Paulist Fr. Jim Kolb listens to a well-wisher June 25 during a farewell parade. Father Kolb was pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Southwest Portland for 19 years. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Paulist Fr. Jim Kolb listens to a well-wisher June 25 during a farewell parade. Father Kolb was pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Southwest Portland for 19 years. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
He spent almost 20 years as pastor of one parish, not to mention staying resolutely on call at several nearby hospitals six days per week.

Paulist Father Jim Kolb, 80, is retiring, and the people of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Southwest Portland are bidding a fond and rather rowdy farewell. On June 25, they held an energetic parade to let him know how they feel.

“We couldn’t have a Mass, or a picnic, or a party, but we could have a parade,” said Kathy Sabel, a parishioner and a member of what she calls the “Friends of Father Jim Society.”

Horns honked and balloons fluttered at Resurrection Parish in Tualatin, which had the parking lot space to hold the event for Father Kolb before he begins travels. St. Elizabeth parishioners waved and shouted greetings from a safe distance.

“Everyone feels special when he says a Mass,” said Dr. Michael Davey, a professor of medicine at OHSU. Dr. Davey notes that while people lately have been praying for medical staff and researchers, Father Kolb has been doing it for 20 years.

“We just thought he was such a blessing for us,” said Diane Ditmer, a member of St. Elizabeth of Hungary for 40 years. “He thought we were a blessing for him. He is such a very spiritual but very fun person.”

Father Kolb, a Pennsylvania native, went to Alaska in 1968 as a Jesuit volunteer. Ordained in 1976, he said his priesthood has been defined and enhanced by relationships with laity.

“Not much of it turned out the way I thought,” the priest said of his life. “When you think you have it all together you have a long way to go.”

Father Kolb, who came to Oregon in 2001 from the parish on the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks, hopes to return to Alaska at least part time, but also will live in Vancouver, Washington.

It’s unusual for a pastor to stay at one parish more than a dozen years.

“I kept volunteering to stay on,” said the priest, whose burly build and bold white beard make him a natural St. Nicholas during Advent at St. Elizabeth.

He also put in long hours at Oregon Health and Science University Hospital and two children’s hospitals as the on-call chaplain, accompanying patients and grieving families at all hours.

“I liked it so I stayed,” he said, explaining that he relied on the Almighty to help him through the hospital ministry.

“I walked into a lot of situations when I didn’t know what to do, and God provided,” he said.

Father Kolb’s quirks and candor endeared him to the people. He wears tennis shoes all the time, even when presiding at Mass, and drives a vintage red pickup. For his farewell party, he donned shorts and a t-shirt.

His main message to people has been constant: “You are loved by God. God is an all forgiving God. The Holy Spirit constantly challenges and leads us.”

He is thankful and amazed the people listened to his homilies over the years.

He intends to have a rest, read more Scripture and stay open to surprises.

“It’s been a good ride,” he said.