Msgr. James “Jim” Dempsey, 93, of Beaumont, died Tuesday, December 31, 2019, at Christus Hospital-St. Elizabeth, Beaumont.
A gathering of Msgr. Dempsey’s family and friends will be 4-6 p.m., Thursday, January 9, 2020, with an Evening Prayer for the dead at 5:30 p.m., at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica, 700 Jefferson Street, Beaumont.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m., Friday, January 10, 2020, at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica, with a reception to follow in the Cathedral Center. His interment will be at 2 p.m., at Magnolia Cemetery, Beaumont.
James Jarlath Dempsey Jr. was born on August 11, 1926, to Gertrude Mixson Dempsey and James Jarlath Dempsey Sr., in Beaumont.
As a youth Jim attended St. Anthony Elementary and High School. He is remembered in Bulldog football history as the one who caught the extra point in the game against Beaumont High School – leading to St. Anthony pulling a 13-12 win.
After high school Jim enlisted in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946 serving as a pilot. Completing his military service Jim came back to Texas and enrolled at Texas A&M University. He graduated from A&M with a degree in math. It is thought that he is the first A&M graduate who was ordained a Catholic priest.
Though he could have chosen a different life, Jim answered his vocational call and attended seminary at St. Mary in La Porte and in Houston. Bishop W.J. Nold ordained him May 26, 1956, at St. Mary Cathedral in Galveston. Father Dempsey was named a Prelate of Honor by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2009.
Father Dempsey spent most of his ministry as a parish priest at several parishes – all but one was in Southeast Texas. He was an assistant at Blessed Sacrament, Houston; St. Charles Borromeo, Nederland; St. Anne, Beaumont; and Our Lady of the Assumption, Beaumont. He served as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows, China, and at St. Therese, the Little Flower of Jesus, Port Arthur. He also served as the Diocesan Director of the Cursillo. Father Dempsey was a chaplain at St. Elizabeth Hospital, Beaumont, from 1988 until his retirement in 1999.
Though his last 20 years of life Father Dempsey was officially retired, he rarely took it easy. He continued his priestly ministry celebrating Masses for special intentions and doing parish replacement ministry as long as possible. Father Dempsey would participate in reconciliation services at parishes and would drop what he was doing when he was asked by someone to hear a confession. He continued to stay active in a variety of activities that included knitting scarves, collecting stamps, staying informed on the stock market and visiting with friends and family members – usually asking for five more minutes of their time.
Father Dempsey was an athlete as long as he could be – tennis, volleyball, running, horseback riding and other activities. He was known to stand outside of church after Mass looking for a tennis partner.
Though he had a more difficult time getting around in his later years, Father Dempsey continued to go to the Lamar University Catholic Student Center to concelebrate Mass, hear confessions and have lunch with the students because the youth are important.
Throughout his life, though his ministry was to the parishes, he was also present to his family as well. They remember “Uncle Jimmy” bringing his horse to their neighborhood so that they could ride. Another favorite memory is “Uncle Jimmy” treating them to meals at Bozanza.
Survivors include his nieces, Margaret Sonnier Breaux and her husband, David; Mary Lou Sonnier Pearce and her husband, Tim; and Trudee Swain Markham and her husband, Barry; nephews, Donald J. “Donnie” Sonnier, Jr., and Beverly Moxley; Dr. Leo “Butch” Sonnier and his wife, Kathy; Tom Sonnier; David H. Swain, Jr., and his wife, Brenda; Curtis Swain; and Patrick Swain and his wife, Donna; and numerous grandnieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents; sisters, Trudeen Dempsey Swain and Mary Dempsey Sonnier; nieces, Cheryl “Cup” Sonnier Dana and Therese “Teri” Swain; nephew, James “Jimmy” Sonnier; and grandniece, Molly Ann Swain.
Memorial contributions for Msgr. Dempsey may be made to Some Other Place, P.O. Box 0843, Beaumont, Texas 77704; Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, 2780 Eastex Freeway, Beaumont, Texas 77703; or Southeast Texas Food Bank, 3845 MLK Jr. Parkway, Beaumont, Texas 77720.