Full Circle: father and son, deacon and priest

Newly ordained Father Jayson Becker prays with his parents, Deacon James and Rita Becker, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, May 19. (Marty Denzer/Key file photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Parents want great things for their kids, often the things they wanted for themselves, but it didn’t work out. For one family, it eventually did work out, to their great joy. Just ask Father Jayson Becker and his father, Deacon James Becker.

In 1950, James Becker, then living in northern Illinois, enrolled at the Josephinum Pontifical Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, with the long-held dream of becoming a priest. He studied for about a year and a half, and then, in Dec. 1951, learned that his family was in financial difficulty and he was needed at home. Jim dropped everything and returned home, thinking it a temporary roadblock. But it seemed God had a different plan.

Jim found a job on a dairy farm, making about $120 a month, with which he helped his family make ends meet. Sometime later he met Rita Bickett, fell in love and they married. Six children were born over the years, the youngest a boy named Jayson David Sebastian, born in 1971. By that time the Becker family was living in Muscatine, Iowa.

Jayson grew up in a family he later described as loving and Catholic, often praying the rosary together. His first inkling of being called to the priesthood came when he was 9 or 10 years old, but he didn’t spend much time thinking about it.

Jim traveled for work and was gone from home at times while Jayson was young. It was difficult sometimes not having his dad around during his formative years, his youngest recalled, but great when dad was around.

Jim spoke fondly of his time at the Josephinum. In the early 1980s, the seminary held a family weekend for those who had attended, and Jim, his wife and two sons went “to the Joe” for the weekend, a weekend son Jayson still remembers.

In 1984, Jim was ordained a permanent deacon. Jayson recalled that when he was growing up, he set up the projector for his father’s parish adult education courses and listened in on the lessons. The teenager helped his father in the parish’s ministries of catechesis and evangelization. Deacon Jim didn’t pressure his son on a possible vocation. “He wanted the decision to come from me, so it would be my decision with God,” Fr. Becker said.

He recalled times growing up when his father preached in their church. “I appreciated his candidness about the beauty of the Catholic Church, her rich history and the overarching message of God’s love and mercy.”

He himself wasn’t sure of his vocation; he dated, fell in love, got engaged, but never married — worked, but deep down felt something was missing.

Deacon Jim later said that his son inspired him. Throughout his life, even after a diagnosis of Diabetes, disappointments and successes, “he never wavered in the practice of his faith.”

Fast forward to 2009. That summer Jayson’s aunt, Sister Mary Joseph Bickett, Mother Superior of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, Ill., died. Deacon James and Jayson attended the funeral. Driving back home, Jayson was at the wheel when he felt his aunt’s presence directly in front of him, warning him that “one day he would have to answer for not responding to God’s call.”

When Deacon James asked if he was all right, Jayson shared the experience, and decided not to put off the call any longer.

Deacon James offered to call his spiritual director, a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, and set up a meeting. Deacon James, Rita, Jayson and the priest met; Jayson began the application process later that year and left for Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in 2010. “Dad and I would talk about life in the seminary,” although some things had changed, as father and son studied more than 50 years apart. “I am confident I was able to enjoy grander amenities than he did.” Deacon James and Rita visited their seminarian son at Mount St. Mary’s and it was an enjoyable visit. “It reminded me of the time we went to the Josephinum years earlier,” Father Becker said.

Then God threw another curve ball at him. Jayson the seminarian grew uncertain again and took time off for discernment. Then early in 2015, his aunt Sharon suggested he apply to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which he did. He began theological courses at Holy Apostles Seminary in Conn., that August.

On December 18, 2017. Jayson was ordained a Transitional Deacon at St. Thomas More Church in Kansas City, in the presence of his family, by Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. Deacon Jayson Becker was vested in the dalmatic and stole by his father, Deacon James Becker.

The dream was fulfilled in May 2018, when Bishop Johnston ordained Deacon Jayson a priest for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, again with his family in attendance.

Fr. Becker said he felt “very humbled and edified to have God the Father, Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., and my physical father, Rev. Dr. James Becker, all in the sanctuary at the time of my ordinations to the diaconate and to the priesthood.”

Since his ordination, Fr. Becker said, “Dad and I go to the altar of sacrifice together as Priest and Deacon. I can only imagine how it must have been for my father to ask for my blessing at my first Mass, so he could preach the Gospel. I know it was an exhilarating experience for me. Fathers have historically blessed their sons, this was so different.”

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, he continued, “we enjoy many similar things. I have 23 nieces and nephews; my father has baptized most of them. I would usually assist him at them. Looking back, I can see so much more than when these events happened. I like to think my father and I preach similarly, we begin with what does the text say, some theological research, what does God want to say to his people? Then we write it down and deliver it. The formula has worked for dad and it appears to be bearing fruit for me.”

During the family reception after Fr. Becker’s ordination, Deacon Becker’s sister Sharon Preston of Lee’s Summit, presented both her brother and nephew with framed photographs of Deacon Jim vesting his son at his transitional diaconate ordination.

She also enclosed this message with the gifts: “Jim, in December of 1952, you returned home from the Josephinum Seminary, never to return. Our family was struggling and you answered their need. Little did you know that sixty-five years later on this date of December 18, 2017, your sacrifice would be answered by the vesting of your son, Jayson, at his Transitional Diaconate Ordination … on his journey to the priesthood.

“You gave up your own dream of being a priest for your parents and your siblings. For this I am both grateful and also delighted to see the story come full circle.”

There are many geometric shapes; the circle is the only one defined by its center. And in this circle, God is the center.

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Sunday
October 21, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph