By GRETCHEN KEISER,Staff Writer | Published February 2, 2006
After Deacon Jack Jansen raised his own family of nine, he was encouraged by his spiritual director to turn some of his exuberant attention to his parish family.
Taking the advice of Father Tom Francis, OCSO, he entered formation to become a permanent deacon serving his parish of St. Pius X in Conyers.
He was ordained a deacon in 1995, 24 years after he had arrived in Rockdale County from St. Louis, Mo., relocating there to take a new job to support his wife, Pat, their children, and his mother.
The first Mass the Jansens experienced in Georgia in 1972 was Easter Vigil at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit because it was the only Catholic church in the county. They went on to become charter members of St. Pius.
When he died Jan. 18 on his 73rd birthday, he and Pat had been married for 51 years, and the family had grown to include 26 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Additionally, the “senior deacon” at St. Pius had assisted several other men in the parish to follow in his footsteps and study for the diaconate. And the financial adviser, who was handed a shoebox decades ago to start the records of what would become St. Pius X, continued until his death to oversee the intricacies of parish finances and budgeting that had grown to over $1 million a year.
At the same time he remained a man with a broad smile, remembered at the time of his death as one who gave hugs and blessings, a natural salesman whose penchant for jokes and stories was catapulted to a new level when one of his grandchildren gave him a joke book for Christmas. His family decided to bury the joke book with him.
His ministry and presence in the parish and civic community, and his involvement in the lives of his children, grandchildren and parishioners was evident in the remembrances shared at a wake held at St. Pius X on Sunday evening, Jan. 22. Father John Kieran, pastor, officiated and Father Tom Francis preached. Four or five pews were filled with the members of the immediate family, including Pat, their daughters, Jean, Karen, Janet and Nancy, and sons, Mark, Michael, David, John and Chris, and their spouses, children and grandchildren.
The monk recalled, “It was sheer divine serendipity that I met Jack over 39 years ago (in the monastery retreat house). … Because of his exuberant and vivacious personality we became friends on the spot.”
He was wearing a shiny bronze lapel button that said his goal was to reach $1 million in insurance sales. This was “not for selfish reasons,” the monk said, but “for his family and his church.”
“His Catholic faith was the driving engine behind these two loyalties,” Father Tom Francis added.
Reflecting upon his life later at the Jansen home, the deacon’s family said that his lifetime of work included as many low points as high points, as he moved from Denver, where he and Pat met and married, to St. Louis, and then to Georgia for work—and little more than a year later was let go by the company that had encouraged him to come here.
But, his oldest child, Jean Rearick, said, he “retooled,” earned two master’s degrees in business and insurance from Georgia State University, changed employers, and kept going. A certified financial planner, he eventually developed a successful financial advisory business and was still actively working, while also training his daughter, Janet Montgomery, to take over the needs of his clients. Another daughter, Nancy Mozzone, is the parish finance manager.
Despite the initial job loss, moving to Georgia “was the best thing that ever happened to us,” his wife, Pat, said.
“We never had any money,” she said, but, “we always tithed” and she believes that God provided for the family in all their needs.
“I don’t know where the money came from. We always had enough to pay the bills, to take care of the kids. God provided for our old age.”
“God has taken care of us all the way through,” she said. “God was always there with us and tithing helped. I feel like we have been royally taken care of.”
On Jan. 18 Deacon Jansen went through a full day of work and activities and came home to go to the movies with his wife on his birthday. He suffered a heart attack and died just after they left the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
But Mrs. Jansen said she is grateful that she had all the years since he was 51, when he had quintuple bypass surgery.
“We had him another 21 years. We were really fortunate,” she said.
In recent years people asked Deacon Jansen when he planned to retire, and he said, “I am retired. Retirement is about doing what you love, and I am doing what I love.”
Deacon Jansen loved to preach and to assist at Mass, Father Tom Francis said. He willingly came to 5 a.m. Mass at the monastery for the opportunity to preach and serve, in addition to parish Masses.
He loved the Eucharist and in his work at St. Pius and in the county “he eagerly took the Eucharist to the sick and the shut-ins,” Father Tom Francis continued. “Many are here tonight” at his wake.
“We are indeed saddened by his absence in our midst,” Father Tom Francis said. “Let us take comfort. Jack is still smiling in the very midst of the ones he loved so much and in the Triune God.”
One of his granddaughters, Tricia Montgomery, recalled that sometimes when her grandfather preached “he’d just burst out into tears in the middle of the homily. I think it is OK we are crying.”
“Every Sunday we can participate in the Eucharist with Grandpa now,” she said.
Another granddaughter, Caroline Jansen, wrote, “I am going to put Grandpa in my heart so that he will continue to live through me, and I will be more like Grandpa.”
Jean Rearick said she had had “an epiphany this week” when she realized that in her approach to life she had become “older than my dad … who had a youthful enthusiasm about everything.”
Speaking at the wake, Janet Montgomery said, “He has taught me how to forgive, how to be understanding and compassionate. …. My dad was committed. He was committed to God. He was committed to my mom. … He got up in the morning and before anything else happened he had that time with God. He spent that time with God to be renewed by the Holy Spirit.”
His sons thanked him for giving them their faith and for teaching them to persevere.
“I never once heard my dad say a bad word about anyone,” Chris Jansen said. “He always told me he loved me.”
Deacon Brian Kilkelly reminisced that his friend “never came into a room without a broad smile and something really neat to say.”
His own diaconate vocation was prompted by Deacon Jansen’s encouragement, he said. Deacon Bill Brandt of the parish added, “Had it not been for Deacon Jack, it might not have been Deacon Bill.”
“His best homily was the vivid testimony he gave in the way he lived, the way he served,” Deacon Kilkelly said.
At the funeral Mass celebrated on Monday, Jan. 23, by Father Kieran, the pastor said he considered Deacon Jansen, whom he’d known for over 30 years, to be a father figure.
“Many times Jack was like a ‘father’ to me, giving me sound advice about parish management and financial matters. He leaves a great void in that area,” Father Kieran said.
“During the 35 years of our parish history, Jack spent countless hours working on parish finances,” he added, using his “giftedness … to help me and former pastors successfully shepherd the finances of this parish.”
His “first vocation” was to his wife and family, the pastor said, and then to the parish, where he gave encouragement and helped resolve misunderstandings.
“We give God thanks for the multiple ways Jack enriched our lives,” Father Kieran said in his homily. “We remember him as a layman … a man of faith, a wonderful steward of the giftedness given to him. A devoted family man whose influence and caring went far and wide. We remember him as the first lifetime deacon of this parish. We thank God for his diligent service and promotion of the Religious life; specifically, for his part in selecting, mentoring and training four new deacons.”
“We remember Jack as ‘Jack in the box’—the fun-loving person who joked about himself, who rejoiced in the fun side of life.”
“We ‘rejoice’ and ‘celebrate’ with him today. For Jack has finished his race to glory. … He kept the faith. In that same trusting faith beautifully witnessed by Jack, we give him ‘back’ to God. With God he will be ‘safe’ forever more.”
His son, Mark, said after his father’s death he couldn’t sleep. Then an image came to his mind.
“I lay there thinking of all the other souls who had lost their lives that day, and all their loved ones going through what I was going through. … I had this picture of Dad walking toward the gate of heaven and Jack turning to the guy (next to him) and saying … ‘Did you hear the one about …’”