A Brief Life-Sketch on Fr. John Van Deerlin
(2 November 1947 – 13 August 2014)
Born in 1947, John was the second child in a family of three and the only priest amongst his siblings and felt that growing up in the 50's was a wonderful experience. Even though he was ordained as a priest at the age of 37, he said that he knew that he wanted to be a priest from the age of 5. Playing priest with his friends he attended the local public school and during high school in Washington, he used to sing in the choir of his local parish where the church was the life of the community.
He entered an inter-denomination seminary called the 'Maine Bangor Theological Seminary' at the age of 19, but later continued with his studies and ended up graduating in Philosophy from the University of Maine. Encouraged by his father, who wanted John to experience a well-rounded preparation for life, he joined the Peace Corps in 1973 and this took him to various countries around the world including Lebanon, Thailand, Philippines and India and gave him a better appreciation of people and their problems. He helped raise hopes especially among people who had low opinion of themselves. After his stint in the Peace Corps, he worked with the Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Project and then moved on to the American University in Cairo where he completed his MA in English in 1977. He continued to work at the University until his return to Saudi Arabia to work for ARAMCO. Though he was earning a very good salary, the call towards his fellow men, made him to resign and move to Jordan to work with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity helping the street children, the poor and the addicts.
His work in the paper bag factories further deepened his resolve to be of service to the people and it was during this time, that he met Bishop Gremoli who invited him to Abu Dhabi. Enroute to meeting Mother Theresa in India, he met Bishop Gremoli who encouraged him to take the next step to the vocation and invited him to become a diocesan priest. John went to Italy and stayed for a while with Bishop Gremoli's family where he learned Italian and continued his Theological studies in Italy. On May 31, 1984 he was ordained in Rome by Pope John Paul II and that was where he celebrated his first mass. He returned to the GCC and then took his first assignment in Bahrain, interrupted by a 2 year halt in Egypt where he learned classical Arabic. From 1989-2002 he was missionary and then Parish Priest in Qatar and this assignment was described as one of the toughest phases in his life where he was able to lobby the Government of Qatar successfully for a Catholic church in Doha. From conducting mass at the basketball court in the American School in Doha to building the church in Doha, he worked with the various communities in Qatar and was involved in training and conducting camp masses. At a certain point in time, he was celebrating as many as 17 masses in a single day. All through, he never lost focus of the task at hand and he was able to bring together the 160,000 strong Catholic community under one roof. He then went to Rome to do his dissertation and complete in 2006 his training in Arabic and Islamic Studies. He moved to Ras Al Khaimah and became the Parish Priest where he helped with the design and planning of a new church. In 2007, he went back to the US to be with his ailing mother, and continued his work with senior citizens near his hometown.
At the end of 2008, he moved to Dubai where he mainly worked in the school. Later he was also in the service of the seamen in the ports of Dubai, Jebel Ali and Fujairah as Apostleship of the Sea Chaplain, in close cooperation with the Mission to Seafarers. Fr. John appreciated to be associated with St. Mary’s Parish with the family atmosphere and mutual support among all the priests as one of the reasons for a vibrant 200,000 catholic community. He believed that priests are called to help people pull themselves together and with his 'city priest' image, he preferred to use public transport extensively. He focused his sermons to highlight the general issues facing the congregation and providing them the scriptural insight.
Fr John felt that materialism and family responsibilities often come in the way of choosing priesthood as a vocation. He believed that consumption-based societies built-up stress. In his interview with 'St Mary's Catholic Church website' a few years ago Fr John conveyed his message for the youth saying, "do not get into the faith blindly - understand and love people before taking the next step and the best way to do this is to work with a Non-Governmental Organisation and get training. There is nothing that can stop the youth and they must be prepared for all kinds of work and assignments across various geographical locations. Go to college, work for a while, be active in parish activities and leave the rest to God.”
Funeral service will be held on Wednesday, 27 August2014 at 1.30 pm at:
Old Mission San Luis Rey, 4500 Mission Avenue, Oceanside, CA 92057 Tel. +17602318445, afterwards placing of the ashes in the family tomb in Oceanside Cemetery.
Bishop Paul Hinder will conduct the Funeral Mass.
Condolences may be sent to :
Van Deerlin Family
8582 Fireside Avenue
San Diego CA 92123
Or email to his brother Mr Jeff Van Deerlin (born 1955), asking for photos of Fr. John:
Jeff Van Deerlin
4805 Hawley Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92116