Jim Wahlberg’s road to redemption was not smooth. It was long and often fraught with suffering – but it eventually led him to who he is today – a man of unwavering faith who’s mission it is to share his story with others in hopes of helping them along their own journey.
Wahlberg, who is the brother of actors Mark and Donnie, grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Boston, Mass., where there were two paths in life: one on the straight and narrow and a darker path that let to crime and despair.
One of nine children, Wahlberg described himself as a juvenile delinquent, and became addicted to drugs and alcohol as a teenager.
“It was my everything, from the moment I woke up in the morning until the moment I passed out at night,” he said.
Because of this inner brokenness, Wahlberg said he fell into a life of crime.
At age 22, he found himself incarcerated for a second time – facing a six-to-nine-year stint for robbery.
While inside, he was doing everything to give the illusion that he was trying to become a rehabilitated person. But it was just a game – all he wanted was to get out.
While there, a Catholic priest took notice. The prison chaplain took a chance on him by offering him a job as a custodian in the prison chapel.
All Wahlberg wanted was to advantage of the situation.
“I wasn’t thinking Jesus is in there [the chapel],” he said.
Though he grew up Catholic, he said all he associated with the Faith was sins and getting into trouble for those sins.
“No one ever told me that Jesus died for me or that God loved me.”
A LIFE-CHANGING MEETING
In 1988, two weeks into his sentence, Mother Teresa came to Boston and visited several prisons – one of which was Wahlberg’s.
Prior to that day he had no idea who Mother Teresa was, but meeting her changed his life.
“I had what one might call a profound spiritual experience,” he said.
Because he worked in the chapel, Wahlberg was part of the procession – among the cardinal, governor and as he recalled, “fancy people.”
“I experienced true humility for the first time when Mother Teresa refused to go take her seat up on the altar,” he said.
Instead, he recalled, she remained on the floor with the inmates not out of defiance but out of humility – “among some of the most dangerous people I had ever met.”
When he heard her speak, he was blown away.
“I heard that Jesus died for me specifically and that I was more than the crimes I committed and that I was a child of God and He loved me,” Wahlberg said.
From that moment he craved to know more about Jesus and started preparing to be confirmed. He had never made his Confirmation because in his words, he was a juvenile delinquent running the streets.
Wahlberg was confirmed in prison at the age of 22.
His mother had come to witness his receiving of the Sacrament, even though she had sworn off visiting him. His mother would tell him that it was in that moment she knew he had changed, and he was going to be okay.
BACK ON A ROCKY ROAD
At the age of 25, he was paroled and staying clean and sober became his only goal.
He eventually got married, started a family and moved to Florida.
Wahlberg eventually got into film making to educate people about addiction and the opioid crisis.
However, he reverted to caring more of what others thought of him than of what he thought of himself. And even though he was clean and sober, he felt empty again on the inside.
He struggled with his faith for quite some time until his wife experienced a religious conversion and she and his then 12-year-old daughter convinced him to attend a men’s retreat.
“It just blew up my whole game,” he remembered. “I went on that retreat and God did what God does and He knocked me to my knees again.”
He said God had melted his heart for a second time.
That was 15 years ago, and he has been at home in the Faith ever since.
Now at age 57, he has been married for almost 30 years, and his children are grown adults.
Jim Wahlberg has produced films on addiction (“Circle of Addiction: A Different Kind of Tears” and “What About the Kids?”) and one on the life of Mother Teresa. (“Mother Teresa: No Greater Love”). He is a best-selling author (“The Big Hustle”) and an international evangelist.
He is involved in the Jesus Thirsts for America Movement, a 21-city revival tour that takes place over three years and was launched here in the Diocese of Orange back in November. The movement invites us to commit, or re-commit, to Jesus Christ and gives tools to help Catholics to better live out their faith.
Wahlberg is set to be a keynote speaker at the upcoming I Thirst: Young Adults event on March 10 to 12 at the Santiago Retreat Center. It is a gathering for Catholic young adults from Orange County and beyond, hoping to rekindle their love of the Faith. Register today at SantiagoRetreatCenter.org.
“We are going to be igniting a fire,” Wahlberg said. “The goal is evangelization – to reach those who are lost.”