By Lou Baldwin
Special to the CS&T

Religious vocations, especially to ordained ministry, are important to Deacon Jack Betzal. For one thing he is a permanent deacon assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Aston, and for another, he is president of the DelChester Serra Club, part of the international organization that promotes religious vocations through prayer and action.

“When God is calling we should respond to what God is calling us to,” said Deacon Betzal, 66, and ordained in 2004.

The eldest of nine children, he attended St. Edmond School in South Philadelphia and what was then Bishop Neumann High School. This was followed by a hitch in the U.S. Air Force and a career in sales and marketing.

He received solid Catholic training at home, but he mostly credits his faith to his wife, the former Patricia Dooner, whom he married in 1969.

“I always felt strong faith and had a good Catholic education, but it was the strong faith of my wife and her family that influenced me,” he said. “I was blessed in my in-laws; they were good, prayerful people,” he said.

He and Patricia had three children including Colleen Marie, who died at age 25, and Jack and Patty Ann, and now three grandchildren.

He first heard about Serra from a colleague but put it in the back of his mind until later when he attended a Serra-sponsored scout award ceremony at the Cathedral and was impressed.

“I joined in 1982,” he said. “I have a good group and we meet monthly. I’ve always had a love for the priesthood, and if you can help young people consider a vocation, you should. We ask parents to pray for their children and encourage vocations.”

Meanwhile, he became active in St. Joseph Parish, where he has taught high school PREP for 26 years and RCIA for 16 years.

Teaching the faith has been rewarding because “it’s opening the hearts and minds of people, and seeing the light bulb go on when they understand,” Deacon Betzal said.

With the encouragement and support of his pastor at the time, Msgr. Henry B. Degnan, he first went through the religious studies program at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, and ultimately the diaconate program.

“Among my greatest blessings has been my wife who was so supportive while I was in formation and now as a deacon,” he said.

The most thrilling part of Deacon Betzal’s ministry is baptizing babies and preaching.

“Any time you can share the Word of God with others, it is joyful,” he said.

Since he retired from the business world three and a half years ago, he has had more time to devote to ministry, especially at St. Joseph’s with his pastor, Father Robert C. Vogan.

As a deacon he is on the Cathedral service team, and he works in the archdiocesan tribunal one day a week. He is also an “ambassador” at the Cathedral, giving guided tours to visitors.

Being a Serran and a deacon go hand-in-hand for him.

“We work as hard as we can to encourage those who are ordained in their ministry,” Deacon Betzal said. “We want our good priests and religious to know that they are loved.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.