From an early age, Joseph Lim was recognized as a brilliant student by the German nuns teaching at the Catholic grade school in Tagbilaran, the small city in the island province of Bohol, Philip- pines, where he was born.
By Bob Marrow
From an early age, Joseph Lim was recognized as a brilliant student by the German nuns teaching at the Catholic grade school in Tagbilaran, the small city in the island province of Bohol, Philip- pines, where he was born. Strict disciplinarians, methodical and precise, the Sisters encouraged young Joseph to excel in every endeavor. The good nuns obtained funds from their benefactors in Germany to assist their star student in furthering his education and encouraged him to become a priest. Joseph decided in grammar school to follow their advice. Later, through the study of St. Thomas Aquinas, he found that his faith in both God and reason could be combined in a life devoted to the service of others.
As Father Lim is fond of saying, “Faith need not be a leap into blindness.”
At the age of 11, he entered the Seminary, where he spent a total of 12 years. He spent the first eight at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Bohol, where he graduated Valedictorian in Classical High School, and Magna Cum Laude in College majoring in Philosophy. He pursued his post- graduate studies in Theology at San Carlos Major Seminary in Cebu City, also graduating magna cum laude. Versed in Latin, Greek, Spanish, Hebrew, and English, Father Lim was ordained a priest in 1975 at the age of 23, and was appointed Dean of Philosophy at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, where he specialized in teaching metaphysics.
One of his students at the seminary was Archbishop Barnie Auza, now the Papal Nuncio to Haiti.
His bishop encouraged him to study in Rome, but the lure of study outside the Church after many years at the seminaries was too great. In 1978, Father Lim left the Philippines for New York City, where he enrolled at Columbia University to study political sci- ence. Two and one-half years later he was awarded a B.A. in Interna- tional Affairs. During this time he served as parochial vicar at St. Gregory’s Church on the Upper West Side, working with the Koch administration to help Cambodi- an refugees. From there he went on to become parochial vicar at St. Theresa’s in Sleepy Hollow, St. Ann’s in Ossining, and Our Lady of Solace in the Bronx.
A friend who was an Air Force colonel encouraged Father Lim to join the service as a chaplain, and he took the advice. He entered as a Captain, serving in the Air Force for 23 years and attaining the rank of Lt. Colonel. Assigned to differ- ent bases every two years or so, he served in California, Arkansas, New Jersey, Texas, Kansas, Korea, Great Britain, Germany, and Guantanamo, Cuba, long before it became a prison. Fidel Castro had forced Cubans he considered unde- sirable to leave the island and thou- sands took the opportunity, many in simple rafts buoyed by vehicle tire tubes. About 25,000 of these helpless refugees were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard and brought to the Guantanamo Navy Base, where they lived in tent cities before being allowed to enter the United States. Father Lim’s fluency in Spanish helped him minister to the needs of this population while they were stranded there.
The chaplain/priest was select- ed by the Air Force to pursue a year of professional military education at the Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama. From there, he was given greater responsibilities as Wing Chaplain, and then was assigned to USAFE (U.S. Air Force Europe) Head- quarters in Ramstein, Germany, where he was Plans and Programs Officer for the Chaplaincy. For the first time, Father Lim had no church to watch over, attending strategic planning meetings and visiting bases in Europe to resolve religious and spiritual issues affecting the bases.
Father Lim was assigned to posts in Kuwait and Iraq during our military involvement there. In 1997 he was deployed to Ali Al Salem in Kuwait, ministering to troops on the border of Iraq. From 2007-8 he was deployed to the Green Zone in Baghdad. His commander in Iraq was General David Petraeus. General Martin Dempsey, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a congregant at his church. Despite the walls and its important inhabitants, serving in the Green Zone was frightening, Father Lim explained. Rockets fired from residential areas just over the Tigris River struck many times every day. They seemed to hit places where military personnel and civilians congregated. Many became casu- alties. Everyone knew they could be killed at any time. In the com- bat hospital Father Lim ministered to the wounded and the dying, a difficult and heartrending duty, yet the most rewarding of his military career, he said.
He intended to serve 20 years in the Air Force but he extended his service because he loved serving our country. His last military assignment was as the first Joint
Base head chaplain for McGuire Air Force Base, Fort Dix Army, and Lakehurst Navy for three years.
In September 2010 the time had come for him to retire, and he did. Then a happy coincidence occurred — perhaps Divine Intervention.
As Father Lim was processing retirement papers he heard from Acting Pastor Msgr. O’Donnell of Church of the Resurrection in Rye. Msgr. O’Donnell had been his superior when Father Lim was at St. Gregory’s in Manhattan and Our Lady of Solace in the Bronx decades earlier. One week before Father Lim’s retirement, Father O’Donnell called “out of the blue.” The Rye parish was desper- ate for help in great part because Pastor Msgr. Boyle was very ill with cancer.
“Father Joe, what are you doing?”
“I’m getting ready to retire.”
“Come to Rye, we need you here.”
“Well, I was thinking that I would unwind for a while after 23 years in the military.”
“We need you in Rye. When are you coming?”
Three days later Father Lim retired from active duty and drove from Texas to Rye. He arrived here September 28, and immediately began ministering to Msgr. Boyle, as well as the rest of the parish. The Air Force’s loss has been Rye’s great gain.
This warm, caring, humorous, and highly intelligent priest is also modest. It took lots of cajoling to finally persuade him to consent to an interview. “There are far more deserving people to write about,” Father Lim told me. Perhaps, but few more interesting.