“I remember kneeling down before the altar and praying the rosary every night, every single night.” That’s how Father Jacque (Jake) Beltran recalls his family’s daily prayer routine and how prayer has been a big part of his life. “The sailors always say, it’s important to do PT time or physical time. More importantly, we should not forget the other PT time – prayer time.”
This centennial school year, it is with great joy that the University of Saint Mary of the Lake welcomes Father Jake Beltran. Mundelein Seminary is a very familiar and dear place to Father Beltran because he was here as part of the formation faculty from 2001 to 2012. With extensive pastoral experience and three years of active-duty service with the Navy, he brings new breadth and depth to the formation department, as well as taking on the role of vice-rector of the seminary.
Father Jake Beltran’s home country is the Philippines, where he was born and raised with seven siblings: five brothers, and two sisters. “As a middle child, you have to develop the art of survival in order to learn how to negotiate up and down,” he said jokingly. Apparently, religion runs in his family. Two of his cousins are priests, and one later became a bishop. His younger brother Father Andre is also a priest and a graduate of Mundelein seminary.
Just like the prophet Isaiah, whom the Lord called from his mother’s womb, Father Beltran believed the Lord planted the seed of vocation early in his life. As a devout Catholic family, his parents and his siblings gathered together every day at 6 p.m. to pray the rosary. What was most memorable for him growing up was serving at 4:30 a.m. Mass at the age of 10 with his younger brother. The church was right across the street from his house. Early morning Masses are very typical for tropical countries such as the Philippines.
At the age of 13, he entered minor seminary and continued to college seminary. It was during his internship year that he was blessed to witness the love of the pastor for the people and, especially, his love for the Eucharist. The encounter affirmed his vocation to the priesthood. “He was totally impressive as a spiritual father,” he recalled as he was explaining the meaning of priesthood.
A life-changing experience for Father Beltran during the priesthood was working in a rural parish with indigenous people. “It was truly a challenge, especially during the first four years: no electricity, no running water, dirt roads and all that,” he said.
Yet looking back, it was one of his best pastoral assignments. It is a reminder for him to be always mindful of the “preferential option” for the poor. “It gives us a sense of the true meaning of the Church, being able to journey and live with the poor, and, at the same time, seeing the joy of how the Gospel is preached and how they are living the Gospel,” he said.
Father Beltran spent three years in active-duty service with the Navy. Of the eight chaplains assigned to the USS carriers and carrier strike group, Father Beltran was the only Catholic priest. He recalled being transported by helicopter and flying to many different ships and strike groups to help celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments. A history of military service runs in his family. His father served in the army to support the U.S. during World War II. It was this connection that brought his family to the U.S. He soon followed to reunite with his family in Chicago.
His advice to seminarians is “to have dedicated time to discern the vocation to which God is calling them and to discern prayerfully.” He added, “The Church needs priests who are healthy, who are joyful, who are balanced, who are passionately in love with the Lord and the people of God, and who are truly servants of all.”
He commends the seminarians to look up to St. John Vianney, the patron saint of all priests. We are reminded that through “his love for the Lord and the people, that he was truly a teacher, priest, and shepherd.” We need to let the Eucharist be the center and the source of our lives and our holiness. Father Beltran loves being outdoors. He is an avid tennis player. His favorite dishes are Adobo, Sinigang, and seafood. He is humbly and joyfully looking forward to being the vice-rector and helping to form future priests.
Duy Nguyen is a second-year theologian studying for the Diocese of San José