This is the next in a series I will be posting on the candidates for the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Knoxville. My hope is that these brief introductions to the men preparing for ordination to the permanent diaconate will help introduce them to the people of the diocese.
Today, we hear from Jim Bello from Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Soddy-Daisy.
Tell me about your family. My family consists of my wife, Chris, our godchildren, and me. We have no children of our own, but our godchildren and unborn babies we’ve spiritually adopted have filled our hearts with children we love as our own.
Are you originally from East Tennessee? What brought you to this area? Christina is from rural Kansas and I’m from Baton Rouge, LA. I’ve lived in twelve states and Christina and I lived in Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama before making our permanent home in Chattanooga in 2000 when we relocated to Tennessee for my job.
What kind of work do you do? I operate geriatric physical, occupational, and speech outpatient therapy clinics in fifteen states. I’m a speech pathologist and a lover of all those who came before me. Our older people can help shape our wisdom, if we choose to listen.
What brought you to your parish? We had been parishioners at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul for a decade. It was exciting for me when Fr. David Carter was assigned to us as pastor, and it was a pleasure to serve him and learn from him. Most specifically, I appreciated his instruction in the Liturgy of the Hours and his desire to evangelize Chattanooga, as well as his friendship. With three deacons at the Basilica, I had an excellent education in service at the altar. Then, I learned that both deacons at Holy Spirit Church in Soddy-Daisy had retired after many years of service. This was an opportunity to serve a parish where I perceived a need, and that Christina and I had always loved to visit.
In what ways do you serve/have you served your parish? We are new at Holy Spirit. Prior to this, I was a server and occasional emcee for Masses at the Basilica. My mentor, Deacon Hicks Armor, taught me so much about the serving heart and the importance of detail at the altar, forcing me out of my comfort zone at the tender age of 52. Since coming to Holy Spirit, it’s been my pleasure to serve as lector, deliver Communion services, and begin the process of instructing the RCIA program in 2021. Msgr. Al Humbrecht has become a close friend and treasured mentor.
In what ways do you/have you served the diocese? I am past director of Tennessee Right to Life in Cleveland, TN, former member and emcee of Chattanooga for Life, Chattanooga director of Saint Paul’s Street Evangelization, a speaker at pro-life events, and proud sponsor of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee with a love for the Home Place.
What drew you to the diaconate? In 2017, a close acquaintance, Deacon Hicks Armor, approached me to ask if I felt a call to the diaconate. I said no. Twenty minutes later, he asked me again and I said nothing had changed since the last time he had asked. He asked me to spend some time in prayer and I agreed. Two hours later, I was driving to Atlanta and listening to Cardinal Dolan’s radio program on The Catholic Channel. I was also asking God to confirm if I was called to the diaconate. In a moment that almost made me forget I was driving, Cardinal Dolan announced the topic of his show for that day: “Discerning the diaconate.” Even more astounding to me was that his guest of honor on the show stated that his mentor in his discernment was a man by the name of James Bello. I was deeply moved and felt that, given the context, God had called me by name. I later found out that the man whose name I share is (or was) the director of deacons in Cardinal Dolan’s archdiocese. I told Deacon Hicks what had happened and he just laughed. I am not worthy, but I believe I am called to this formation. Only our Lord knows if I will be called to ordination, but I am comfortable that I am where He wants me right now.
What has been most meaningful or rewarding about the diaconate training program? Without a doubt, the very real awareness of God’s intense love for me and the knowledge that He created me for a specific purpose have been the most profound fruits of this journey. This growth in my faith is the result of the excellent education provided us, the direction and friendship of Deacons Tim Elliott and Freddy Vargas, and the profoundly close relationships that have developed with my candidate brothers and their families.
Have there been any special challenges during your time in the diaconate training program? By far, my biggest challenge has been coming face-to-face with who I am. Access to excellent spiritual direction through the diocese forced me to see myself more and more as others see me and, most importantly, as my Creator sees me. It hasn’t always been pretty. In fact, the ugliness has made me cringe at time. It is in these moments of realization that I’m most grateful for a merciful God that loves me unconditionally. It has also made me grateful for the unconditional love Christina must have for me. As Saint Paul says, I must put away the old self of my former ways, and put on the new self, created in God’s way (Eph. 4:22-24).
What are your hopes as a deacon? The specifics remain to be discovered, but I want to heed the diaconal call to serve God’s people as a bridge between them and the Church. I want to share this good news in person, face-to-face, to allow the Holy Spirit to use me as He pleases, both at the altar and in the community. I simply want to be obedient my Bishop, my pastor, and the magisterium to bring souls back home.
Please pray for Jim Bello, his wife Christina, and all the deacon candidates on the journey to ordination.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.