Deacon Jim Bello named director of Christian Formation

Diocesan position is not all that Bishop Stika is asking new member of diaconate to undertake

By Jim Wogan

It didn’t take Deacon Jim Bello long to blend into his new role with the Diocese of Knoxville. A congenial personality and a genuine Christian spirit have helped him navigate the responsibilities that came his way literally minutes after his ordination on June 11.

Deacon Bello described the scene that day inside the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus when it was announced that Bishop Richard F. Stika had appointed him director of Christian Formation for the diocese.

“The music at the end of the Mass was still playing,” Deacon Bello recalled. “Deacon (Sean) Smith called me into the sacristy and then moments later he announced it to the entire deacon class, which was gathering on the steps of the cathedral sanctuary for photographs. I had just handed my wife the appointment letter from Bishop Stika, smiled, and said to her, ‘Don’t open this; I want to explain it to you first.’”

“Then the announcement was made, and she looked at me like… what?” he added.

The appointment didn’t come completely out of the blue. Deacon  Bello had expressed an interest in the position a few weeks before and went through a thorough vetting process. By ordination day, it was clear he was the right person for the job.

In the few weeks that have followed, he has started what he calls an “assessment of training needs and program development” for parishes.

“I would like our parishes to be teaching the love of Christ. It is the love of Jesus that is going to bring people into this Church and that’s where our catechesis needs to begin,” he said.

Deacon Bello has met online with most of the parish religious education directors. “I have also spoken to many of them by phone, and I definitely want to get out to meet them in person.”

Classes for new RCIA candidates and catechumens begin soon, which is something Deacon Bello is focused on.

“We have been ramping up for RCIA and making sure our parish teams have what they need to begin their programs. Our fall conference is coming up (Sept. 17) and it will center on the theology behind the rites of Christian initiation in addition to pastoral concerns. That pastoral piece is something we need to get good at. How do we equip our parishes to triage situations and to be present to those involved?” he said.

In the meantime, Deacon Bello said he has been obligated to make sure diocesan child safety audits are up-to-date and has been involved in other administrative duties that need attention as he continues to organize his office.

“My heart is one of service. By listening, I can start the process of helping our catechists do their jobs. I am going to listen,” he said with emphasis.

The whirlwind events of ordination day were only a prelude of what was coming. Deacon Bello also has been appointed to serve as the assistant to the director of the diaconate.

“My role as director of Christian Formation is to lead this department. I have been told that there is a good foundation in place, and my desire is to build on that,” he said. “My role with the diaconate is to assist the director, Deacon Tim Elliott, when the need arises.”

To complete a trifecta of new duties, Bishop Stika recently asked Deacon Bello to serve as the diocesan coordinator for the National Eucharistic Revival, which will culminate with the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in 2024.

All of this comes five years after Deacon Bello finally made a commitment to his vocation. After twice rejecting the diaconate, he said a persistent friend and a “weird” experience driving to Atlanta put him on the path to formation.

“I was at the YMCA in Chattanooga preparing for a drive to Atlanta and the expectation of a pretty intense business meeting down there,” Deacon Bello said. “Deacon Hicks Armor walked in and said, ‘I know you, and I think you would make a good deacon.’ I was asked twice before by other people and I told myself that God doesn’t want me, and that’s what I told Deacon Hicks.”

Twenty minutes later, Deacon Bello said that Deacon Armor came back and said, “I want you to pray about it.”

As Deacon Bello drove south along I-75, heading to his meeting in Atlanta, he tuned his car radio to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s Catholic Channel show.

“The first thing out of Cardinal Dolan’s mouth is ‘Today we are discerning the diaconate and my guest is Deacon Jim Bello. I was astonished. It turned out that Cardinal Dolan’s director of the diaconate shares my name. Two hours after I was approached about joining the diaconate and said no, but that I’d pray about it, I hear my (shared) name on the radio being spoken by a cardinal of the Church. I called Deacon Hicks, and he started laughing and said, ‘God works in weird ways.’”

This strange story didn’t stop there.

“Deacon Hicks said, ‘I am going to call Bishop Stika and tell him about your experience.’ A few minutes later, he called back and said, ‘You are not going to believe this, but Bishop Stika happens to be visiting Cardinal Dolan right now.’ How do you say no to that?”

Deacon Bello is a lifelong Catholic and a native of Baton Rouge, La. He obtained a master’s degree in speech-language pathology at Louisiana State University. He is a pro-life advocate and the author of the Catholic novel, One Baby Rose.

In addition to his duties with the diocese, Deacon Bello and his wife, Christina, are parishioners at Holy Spirit Parish in Soddy-Daisy. They have been residents of Tennessee for more than 20 years.

Professionally, Deacon Bello spent nearly 30 years in senior leadership in the health and rehabilitation sector of the health-care industry, and he recently retired as vice president of outpatient rehabilitation for a national health-care provider.

“Deacon Bello is a welcome addition to our diocese,” Bishop Stika said. “Yes, he will be quite busy with all that I have asked him to do, but among the things I find compelling about Deacon Bello is his patience and enthusiasm for whatever he does. His discernment during the diaconate process is a great example.”

“He didn’t jump in until he was absolutely sure that God was calling him. I am grateful that he was open to God’s invitation, and I look forward to him leading the diocesan Christian Formation Office and assisting Deacon Tim (Elliott) in diaconate matters,” Bishop Stika added.

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