Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed LangloisWindow in Holy Cross Church dedicated to Fr. Thomas Jackson, who converted from Judaism.
                                                                       Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Window in Holy Cross Church dedicated to Fr. Thomas Jackson, who converted from Judaism.
A stained glass window in the transept at Holy Cross Church in North Portland is not the ordinary Catholic scene.

A young boy in yarmulke pores over a scroll, seemingly preparing for his bar mitzvah, a Jewish passage from boyhood. As a rabbi stands over him, the lad reads from the Book of Exodus: "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind and your whole soul." The scene is illuminated by the light of the menorah and is framed by multiple stars of David.

When Father Mark Bachmeier became pastor of Holy Cross in 2011 he walked into the church, saw the window and read the name below it: Father Thomas Jackson. He said to himself, "There's gotta be a story behind that."

And so Father Bachmeier researched.

The story begins with a boy named Thomas who was born March 24, 1892 into an Orthodox Jewish family in Baltimore. When World War I started, young Thomas enlisted. While fighting, he was devastated by the violence and what cruelty men could do. He sought counsel from an Army chaplain, a Catholic priest. Overseas, Thomas decided to become Catholic, asking to be baptized, confirmed and welcomed to the Eucharist.
When he came home and told his family he was now Catholic, the shock was too great. The family disowned him. The parents arranged a funeral service for their son, who was dead to them. He was forbidden to use the family's last name.

Meanwhile, Thomas came west and felt a calling to become a priest. He was told to visit the old Cathedral in downtown Portland. He met with Archbishop Alexander Christie, who said it was not right that he go about without a last name. So the archbishop gave him the last name Jackson — some think because that was the name of the influential Army chaplain — and the young man packed off to seminary in California.

Father Jackson was ordained in Portland in 1925. He taught at St. Stephen High School in the city, was assistant pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish and was pastor in both Ashland and Holy Family in Southeast Portland before being named to Holy Cross in 1936. In 1950, he oversaw construction of the church that would one day have a window dedicated to his spiritual foundations. To help build the church, he cashed in Liberty Bonds he had purchased with money won playing poker as a soldier.  

Father Edmond Bliven served at Holy Cross with Father Jackson from 1952-'56. Father Bliven recalls the old pastor as a gentle and compassionate man who continued to be good at poker. One thing for sure, Father Jackson would not have approved having a window honoring him in Holy Cross Church.

"Tom would be rolling in his grave if he knew that window was up there," Father Bliven told Father Bachmeier with characteristic roaring laugh. "For Father Thomas Jackson, whatever happened here was about God, not about him. This was God's house, not his. It was to God that the glory belonged, not to him."  

While on retreat with fellow priests at Mount Angel Abbey, Father Jackson presided at Mass. The next day he suffered a heart attack. He died on June 9, 1956, at St. Vincent's Hospital. The window was installed in the 1980s.

Holy Cross Parish keeps a list of pastors and their dates of death. Father Bachmeier knows that some day he will be on the list. Despite what Father Jackson might think of the window, Father Bachmeier is glad it's there.

"I, literally, have the remembrance of Father Jackson at my back," the priest told parishioners in a homily about the window, delivered 57 years to the day after the pastor's death. "In a sense, he's 'got my back' every time I pray here with you."