Eulogy for Fr. James A. Rude, SJ '50
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free!” (Luke 4:18)
Jim Rude was so proud and committed as a Jesuit priest as he made it his life’s purpose to be a Man for Others, committed to the service of faith, the pursuit of justice, care for the poor and marginalized and to find God in all things.
Jim Rude was at his core a believer in Liberation Theology and he was not afraid to spread the teachings of Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez when he was a young teacher at Loyola High School, despite receiving warnings not to by his superiors.
He was always true to his Jesuit vows of obedience, poverty and chasity. I was recently reminded by Jesuit Tom Smolich “that when (as provincial) he sent Jim to work in Fresno, that Jim agreed to go, no questions asked and he ended up doing so many amazing things, once again fighting for social justice with his work for the poor and those imprisoned.”
By now, most know the origins of how the Christian Action Movement (CAM) came to be. CAM, the hallmark of Jim’s tenure of Loyola High School, continues to inspire generations as it has become the model, the gold standard for which high school community service programs around the globe are modeled. His work at Loyola High School in the late 1960’s with CAM was truly inspiring and changed the mindset of many in regards to how we view the poor, the imprisoned, the elderly and marginalized.
Through his leadership of CAM, Jim was able to do things that would be unheard of today – the weekend jail run where he brought high school students just outside the Los Angeles County jail as inmates were released so that they could provide some basic dignity with the offering of donuts, coffee and cigarettes.
I am reminded of a story from Jim Oswald, class of 78, in which he told his father, who was an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department that he wanted to join this Jesuit priest the following weekend for the “jail run.” Oswald’s father immediately denied his request saying that no child of his would be greeting any released inmates. A few days later Jim Rude went to the Oswald home to meet with the police officer parent, an imposing figure to most and they disappeared to a private room. Jim Oswald, expecting the worst, was shocked when his father requested a bottle of Scotch. An hour or so later, they emerged with his father now encouraging him to join Fr Rude at the jail run.
Jim Rude had that kind of impact on people, an impact that somehow resonates inside of you that you can’t (and really don’t want to) shake. Somehow Jim had the ability to influence otherwise self-centered teenagers, more often concerned with their own social life, and was able to plant seeds into their brains that this “Man for Others” thing really does matter.
Jim had a plan – he knew that in order for this CAM thing to really work, that he needed all the “cool” kids to get involved. He grew his hair long and a beard, blasted rock n’ roll from the CAM office and engaged students in political discussions always encouraging them to ask “why?” Then in 1972, he approached students recently elected in student government and asked them to become CAM coordinators. Soon Jim had all the student body/class officers, the editors of the Loyalist(school paper) and El Camino(yearbook), the heads of the Latin Club, Drama Club, the Debate Team etc.– they were now all active in CAM. CAM was now that cool club on campus.
Soon he was bringing students to orphanages in Mexico, they set up a school-based recycling center, set up a voter registration center in the CAM office, the soup kitchen, trips to a needy parish in Oxnard and more – Jim was just getting started.
Jim would tell me that, “St. Ignatius wanted his sons to be able to move wherever, and whenever, for the greater glory.” To get too attached to a place makes you into a non-Jesuit, Jim would say to me.
Next came Christ the King in San Diego as a Pastor, Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights–where many great Jesuits would follow, Santa Clara University as campus minister, St. Mel’s in Woodland Hills, back to LMU, this time as minister, then to Jesuit High in Sacramento as a teacher and rector and then back home to Blessed Sacrament parish in Hollywood.
It was at Blessed Sacrament, in the midst of the AIDS crisis, where so many lives would soon change and Jim was at the epicenter, truly being a Man for Others. I became very close to Jim during this time as I was living nearby, off of La Brea Avenue. I was a young psychologist and Jim was struggling with the views of the Catholic Church towards homosexuals. This led to so many men feeling abandoned by their church, their God at a time when they desperately needed the compassion, acceptance and power of the Holy Spirit.
Jim had a vision, a way to fill the void. He asked me to join him – he as the priest and I as the counselor as we would offer a Saturday support group for those suffering with AIDS and their caregivers. For me, it was life changing and I am sure it was the same for the men in the group. There was so much anger initially towards what Jim represented, justifiably so, yet Jim had this ability in the manner in which he welcomed each man into the group. As each man entered the room, Jim would welcome them with open arms and a kiss on the lips; it was beautiful. Many evenings, too many that I recall, Jim would be called to a hospice. He would not wear his “blacks” rather as men would express a need for spiritual guidance, Jim would ease into his priestly duties. Jim was in his element here, he just had that unique ability, the courage to sense what was needed and he delivered. We lost all but one of our group to AIDS.
Jim loved to travel and did so often in his youth. When former student and longtime friend Daniel Crowley, class of 1978, asked Jim for recommendations in 1981 for language schools in Mexico, Jim instead suggested that they travel to see some Jesuits in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Jim spent time in the Middle East for an archaeological dig and he did the China Mission right after the novitiate. He met with Arafat in Palestine and lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico to learn Spanish.
Jim loved Scotch, single malt preferred – smoky and peaty from Islay. He enjoyed steak, a ribeye was his favorite, cooked rare and he hated olives. Jim used to ride a motorcycle and it would not be unusual for him to take students for a ride around the neighborhood near Loyola. Jim also drove the school bus while at Loyola and he was coach of the tennis team. He loved watching the television shows MASH, Murder She Wroteand the Golden Girls. He had his television routine and even though I had driven for seven hours to see him for a visit, if MASHwas on the TV, it would not be shocking if he asked me to leave and return after the show was over. Jim was bold and sometimes blunt. In his advanced age, his curiosity would often get the best of him, once causing my wife to blush as he asked her what it was like to have breasts. It was Jim, you could not get mad at him, he was all about love.
Jim loved his younger brother, Arthur, and older brother Paul. While Jim was assigned to Blessed Sacrament parish in Hollywood, the three would spend wonderful afternoons at lunch arguing over memories of their youth while cherishing the moments they would spend together. Jim would often share the story of how his mother and father, along with his younger brother Arthur, first drove him to the Novitiate at Los Gatos. Later, his mother would tell him that she drove the car home that day as his father was too emotional and unable to drive the car home.
Jim Rude was a proud Catholic. He would often ask me if I was still a practicing Catholic and he would become perplexed knowing that some of his brother’s children were no longer active in the church. Jim loved his extended family and wanted them to share in his joy of experiencing the love of Jesus. Jim was a devout Catholic, but he welcomed believers of all faiths. Speaking with David Palmer, class of 1982, and the first Jewish student at Loyola High School, he tells me of the time that Jim went to his house for dinner with his parents, and how wonderfully accepting Jim was, not once questioning their faith.
A dear friend of Jim, Daryl Crowley shared the story of how her father, when he was ill and close to death expressed the fear that since he was not a practicing Catholic (he was Protestant) that he would not be worthy of heaven. Without missing a beat, Jim responded, “If you are denied eternal life simply because you are not Catholic, then that is not a place I want to be!”
Jim had a way of showing acceptance, offering unconditional love to all he encountered. He may not have agreed or understood the views and beliefs of those around him, but he found a way to welcome them into his world. Jim was all about welcoming strangers into his existence so that they, too, could experience the Holy Spirit. When a dear friend of mine experienced the death of his long-time dog, I asked Jim if he would be willing to make a detour on our way to dinner so that he could offer up a blessing for my friend and his pet. A first Jim scoffed at the idea of blessing a pet dog, but he looked my way, paused and said yes, of course we must do this! Jim was all about love. Damn, I miss him.
At the 50th anniversary celebration last year of the Christian Action Movement at Loyola High School the same stories were shared over and over…. of how Jim Rude instilled in so many the core Christian values …the importance of loving your neighbor, the recognition that the world is made up of all kinds and of many colors all who are deserving of our care and dignity and the importance and responsibility that we share in promoting social justice.
While the sudden passing of my dear uncle James has been extremely challenging, his voice remains loud and clear. His messages of peace, of love and of acceptance that he shared with students over 50 years ago remain as vivid as ever. As Loyola High School President Gregory Goethals SJ proclaimed, “Jim was a prophet at Loyola and a saint – sometimes causing controversy– but that was good. He is dearly missed by all.” As a wise man once said, “ his ripple effect will go on far beyond what we can imagine.”
I am grateful for those that cared for Jim these last years. For the nurses, his barber, Fr. John Privett SJ and Fr. Arnie Shafer, thank you for patience, love and care. To those that would often assist him in his transitions from assignments through actual visits, emails and phone conversations, I am grateful.
Whelan, Boyle, Oswald, Crowley, Stathados, Palmer, Goethals, my sweet Shirin – thank you for your love, kindness and care.