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Bringing music and healing

First slide

Deacon James F. Waalkes knows everything happens in God’s time. 

After ordination, he will begin his first priestly assignment as a parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church, not far from St. Philip Church in Falls Church, where he spent the past year as a deacon preaching, teaching,  performing baptisms and working in youth ministry. 

Because of the coronavirus, his ministries and activities, like those of so many others, have largely shifted online. And while Virginia churches are phasing in a return to in-person Masses, much remains uncertain. 

“It’s such a strange time to get ordained; it’s unclear what ministry will even look like,” he said. 

“I’m just embracing the uncertainty and accepting the fact that everything can go in a different direction at any minute. I have no plans. I am just walking forward.” 

Yet he knows that God’s grace is at work even through difficult times. “We always want to control grace, but it can be somewhat elusive how it works and how God helps us,” Deacon Waalkes said. 

One of his favorite memories from the past year was working with young people at diocesan WorkCamp last June. A former fifth grade teacher at Angelus Academy in Springfield for two years, Deacon Waalkes, 31, has a heart for youth ministry. “They’re going through a lot,” he said.

He enjoys music — mostly modern folk and acoustic — and he sings and plays guitar (and sometimes harmonica), a gift that he has brought to his ministry both at St. Philip and at the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria, where he previously served as a deacon. 

He achieved near rock star status among St. Philip’s preschoolers after Father Denis M. Donahue, pastor, suggested he record “Old MacDonald” and post it on YouTube for children stuck at home due to the pandemic.  The video, viewed by thousands, featured an array of fun animal sounds and soon grew into a series, each with its own reflective twist. “The Wheels on the Bus” was about how “sometimes we feel like we’re just going ‘round and ‘round,” while “Itsy Bitsy Spider” became a tale about making bad choices. “I’m a Little Teapot” was a lesson in anger management. 

While Deacon Waalkes can relate to kids on their own level and will enjoy bringing some fun to his new assignment, he also looks forward to other aspects of his new priestly duties, such as hearing confessions and “being a conduit of healing.”

Mostly, he wants to convey that “I’m just very grateful for all the people praying for me — I truly feel protected by it.”

Miller can be reached at Leslie.Miller@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020