Retired Air Force chaplain embraces new Fort Lauderdale Chapter
MONSIGNOR JAMES DIXON SOON MARKS 50 YEARS AS PRIEST
Monsignor James Dixon may be a retired priest, but he will soon have a new role as the chaplain for Legatus’ Fort Lauderdale Chapter, which will charter officially in early 2020.
Monsignor Dixon is also a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel who served 23 years in the military. His final military assignment was at the Pentagon, where he served as chief of plans and programs for the Air Force chaplaincy service.
At 77 years old, Monsignor Dixon still walks five miles a day and he will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination in May 2020. He recently spoke with Legatus magazine.
How is the Fort Lauderdale Chapter coming along?
I think the Chapter is doing very well. We recently had a very good function and we’re getting close to the numbers that we need [for chartering]. Everyone is doing a great job, so I think we’re nearing the goal.
How did you get acquainted with Legatus?
I was at dinner a few months ago with a very good friend of mine who’s been associated with Legatus for a long time. He told me, “I’d like you to do me a favor.” I said, “Sure,” so he then said, “I’d like you to be the chaplain of Legatus.” I didn’t even know what Legatus was, but I had said ‘yes’ to him so I accepted the invitation. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but happily I got into something very worthwhile.
What have been your early impressions of Legatus?
I’ve been impressed with the kinds of people who are coming to the meetings and accepting the invitation. I’ve been getting to know them and I find them to be very sincere Catholic adults who want to do the right thing, who want to live and express their faith. They’re just good solid Catholic people.
How did you discern your vocation?
I don’t have a spectacular vocation story. I didn’t have to break up with a girlfriend. I wasn’t engaged, or on track to be a world-renowned scientist, doctor, or lawyer. I was just an ordinary person.
In my senior year of college, I started thinking about the priesthood. I went and talked to a priest, who said, “I have no idea whether you should go to seminary or not. But if you don’t, ten years from now when you’re married and have a couple of kids, you’ll always think back and ask yourself, ‘I wonder what it would have been like if I had gone to the seminary.’” I thought that was pretty good advice. Sixty years later, I’m still here.
What made you decide to join the Air Force as a chaplain?
For one thing, I really admired the people who were serving. I think the Air Force also appealed to me because very often, the work of an Air Force chaplain is pretty much doing parish work. On our bases, we run parishes pretty much like any diocesan parish. I liked parish work and I wanted to be a parish priest.
What are some differences between being a priest in the military and in civilian life?
One difference is that in the military, these men and women deal regularly with long absences. To move around every few years is a very normal thing for them. To have somebody in the family missing for months at a time, is a very normal thing.
Furthermore, on a more serious note, military people face the reality of death and they talk about death in a way that civilians don’t because they don’t really spend a whole lot of time thinking about death. For military people, this is a reality where even 19- and 20-year-olds will say, “If I don’t come back…” I think the military people hold on to life very carefully. They treasure it because they always have in the back of their minds the possibility of not being there one day. And often, they take their faith very seriously because of that.