In a way, we all knew Jack Wilcox. Perhaps we recall him as a youthful priest in Massachusetts or the Virgin Islands, as International Director of the Movement for a Better World, or as a staunch supporter of the Teilhard de Chardin Society, Esperanza, and G.I.F.T.(Growing in Faith Together).
However we knew Jack, directly or indirectly, each of us in CORPUS will remember him always as the priest with 29 years of service petitioning the Cardinal of Boston for pension rights. With that action, Jack began what has become a national movement to secure the retirement benefits earned by resigned priests during their years of active service.
The story of Jack and the subsequent efforts of Paul McGreevy, a San Diego attorney who was also ordained for the Archdiocese of Boston, have already become a legend in CORPUS history. In taking on this cause, Jack Wilcox truly became the "Rosa Parks" of moral and legal justice for Roman Catholic clergy. Just ask pension rights advocate, Bill Manseau, who has taken up this issue in the name of CORPUS.
But Jack was always on the cutting edge of issues and positions which challenged the status quo and called for new and progressive directions. Fr. Luis Dolan, the homilist at Jack’s funeral, called him "an unfinished man" because he touched so many areas and then moved on before he could see his goals completed.
After leaving the active ministry, Jack became Vice-President for System Development of the Mercy Health Care Network. But his own health, which had been attacked earlier by a bout with polio, forced him into disability retirement. Upon coming to Florida, Jack continued his ministry to community college students in the Tampa Bay area as long as he could, promoting always the message of the Better World of unity and hope.
At the same time, Jack never gave up on the institutional Church. Shortly after the appointment of John Lynch to the Diocese of St.Petersburg, Jack visited the new bishop to suggest that he host a gathering for the married priests in the diocese. Within the year, that was accomplished. On the day before Jack died, Bishop Lynch came to see and bless him in the hospital.
As an "earthologist" Jack became a colleague of Passionist Tom Berry, founder of the Institute for Religion and Ecology. At Jack's funeral, a message from Fr. Berry hailed him as the embodiment of Raissa Maritain's observation: "We have been friends together." The funeral service was attended by over a hundred guests including 20 married priests. The casket was draped with a white stole placed there by his wife Annette Castello, and the gospel was read by his longtime married priest friend, John Linnehan of Jacksonville.
At the conclusion of the Mass, in accordance with the custom for funerals of priests, Fr. Lawlor invited all the priests in the congregation to lead the singing of the "Salve Regina." A message from Sal Umana, CORPUS member from New York and former team member of the Movement for a Better World, captured the sentiments of the moment then and now when he stated, "Jack Wilcox has been committed to the earth as an earthologist for a long, long time. Now we commit him to his beloved earth one final time."
Requiescat in pace.