In Your Midst

In Memoriam

July 2010

Father Ryan remembers Jim Impett

When I think of St. James Cathedral and what makes this place what it is, I think of people like Jim Impett who was as much a part of St. James as the towers, the masonry, the terrazzo floors, the bronze doors, or the stained glass windows.  Jim has been part of the musical life of St. James since the mid-fifties, when he began serving as Cathedral organist—more than half the years the cathedral has been in existence.  His passing is not only the passing of a beloved husband, father, grandfather, friend, and parishioner, it is also the closing of an important chapter in the distinguished musical history of St. James Cathedral.

Jim, I think, never made a friend he didn’t keep.  And I don’t just mean that he held onto friendships; I mean that he cultivated and nurtured them. For Jim friends were not passing fads, they were gifts of a lifetime.

Of course, the greatest friendship of his life was his friendship with his wife Julie.  Over the years, I spent many an evening with Jim and Julie in their home doing marriage preparation sessions with young engaged couples. It was work but we had fun.  There were always loads of laughs, thanks to Jim’s delightfully understated, self-deprecating humor, but those couples learned a lot, too.  More than anything, they learned the lesson Jim and Julie unfailingly taught both by word and example. Marriage is about “pulling together,” they would say. “We didn’t get married to argue or fight or disagree, we got married to pull together.”  To illustrate the point, at the end of the sessions, they always presented the couples with a beautiful pair of Gorham silver salad tongs – a nice, tangible reminder about pulling together.

Jim’s love of music and music-making, and his commitment to quality Church music made their mark on all of us.  Good Church music was not just Jim’s passion, it was his mission.  He spent much of his life promoting good music and performing good music. Music was never an ‘add on’ or a luxury for Jim: it was at the very heart of Catholic worship and, for that reason, it had to be first rate. Jim was one of a handful of fine Catholic musicians on the local scene who, during his long professional career, made a lasting mark on Church music and Church musicians.  If they were good, he encouraged them; if they were talented, he inspired them, if they needed help, he mentored them.

 Here at St. James, Jim was our best critic and our most enthusiastic supporter.  He loved this place where, as a young man, he had worked so hard to make good music; and he took personal pride in what happened here: in the musicians, in their talents and accomplishments, in the liturgies, and in their beauty.  In these last few years since his stroke, Jim’s “cathedra” was right over there.  From it, he would hold court following the 10:00 Mass when his many friends, including some Cathedral musicians, would come by for a Jim ‘fix’ – a good word, his trademark smile (as much in his eyes and eyebrows as on his lips), a memorable quip, and most probably a carefully crafted comment about the music of the day. The Cathedral musicians will miss their greatest and best critic and I am confident they will honor his memory by continuing to make great music here simply by being the fine musicians they are. 

These paragraphs are extracts from
Father Ryan's funeral homily for Jim Impett, May 1, 2010

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