By CHRIS MCMANES — A teary-eyed Rev. James M. Stack announced May 19 that he is leaving as pastor of St. Jerome Catholic Church. His announcement, at the end of a Parish Council meeting, left some members in stunned silence.
“I’ve enjoyed immensely the great opportunity to serve the good people of St. Jerome’s,” Stack said. “It’s been a great ride.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, has assigned Stack to St. Anthony’s in North Beach, effective July 1. He will replace Rev. David P. Russell, who is retiring.
Stack, 55, came to Hyattsville from the Church of the Annunciation in northwest Washington, D.C., in 1998. Prior to that, he served at St. Ambrose in Cheverly (1986-88) and Sacred Heart in Bowie (1988-93). For many years, he was a Washington Redskins and Prince George’s County Police chaplain.
Joe Gibbs, who led Washington to three Super Bowls championships, is one of the coaches Stack advised. The cleric recalled Wednesday flying on the Redskins’ charter to away games with Gibbs.
“He used to tell me he wanted to talk about faith, and I’d say ‘okay,’” said Stack, the second-longest serving pastor in St. Jerome’s 129-year history. “Joe is a deeply spiritual man and was a great coach. But more than that, he’s a great man and was a pleasure to work with.”
Stack celebrated the 29th anniversary of his priesthood on May 17. He’s known for his genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of his parishioners, his remarkable public speaking ability and his strong belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ during Communion. He has often said that if the Catholic Church ever abandoned its belief in the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ that he would leave the church.
Stack will be replaced by Rev. Scott R. Hahn, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Burtonsville. From 2007-12, Hahn was pastor at St. Philip the Apostle in Camp Springs. Prior to that, he was stationed at St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, both in Silver Spring.
Hahn graduated from Theological College, the national seminary of The Catholic University of America, and was ordained in 2003. He previously taught elementary school in Washington, D.C., after earning his master’s in education from CUA.
Revitalizing the Parish
Stack, 38 at the time he replaced Rev. Joseph A. Ranieri at St. Jerome, took over a parish that had an aging population and was about to experience a steep decline in school enrollment. Stack often recalled the year he said 47 funeral Masses. Today, baptisms far outnumber deaths.
With an operating deficit and dwindling school population, Stack and St. Jerome Principal Mary Pat Donoghue assembled a group of parishioners who wrote the classical educational plan that St. Jerome Academy has followed since 2010. The curriculum has served as a model for schools across the country.
St. Jerome is the only school in the archdiocese with a classical curriculum. A preschool Montessori program started in 2013. Stack said Tuesday he didn’t want to leave the parish on 43rd Avenue until the school was stabilized.
“The school is in very good shape,” he said. “The kids are wonderful, and we’re attracting a lot of people. We adopted the classical curriculum because we had to do something to keep ourselves in the business of educating children.
“Our previous model was failing, and we had to rethink what we were doing.”
Stack endured a tragedy on June 8, 2000, the day of his father’s funeral, when his good friend, Rev. Thomas Wells, was found murdered in the rectory of Mother Seton Church in Gaithersburg. Wells, who had previously been pastor at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Hyattsville, and Stack used to play golf frequently and enjoy other activities together.
Stack has said many times that, after Wells’ death, he felt the Holy Spirit was calling him to establish a healing ministry at St. Jerome. He resisted at first but has since 2007 hosted a healing Mass on the first Sunday of every month.
Stack hasn’t announced whether his healing Masses will continue at St. Anthony.
Members of the St. Jerome Parish Council have already begun planning a celebration to honor Stack for his 17-year stewardship. He will say his final Sunday Mass at the parish on June 28, and he’s already signed up to play in a June 15 golf tournament to benefit St. Jerome Academy.
“I’ve had a marvelous time at St. Jerome,” he said. “I love the people here and thank them for all the love and support they’ve given me. I will definitely miss being here.”
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) is vice-president of the St. Jerome Parish Council.