Priest serves as faith anchor for seafarers


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SAN DIEGO — Father James Boyd, 86, has been chaplain of the Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center since 2002.

Located at the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, the center represents the local Church’s participation in the Apostleship of the Sea, an international ministry of pastoral care to those who make their livelihoods on the world’s oceans.

Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Father Boyd was ordained to the priesthood on June 1, 1963. He served as a U.S. Navy chaplain, from 1970 to 1996. With his bishop’s permission, he relocated to San Diego in 1997 to be closer to his family, which had moved to the Burbank area.

Father Boyd is also actively involved with Engaged Encounter, which prepares couples for marriage; Marriage Encounter, which is for couples seeking to make good marriages even better; and Retrouvaille, which works to heal deeply troubled marriages.

For more information about the Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center, call (619) 726-4982.

Question: What role did the Catholic faith play in your life when you were growing up?
My two brothers, sister and I all attended Catholic grammar school and high school.

The three of us boys were altar servers, and that experience had a big effect on me.

Eventually, both of my brothers and I would begin studying for the priesthood. My older brother changed his mind, left the seminary and became a lawyer; my other brother had heart trouble and died during his second year in the Jesuit novitiate. So, I was the only one of us to be ordained.

It was a very different time in those days. The churches were filled, and it was very popular for young people to go to church. We had wonderful parish priests, who would take us altar servers to baseball and football games. The nuns who ran the Catholic schools were also actively involved in encouraging religious vocations.

When did you first feel a call to the priesthood?
I think it came from being an altar boy, attending Catholic school, and the influence of the nuns and priests. I’d say that it was during my high school days that I started thinking seriously that this was what I wanted to do with my life. The appeal is that you’re helping people to get to Heaven. What could be better than that, helping them to be happy forever?

What is the mission of the Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center?
Like similar centers throughout the world, the Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center exists to provide for the spiritual welfare of Catholic seafarers, those who make their livelihoods on the crews of commercial ships that transport various products to ports across the globe. These include three Dole ships, one of which arrives every week at the Port of San Diego with its cargo of fresh fruit; many other ships come in on a less regular schedule.

What does the center do for these seafarers?
Huge numbers of them are Catholic. They’re Filipinos and Eastern Europeans who, because of their work, have very little chance to go to Mass. So, traditionally, I have celebrated Mass for them and heard confessions onboard their ships.

The center’s volunteers also help to take care of their non-spiritual needs. Because of security measures put in place after 9/11, the seafarers are no longer permitted to walk more than 15 feet from their ships without an escort. So, the center got TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential) cards for its volunteers and purchased vans, so that the volunteers could escort the seafarers, driving them to the port’s front gate and then to and from local shopping centers.

We also provide donated magazines, like National Geographic and religious publications, to the seafarers.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our ministry. We aren’t allowed on many of the ships yet, out of concern that someone might bring the virus onboard.

You’re also actively involved in marriage ministry, including Retrouvaille. What have you found rewarding about that?
Retrouvaille is for people whose marriages are in very bad shape, and it works miracles.

I’ve met couples who already had divorce papers prepared, but tore them up after attending the weekend. I’m in contact with people who made a Retrouvaille weekend 20 years ago and, today, they’re doing fine.

What message do you have about being open to where God might be calling a person?
Being a priest is a very happy life. Think of all the good things you’re doing. You can celebrate Mass; you bring God’s forgiveness to people in confession. It’s absolutely marvelous to be able to be called by God to do this. What a privilege! You help people be happy here and happy hereafter.

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