Some know them as the three Jesuit Jims of the Fresno diocese, or “the James gang” – a surprising and hilarious revelation to the Rev. James Torrens.
The 86-year-old Torrens enjoys a hearty laugh thinking about the infamous band of Wild West outlaws led by cowboy Jesse James and his two Jesuit friends.
Torrens, the Rev. James Gallas and the Rev. James Rude, who met as young men studying in the Bay Area to become priests, entered the Jesuit religious order a year apart – Torrens in 1948, Gallas in 1949, and Rude in 1950 – and split up after seminary, serving as priests around the country and in Mexico. They were reunited when they were assigned to serve the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno more than half a century later.
They are not lone rangers, they are a family, a Jesuit community.
Jim Grant, social justice director of the Diocese of Fresno
Gallas, soft-spoken and sweet, has a passion for visiting hospitals to comfort the sick and dying. Torrens, serious and scholarly, is a published theologian who priests seek out for spiritual guidance. Rude, gregarious and open, is a witty writer of short stories who has spent a lot of time ministering to the incarcerated. It was one of Rude’s friends who nicknamed the three Jims as “the James gang.”
Rude describes their trio as “lovingly different.”
“Complementary,” Torrens adds, “let’s put it that way.”
After living together for about a decade at the diocese’s pastoral center, Rude, 83, and Gallas, 86, are headed to a Jesuit retirement home in Los Gatos next month, next to the seminary where they started. Torrens will go next month to a Jesuit center in Spokane, Washington, where he’ll remain active in providing spiritual guidance.
I don’t know exactly what retirement is, but we’ll keep going, doing our best.
The Rev. James Torrens, age 86
Their departure is a big loss for the diocese and Fresno. “Irreplaceable” is the first word that comes to Jim Grant, social justice director for the diocese. People will be “hoping against hope,” he says, that another group like them will be sent to Fresno again.
Their long list of service in the Fresno area also includes ministering to farmworkers in the fields; serving numerous congregations by celebrating Mass and holding confession; leading retreats and support groups; officiating at weddings, funerals and quinceañeras; and working as editors and teachers. Some of Torrens’ former students are already retired priests, but he keeps going.
“I guess I still have a little more juice,” he says with a smile, “and I’m happy to be able to use it.”
‘God is love’
The Jims and their fellow Jesuits – members of the all-male Society of Jesus – are known within the Catholic Church for their “academic and intellectual brilliance” and “apostolic zeal,” Grant says. There are more than 16,000 throughout the world, including Pope Francis.
Rude, former social justice director of the diocese, says with pride that the religious order’s first act of charity in the 1500s by founder St. Ignatius Loyola was to create a safe house to help enslaved women escape forced prostitution.
“Being a good Christian is not simply going to Mass on Sunday, but reaching out to people,” he says.
There’s much more goodness and blessing in this world than there is evil. There’s a lot of great things, all you have to do is look for the light or the blessing in everything that happens.
The Rev. James Gallas
In more recent history, the Jesuits focused on building and running schools, which helped provide more opportunities for Catholics in the early days of the United States when most schools were run by Protestants, Rude says.
Some students that the Jims taught are now veteran priests within the Diocese of Fresno. At the heart of their teachings is love.
“Jesus is love and God is love, and not a lot of rules and regulations,” Rude says. “That’s what I try to do, to show them my concern for them.”
Gallas believes the gift God gave him was “to try and be sensitive to people who are suffering, who are sad, who are sorrowful.” The priests have unfortunately seen a lot of pain and poverty in Fresno.
Torrens is praying for mutual care and respect, “not north-along-the-river Fresno and the rest of struggling Fresno looking for work, but a whole vibrant city.”
‘We’re a family’
Fresno is warm in two ways, Torrens says – the weather and the people, who are “without pretenses, a lot of Spanish-speaking poor.”
The Jims have largely served Spanish-speaking congregations in Fresno and Clovis. After one Spanish Mass last year, Rude made so many language mistakes in his homily that he asked a parishioner after church if it would be better if he didn’t say the Spanish Mass in the future. The answer he received warmed his heart:
“ ‘Since you are making all sorts of mistakes, we know you’re trying,’ ” the man told Rude. “ ‘You love us, and we love you.’ That was so beautiful. There’s so many loving people in this city. Fresno is special to me now.”
As the Jims enjoyed bowls of soup recently at Whole Foods, Rude heard a baby crying and perked up like it was celestial music.
“I love it when there’s children crying or making noise during Mass because we’re a family, you know. We’re together,” Rude says. “That’s such a beautiful sound.”
Parishioners treat the men like family, too. Torrens recently spent Mother’s Day with some churchgoers and their children. A priest’s life can seem terribly solitary to outsiders, but the Jims aren’t alone. They have each other, their friendship, their church community, and a large brotherhood of Jesuits worldwide.
We work together, we pray together, we play together, we are together.
The Rev. James Rude
“They are not lone rangers,” Grant says. “They are a family, a Jesuit community. … It’s a rare exception that a Jesuit will be doing something on their own. They are usually in pairs, trios and quadruples.”
“We cover for each other if there’s something we can’t do,” Gallas says of the Jims. “We take each other’s place. We really look out for each other and help where we can.”
Torrens says that speaks to the strength of any community: “What one person isn’t all that good at or attentive to, someone else picks up the slack.”
The Jims will miss the people of Fresno. They’re hopeful for Fresno’s future and the future of the Catholic Church.
“There’s much more goodness and blessing in this world than there is evil,” Gallas says. “There’s a lot of great things, all you have to do is look for the light or the blessing in everything that happens. All the evil or all the harsh things that happen, there is light in there. The Scripture says everything works together onto good for those who love God. I’m just sorry I’m not going to be able to see all of it, but I’m seeing what’s happening now, and it’s amazing.”