July 13, 2024

Recently, Renae Kranz sat down with Father Jim Bream on an episode of Catholic Views to get a peek into the life of a long-time priest of our diocese. Father Bream was ordained on May 24, 1964, and is celebrating his 60th anniversary as a priest. 

Tell us a little bit about your family and where you grew up.

I’m a Sioux Falls person. My folks farmed on the west side of Sioux Falls, and that’s where I was raised. I graduated from country grade school and later from Cathedral High School here in Sioux Falls.

How many brothers and sisters?

There were six of us born; one sister died as an infant. My two sisters and their husbands and one sister-in-law have also died; my two brothers are still alive.

You mentioned you didn’t always know you were going to be a priest. So how did it come about that you decided to go to seminary?

I avoided it; I did. I stuttered badly when I was a high school kid here in Sioux Falls and later on after that, too. The thought of having to say something in front of everybody was terrifying. I did everything I could to forget about it, but the idea wouldn’t quit, wouldn’t leave me. So then I just said, “Well, okay. I’m going to go to seminary, but I will quit.” I had no intention of finishing. 

You obviously went all the way through seminary. What happened? Why did you stay?

It’s not because I thought the seminary was that great, because I didn’t. I guess I just felt I needed to be here. I think that’s all part of the process. In fact, I looked to religious life before that, in a community, the Christian Brothers. But I thought, no, that wouldn’t work for me. So I thought, well, I’ll go to the seminary, but I will quit.

So God must have been tapping you on the shoulder somehow. 

I’m a sensitive person. I was always careful about farm animals and people. I have a sensitive character, and so the call to the priesthood was there, and I wanted it to leave, but the call wouldn’t leave.

How did you resolve the stuttering? Because you clearly don’t stutter now.

I will if I’m not careful. I know how to cover it up. Early on, I had to learn. My first few years as a priest, I had a terrible headache every Sunday afternoon because I had so much worry about standing in front of people. But one learns to avoid certain words. You learn how to speak more clearly, more carefully.

You’ve been a priest for many years, can you tell us some of the parishes you were at?

As a young priest, I was in Holy Family in Mitchell. And then, I served in Tyndall a couple of years and also in Canton, Bryant and Willow Lake. But most of my years were at Sioux Falls (St. Therese), Yankton (Sacred Heart) and Watertown (Immaculate Conception).

There were a few things that especially stood out to you during your time. You mentioned that there was a strike at Morrell’s. Can you tell us about that and what you were able to do?

Well, the management of Morrell’s wanted to break the union. The union, of course, was opposed to that. My parish was St. Therese in Sioux Falls, all laboring people. And so, I stood up for them and led a couple of their rallies. My name was all over the paper for that summer. A very tense time, but I felt like I should support and, of course, the Church supports the labor union. I stood up for the laboring people but, of course, the company won out. They broke the union.

Another thing that you mentioned was that, when you left a parish, people said a certain thing to you a lot of the time.

When I left a couple of places, one of the big things that people often told me was that we will miss your presiding and preaching. I appreciated that because I really worked hard on how to preside, how to preach. Basically, how to pray in public.

I’m just realizing now that you had a stutter that you had to overcome, and yet, everybody loved you because of your preaching, the thing you were most afraid of. That’s a miracle right there!

That’s why I worked so hard. That’s one of the ways to overcome stuttering. I had to carefully prepare how I was going to say something, because if I didn’t prepare then I might stutter in the next sentence. I couldn’t do that.

You were obviously very understandable for people, very clear in your preaching. I suspect you have a real heart for preaching.

Yes, I really like it. When I finally get the homily prepared, I really enjoy it. I love that more than anything. People say, “Well, nobody pays attention to what you say.” But that’s not true! That’s not true, because people recognize if you are prepared and then they listen. If people are not listening, it’s often because they recognize a lack of preparation.    

What was the most challenging thing as a priest?

One of the things that bothers me the most is called clericalism. It’s a process whereby clergy assume, for whatever reason, they have a special place. Maybe because of their training or whatever. In other words, they believe they are entitled to wear special clothes, to have a title and a special place. I don’t have to eat the first potato at a funeral lunch. I don’t have to go first; I can eat last. Somebody has to be last. It’s a very dangerous thing to buy into clericalism, to think you’re above people. I know there’s a special place for the priest, but wearing special clothes, having a special place or using a title does not justify any superiority. 

If a young man came to you and said “Father Bream, I’m thinking about going to the seminary.” What would you say? How would you advise that young man?

It can be great, if you let it. I’ve had chances for travel that I would have never had otherwise. I used to take in refugees from different parts of the world to live in my house. I always thought that was a plus because I found out about a bigger world. So, if you let the priesthood lead you to the bigger world, great. But if you’re going to try and keep limiting the priesthood to your concept of what it should be, always and only, I think it’s kind of not a very good life.

How can the people of the diocese help you as a retired priest?

Just be themselves. That lets me be more myself.

To hear the full interview, visit sfcatholic.org/fr-jim-breams-call-to-the-priesthood-catholic-views