WAUPACA – Fr. James Vennix used to spread cheer with members of St. Mary Magdalene Parish, where he was pastor from 1983 to 2001, at the beginning of Mass.
“I would say, ‘It’s a beautiful day in Waupaca,’” he told The Compass in 2016, the year he celebrated his 60th anniversary as a priest. “That’s what’s on my tombstone.”
Fr. Vennix’s positive attitude will be remembered by those he knew and met throughout his six decades of priesthood. He died June 13 at the age of 88.
Fr. Vennix was born in Marinette to Henry and Nora (Baeten) Vennix. He attended Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Marinette, followed by St. John Seminary in Collegeville, Minn. He also attended Marquette University in Milwaukee for graduate studies in education. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Stanislaus V. Bona on May 26, 1956, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay.
Fr. Vennix’s first appointment was as chaplain of the Community Hospital in New London. He then served as parochial vicar at St. Philip the Apostle Parish, Green Bay. In 1958, he was appointed principal of St. Thomas Aquinas Academy in Marinette.
He served several parishes as parochial vicar, including St. Mary, Oshkosh (now part of Most Blessed Sacrament), St. Mark, Two Rivers (now St. Peter the Fisherman), and Holy Cross, Kaukauna. In 1969, he was appointed pastor of St. Hedwig Parish, West Kewaunee (now part of in St. Therese of Lisieux in Stangelville), and in 1970 he became pastor of St. Mary Parish in Chilton (merged with other parishes to become Good Shepherd). He also served as pastor of St. Hyacinth Parish in Antigo, and his final pastorate, St. Mary Magdalene Parish, Waupaca.
While serving as pastor at St. Mary Magdalene, he started the process of building of the new church, which was completed in 2003. “We spent about 10 years planning the next church,” Fr. Vennix told The Compass in 2016. “We were outgrowing the building and we were surrounded by three streets and a river so you couldn’t expand.”
After his retirement, he remained in Waupaca and ministered to residents at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King.
Fr. Vennix was candid about his battle with alcoholism. He recalled that he began drinking heavily while serving in Marinette.
“There are two things to know about me. One is I’m a Catholic priest and the other is I’m an alcoholic,” he said. On Jan. 15, 1973, while serving as pastor at St. Mary Parish in Chilton, he entered treatment.
“I was in the hospital for 10 days,” he said, adding that he took life “one day at a time.”
His recovery was accompanied by a positive attitude, evident by his pre-Mass weather reports.
“It could be raining. It could be 20 degrees below zero. I said, ‘It has nothing to do with the weather. Just look how blessed we are,’” Fr. Vennix said he told parishioners. “We have 1,000 blessings in our life and three things that are wrong and we concentrate on the three things that are wrong and forget the blessings. Every day is a beautiful day.’”
A visitation will be held Sunday, June 16, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., at St. Mary Magdeline Church, N2845 Shadow Road in Waupaca. Visitation resumes on Monday, June 17, from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by a funeral liturgy with Bishop David Ricken presiding and Deacon Robert Precourt serving as homilist. Burial will follow at St. Mary Magdalene Cemetery, Waupaca.