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DeMatha’s president Father James Day marks 50th anniversary as a priest at school that is central to his life

At center, Trinitarian Father James Day, the president of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, celebrates a Dec. 8, 2022 Mass at the school marking the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. At left is Trinitarian Father Damian Anuszewski of DeMatha’s Theology Department and at right is Trinitarian Father Albert Anuszewski, the director of Trinitarian Mission at DeMatha. Father James noted that the four Trinitarian priests celebrating the Mass, including Father Josh Warshak of the school’s Campus Ministry Office, together represented more than 120 years of priestly service. (DeMatha photo by Andrew Travers)

When it came time for Trinitarian Father James Day to celebrate his 50th anniversary as a priest in December, the central event naturally took place at a Mass with the students, faculty and staff at DeMatha Catholic High School for young men in Hyattsville, Maryland, where he has served as the school’s first president since 2016, and where he has served in various roles for 26 of his 50 years as a priest.

“I wanted to do something with the students. They’re the reason I’m here,” said Father James, who as a priest of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity prefers to be known by his first name, which is a custom with that religious community.

Celebrating that Mass on Dec. 8 for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Father James was joined by three fellow Trinitarian priests serving at DeMatha. The liturgy was held at the school’s Lt. (SEAL) Brendan Looney ’99 Convocation Center, with the congregation including its 810 students and 115 faculty and staff members. DeMatha’s ninth and 10th graders wore blue jackets, and the 11th and 12th graders wore burgundy jackets.

In remarks after Communion, Father James stood behind the altar and addressed the DeMatha community, noting that over the years, “I’ve seen the campus and the programs expand and deepen, but most of all, I believe that I have been able to walk with you and the many who preceded you in the journey of Catholic education at the high school level, and for all of you, I am extremely grateful.”

His first encounter with DeMatha had come during his high school years, when he was student at the now-closed Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia, and he was visiting his cousin who was a student at DeMatha, and he was impressed after meeting the Trinitarians who sponsored the school.

At his anniversary Mass, Father James spoke about his own vocational journey, and encouraged the students to be open to God’s call and to talk to a priest or teacher if they think they might have a calling to the priesthood.

“When I was in high school at your age, I began to feel that serving God as a priest and a Trinitarian would be an adventure for me, something that would make me happy and help me to serve other people, and that dream has been realized and continues to be realized to this very day,” he said.

After his ordination to the priesthood on Dec. 2, 1972 at St. Charles Parish in Pikesville, Maryland, Father James served from 1973-74 as a chaplain and educator at the Institute of Notre Dame in Baltimore. Then he served from 1974-75 as an associate pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Victoria, Texas, and as a chaplain and educator at St. Joseph High School and Nazareth Academy in Victoria, Texas.

From 1975 to 1990, Father James began his service at DeMatha, first as a classroom teacher and counselor, and then as the school’s rector.

Through most of the years of his priesthood, he has also been part of the internal leadership of the Trinitarians and a formation director for its seminarians. After serving as a community leader at the Trinitarian Monastery in Baltimore from 1990-93, Father James served for 18 years as the pastor of St. Ann Parish in Bristol, Pennsylvania.

Then in 2011, Father James returned to DeMatha, serving as its rector and as counselor at the school before becoming its president in 2016.

In his closing remarks at the anniversary Mass at DeMatha, Father James said, “I feel blessed to have been at DeMatha first as a classroom teacher, then a counselor, then an administrator, and now as president. But the one regret I have as president is that I do not get to know all of you as well as I did when I was in the classroom or in the counseling center.”

He added, “I try my best in many different ways to connect with you, to communicate and to share with you my belief that you are a glorious group of young men who make me very proud to stand with you every day.” 

The priest’s voice broke as he said how proud he was to stand with DeMatha’s students. After concluding his remarks by saying, “Thank you and God bless the DeMatha community,” DeMatha’s students, teachers and staff gave him a long standing ovation.

In the photos above and below, after making remarks at the end of a Dec. 8 Mass at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville marking his 50th anniversary as a priest, Trinitarian Father James Day, the school’s president, smiles as he is applauded by students, faculty and staff attending the Mass. At left in the photo above is Trinitarian Father Damian Anuszewski of DeMatha’s Theology Department. (DeMatha photo by Andrew Travers)

In a Dec. 14 interview at his office, Father James reflected on his life as a Trinitarian priest.

“I’ve always believed in the vision of St. John de Matha (who founded the order in  1198), to assist people in whatever circumstances they’re in and to encourage them to develop to their best abilities,” he said. “As a Trinitarian, I like the variety of ministries that we do – education, parish (service), chaplaincies, (and outreach to) the persecuted Church.”

In his office, DeMatha’s president has reproductions of paintings showing St. John de Matha’s ordination and first Mass, and a framed copy of the order’s mission statement, including words that he read aloud, about the order’s commitment to “upholding the freedom of all people, especially the broken who are marked by the hardships of the human condition.”

In addition to their educational outreach at DeMatha, their parish service and chaplaincies, members of the Trinitarian order this past year have been offering hospitality at their monastery in Poland to Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s attacks on their country.

“I would not have joined a community that only did one thing. That’s not me,” Father James said.

He noted that a special blessing of his 50 years as a priest has been the ability to impact the lives of the people he has served. Father James also returned to St. Ann Church in Bristol, Pennsylvania, to celebrate an anniversary Mass at the parish where he had served for nearly two decades.

“What I found most rewarding as a (parish) priest was to administer the Sacrament of the Sick in hospitals and nursing homes or anywhere,” he said. “When a priest celebrates it well, we are the only hand that’s touching someone who is ill and frightened and confused, that’s not giving them a pill or injecting them. We’re just there, just holding their hand and offering them the consolation of the sacrament.”

During his years at DeMatha, Father James has helped lead the school through many special moments, including the dedication of the school’s new wing in 1990, which included a music center, a new library, a chapel, 12 classrooms, a counseling center and administration center.

“It really helped complete the school at that point,” he said.

Other milestones over the years have included DeMatha being named as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education in 1984 and 1991, and its 2021 groundbreaking for its future Cross Center for Engineering, Arts and Robotics.

Father James praised the legacy of two longtime staff members at DeMatha who died in recent years, John Moylan and Morgan Wootten. 

John Moylan, who became DeMatha’s principal in 1968 and served in that role until retiring in 2000, was the first lay principal of a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Washington. Moylan led the school as it expanded its facilities and academic program and when DeMatha received National Blue Ribbon honors. He was hired by DeMatha in 1956 as a counselor and French teacher. He died in 2021 at the age of 88.

Morgan Wootten also joined DeMatha’s staff in 1956. As the basketball coach there, he led the Stags to 1,274 victories, 33 conference titles, 16 city titles and five national titles. In 2000, he was voted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. During his 46 years at DeMatha, Wootten also taught world history and served as the school’s athletic director and as a football coach. He died in 2020 at the age of 88.

DeMatha’s president said he admires those men for “their passion for the Catholic faith, their passion for Catholic education, and their passion for the people who make up DeMatha.”

Father James has also expressed appreciation for the educational leadership of Daniel McMahon, a 1976 DeMatha graduate and longtime English teacher there who has served as the school’s principal since 2000.

In the interview, the priest said, “I’m constantly amazed at the dedication of our faculty and staff.” 

McMahon in remarks to the DeMatha community honoring Father James on his 50th anniversary as a priest praised DeMatha’s president for the personal approach that he takes toward the students, teachers, staff and families that he serves.

Trinitarian Father James Day, the president of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, gives Communion to a student during a Dec. 8, 2022 Mass at the school where the priest celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination. (DeMatha photo by Andrew Travers)

Asked about his greatest blessing during his years at DeMatha, Father James said, “Watching the young men grow from 14-year-old boys to 18-year-old young men excited about their future, grateful for their teachers and staff and feeling good about themselves.”

He noted that the Trinitarian priests at DeMatha continue serving the school’s graduates as they become adults.

“All the priests here, we baptize their children, we do weddings for them. Sadly, we do funerals for graduates,” he said. “The DeMatha connection extends beyond the high school years. That’s that sense of brotherhood that is so central to our mission.”

At his anniversary Mass at DeMatha, Father James was presented with a framed apostolic blessing from Pope Francis. 

At the end of a Dec. 8, 2022 Mass where he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, Trinitarian Father James Day, the president of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, holds aloft a framed apostolic blessing from Pope Francis that was presented to him to commemorate that milestone. (DeMatha photo by Andrew Travers)

About two weeks earlier at an alumni gathering, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan – who attended DeMatha as a youth – presented the priest with a Governor’s Citation, which praised Father James, noting “…the spiritual leadership and devoted service you have demonstrated on behalf of the ministry during the past 50 years – throughout the years you have demonstrated a gift for bringing people together in a positive and caring way through faith and service…”

Trinitarian Father James Day, the president of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, receives a Governor’s Citation honoring him on the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan during a Nov. 23 alumni event for the school. (Photo courtesy of Gov. Hogan’s office)

DeMatha has established a Father James Day Scholarship for students in his honor.

Father James’ office has many mementos from his years as a priest and his years at the school, including DeMatha hardhats from construction projects, yearbooks, a mosaic of a blue and red Trinitarian cross, and a framed motto for its students reading “Remember You are a Faith-filled Gentleman and a Scholar.”

DeMatha’s president smiled as he noted an anniversary gift from the secretaries in the school’s main office – a custom-made Father James Day bobblehead on his desk that looks like the priest, complete with white hair, glasses, the white Trinitarian habit with the blue and red cross, along with the ever-present pencil holder that he has on the side of his waist. 

Like the papal blessing, the governor’s citation and the applause from the students, the bobblehead reflects how Father James has long been a part of DeMatha, and DeMatha has long been a part of him.

Trinitarian Father James Day, the president of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, holds a custom-made bobblehead presented to him by the secretaries in the school’s main office to honor him for his 50th anniversary as a priest. (Photo courtesy of DeMatha Catholic High School)