About half the wall space in Fr. James Reidy’s apartment at the Leo C. Byrne Residence for retired priests is covered by full bookshelves.
How many works does he own? “Oh, I’ve never counted them,” the priest of 67 years says.
Reidy is a former English professor, not an accountant.
But his love for literature combined with an ability to look at the world through a lens of faith made the 2023 Saint Paul Seminary Distinguished Alumni Award recipient a revered figure in the worlds of Catholicism and English academia. For almost 40 years as an associate professor of English at the University of St. Thomas, Reidy helped students answer life’s most profound questions.
“Why are we here? What are we doing here?” Reidy, now in his 90s but still as lucid as ever, says. “What about suffering and death and evil? Shakespeare and the other greats tried to answer these questions. I think you can really effectively preach the Gospel through literature. I wasn’t using literature for that, necessarily, but that was the occasion; part of teaching literature is teaching these great, eternal truths.”
Reidy did just that at St. Thomas from 1958-1966. Born in Rock Island, Illinois, he moved with his family to the Twin Cities in 1951. After feeling a distinct call to discern the priesthood during a senior-year high school retreat, Reidy entered The Saint Paul Seminary and was ordained in 1956.
“Part of teaching literature is teaching these great, eternal truths.” — Fr. James Reidy, 1956 seminary alum
His top reading recommendation for the average lay Catholic? “Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales.
In addition to his zeal for sharing the power of words with students, seminarians, parishioners and fellow priests, Reidy is quick to advise a strong devotion to the Word Made Flesh.
Each year during advent, transitional deacons from the seminary set for ordination in the spring gather at the Byrne Residence next door to The Saint Paul Seminary for a holiday cocktail hour. It’s a profound time, as priests the age of Reidy and older, one-by-one, share advice gleaned from a lifetime of leadership and ministry.
When Reidy’s turn comes up, he always says the same thing, starting with a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Lord of the Rings author, Reidy says, “wrote to his son, ‘Even in my past life with all its problems and sufferings, I give you the one great thing to love on Earth: The Blessed Sacrament.’ He said, ‘There, you’ll find fidelity and romance and help in need and the way to eternal life.’
“I think every day, that devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, our Lord present with us here” is essential for a happy life, Reidy said.