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December 16, 2012 - January 5, 2013

He’s 100, loves being Catholic

Parishioners from St. Anselm Church, 6045 S. Michigan Ave., sing "Happy Birthday" to Jimmy King Sr. (center) on Nov. 18 for his 100th birthday. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

By Michelle Martin

STAFF WRITER

Brother Jimmy King wasn’t Catholic for the first 65 years of his life — almost a lifetime, for most people. But after coming into communion with the church on Holy Thursday in 1978, he never looked back.

King, who celebrated his 100th birthday at St. Anselm Parish, 61st Street and Michigan Avenue, in November, has found a home in the church and has become an inspiration to his fellow parishioners.

King credits his late wife, Joyce, with bringing him to the Catholic Church. It was because of her he started taking the practice of his faith seriously at all, he said. The couple married in 1958. Shortly after the wedding, when she asked what he was doing lying in bed on Sunday morning, he said, “Nothing.”

“She told me, ‘In my family, we go to church on Sundays!’” he said.

So, having been raised a Baptist, he started attending a local Baptist church, and nine years later was ordained a deacon.

He was active in the Baptist community — secretary treasurer of the deacons’ board — when his wife came home from St. Anselm and told him the new pastor, Divine Word Father Charles Burns, thought he should be Catholic, and so did she.

“The next thing I knew, I was taking instruction to be Catholic,” said King, whose wife died in 1999. “I was asking what happened. But I’ve never looked back. I’ve been loved at church, and I’m very happy here.”

King’s story starts in Gonzalez, Texas, where he was born. His mother died when he was 17 months old, and he was raised by an aunt in a loving web of extended family. When he was a child, the whole clan moved to Kansas City, in search of work on the railroads and in the stockyards.

After he graduated from high school, the clan split up. King went to California with one branch of the family, but didn’t find a lot of opportunity in the depths of the Depression. While there, he married his first wife, a show girl he said looked like Tina Turner. She traveled a lot; in 1935 she wrote from Chicago inviting him to join her here, so he did.

But the relationship wasn’t really much of a marriage, with her travelling and not wanting children, and after a few more years it broke up. King stayed in Chicago, where he had decided “you could make money here if you only apply yourself.”

He applied himself to starting small companies that offered cleaning, maintenance and other services to businesses and affluent households. “We’d cut your grass, clean your house, serve at parties, pick up your kids,” he said. “Whatever you needed.”

King made enough that he was able to buy the apartment building he lived in, later selling it at a profit.

He became head usher at St. Anselm in 1979, a position he held until he relinquished it a year ago, and was one of the first extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in the archdiocese. The church still forms the backbone of his social and spiritual life, with Sunday Mass, counting the collection on Mondays, helping with the parish’s outreach to the poor on Wednesdays and making visits to the sick with the parish administrator, Divine Word Father Abelardo Gabriel.

He has a man who comes to his apartment every morning to help him get out of bed and make sure he gets breakfast; on Saturday he cooks big batches of dishes from his youth, like oxtail soup and red beans and rice.

“You have to do something,” he said, of the philosophy that keeps him active.

His only child, a son, died in 2003, and his grandson is an attorney in New Orleans.

He reflects on the path that brought him to this place. When his wife and most of their friends were Catholic, he joined them, but hardly told a soul until it was a done deal.

“That Easter morning (in 1978) when I went up to take Communion, I had people coming up and saying, ‘You shouldn’t do that. You’re a Baptist, you’re not Catholic,” he said. “I said, ‘Oh, yes, I am.’

“You serve Jesus, you serve God. … I lived by the rules. I love my Jesus like my Jesus said: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood becomes part of me and I become part of him.”