The Rev. James E. Straukamp, a retired California State University, Sacramento, history professor who preached social justice as a Catholic priest before joining the Episcopal Church, died March 4 of Alzheimer's disease. He was 84.
The Rev. Straukamp spent about 50 years sharing the word of God while teaching the story of mankind. He was an international scholar with three master's degrees and a doctorate in Renaissance history when he arrived at CSUS, where he taught from 1969 to 1994.
He brought lectures on the Middle Ages and other long-ago events to life with professional slide shows of historical places and objects that he photographed on many trips to Europe. He pioneered the use of instructional television at CSUS with a 30-part series on Western civilization that he created as a history lesson that was broadcast on Channel 3 (KCRA).
He spent two years on loan to the CSUS TV department and set up a media production center, where students produced educational films for faculty. He also volunteered as a telethon producer for the March of Dimes and United Cerebral Palsy.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Straukamp struggled as a Catholic priest to carry out his "first real calling the preaching of Jesus' message in the world," according to a biography published to celebrate his 50th ordination anniversary. While teaching at University of San Francisco, he had been inspired to social activism by the liberal spirit that swept the Catholic Church during the early 1960s.
He left his Jesuit dorm to live on his own in Berkeley and sported a hippie look. He organized informal Sunday liturgies for students and explored liberation theology. He marched against the Vietnam War and counseled conscientious objectors.
Told by his superiors to return to the Jesuit community, the Rev. Straukamp left the order in 1976. He began attending St. Paul's Episcopal Church in midtown Sacramento and found a new spiritual home. He was formally received as a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1983 and served as an assistant pastor at St. Paul's and All Saints Episcopal Church in Sacramento and St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Carmichael.
"I found that I had missed the ministry," he told The Bee in 1991. "That was really a lot of my life before, and I just felt a void."
Born in 1927 in Chicago, James Edward Straukamp settled with his parents and elder sister in San Jose in the early 1930s. A devout Catholic, he decided to be a priest and excelled at Bellarmine High School, a Jesuit school.
He joined the religious order before his senior year began years of study and teaching before his ordination in 1957. He earned master's degrees in philosophy from Gonzaga University, theology from University of Santa Clara and Renaissance history from UC Berkeley.
He earned a doctorate from University of London while teaching at Heythrop College in Oxford. He returned to the Bay Area in 1963 and taught at University of San Francisco and Hayward State College before moving to Sacramento.
In 1978, he retraced the missionary footsteps of St. Paul. The adventure inspired him to organize and lead almost 30 educational tours of countries in Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa.
The Rev. Straukamp lived in Sacramento with his partner of 34 years, the Rev. Bob Hart.
He spoke at peace rallies and protested outside School of the Americas, a military academy at Fort Benning, Ga., that trained Latin American officials accused of human rights abuses. He supported Habitat for Humanity and volunteered with Episcopal Community Services. He ministered to people with AIDS during the early days of the epidemic in Sacramento.
"He believed it was important to care for the lost and the lonely, the sick and the suffering, the poor and politically oppressed," said the Rev. George Foxworth of St. Michael's Church. "He really put his faith into action."