James Challancin was born in Crystal Falls, Michigan, on September 16, 1941, the only child of Paul and Rose (Stefani) Challancin. He attended Forest Park schools and earned his B.A. from St. Jerome’s College, Kitchner, Ontario, Canada. After serving two years at the parish of Holy Name of Mary, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, James was sent to Sant Anselmo, Rome, Italy where he earned both his M.A. and S.T.D. (Doctorate in Sacred Theology).
After returning to the U.S., Father Jim taught for ten years at St. John’s Seminary, Plymouth, Michigan. Then he served as the diocesan director for the Office of Worship in Marquette, Michigan, for ten years. Afterwards, Father Jim served five years at St. Joseph College, Rensselaer, Indiana, as director of the Rensselaer Program of Church Music and Liturgy. Since 2000 he has served as pastor at St. Joseph Church, Ishpeming, Michigan, except for two sabbatical years during which he taught at Peramiho Seminary, Tanzania, East Africa.
Father Jim’s interest in circus began at the age of ten or twelve when a summertime neighbor, Mitch Gorrow, took Jim to shows and brought him circus programs and other collectibles. Eventually, Father Jim became acquainted with David Rawls of the Kelly-Miller Circus and traveled with the show, ministering to show folk informally. He worked as a “roustabout” helping set up and tear down the sideshow on Kelly-Miller and the big top with Carson and Barnes Circus. He also worked as a “candy butcher” (selling concessions), an usher, and sometimes on the midway coaxing people into the show. Father Jim celebrated mass with adherents of many faiths in attendance. In order to celebrate mass with performers mostly from Peru or Mexico he learned sufficient Spanish for conversations and to celebrate mass. His time spent traveling with a circus usually lasted three weeks to a month.
One summer while working with the Kelly-Miller Circus, Father Jim met the Little Sisters of Jesus, who worked full-time with the circus. Later, they served together on the Carson and Barnes Circus. Father Jim performed baptisms, funerals, and a wedding for circus folk.
By 2011 Father Jim was no longer able to travel with the circus and kindly donated his collection to the Clarke. (This information is from emails sent to M. Matyn, the Archivist, in November 2011 by Father Jim Challancin.)