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Photo: Felix Carroll
"In graduate school is when I first had a sense of a religious calling, but I did my best to ignore it," says Br. Jim, with a laugh. By 2002, however, he could no longer ignore it.
Brother Jim chats with pilgrims on the steps of the Shrine.
In addition to leading pilgrims on tours this summer, Br. Jim and his fellow seminarians were kept busy with various liturgical ministries of the Shrine.
On a rainy day in August in a golf cart on Eden Hill, Br. Jim McCormack, MIC, was recalling another rainy day in August in a golf cart on Eden Hill. On that other rainy day, four years ago, he was a passenger, not the driver. He was being given a tour, not leading a tour. He was a pilgrim, not a Marian.
"It's enjoyable for me to think how things have come full circle," he says.
Actually, that circle of which he speaks is distended, comprised of two sharp turns. He never "meant" to be a Marian. That's the first sharp turn. He never completely understood the requirements for doing God's work. That's the second sharp turn.
Back in August of 2004, Br. Jim was a seminarian with another religious order. Before returning to school in Boston, he and a friend had decided to make a daytrip to Stockbridge, Mass., to Eden Hill, home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. He had loved the message of Divine Mercy for years, seeing in it a source of great consolation and hope.
"And I knew the Marians were the ones entrusted by the Church to spread the message," he says, "and so I thought it would be nice to come up here and visit the Shrine."
Several things made the visit to Eden Hill memorable. The first: It so happened that the famous pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima was at the Shrine that day. Brother Jim had given up plans of marriage and a lucrative career as an electrical engineer because he felt called by Our Lady to the priesthood. "So seeing that statue here," he says, "was very special."
The second thing was that he came on the day that Br. Robert Vennetti (now Father Robert Vennetti) was making his final vows, and there was a large gathering of Marians and family here to celebrate the occasion.
The third was that a Shrine volunteer, Don Lana, offered to drive Br. Jim and his friend Dave all around the more than 350 acres of Eden Hill giving them a special guided tour. "He was very generous," recalls Br. Jim. "He showed us all the statues and even brought us to the Marian Helper Center and candle shrine.
"I remember at one point we drove up to a tent where a celebration was underway for Br. Bob," continues Br. Jim. "Don pointed out Br. Bob to me, and I remember thinking to myself, 'Gee, he looks a little like me.'"
At that point Br. Jim had no hint — no clue at all — that he would end up a Marian. After his pleasant pilgrimage to the Shrine, he went back to Boston. By the end of the school year, however, it became clear that he and the religious order he had joined were not an appropriate fit.
"By God's grace, I knew God was still calling me to a religious life," says Br. Jim, "and so when I started looking around for different religious orders, I remembered my day here on Eden Hill and my tour on the golf cart."
[Incidentally, Br. Jim recalls how the tour guide, Don — clearly adept at multi-tasking — asked Br. Jim's friend Dave during the tour whether he had thought about entering the seminary. "The volunteers here at the Shrine truly are Marian Helpers," says Br. Jim, with a laugh.]
Two years to the day after he first visited the Shrine, Br. Jim would become a vowed member of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, and the man of the hour in his own celebration under the same tent on the grounds of Eden Hill.
This summer, Br. Jim, 36, who is about to enter his third year of theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., lived and worked here on Eden Hill, along with a group of fellow seminarians. They've been kept busy doing various liturgical ministries of the Shrine, working in maintenance (including cleaning statues with a toothbrush), and helping out at the Marian Helper Center, and the prayerline.
But for Br. Jim, the most enjoyable job this summer has been transporting visitors in the golf cart. Reflecting on his first visit to the Shrine, he muses, "I've come full-circle. Now I'm driving visitors around in the golf cart."
What has that meant for Br. Jim? "I've had the chance to meet people at all different stages in their walk with the Lord. Some are carrying very heavy crosses. Others have experienced major conversions and come to the Shrine in thanksgiving. Others simply love the message of Divine Mercy or experiencing the peaceful environment on Eden Hill."
People are always so appreciative, he says. "Some of them have difficulty walking, so they wouldn't otherwise be able to see some of the more remote attractions here," says Br. Jim. "I love pointing out such facts that the Shrine was built without blueprints. I love seeing people's eyes light up when I say that.
"Also, they are so excited and grateful to see that there are young people like my fellow seminarians and I studying for the priesthood these days."
Brother Jim sees his work in driving the golf cart as a way to spread the message of Divine Mercy. And ultimately, that means helping others come to know the Lord. "That's where I find my greatest sense of joy.
"I just love spreading Divine Mercy," he says. "I've been able to taste that this summer, and I love it!"
During his summer here, he has also learned an important lesson that's caused him to make his second sharp turn in his spiritual life. He's learned to truly trust in Jesus — trust in Jesus to change hearts. Simply put, it comes down to this: He's learned there's no reason for him to worry and fret about the seemingly formidable task of spreading word of Christ's mercy to a hurting world.
"The thing is, it takes very little effort because the Lord is behind it," he says. "It doesn't take extraordinary effort. It just takes only a certain willingness and openness to people — a willingness to share with them a listening ear and an encouraging word and smile. In the little things we do, we give the Lord an opportunity to touch people's lives, and when He does, it's a beautiful thing to see. That's been happening all summer."
It's the summer of the full circle, though the circle is egg-shaped, like an egg that contains new life — Br. Jim's new life, lived in union with Christ. This summer found Br. Jim on Eden Hill, in the driver's seat, bringing people to the Lord then getting out of the way and letting the Lord do His thing.
The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy has many opportunities for anyone wishing to volunteer. For more information, please email email@example.com.