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Arlington’s Father Jim Dalton bids farewell

Father Jim Dalton studies his wall of memories at Immaculate Conception Church, as he prepares to retire from full-time ministering. - Kirk Boxleitner
Father Jim Dalton studies his wall of memories at Immaculate Conception Church, as he prepares to retire from full-time ministering.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — Father Jim Dalton celebrated his 70th birthday on April 11 of this year, and on May 18, he’ll have served as a priest for 44 years.

Unfortunately for the congregation that first welcomed Dalton to the Immaculate Conception Church in Arlington seven years ago, his last mass will be Sunday, July 1.

“My memory keeps going lately,” said Dalton, who still loves Immaculate Conception Church and the Arlington community, but feels like he’s gotten old enough that it might be time to lighten his load.

Although Dalton will retire from full-time ministering, he’ll continue to assist parishes when he’s able, and is already planning retreats and reflection days for the community, that could be open to faiths beyond Catholics.

“Those who have retired have warned me that I’ll soon wonder how I ever found the time to work,” Dalton laughed. “All sorts of people are already offering to help me fill in those hours.”

As Dalton prepares to step down, he’s been going over boxes of old photos and recalling projects such as the bond that he’s developed with Father Christopher Wanyonyi, the director of the Christ the King Parochial Academy in the Western Province of Kenya, who first visited Arlington nearly six years ago, a few months after Dalton visited the village of Siritanyi, near Bungoma Town in Kenya.

Not only did the two priests forge a lasting friendship and a partnership between their parishes, but they also coordinated the “Pocket Change for Lukelesia’s Well” fundraiser to help install two wells in Siritanyi, one for the village, and one for the family of Lukelesia Saiti.

“Support from the community has helped send 60 children through their scholarship program, and it just started with a couple of wells,” said Dalton, who recently welcomed Wanyonyi back for another return visit to Arlington.

On a more local and person level, Dalton chuckled as he admitted to “feeling like Art Linkletter” during some of the children’s masses that the kids themselves have taken to calling the “Toodle-oo Mass.”

“Around seven years ago, I started talking scripture just with the kids from 4 years old to fourth grade,” Dalton said. “I would always say ‘Toodle-oo’ at the end, instead of goodbye, and it just built up from there.”

While Dalton will miss all the children in his congregation, one very special child he got to meet before his untimely passing was Seth Cook, a Darrington boy who died of progeria at the age of 13 in 2007.

“He helped cut the ribbon for our new building in Darrington,” said Dalton, who bonded with Cook over a shared love of stained glass.

Although Dalton has lived through the modern history of the Catholic Church, since he was ordained three years after the Second Vatican Council in 1965, he’s just as likely to remember starting local traditions such as blessings of pets on Oct. 4, and officially recognizing parishioners older than 90 years as matriarchs and patriarchs of Immaculate Conception Church.

Dalton is also quick to credit the community’s efforts with his parish’s achievements, minimizing his own role in the growth of the St. Vincent de Paul program, the mobile cold-weather shelter, collections for local food banks and donations to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

“They’re stuffing 300 bags at least twice a year, on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Dalton said.

Dalton nonetheless has been gratified to see the Palm Sunday procession that he started locally grow to roughly 100 participants, and he hopes the community will carry on the spirit of caring for one another that he’s seen and cherished during his time here.

“I hope that ecumenical climate continues to grow,” Dalton said. “This community’s passion for the poor has always impressed me. I’ve always been happy to be at all of my parishes, but I told people that when I came to Arlington, it was like I’d died and gone to Heaven.”

A celebration of Dalton’s time will take place at Immaculate Conception Church at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 24.

 

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