By Alice Huth-Derrah
Deacon Jeff is a rare find – he is a native Arizonan. A true calling to serve others and an unwavering faith led Deacon Jeff into ministry early on. An upbeat personality, a genuine positivity about life, and a calming presence has given him the innate gift of being able to easily relate to others, a strength he has used well over the years.
Though born in Phoenix, his father’s work for a window covering company took the family (Deacon, his mother and younger brother and sister) to different parts of the United States. A “cradle Catholic,” he remembers that no matter where they were living, his parents were always “very involved in their faith, especially mom,” who converted to Catholicism when he was about 10 years old. Throughout his younger years, Deacon Jeff struggled in school because of a learning disability and developed a poor self-image. It was only when he was at church he says “I felt I could be myself,” and so he gravitated toward being part of church life. At thirteen, while living in Georgia, he approached his church pastor because he was interested in developing a youth program, and so began a lifetime of work with youth and adults. After receiving a degree in Mental Health and Business from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, Deacon Jeff began working as a case manager with “seriously mentally ill adults,” advocating for patients who were trying to navigate life out in the world. It was Deacon Jeff’s faith that helped him deal with the suffering he witnessed and maintain “healthy boundaries,” with an absolute belief that “God is God. He provides healing; I’m only an instrument.”
Many people have provided spiritual inspiration for Deacon Jeff. He credits his grandfather, who “loved life,” for showing him the importance of having fun, and he says his grandmother “was like a mystic and was very spiritual,” and often talked with him about faith. Both his grandparents were “great models for how I interact with my own kids.” There was also Deacon Ollie who so impressed a then 18 year old Deacon Jeff that he made it his goal to become a deacon in the church one day.
After moving back to Arizona in 1995, and accepting a job in Parker as a Mental Health Facilitator, Deacon Jeff eventually found an apartment in Lake Havasu and began attending Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church. It was there that he met Susan who headed the single’s group at the parish. They married in 1998 and would eventually adopt three children, two girls and a boy. In 2004, Deacon Jeff realized the fulfillment of his goal from his younger days, and became part of the first cohort of deacons ordained by Bishop Thomas Olmstead.
In July 2020, Deacon Jeff and his family relocated to the Phoenix area when he accepted the position of Faith Formation Director at St. Elizabeth Seton. He also continues his duties as a deacon, as well as facilitating Bible Studies and Grieving Workshops. Through his ministry, he hopes he shows others they’re valued. Deacon Jeff says he finds the scripture from Jesus’ teachings in His Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6: 26-32, personally meaningful for him. Deacon Jeff smiles and lightly laughs saying, “I’m so faith driven I can’t plan ahead too far or make long term plans.” He explains, “Everything is a risk and I’m not going to be consumed by worry over things down the line.” The hallmark of Deacon Jeff’s faith is an absolute trust in God.