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New priest brings world of experience to St. Luke

by: PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONALD - Father James Coleman opens a book of family names for the St. Paul area in his office at the St. Luke Catholic Church in Woodburn. Coleman is a sixth generation Oregonian.Despite spending half his adult life overseas, Rev. James Coleman has deep roots in Oregon.

The new pastor at St. Luke Catholic Church in Woodburn and St. Agnes Mission in Hubbard has family in St. Paul whose ancestors first crossed the Oregon Trail in 1847.

He is a fifth-generation Coleman and one of his 47 first cousins throughout the valley, known as Father Ed, runs the chutes at the St. Paul Rodeo, he said.

But the Spanish-speaking Coleman has lived in different parts of the world, including South America, for much of his adult life and considers missionary work his calling as a priest.

“I’m someone who is steeped in history,” Coleman said. “I tend to have a global perspective on things. My international experience and friendships have allowed me to see things from multiple angles.”

Coleman became pastor July 1, succeeding Rev. Ricardo de Alba, who served as interim pastor following the arrest of Father Angel Perez last August.

Perez was convicted of sex abuse in April and sentenced to six years in prison.

De Alba will remain at St. Luke acting as parochial vicar, Coleman said.

“I’ve been here just 12 days,” he said. “I’m aware of what happened and it is presumed there is a lot of healing that is necessary.”

Coleman, 67, was born in Salem. He graduated from Mount Angel Seminary High School in 1964 and Mount Angel Seminary in 1968. His work has included stints in parishes all over Oregon, including St. John the Baptist in Milwaukie, St. Andrew’s in Portland and St. Joseph Parish in Salem. Most recently, he served as administrator at St. John Parish in Yamhill and Dayton, he said.

Coleman worked in South America over a period from 1988 to 2002 and 2007 to 2010 with large groups of relatively poor migrants, he said.

In 1991, he wrote a letter from Fatima Parish in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, detailing how he baptized two children as their mother lay dying from cancer.

“The truth of St. Paul’s text sprung from the page,” he wrote in a letter published on the Catholic Sentinel website, describing the scene. “Miguelito, aged 2, wore a raggedy, very dirty T-shirt, no shoes and as a baptismal garment — an innocent heart.”

Coleman does not remember the letter, but says he sent regular updates back to family and friends back at home.

The experience in Latin America will help him in Woodburn, which has a large immigrant community and is roughly 60 percent Hispanic.

“Obviously, my Spanish will be useful here,” he said. “Working in a Latin American environment for a long enough period of time gave me a base of experience which will be helpful. I also have a love for the people, their culture and their traditions as well.”

Coleman has divided his time between South America and Oregon, but believes he is ready to stay in one place for a while.

“At this stage of my life, I’m not likely to go start something permanent outside of Oregon,” he said.

He looks forward to working at the Hubbard mission, where he believes great-grandmother Mary Ellen Jackson Coleman dedicated a stained-glassed window that remains today.

“I haven’t been there yet, but I’m looking forward to getting there,” he said.




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