Webpage Updated February 15, 2019
Father Brooks, Seventh Pastor, 1980-1990
Father Robert C. Brooks was pastor of St. James from 1980 to 1990. A native Virginian from Newport News, he delighted in the Tidewater’s history as the site of the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown.
Father Brooks was ordained in 1961, and, in his own words, is a priest “very much in love with the liturgy.” He headed the diocesan liturgy office from 1974 to 1979. Signaling his conviction that the community needs to pray together, he brought the three Masses weekly celebrated in Heller Hall—children’s/family liturgy, contemporary liturgy and charismatic liturgy—across the street into the church. He focused on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults as a way to engage the whole community in forming and welcoming newcomers to the faith. In 1981, eleven men and women received Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. Parishioners continued to gather during this decade for communal celebrations of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick.
Monsignor Heller had continued to live at St. James after his retirement in 1977. In September 1981, needing more assistance, Monsignor Heller moved to the Cardinal O’Boyle Home in the Archdiocese of Washington where he died a year later. His funeral was at his beloved St. James.
Father Brooks welcomed the first permanent deacon to serve at St. James. A member of the parish along with his wife Nancy and their two children, Jim Fishenden was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1981 and he continues to serve here. Later, Deacon Tom Bello was ordained in 1987 and, after serving at the cathedral and at St. Anthony Parish, continued his ministry to the people of St. James until his death in 2016. Current St. James deacon Ed Gliot was ordained in 2014.
At a funeral for a parishioner this year, a couple from St. James reminisced about working with that parishioner and her husband, along with Father Brooks and Father Tom Atwood, to prepare engaged couples for marriage, a ministry they shared with other St. James couples. Classes were also scheduled to support new parents in preparing for the baptism of their children.
Ministry to the ill, dying and bereaved flourished during the 1980s, with volunteers trained by professionals and assigned to bring the concern and comfort of the parish to those who were suffering. The minutes of every Parish Advisory Board meeting reported on assistance to refugee families by the parish. And the minutes also reflect robust and lengthy discussions on peace and nuclear disarmament in light of the U.S. Bishops’ 1983 pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace.
Father Brooks enlarged the parish staff, hiring a liturgy director, a director of adult education, a youth minister and a family life minster. A book of St. James Organizations and Ministries, prepared for the centennial year, lists 34 ways that men, women and children were working together for St. James.
In 1990, Father Brooks was transferred to St. John’s in Leesburg where he undertook the building of a new church for that community.