This is the ninth in a series of profiles of Holy Name Province friars who are marking major anniversaries as Franciscans in 2015. The last article featured Dominic Monti, OFM, of Allegany, N.Y. James and the other jubilarians commemorating 50 and 25 years of profession will be honored by the Province on June 24.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — “Listen to the Word of God and know yourself.” That advice has guided James Nero, OFM, who is preparing to celebrate his golden jubilee as a Franciscan.
The chaplain of Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale has lived by this theme throughout a 50-year religious life that has included parish work, spiritual direction and formation.
The jubilarian, who was born in South Weymouth, Mass., and grew up in New Jersey, recalled thinking about becoming a priest at age 14. He said that reading “The Little Flowers of St. Francis” while a student at Morris Catholic High School in Denville, N.J., was the turning point. “I said to myself, ‘That’s what I’d like to do,’” which surprised neither his parents nor his older sister, since he enjoyed being an altar boy and readily volunteered at church.
Education and Formation
After two years at Morris Catholic, he went to St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. He was received into the Order of Friars Minor in 1964 at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, N. J., where he professed first vows the following year.
He continued his education at the Province’s house of philosophy, St. Francis College in Rye Beach, N.H., earning a B.A. degree from St. Bonaventure University in 1967. Jim began his theological training at the Washington Theological Union, but during his second year of studies, he obtained permission to study theology at the Universidad de San Buenaventura in Bogotá, Colombia, to improve his Spanish-speaking skills.
“I asked to go. I felt that Spanish was of growing importance in the U.S.,” he said. He spent 1968 to 1970 in Bogota and, after ordination in 1971, he received his first assignment as an assistant at San Luis Rey Parish in Puerto Rico, working with Joseph Hertel, OFM, and Gerard Lee, OFM. The Spanish that he learned in Bogota served him well, though, he said, kids would often laugh at his “stilted” Spanish.
After a year in Puerto Rico, Jim returned to St. Francis College — by then a retreat center — in Rye Beach as a retreat director. He enjoyed ministering with the team that worked with teenagers from Boston Catholic schools. “We made presentations on who Jesus is, how he shows us he loves us, and how we are to love each other.” He worked on this project for two years before he became a co-director for the province’s pre-novitiate formation at Rye Beach.
In 1973, Jim moved with the program to Holy Cross Friary in the Bronx, N.Y. The program moved there because of its proximity to Fordham University, a Jesuit college where affiliates, now called postulants, could take philosophy courses they needed to study theology. He ran the program until 1976, when he was assigned as guardian and novice master at St. Francis Friary in Brookline, Mass.
Jim looks back on his years as novice master as a demanding ministry. “It was challenging working with the young men, mostly because the Church and the Order were changing.” He enjoyed helping the young men discern if being a friar was the life to which God was calling them.
In 1980, he became an associate at St. Francis Parish in Wanaque, N.J. Two years later, he became spiritual director at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, N.Y., before moving to Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Little Falls, N.J., in 1983. During this time, he was elected to the Provincial Council and oversaw the sick, aged and retired directorate.
When he left Little Falls in 1989, he headed to New York City to become guardian and pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City, where he stayed until 1992. He then was appointed the director of finance and properties for the Province, a role he held until 1996.
For the next three years, he served as pastor and guardian at St. Anne Parish in Fair Lawn, N.J. From there, he joined the Province’s Ministry of the Word while being based at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street.
Chaplaincy Work in Florida
Jim took a sabbatical in 1999 and went to Rome to participate in the Franciscan Renewal Program and then to Miami to brush up on his Spanish. There, he ministered at St. Matthew’s Parish in Hallendale. In 2002, Jim met a Franciscan sister who asked him to consider working as a chaplain of Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale. “I’ve been there ever since,” he said with a smile.
With such a diverse ministry, Jim reflected on how he has managed so many types of assignments. “I try to listen to people, and observe what’s going on. I’m patient and not impulsive. I don’t take things too seriously, I have a good sense of humor, and I have a deep respect for the friars.”
Jim said he has thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Province. He credits this brotherhood with making him more compassionate. “Being compassionate means you have to slow down and be present to the person you are with to really listen.”
A self-professed bookaholic, Jim admits to reading several novels a week — mostly medieval historical fiction — on a tablet.
He would like to be remembered as a compassionate person who, over the years, has “become more gentle, kind and tending toward love. I’d like to say that Michael Madden, OFM, and Valerian Vaverchak, OFM, have taught me to be humble, joyful sand to value work hard.”
He credits Alexander Di Lella, OFM, a former professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., for making a big difference in his life. “He taught the Pentateuch and Prophets at the Washington Theological Union. He introduced me to the Hebrew Word of God that has influenced my life and preaching throughout all these years. To him, I am deeply grateful.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.