No ‘bucket list’ or regrets, just desire to serve as Fr. DeBisschop copes with cancer
ORION — Father James DeBisschop doesn’t want to live to be 100. He doesn’t even want to live to be an old man. He just wants to live to serve God.
Cancer has made that hard to do over the last four years — but not impossible.
“I just love being a parish priest, Father DeBisschop told The Catholic Post during a frank discussion at Mary, Our Lady of Peace Church last week. “It gives me life.”
That has kept him going through all the tough times since Thanksgiving Day in 2012, when he learned that the diverticulitis he thought he had was actually colon cancer. His prognosis has always been terminal.
“I’m very transparent because I don’t like rumors. From the get-go I’ve always communicated in the parish bulletin my health status,” said Father DeBisschop, who is also pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Coal Valley.
Not only does he share test results with his parish families, but he lets them know when he’s not feeling well or has “hit a brick wall.”
“The whole purpose I say some of these things is so people can identify and have empathy for people who are suffering with cancer specifically, but beyond that — people who are suffering.” — Father DeBisschop
“The whole purpose I say some of these things is so people can identify and have empathy for people who are suffering with cancer specifically, but beyond that — people who are suffering,” he explained. “We all have our different treatments and reactions to things, but when I say I have neuropathy or when I say I’m cold sensitive or when I say I can’t stand smells, it might open someone else up to say, ‘I never thought that So-and-So in my family might be sensitive’ or ‘I feel that way, too!’”
FEELING THE PRAYERS
Father DeBisschop admitted that this has been a learning experience for him, even though he has tried throughout his 28 years of priesthood to feel empathy and solidarity with those who are sick and dying. He added that he has a great admiration, and always has, for people dealing with chronic and life-limiting illnesses.
As someone on the other side of that now, he said he feels humbled by the prayer he has received “and very, very blessed.”
“It’s not in the quantity, but just the knowing” that people are remembering him in prayer, he said.
Father DeBisschop often hears those prayers. They are offered at every Mass for him, as well as all the sick members of the Orion and Coal Valley parishes. In addition, a group of people pray with him and over him each week.
He especially appreciates it when people pray for his healing through the intercession of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen. It is a prayer that appears regularly in the parish bulletins.
Maureen Bennett, the parish nurse at St. Maria Goretti, also has started a 24-hour prayer chain for Father DeBisschop. It includes two prayer groups and about 31 people who have volunteered to pray at specific times of the day for the priest.
“There are so many limits on what you can actually do for him or anybody else who’s ill, but prayer is probably the most effective way we can support him.” — Maureen Bennett
“There are so many limits on what you can actually do for him or anybody else who’s ill, but prayer is probably the most effective way we can support him,” she told The Post.
She speaks from experience. Her husband died of colon cancer three-and-a-half years ago and it was the prayer of people they knew — and people they didn’t know — that held them up, she said.
While not all of the hours of the day are covered in the prayer chain, “we trust the Spirit to make this work and I believe in that. People do what they can do. If they wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get to sleep, pray. He probably is, too.”
“There are times I just cannot sleep, especially right after chemo(therapy),” said Father DeBisschop, his curly red hair gone now; his smooth scalp often covered by a hat. “My mind starts to race. I try not to think too much about the future. I just live in the present.”
He has been trying to offer up his suffering for others, such as the children who are dying in Aleppo, Syria.
“I know a better day will come, even though I’m feeling miserable,” he said, “but when you’re a little defenseless child in a war-torn country, you don’t know that a better day will come. And a better day may not come.”
MINISTRY OFFERS STRENGTH
He draws strength from his ministry and one of his greatest joys is celebrating Mass with his faith communities. He called this “an awesome and wonderful gift.”
More conscious of sin, Father DeBisschop said he is also more conscious of God’s forgiveness, which seems “more real, more present, more genuine.”
He added that he has no regrets and no “bucket list.” What he wants to do is what he has always done — be with his people, whether that’s at Mass, at youth group or just going out to breakfast.
“That’s why I’m here,” Father DeBisschop said. “This is the life God chose for me. I simply said yes.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: To join the prayer chain, contact Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text (309) 269-6565. To find the prayer for healing through the intercession of Fulton Sheen, visit archbishopsheencause.org.