REV. JAMES SEMPLE
Father James Semple, who ministered in the Diocese of Salt Lake City for more than 50 years, was recalled as generous, big-hearted and a great priest during the Feb. 14 funeral Mass.
Fr. Semple died Feb. 7 after suffering from esophageal cancer. He is survived by a brother, Martin Semple (JoAnn) of Denver, Colo.; and a sister, Anne Semple Gunning (Sean) of Dublin, Ireland.
Fr. Semple was born and educated in Ireland, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Salt Lake City on June 11, 1961 at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland.
After he was ordained, "he left his father’s home and went to the new land that God would show him. ... At St. Joseph’s and St. James’ in Ogden, at St. Ambrose and St. Therese, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Thomas More, St. Vincent’s, at the little town of Copperton, God gave him a new people, a people to pastor, to care for, to nurture, and he took to his calling with relish, with great zeal, with kindness, with great diligence," said Father Patrick Carley, administrator of Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in West Jordan, during his homily at the funeral Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. "He became a great priest to the many people and families who were put in his care. He brought to them the compassion of God, God’s forgiveness, God’s healing, God’s generosity. He loved the work of the priest: preaching and teaching. Above all he loved the holy Mass. He became, in his life and in his days, a living sacrifice to the people of his parish and the people in his care."
The Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, presided at the Mass, which was concelebrated by Monsignor Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general; Monsignor J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general emeritus; Monsignor Rudolph Daz, ret.; Monsignor M. Francis Mannion, pastor emeritus of Saint Vincent de Paul Parish; Monsignor Robert Servatius, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish; Monsignor Michael Winterer, ret.; the Very Rev. Martin Diaz, pastor of the Cathedral of the Madeleine; and numerous other priests of the diocese.
Fr. Semple lived "a great life of service and love," said Fr. Carley, who came from the same hometown in Ireland as Fr. Semple.
At the Feb. 13 vigil service, Fr. Carley recalled the occasion when the 17-year-old James Semple was chosen to carry an urn containing sod from the stadium in Thurles on the first leg of a relay to a new stadium that had been built in Belfast, as a symbol of unity in the war-torn country.
"It was a moment of great pride for him," said Fr. Carley, adding that Fr. Semple’s father, Tom Semple, was known as a great athlete in Ireland, so much so that Thurles Sportsfield was re-named after him.
Martin Semple recalled how his brother, while training for the relay, got out of bed at dawn each morning to run "so that he would be fit and ready. … That’s really how he lived his life, always working to try to prepare."
On Feb. 9, a moment of silence for Fr. Semple was announced during the hurling championships in Belfast’s Casement Park, said Martin Semple, Fr. Semple’s brother, at the funeral.
Both Fr. Carley and Martin Semple said Fr. Semple told them that the only thing he wanted to do in his life was to be a parish priest, "and that was, and is, who he was," Martin Semple said. "He was truly a shepherd – one who looked out for other people. … He was rewarded every day by all of you, you who worked with him and loved him."
Fr. Semple was open-hearted, hospitable, kind, and had a wonderful sense of humor and an infectious laugh, Fr. Carley said, adding that when St. Joseph the Worker Parish hosted a celebration in honor of Fr. Semple’s Golden Jubilee as a priest in 2011, "a great stream of people … came to shake his hand and thank him for his ministry and service."
In retirement, Fr. Semple, who also was a Knight of Columbus for 50 years, celebrated Mass weekly with Fr. Carley at St. Joseph the Worker Parish, he said. "A phrase keeps coming to my mind: ‘Behold a great priest, who in his days pleased God.’ Such a priest was Fr. Jimmy Semple."
According to Fr. Semple’s wishes, his body was flown back to Ireland.
"And there, in the old Cathedral of the Assumption, where he was baptized, made his first Holy Communion, made his Confirmation, was a Mass server, and then later was ordained a priest for God, we will offer a Mass for him – the Mass that he himself treasured – we will offer a Mass for him, and the friends of his childhood will gather around and pray for him to eternal rest and place him in his grave along with his beloved mother and family. So everything is as it should be; everything is fitting," Fr. Carley said.
Bishop Wester asked that Fr. Carley and Martin Semple tell the people in Ireland that "Fr. Jim built a stadium of his own here. It’s a stadium not made by human hands but a stadium nonetheless, and there are many, many parishioners, children in the classroom, patients in the hospital, clients of Catholic Community Services, who form the building blocks of that stadium. … Please pass on to all that he is very loved here, and that his tribute is made of living stones, through the grace of God and his priesthood and his wonderful, huge, beautiful heart."