Deacon Jeff Font shares his vision for community service and mentorship in his new role as Director of Campus Ministry.
What inspired you to become a Deacon?
My wife, LisaMarie, and I were very active at our old parish, St. Edwards, in New Fairfield. The Pastor at that time was Monsignor Ryan and he took notice of us – we were a young couple faithfully at Mass every week, even after we had our children. It was Monsignor Ryan who casually asked me if I’d ever thought of becoming a Deacon. Deacons have to be good with people, he explained to me, they have to be personable, share the ministry, and teach the classes. The more I looked into it, the more it seemed like something destined for me. In high school, I had actually considered becoming a priest, but I always knew in my heart that I wanted a family. The opportunity to become a Deacon was like God presenting me with an alternative that I hadn’t even considered.
What attracted you to the role of Director of Campus Ministry at St. Joes?
In my previous role, I served as Chaplain at Immaculate High School, and I absolutely loved it. I was there for seven years and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It was also my first time working directly with high school students. But unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately, I should say – my contract was not renewed and the decision was made to hire a part-time Chaplain. But as coincidence would have it, I connected with Father Silva right around the same time the position opened at St. Joes. I knew instantly that it was perfect for me. I had all the qualifications and experience that St. Joes was looking for and most importantly, I’d be able to continue my ministry. That meant the world to me.
What is your favorite aspect of being the Director of Campus Ministry?
I get to listen to students and build relationships. I am probably one of the most fortunate Deacons in our Diocese because I get to do my occupation as part of my ministry. Many Deacons have secular jobs and they are tasked with performing their ministry on the weekends or at night, but I am so blessed because I get to do it every day. This is where I’m the happiest. I love to help the students.
At SJ, I’m there to console, have empathy and compassion for students when things go wrong. I’m there to celebrate and watch their faces light up when things go right. But more importantly, I’m there to let them know that God is always beside them. My goal is to make sure students carry that knowledge with them forever.
What is your vision for the Campus Ministry Program?
Essentially, I want to put it on steroids. I want to make it Campus Ministry 2.0! I want to enhance the program, offer additional opportunities for service, and help the students truly understand why they’re volunteering. What are their reactions and their feelings to helping those in need? How does it relate to us as disciples? I want to make sure they understand the impact that they can have on another human being. That’s where the rubber meets the road. That’s where we start to look at service not as an obligation or something we have to do, but as something we want to do, and more importantly, something that we need to do.
Mentorship is a large part of Campus Ministry. Who are your most influential mentors?
My father is the first that comes to mind. He has since passed away, but I find myself sounding and acting like him every day. There’s also Monsignor Ryan, of course, who was a big influence in my life. He’s the one that planted the seed to my becoming a Deacon. Finally, there’s my high school basketball coach, who is someone that I refer to as a second father. If he walked into my office right now and told me to run laps around the gym, I wouldn’t even hesitate. Each of these mentors have taught me life lessons that I look forward to passing on to students as the Director of Campus Ministry.
I want to mentor our students the way these men mentored me. I want the students to understand that while yes, I am a Deacon, I am also a father, a teacher, a husband. I’m someone that can relate to them more than they think I can. I want them to feel comfortable enough to come in and tell me that they’ve just scored the winning goal. And I also want them to be able to come in and tell me that they’re going through a hard time. We all need a trusted support system and I can be that for our students.
When a student graduates from St. Joes, what will they say they’ve learned from you?
Simple. I want each student to leave St. Joes saying that I taught them how to be a good person.