Father James Zappa, was pastor and actor

| November 9, 2015 | 1 Comment
Father James Zappa, left, playing the role of a medieval cardinal, talks with a fellow actor at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. Father Zappa, who was handy with a sewing machine made his own costume for the role, which he played at the Shakopee venue from 1987 to 2006. The recently retired pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville died Nov. 5.

Father James Zappa, left, playing the role of a medieval cardinal, talks with a fellow actor at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. Father Zappa, who was handy with a sewing machine, made his own costume for the role, which he played at the Shakopee venue from 1987 to 2006. The recently retired pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville died Nov. 5.

A priest in real life and longtime pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville, Father James C. Zappa Jr. also will be remembered for playing the role of a medieval cardinal for many years as one of the actors at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.

Father Zappa

Father Zappa

Father Zappa died Nov. 5 at the age of 65 after a lengthy illness.

A Mass of Christian Burial was offered at the Burnsville church Nov. 10. Interment was at Resurrection Cemetery.

Ordained in 1976, Father Zappa served as an associate pastor at St. John the Baptist in Savage, Holy Trinity in South St. Paul and St. William in Fridley. He was pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in St. Paul from 1985 until 1991, when he joined Father Donald Burns as co-pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church. When Father Burns retired in 1993, Father Zappa became pastor, the position he held until June 30 of this year, when he was granted retirement for health reasons.

During his priesthood he also served first as a dean on the archdiocesan Presbyteral Council then was elected the council president in 2002.

Father Zappa was an out-spoken advocate for social justice and for lay participation in the Church, an approach for which he credited the people at his childhood parish St. Thomas the Apostle on St. Paul’s east side (since merged with and renamed Blessed Sacrament) and his pastor there when he was young, the late Father Thomas Robertson.

“Jim was a person of compassionate heart,” recalled his seminary classmate Father Paul Jaroszeski. “He was a good leader and a gracious person. He had a profound love of the Eucharist and the people he served. He also had a profound love of his Italian heritage.”

In March 2003, Father Zappa was one of five priests who participated in a healing service for victims/survivors of sexual abuse by priests and nuns, apologizing for the actions of his brother priests. When parishioners of Mary, Mother of the Church put together food Thanksgiving food baskets for the needy in 2012, Father Zappa bought a cart of groceries and put together a basket of his own to donate.

From 1987 to 2006, he was part of the cast of the Renaissance Festival, walking the grounds at the annual late-summer event in Shakopee in red garb and a golden cape as a Catholic cardinal.

Carr Hagerman, now the artistic director of the festival, remembered Father Zappa presiding at Saturday evening Masses for cast members and performing weddings, too.

“He was kind of a pastoral presence in the cast,” said Hagerman, who in his younger days would play the part of the rat catcher at the festival, a foil who would chide the cardinal with jibes, all part of the time-period act.

“He always responded in a kind and humorous way,” Hagerman said, “and it took us a while to figure out that that was not just an act. That’s who he was.”

Father Zappa is survived by his mother, Helen Zappa, sisters Kathy Weis and Barb Thompson, and brother Tom Zappa. He was preceded in death by his father, James Zappa Sr.

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  • crabbyoldlady

    Jim was also a good singer, and was a member of the Court Revelers in his years at MRF, although with all his duties he didn’t have a lot of time to participate. We used his church basement for rehearsals back in those days. He was a good man and fun to be around too. Pat Weiser