Father Dalton looks back on service

ARLINGTON Father Jim Dalton is on the cusp of a couple of important anniversaries.

He came to serve as pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church in Arlington nearly three years ago, and as of May 18, he's served as a priest for 40 years.

"When young adults tell me that I baptized them and celebrated their first communion, and they're now married with children of their own, I begin to feel the years," Dalton said.

Dalton traces his calling back to his "self-giving" parents, as well as his childhood parish of St. Anne's on Queen Anne Hill. He's come a long way from hearing his first confession at Holy Family in Kirkland, and feeling humbled by offering forgiveness "when I was such a sinner myself."

Dalton fondly recalled his work with children over the years, including the teens he dealt with at St. Mary Magdalen in Everett, and the scouts he took a week-long canoeing trip with on the Bowran Lake circuit.

"My first pastorate at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Sedro-Woolley saw me becoming a builder, as we added a vestibule to the church and built the parish hall," Dalton said. "Although my parish staff was me and the mirror, the parish was very active with generous volunteers."

Dalton returned to Holy Family in Kirkland, and his 14-year stay was marked by a devastating fire in 1990, a 75th anniversary celebration and the rebuilding of the church. The eight years the followed at St. Thomas More in Lynnwood included a focus on building up their Filipino community.

As much as anything, Dalton can look back on having lived a lot of history, since he was ordained in 1968, after the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

"I was among the last priests and the first priests to do a lot of things," Dalton said. "Praying in Latin, then in English, for one. We were the largest class in the history of the Seattle diocese. A lot of the older priests said we were more confident and ready to hit the road. We were at the beginning of some radical changes."

Dalton believes that the Catholic Church has taken on broader concerns since he

was ordained, and he's pleased to have been a part of those movements.

"We became very concerned with social justice," said Dalton, who named Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen "a champion of social justice," both for his protests of nuclear war and for his promotion of treating gays and lesbians "with dignity."

Dalton also spoke highly of the increased role of lay people within the Catholic Church, since pastoral councils and lay communions for the ill "just didn't happen" during Dalton's early years as a priest.

"Multicultural inclusion would be the other big change," said Dalton, who helped provide a home for an extended Vietnamese family at a previous parish, and has formed a "Sister Parish" relationship between Immaculate Conception in Arlington and the parish of Bungoma, Kenya. "There didn't used to be any Hispanic or Filipino ministries, and there were some Native American ministries, but nothing like they have now."

Looking to more recent history, how has Dalton enjoyed his three years in Arlington?

"My other parishes might get jealous, but I often say I've died and gone to Heaven," Dalton laughed. "I love rural America. People lead saner, less complicated lives, and spend more time with each other. It's a blessing to get to know them better, and if there's a downside, it's that, when you see one of them fall ill or die, you know them so well that it's like losing a family member."

Dalton gave thanks to Arlington and the many other congregations that have welcomed him over the course of the past 40 years.

"I am so grateful to the countless people who have accepted me, failures and all, and received my ministry with open minds and hearts," Dalton said. "We priests are only as effective as our parishioners allow us to be, by their love and care for us. I have been so blessed."

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