Cardinal Stafford was born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 26, 1932. Having a strong calling to the priesthood, young James attended minor seminary in Baltimore and some major seminary training before being assigned to Rome to finish his studies there and be ordained a priest in St. Peter's Basilica on December 15, 1957 by Pope Pius XII. He remained in Rome obtaining his degree in Theology before returning to the Archdiocese of Baltimore where the new Archbishop Cardinal Lawrence Shehan assigned him to teaching and pastoral work. During these formative years he worked closely with the laity during the Second Vatican Council and after, as he endeavored to install the correct implementations as decreed by the Council Fathers. He could see a greater dependence on the laity to provide more leadership and charisms in the years ahead.
On February 29, 1976 Pope Paul VI named him Titular Bishop of Respetta and Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore under Archbishop William Donald Borders. Six and a half years later, after spending most of his years in the city of Edgar Allan Poe lore and crabcakes, he would experience a new venue - that of Elvis Presley lore and catfish when Pope John Paul II made him the Bishop of Memphis, Tennessee on November 17, 1982. He replaced the retired Bishop Carroll T. Dozier, the Diocese's first bishop who died on December 7, 1985. Memphis was a relatively young see having been founded in 1970 and the mid-south welcomed this Yankee named Stafford with open arms for his pastoral manner and love for all people won over his flock tremendously. In fact, they were greatly saddened when news came that the Holy Father was moving him again.
That move was from the delta of Memphis on the Mississippi to the mile high atmosphere of Denver as the Archdiocese of Denver's sixth shepherd. The Pope promoted him to Archbishop and he was installed on June 3, 1986 as Archbishop of Denver, an archdiocese that covers over 40,000 square miles in the northern part of the state of Colorado encompassing 24 counties. His predecessor was Archbishop James V. Casey who had died on March 14, 1986. John Paul II knew he had the perfect replacement in this young bishop from Memphis. Denver Catholics embraced him warmly.
Though it was quite a long way off in the distant future, we suspect the Holy Father was already making plans for the World Youth Day in Denver in the early nineties for Archbishop Stafford was doing wonders establishing a youth network of Catholic organizations in Denver and a renaissance of the Faith was underway. At the same time a new phenomena was occurring just southwest of him in Golden at the top of Cabrini Mountain where a giant 22-foot statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus stood regal watch over the Denver skyline below. It was on this property founded by Saint Frances Cabrini in 1902 and still operated by her nuns, that various visionaries were purportedly receiving messages from Heaven. Pilgrims flocked to the holy hill and the spring there, the same one discovered by Mother Cabrini which was said to carry miraculous healing. Rather than ruling immediately on this, Archbishop Stafford appointed a special commission to investigate the purported phenomena. The end result, due to misinformation given to some members of the commission and the personal problems of one of the visionaries, was that the Archbishop had no choice but to declare that the phenomena was not of a supernatural nature. In obedience we ceased all promotion or reporting of these, called the "Messages for the Harvest", but we do remember one message which the Hidden Flower of the Immaculate Heart received while kneeling near the statue at the top of Cabrini Mountain. That message was that Denver would be a center for the family and from this area devotion and respect for the family beginning with the youth would spread throughout the country and the world. This was in 1992. It was also in that same year when a week after the Holy Father had personally met with the Denver visionary, that the Vatican officially made the announcement that Denver would be the site of his next Papal Visit to the United States for the occasion of World Youth Day in August 1993.
A year later the Holy Father came to Denver for World Youth Day and the fruits of that visit are still reverberating through the hills all the way to both coasts and the gulf. Much of the success of this phenomenal three-day visit by His Holiness in which record crowds turned out to cheer and hear him, in which crime fell to an all time low and Denver laid out the red carpet in a show of hospitality unprecedented in the annals of foreign dignitary visits to America, much of all these accomplishments can be traced and credited to Archbishop Stafford.
We know this from a personal point of view for we were able to attain press credentials for his visit and attended most of the venues. Whether it was in the rain on the first day of his arrival during the tension-filled meeting with President Bill Clinton on the seminary grounds or at a packed Mile-High Stadium or a rockin' McNichols Arena or the special meeting of bishops at the Cathedral or the Holy Father's impressive outdoor Mass finale where half a million were in attendance at Cherry Hill Park and you could hear a pin drop during his talk and the Consecration of the Mass - Archbishop Stafford was the motivating force behind its astounding success. He was constantly with the Holy Father, smiling broadly and accessible to all. He exhibited no "stand-offishness" that one might expect from someone charged to shadow the Sovereign Pontiff throughout a three day period. He always had time for others. We can remember him coming to the fence that separated the media from the Cathedral grounds and asking the mob of media massed along the fence if they would be patient. He apologized that all were locked out except those invited guests for this special luncheon with the Pope and the bishops, but that if we were all patient we might be able to get a picture of the Holy Father exiting the building to his waiting limo. Think about it. He could have just sent someone else to announce that there would be no interviews, that this venue was off-limits and they might as well find something else to do until the Pope's next appearance later that afternoon. But no, he personally delivered the message and even took time out to talk with a few of us. I still have the picture of a smiling Archbishop Stafford behind the chain-link fence. This reporter had asked for a personal interview with the Archbishop and he truly was willing, but apologized because his docket was so full that it would have to be delayed. Can you imagine that, here he is entertaining the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church for three solid days and he still had time to answer this humble editor and apologize because of his schedule. His apology translated into being given an ideal and strategic location during one of the Papal Masses where this reporter was able to shake the Holy Father's hand and be blessed. There are few thrills or feelings of human ecstacies that rival that!
Though we had greatly admired this prelate before then, we were in total awe and respect of him after. The manner in which he pulled off the most well-run event ever in the history of the Church or the United States was phenomenal. Here was a secular city in which Catholics number around a quarter of a million compared to two million citizens. Yet he was able to convince them to marshall a welcoming reception and hospitality that totally bedazzled everyone. The Holy Father had to have noticed it as well. We had printed the month before the Pope's visit in our publication A CALL TO PEACE Archbishop Stafford's excellent document "Praying with Peter" which dealt with affirming our allegiance to the Holy Father. All one had to do was read this excellent dossier to realize what this reporter conveyed to many that he would be a cardinal soon.
That prediction came true five years later on February 21, 1998 when he and Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I. were the only United States bishops to be named to this august body of prelates. He received his red-hat as Cardinal Deacon of Gesu Buon Pastore alla Montagnola which means he was given the titular church of the church of Jesus, the Good Shepherd at Montagnola. His inclusion in the Sacred Conclave had actually become a fait accomplis on August 20, 1996 when three years from the time when he welcomed the Pope, the Pope welcomed him to Rome as the new President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Fortunately Rome's gain did not become Denver's loss for the Holy Father wisely chose another who someday could very well be a cardinal as well - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. to take Archbishop Stafford's place.
Cardinal Stafford also serves curial membership in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as well as the Pontifical Council for Interpretation of Legislative Texts, but his main focus is on the Pontifical Council for the Laity. As head of this curial office he has greatly grown in stature in dealing with the bishops of the world who consult with him during their ad limina visits. He publishes the "Laity Today" and oversees a curial office that has gained in importance from the Holy Father's emphasis on reaching out to the laity and challenging the laity. He receives weekly countless groups from around the world to discuss with them the state of the laity in their dioceses, cities, nations. He has worked on various documents including the Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests as well as the document The Dignity of Older People and their Mission in the Church and in the World. He has been at the forefront of the various conferences of lay apostolates meeting in Rome, especially over Pentecost last year when 150,000 assembled from all over the world for the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements in Rome from May 27-29, 1998.
His attention is on all age groups and nationalities, but Cardinal Stafford will always be associated with the youth movement and his tremendous success in Denver back in 1993. Today, at 67, the Pope has once again turned to this dynamic, can-do cardinal to prepare for the fifteenth and biggest World Youth Day yet, which will be held in Rome between August 14th and the 20th as a highlight of Jubilee 2000 festivities. If anyone can pull it off, you can count on Cardinal James Francis Stafford. After all, as the Holy Father knows only too well, he's an expert at it! After that event, some wonder if Pope John Paul II will groom him for a higher curial post. But that is left to speculation. One thing is very certain however, in his current position as head of the Laity, the Holy Father couldn't have found a better man!
I was baptized at16. I believed firmly in God, but as time passed, I began living a life of parties and pleasures. Yet none of it made me happy - really. So when Our Lady came into my life, I was ready for the "potter's hands." As I had mentioned, my friend returned from Medjugorje with a rosary for me. I looked at him as if he were nuts and asked: "What do you want me to do with this?"
He replied that I should learn to pray the Rosary.
I thanked him for the "cute" little gift, took the Rosary home and hung it on a nail on the wall.
My friend continued with his stories from Medjugorje. People saw the sun spin, Rosaries turned gold, etc. I wondered why people needed these things.
Soon it was Christmas. My house was full of people. For some reason I went into the bedroom. It was dark but the light from the kitchen shone on the wall where the Rosary hung. I went over to look at it. To my astonishment, it had turned gold. I began to feel real excitement. Maybe, just maybe "this Lady" was trying to get my attention.
Secretly, I began to learn to pray the Rosary.
By May of 1989 I was en route with my friend to a Marian Conference at Notre Dame, Indiana. We were to meet some people there, but we had no idea how this was to come about as 10,000 people were expected to be at the Conference. All of a sudden, on the highway, they were there - in the lane right next to us. This "Lady" now had my full attention.
Christmas 1989. I was on my way to Medjugorje, cold and all. The trip there took a total of 27 hours, by bus, plane, plane, plane and bus, which included a four hour layover in the Belgrade airport. I had a terrible fear of flying, but when I got on the first airplane, suddenly I had no fear. It was all gone.
When we got off the final plane in Dobrovnik, the sun was setting. I looked at it and sure enough, I saw it spinning and pulsating just like I had heard it would. There was a general peace all around, if you allowed it, and as it was Christmas, the villagers were extremely joyful.
One of the things that impressed me the most, was the generosity of the people. At the home where we were staying, the people were just ordinary folk with simple possessions. But they treated us with great generosity with what they had.
In Tihaljina, I lingered beside a very poignant statue of the scourged Jesus. A man, priest, dressed in a brown robe, like a monk, came up behind me. He touched my shoulder and when I turned to look at him, he wished me a very happy Christmas. His smile was bright and beautiful, his face radiant with love and friendship. I came to realize later that the man was Father Jozo. Oh, how privileged I was!