By DANA GREENE, Special To The Bulletin | Published November 16, 2006
Frederick Buechner once said that vocation is that place where “one’s deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And vocation is the place that Jan M. Sebacher, program coordinator and manager extraordinaire, found at the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University where he served first as a volunteer and later as an employee. Mr. Sebacher died Oct. 1, after a long struggle with cancer.
He took an unusual path to his vocation.
Emory’s Aquinas Center is an independent, nonprofit academic center, which provides a Catholic scholarly presence, ecumenical in spirit, for the benefit of the university, the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the region. Through the work of the Center, inquiring persons can enhance their knowledge of the living Catholic tradition and of the intellectual, spiritual and moral life of the Church.
Six years ago the center placed an advertisement for a program manager in The Georgia Bulletin. Sebacher’s wife, Sandy, saw the ad and encouraged him to apply. As he had just retired from J.C. Penney as a manager of the departments of shoes and jewelry, she knew he was restless and eager to use his talents. He signed on at the Aquinas Center and for the next several years managed the programs and activities of the center.
Mr. Sebacher’s devoted response to this opportunity followed naturally from his upbringing in a staunch Catholic family in St. Petersburg, Fla., where his mother taught in parochial schools and his family was active in church life. He was an altar server until age 17, eventually helping with the training of the new servers. In college at the University of South Florida, he majored in political science and was influenced by Father Thomas Spillett. After college he worked as a manager for Eastern Airlines, moving on to Penney’s after the airline’s demise.
Mr. Sebacher and his wife, parishioners at the Cathedral of Christ the King, were also residents of Decatur.
Known as an organizer, a manager with a mission, Mr. Sebacher found at the Aquinas Center a real need with which he could connect: the promotion of the Catholic intellectual tradition. His was more than a job—it was a vocation, one found in later life, one to which he could bring his considerable management skills.
Hobbled by cancer for the last 26 months of his life, he worked at the center to the very end. His wife, celebrating his enduring spirit, said, “He was a valiant fighter.”
Mr. Sebacher was honored posthumously by the board of directors of the Aquinas Center at a dinner in late October, with a number of board members giving testimonials to his work and his life.
Dave Balunas, chairman of the Aquinas Center’s Board, said, “Jan was a good personal friend and an invaluable member of the center’s staff. One of his most important contributions was to help shape and implement the center’s recent strategic plan. Jan’s fidelity was incomparable; he will be greatly missed.”