Lords’ call louder than worlds’
You’ve probably heard some variation of the expression “He could sell ice to Alaskans.”
As a young man, Father Jason Bedel sold ice so successfully that his corporate future look assured.
He began work at Home City Ice Co. as a student at Xavier University. “I started as a delivery truck driver, went into plant management and was promoted to sales manager,” he recalled. The promotion carried with it an adequate line of cold cash.
“My whole attitude was striving for the corporate world, my own idea of happiness,” he said. “I had accumulated the stuff that’s supposed to promise fulfilment: good money; I had a girlfriend; I had a house; I had the car I wanted.
He majored in public relations at Xavier with the intention of securing what he called “some high-pressure, big corporation job, like with P&G or Kroger. There are lots of big businesses in Cincinnati.”
So what put those ambitions on ice? “The Lord called me,” he says simply, and his corporate plans began to melt away.
As a student Father Bedel had been impressed by the priests at Xavier, but only began seriously considering a vocation after his girlfriend began RCIA classes.
“It was a wake-up call for me to take ownership of my faith as a man,” he said. ”I had no prayer life and I hadn’t taken my faith seriously since eighth grade when I was confirmed. I had to ‘man up’ about my faith.”
The process ultimately led him to the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, where he earned a master’s of divinity degree. Father Bedel was ordained in 2008 at age 34.
Father Bedel grew up in a religious home in Cincinnati’s western suburbs. His uncle, Father Bob Kleiner, is a Comboni missionary now working in South Central Los Angeles, but Father Bedel’s current assignment is well outside any urban center.
Since last year, he’s been pastor of the only two parishes in Adams County, the farthest southeastern section of the archdiocese: Holy Trinity in the village of Peebles, and St. Mary Queen of Heaven in West Union.
Father Bedel maintains a blog called Catalytic Converter, where he shares his ideas about faith and contemporary issues. “I ripped that off from Archbishop (Joseph) Tobin in Indianapolis,” Father Bedel said. “He used ‘catalytic converter’ when talking about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a catalyst and calls us to conversion of the heart. When I was in high school I worked on cars, and I liked the phrase.”
Adams County is best known to outsiders as the site of Great Serpent Mound, a prehistoric Native American earthwork in the shape of a snake. The Appalachian county is home to fewer than 30,000 people, including a thriving Amish community. Both Catholic parishes collectively count under 200 members.
Father Bedel’s assignment is a big change of scenery for a self-described “city boy,” but he said it’s a pleasant one.
“I enjoy the outdoors,” he said. “I like to fish. My grandparents had a farm in Indiana and I always enjoyed going there.”
Fostering vocations is among the priorities for One Faith, One Hope, One Love, and Father Bedel sees that component as having particular resonance locally.
“As far as priestly formation, I think there’s a natural desire for people here to focus on that,” he said. “There’s a fear, though I think it’s unfounded, that eventually they might not have a priest. With Catholic Charities, we’re in a poor county and we do a lot of outreach to poor through St. Vincent de Paul and Interfaith House (a food pantry).”
Physical repairs and upgrades comprise most of the parishes’ local priorities for funds from One Faith, One Hope, One Love.
“At Holy Trinity we’ll be making repairs to the physical plant,” Father Bedel said. “At St. Mary, some of it will go to new doors. The old ones are residential doors installed in 1989 and not used to the kind of traffic we have.” Other funds at St. Mary will go to a new shed for its tractor and a new lawn mower.
As he builds support for the campaign, Father Bedel will be making a few cold calls that apply skills from his days as an ice salesman. Asked whether any regrets have lingered about leaving the corporate life behind, he’s not slow to reply.
“Oh, shoot, man,” he said. “I’ve got it made.”
This feature by Paul Clark first appeared in the December 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.