Deacon Tom Bello: The selfless servant

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Longtime diocesan Deacon Thomas M. Bello died March 29 at his home in McLean following a battle with cancer.

He is survived by his wife, Judy, three adult children and several grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was offered April 2 at St. James Church in Falls Church with Father Patrick L. Posey, pastor, as the main celebrant and homilist, along with Father Thomas P. Ferguson, vicar general and moderator of the curia, and Father Paul D. Scalia, vicar of clergy.

Dozens of the people whose lives he touched attended his wake April 1, including St. James parishioners, members of the clergy and Third Order Franciscans and friars from all over the country.

Many people told stories of how Deacon Bello had impacted their lives.

"I've known the Bellos since the third grade," said family friend John Rozada. "I always remembered the love between all the Bellos and the love between Judy and Tom. So when I found the love of my life, Victoria, we thought, 'What better way to start marriage than with the great example he set for all of us?' So we asked Deacon Tom to marry us," said Rozada.

"What I didn't know until recently was that Tom's birthday was on the same day as our wedding. He never said anything when we told him the date. He was always a selfless man - you asked him and he'd do it," he said.

St. James parishioner David Schwind reminisced over Deacon Bello's infectious laugh and the positive influence he had over Schwind's children, who are altar servers at the parish. During Schwind's illness, Deacon Bello was there for him as well.

"I was using a walker, and he would come by and bring Communion. When I could finally make it back to St. James, I realized the power of the Eucharist. He gave me the Eucharist the first time back," he said. "Now I'm going to become a eucharistic minister."

Deacon Bello was born in Durham, N.C., Sept. 17, 1949, and raised in Raleigh. He attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

After earning a master's degree in history from Oxford University in England, he married his wife, Judy, and moved to Northern Virginia in 1975.

He was drawn to the spirituality and nonviolence of St. Francis and joined the Secular Franciscans in 1983. He was elected national minister of the Secular Franciscan Order in the United States in 2009.

"I could see that (being with the Franciscans) was like food and drink to him," said his wife, Judy. "He walked on the air after he had spent time with them."

Though he was very ill last fall, Deacon Bello was determined to attend the national conference of Franciscans, she said. "I said, 'Tom, I'm sorry that is not possible.' And he said, 'Judy, all things are possible with God and the Secular Franciscans.' "

After his diaconate ordination in 1987 by Arlington Bishop John R. Keating, Deacon Bello was assigned to the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. He later served at St. James and St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church. He spent 19 years serving St. James Church.

Deacon Bello visited patients at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, the home-bound, and he distributed food to the needy.

Deacon Bello also taught classes for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. He was the former chairman of the Arlington Diaconal Council and served on the board of directors of Hogar Hispano.

Father Bill I. Korpi of the Church of the Nativity in Burke, a permanent deacon who later became a priest priest, said Deacon Bello had been a role model for him in the permanent diaconate.

A longtime family friend, Father Scott Holmer from the Washington Archdiocese, offered Mass in Deacon Bello's sick room and anointed him shortly before he died.

"As a priest, I help a lot of people die. Tom was one of the most ready to meet God," he said. "Walking in there and celebrating Mass, there was such a peace he had in his heart."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016