‘Monsignor Jim’ of Durango is sporting purple

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

The Rev. James Koenigsfeld, left, of St. Columba Catholic Church, receives the title of monsignor Monday evening from Bishop Fernando Isern of the Pueblo Diocese during a ceremony at the church. “He’s probably the most spiritual priest we’ve had in my 19 years here,” parishioner Judy Roelofs said.

By Ann Butler Herald staff writer

Call him “Monsignor Jim.”

In a rare honor for a diocesan priest, Pope Benedict XVI approved the investiture of the Rev. James Koenigsfeld of St. Columba Catholic Church as chaplain to His Holiness or papal chamberlain, which carries with it the title of monsignor.

“Everywhere he’s gone, he’s left a mark,” said Bishop Fernando Isern of the Pueblo Diocese, who conducted the ceremony Monday before a standing-room-only crowd of almost 500. “Especially in this Year of Faith (which began in October to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II), the church is looking for examples of fidelity.”

Koenigsfeld, 70, who is known for his humility and self-deprecating humor, explained the title in last Sunday’s church bulletin. There are three degrees of monsignor:

The lowest level is chaplain to His Holiness, which entitles the designee to wear a black cassock with purple trim.

The next level is domestic prelate, also known as prelate of honor, who wears a black cassock with red buttons and trim.

The third level is protonotary apostolic, who wears a silk cape over the cassock.

Koenigsfeld told parishioners he “burst out laughing” when Isern told him about the honor because he thought it was a joke. He was quick to tell them what being named a monsignor means.

“None of these titles make any difference in a person’s authority, dignity or salary,” he wrote. “The titles are purely titles of recognition for a job well done. God knows in my case, a lot has to be overlooked in my style of pastoring in order to say ‘good job, well done.’ But God is merciful, believe me.”

His parishioners are the first to disagree about Koenigsfeld’s pastoring.

Lisa Schwantes was struck by the music Koenigsfeld chose to have the choir sing at the investiture.

“I will choose Christ, I will choose love, I choose to serve,” she quoted. “That is so Father Jim.”

Charlie DiFerdinando agreed.

“He’s the fourth priest we’ve had with the title,” he said, “but he’s had way more parishioners, and he’s had to do it all by himself. The others all had assistants.”

He noted that Koenigsfeld, who spends much of his free time hiking and camping in the mountains, even invites parishioners to join him on his outdoor adventures.

While Koenigsfeld is the fourth to hold the title monsignor in St. Columba’s 131-year history, he is only the second to be honored while actually serving at St. Columba, and his ceremony of investiture at the church is the first ever. The other investiture, for the Rev. Joseph Segourn in 1947, took place in the cathedral in Denver. Koenigsfeld, who has served at parishes across Colorado for 44 years, requested his service be held at his parish.

Isern said only four or five priests out of 50 in his diocese hold the title of monsignor. One other priest in the diocese, the Rev. Jim King, who is the vicar general of the diocese and Isern’s principal deputy, received the honor this year.

Isern spoke about a woman from Monte Vista, where Koenigsfeld served from 1975 to 1981, who still considers him her spiritual director 30 years later and drives to Durango for counsel.

And then there was the out-of-town reporter who happened into St. Columba for Mass and was struck by Koenigsfeld’s plea to parishioners to volunteer for a project to help the poor. Koenigsfeld invited people to come forward to sign up, and the reporter noted that Koenigsfeld’s name was first on the list.

“He’s so enthusiastic and leads by example,” Isern said. “The reporter wrote a beautiful article about this priest servant-leader.”


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