By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
For his birthday, James Hill hopes to get a fist bump from the bishop of the Diocese of Dallas.
He’ll soon get his chance.
Hill, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Rockwall, will join other Catholic faithful at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe on March 30 — his 30th birthday — for a special Mass honoring those receiving the Bishop’s Awards for Service to the Church. During the Mass, Bishop Edward J. Burns will personally hand each of the more than 130 recipients a medal.
“I’m very excited,” said Hill, a special needs adult who hasn’t let life deter him from serving his church, first as an altar server and then as an usher.
“He is such a joy to have in our church,” said Father George P. Monaghan, the pastor of the Rockwall church and the one who nominated Hill for the award. “When he first started serving the parish, everyone just fell in love with him. He turned the hearts of all.”
As an usher, Hill greets every person walking in the door, sharing his joy, Father Monaghan said.
“He’s just infectious. You can’t help but smile when you are around him,” Father Monaghan said. “He is always happy to see each and every person. His smile, energy, care and greeting is what every usher should have.”
A love of the church
For parishioners who attend the weekly 5 p.m. anticipatory Masses at the church, Hill is a constant, welcome sight. Along with his mother, he serves as an usher at those Masses.
“He’s always ready to go to church. He always wants to sit up front,” said Kimberly Larsen, Hill’s mother. “It is one of the highlights of his week.”
“I really love Jesus,” he said. “It’s his house.”
Hill checks the liturgical calendar before heading to every Mass so that he can coordinate his clothing with what color the priest wears. Hill and Larsen then arrive at the church each Saturday about 30 minutes before Mass where he begins his routine, which typically starts with seeking out Father Monaghan.
“He bursts through that door and goes straight for Father George,” Larsen said.
“He’s my friend,” Hill quickly added.
It’s a friendship that Larsen said makes her very grateful.
“Father George has such a loving heart,” she said.
Father Monaghan said he is just one of many who look forward to Hill’s weekly greetings.
“He’ll see me and come running. I think some are concerned he’s going to give me a big bear hug, but that’s OK. It’s just so genuine,” Father Monaghan said. “He truly cares for everyone he sees at the church and, in turn, they all just love him. Very few pass by without stopping to talk to him.”
As parishioners file out of Mass, Larsen said many stop to give Hill a handshake, a hug, a kiss on the cheek and, yes, even a fist bump.
“It floods my heart with love to see it,” Larsen said. “He has so much love in his heart and it overwhelms me to see everyone being so gracious to him.”
An independent spirit
Having been diagnosed with special needs at an early age, Hill has never let that slow him down.
“He’s a social butterfly,” Larsen said. “He enjoys talking to people. He loves helping people. He loves to work.”
Hill often assists at Larsen’s workplace, Culinaire, a food and beverage management company in Dallas.
“When there are events, he loves to go and help,” she said. “Everyone loves it when he comes in.”
Hill attended South Garland High School and lives in a home with two other special needs roommates in Garland.
Outside of his love of the church, Hill said he is an avid fan of the Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers. His other true joy, though, is cooking — grilling to be specific.
“He has a special apron a friend made him. He gets the fire started, places the meat on the grill and gets his chair and drink to watch,” Larsen said. “He loves to grill.”
Pork chops are his specialty, but Hill said he also enjoys grilling burgers and sausage.
A much deserved honor
In nominating Hill, Father Monaghan said he embodies the spirit of the bishop’s award.
“His service to the church is done in such an innocent, genuine, loving way,” Father Monaghan said.
As an usher, the priest said Hill’s caring spirit is reflected in all he does, whether it be helping elderly parishioners to their seats, finding families to carry the gifts or just brightening people’s days.
“I wish I had more like him because he is so authentic.”