Sunday, 04 August 2019 13:37

Charleston deacon shares his unique journey to the diaconate

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CHARLESTON — Deacons play an integral part in the life of our church. Whether it’s weddings, baptisms, reflecting on the Sunday readings, or providing spiritual advice and encouragement, the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is blessed to have 56 permanent deacons ministering to the faithful.

These men are raising children, working full-time jobs, and staying present to their wives, all while serving the church. It can be a challenging lifestyle, but one every deacon says is rewarding and joyful.

Deacon Jeff Beals is one of them. Currently living outside Arthur and ministering at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Charleston, he has been a deacon since 2016. After working in the energy industry for 41 years, he is now also pastoral associate/DRE at St. Charles Borromeo. Deacon Beals says he is “incredibly blessed” to be married to Barbara Susan for more than 40 years. They have two children — Theresa (married to JD Walck) and Adam (married to Elizabeth) — and five grandchildren.

Catholic Times Editor Andrew Hansen caught up with Deacon Beals and his wife to see why he became a deacon and how they make it all work.

What drew you to the diaconate?

Deacon Beals: To quote someone who had been in formation with me, the diaconate simply would not get out of my way. I am not a ‘cradle Catholic.’ Once I became a Catholic, I tried to immerse myself in my faith, trying to respond where I felt the call of God. When I became Catholic in 1986, I immediately became a reader, usher and extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. I guess you could call it the convert’s zeal. When our daughter was in middle school, her catechist changed employment positions. Theresa asked if Barb and I would become her seventh-grade’s catechist. I became a very enthusiastic catechist. My wife taught with me for a couple of years, but as she began to study for her master’s degree, she stopped but I continued for 20-plus years.

I was originally accepted in the diaconate class of 2009, encouraged by Father Al Kemme. However, when the corporation I worked for opted for a ‘manpower adjustment’ (meaning people lost their jobs), I had to begin to work six days a week quite often. This forced me to withdraw, as I had no time to study or attend the classes in Quincy. When I withdrew, I thought I was not meant to become a deacon. Several years later, Father Barry Harmon again encouraged me to re-apply. I did and was accepted, and the rest is history. I can honestly say that I do not feel I actively sought the diaconate, but that I continually responded to God’s call which led me to the diaconate.

When Jeff told you he wanted to become a deacon, what was your reaction?

Barbara: I have always been supportive of Jeff’s decisions, especially with our faith. I prayed with Jeff for discernment of this calling. I attended most of the deacon formation weekends with him.

What is the most satisfying aspect of being a deacon?

Deacon Beals: The people that I encounter are the best part. Being present to those who are in the hospital or have moved into assisted care facilities or nursing homes is beyond fulfilling. Listening to their stories and concerns and being a part of their lives during the hardest part of their lives is a tremendous honor and privilege, one I do not take lightly.

How do you balance work and family life with ministering as a deacon?

Deacon Beals: To be honest, I often poorly balance my deacon workload and family life. This is a struggle that I constantly wage. However, I am in a unique situation in that I work for a parish full time and most deacons do not. Very often my role as a permanent deacon and my role as a pastoral associate/DRE overlap in many areas. Add into the mix the fact that I am a workaholic only exacerbates the balance. In my former career, my workweek would often exceed 80 hours. If I am at St. Charles 50-plus hours a week, it is an improvement. Working for the parish means that I make the daily commute Monday through Friday to St. Charles then again on Saturday and Sunday for the Masses. Parish Council meetings, RCIA classes, and the Parish School of Religion mean extra time away from home as does the many activities of St. Charles, which is a very active and vibrant parish. One of the first things to cross my desk after being hired at St. Charles and becoming the DRE was the implementation of the Restored Order. This has meant extra work as well. Father Hyland (Smith), my (former) pastoral supervisor, tried to get me to adjust to a more balanced lifestyle. He insisted that I take at least one weekend off a month. (As of July 1, Father Smith has been appointed pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Jerseyville and St. Mary Parish in Fieldon. Father J. Braden Maher is now pastor at St. Charles Borromeo.) My wife, Barbara, has been more than patient with me and accepting of my role. Without her love and support, it would be impossible for me to do what I do. I honestly believe that a large part of her ministry is being my support.

How do your support Jeff in his vocation?

Barbara: Praying is essential, as is spending special time together. I support Jeff in any way I possibly can.

What is the one experience you’ve had since becoming a deacon that will forever stick in your mind?

Deacon Beals: When I was at Tuscola (his first assignment was Forty Martyrs Parish in Tuscola) I was asked to take Viaticum (Eucharist) to a woman who was dying. Father Angel Sierra was out of town, although he dropped what he was doing to return to anoint her. Sitting with her and her family praying in the last hours was so very moving, one that I will never forget.

What is your favorite sacrament to administer?

Deacon Beals: Of course, it is the Eucharist. Being an ordinary minister of the Eucharist is a powerful responsibility and one that impacts me every time I take part in this. I was even honored to travel to Dubuque, Iowa, to fill this role as my granddaughter, Lucy, received her first Eucharist.

What is it like being married to a deacon?

Barbara: This is part of our journey together in life. There has been and continues to be much to learn. There are adjustments with family time and holidays. We continually pray together and value time with family and church community.

If someone is thinking about becoming a deacon, what you tell them?

Deacon Beals: My first piece of advice would be to pray. Make sure that you can fully fulfill this commitment. If all you see is a man assisting at the Mass and think that is all there is to it, you are mistaken. Being a deacon is so much more. Once a man is ordained, there are vows to fulfill and oaths of obedience to be kept. We are clerics of the church and our lives are on display, just as those of our priests. Wives and children will have commitments as well. My son looked at my formation schedule before he and his wife set their wedding date. However, the rewards are great. My prayer life is fantastic, although I continually strive to improve. The parishes I have been assigned to and the priests I have worked for have been wonderful. Most of all, the people I minister to are fantastic. They imbue me with such energy and passion for the church and for God. Knowing that I am a servant of God and his people means the world to me.