As the son of a railway worker, the new pastor of Canadian Martyrs Parish moved often when he was young, making it hard to lay down roots or make friends.
“We moved more often than the trains,” he says. “What’s a hometown or lifetime friends? I don’t know what those things mean exactly.”
Despite all of the moving, Fr. Jim found a place in the Catholic Church. As a young man in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, he served as an altar server and went to daily mass. At age 17, his father was dying and the parish priest snuck into his father’s hospital room to anoint him. The priest told his father that Fiori would make a good priest.
“I had never thought of being a priest, I didn’t think I was worthy or capable of such a thing,” he says. “But my dad was so excited. The best I could do was tell him that I would think about it.”
The more he thought and prayed, the more he thought it would be a good move. He worked hard at his classes, but didn’t do well at first. Through more hard work, and prayer, he passed. He met some priests from The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and they convinced him to join them instead of being a diocesan priest.
He made his first vows on Sept. 8, 1966 and was ordained on Oct. 9, 1971.
One of his early assignments was as a rector of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in The Pas, Manitoba.
This was a great time for him. He enjoyed working in the parish and also became very involved in the community, even serving on the fire department and ambulance team.
“I was trying to be accepted and was looking for self-esteem and I was involved in the community in a big way,” he says.
Unfortunately, the hard work and long hours caught up to him. At age 38, he had a heart attack and he realized his own vulnerabilities.
“I came to realize that I wasn’t God,” he said. “In my conversations with God, I said to him ‘you can have your parish back’ and he replied ‘it wasn’t yours to begin with.’ There was a sense of freedom that came with that.”
To help recover, he was given a sabbatical year. In that year, he says he made great strides in his spiritual life.
“I came to be aware in my life that I didn’t know how to pray and I didn’t have time to pray and if you don’t have that, your priesthood is pretty much at an end.”
He took a 40-day retreat in Guelph, Ontario, and realized that his true place in the world was with God.
“What came out was that it didn’t matter what I did or where I went, just as long as I did it with God,” he says.
God apparently took him at his word. Since then, Fiori has run a retreat house in Winnipeg, he’s ministered to the native people in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, he served as provincial of the Manitoba Oblate Province and served in Ottawa on a core team that restructured five provinces of Oblates into OMI Lacombe Canada. Most recently, he was superior of the Oblate mission in Kenya.
In Kenya, his job centered on the formation of future Oblates. Vocations are strong there, he says. He had to get used to a new way of life and of living. The toughest thing to get used to was the poverty, he says.
Despite the hardships, he still found inspiration. The Maasai people there lived with their animals and would do anything to protect them, he says.
“They have to keep the lions away and they will give their life,” he says. “All that they have to protect the animals is a spear and the lions are afraid because they know the people will do anything to protect the animals.”
Pastors should have that kind of fearless protection of their own flocks, he says.
Now that he’s back in Canada, Fiori has to adjust to a different kind of life. He hasn’t been in pastoral ministry for more than 20 years and says he’s “delighted” to get the chance.
He’s looking forward to making a new home at Canadian Martyrs, both physically and spiritually. If there’s one thing he’s learned in his travels, he says, it’s that a home is more than the physical place where he lives.
“My first responsibility is that I want to become holy,” he said. “I want to journey with the people. You can’t lead where you have never been.”