Deacon Jacob Valle: Military chaplaincy in future as priest

By: By Jennifer Willems

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is one of six stories profiling the transitional deacons who will be ordained priests of the Diocese of Peoria by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, at St. Mary’s Cathedral on May 23.

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When Mary Beth Valle played the organ for Mass at Christ the King Church in Wonder Lake, the whole family would sit in the organ loft, too. It was there, looking across the church as the priest was elevating the Eucharist during the consecration, that Deacon Jacob Valle was struck with amazement.

“There he is, holding our Lord in his hands. He brings Christ to the people,” Deacon Valle recalled. “I remember being in utter awe of that.”

He got to see another side of the priesthood in junior high school when a priest there played football with them.

“I started realizing not only are priests inspiring, but they’re normal people as well,” he said. “They goofed around with us and told good stories.”

He put the idea of being a priest “on the back burner” in the eighth grade, however, when he realized no one else his age was even considering it. After simmering for a few years, the idea bubbled to the surface again when he attended Illinois State University in Normal to study communications and television production.

He got involved at what is now the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center, where a group of about 10 young men formed a group called Esto Vir (Latin for “be a man”). The goal was to challenge each other to grow in virtue and holiness.

“That really helped me a lot to instill come discipline in my life and grow in virtue and fidelity to the Lord,” he told The Catholic Post. “Through all that, I started asking the question, ‘What’s the Lord calling me to do?'”

The college freshman realized he was being called to the seminary. He contacted Msgr. Brian Brownsey, director of the diocesan Office of Priestly Vocations, who rushed the paperwork and the following fall Deacon Valle entered Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minnesota. He went on to study theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

“I realized that studying communications and having the ideal job and money and lifestyle might give me pleasure, but it’s not going to make me happy,” he said. “Going to seminary and being a priest, that’s God’s plan for me. That will make me happy.”

But he felt one more thing was required.

His father, Charles, and mother met while he was a pilot and she was a flight nurse in the Air Force, and his brother is currently active duty. Deacon Valle wanted to follow their lead.

With the permission of Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, he is being co-sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services, headed by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio. That means he will be released for service as a military chaplain three years after ordination.

To prepare for that, Deacon Valle has been through basic officer training, a two-week overview of military chaplaincy, and a 35-day internship last summer that had him shadowing a chaplain at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. He has also attended gatherings hosted by the Archdiocese for the Military Services so he can build a relationship with Archbishop Broglio and the seminarians.

In addition to his pastoral work with the Air Force and his field experiences in nursing homes, prison ministry and Bible studies during seminary, Deacon Valle is grateful for the opportunities he has had to get to know and serve the people of St. Philomena in Peoria and St. Pius X in Rock Island. He has also worked with Msgr. Stanley Deptula, director of the Office of Divine Worship.

“Those experiences of parish life and parish ministry felt natural,” he said. “I could see myself doing this.”

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