past. They had helped me in the poverty of Kirkby in its darkest days. And, Mother, you are Mother of all of us! I stayed a long time. Peace demands as much.’
Father Jimmy's body will be received into the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King for Mass at 7.00 pm on Monday 30 April and the Cathedral will remain open until 9.00 pm. His Funeral Mass will be celebrated at the Cathedral on Tuesday 1 May, the Feast of St Joseph the Worker, at 11.00 am, followed by interment at Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Crosby.