The following story appeared in the May 13 Idaho Catholic Register.
Deacon Clifton J. (C.J.) Harris passed away recently in Arizona after battling cancer.
He served as deacon for Risen Christ Catholic Community in Boise from 2002 until his retirement in 2014.
“I remember my first time at Risen Christ, C. J. gave the homily,” said Richard Kulleck, director of religious education at Risen Christ. With his usual wit, Deacon Harris told a joke about the president of the United States being flummoxed when a nursing home resident didn’t recognize him, he said. “The point of the joke, the point of the homily was, ‘It’s not all about you. It’s about something bigger than you.”
As a husband and father of four, a Senior Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, and as a deacon, Harris lived his life as a witness to the truth of “some-thing bigger,” Kulleck said.
Harris was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio on July 7, 1940. He joined the Air Force after graduating from high school and worked on the maintenance of helicopters. In 1960, he married Frances Obiden in Duluth, Minn. Although he was an atheist at the time, he agreed to let their four children be baptized and raised in his wife’s Catholic faith.
Harris had a tour of duty in Vietnam for 13 months. While stationed there, he oversaw the maintenance crews for all U. S. operations in Vietnam. When his tour ended, he continued his career in the Air Force. “He was very patriotic,” said Clifton “Bud” Harris, Harris’ oldest son.
In the late 1970s, Harris was stationed in Europe for three years. He and his family traveled frequently to different countries.
“We visited churches and cathedrals everywhere we went,” Bud Harris said. Over time, Harris had a change of heart toward God and the Church. He was baptized and Confirmed while stationed in Spain. Bud, who was a teenager, was his godfather.
In 1981, Harris was stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base. He retired as a Senior Master Sergeant in 1984. He and Frances moved to Boise and became involved at St. Mark’s Parish. On October 7, 2001, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Lady of Victory, he was ordained into the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Boise.
“He said that all the significant religious events of his life happened on the feasts of Our Lady and that’s how he knew she was looking out for him,” Kulleck said.
Harris transferred to Risen Christ Catholic Community in 2002, where Kulleck met him in 2008. They served as deacons together for six years.
Harris belonged to the Knights of Columbus and was an Oblate of St. Benedict. He and Frances were heavily involved in parish life. “They just loved helping people,” Bud Harris said.
He also helped Father Dat Vu, pas-tor of Our Lady of the Rosary, with Masses for the Vietnamese community. Harris had helped Father Vu’s cousins when they first came to Boise in 1996.
“He took care of them very well. He truly loved Vietnamese people, food and culture,” Father Vu said. Deacon Harris assisted Father Vu at all Vietnamese Masses at Holy Apostles and St. Mark’s, even though he belonged to Risen Christ.
“During summer, the Vietnamese community had a rosary in the evening every Sunday from house to house. He only knew a few Vietnamese words, but he and his wife Francis attended almost every Sunday. We were so blessed to have him be a part of the community, and we were also grateful for his humble service and dedication,” Father Vu said.
Frances died of pancreatic cancer in 2013, just two years before Kulleck’s first wife passed away from the same disease.
“He said to me, ‘I was a staff sergeant in the Air Force in Vietnam during the war, and I wish the airmen that I had been in charge of were as brave as Frances is,’ ” Kulleck said.
Around the time of Frances’ death, Harris was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “He retired out of piety,” Kulleck said. “He principally retired because he had Parkinson’s. He was concerned that he would drop the chalice, that he would spill the Precious Blood.”
Funeral arrangements are planned for May 28 at Risen Christ Parish at 1:00 p.m. For funeral details, contact Cloverdale Funeral Home in Boise at 208-375-2212 or go to https://www.cloverdalefuneralhome.com/tributes/Clifton-Harris.
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