I first met John Charles Bettmann in December 2000 through an email he had sent to me when I resided in Barbados. He had learned about my call to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, O’Fallon, Illinois, and wanted to congratulate and extend a warm welcome to me. I did not know how he obtained my email address and strangely enough I never asked him. What I felt from reading his email was a loving man and faithful priest who was looking forward to sharing in ministry with me since our churches were close geographically (he was in charge of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Caseyville). He was also interested in building collegiality and a friendship with me. And we became very close and dear friends from the time my wife and I arrived in Illinois in February 2001 until his death on Wednesday morning. Our friendship had grown and blossomed over the years.
In mid-March 2001, he was the Litanist at my Institution and Induction Service (Celebration of New Ministry). Then in April, I invited him to bless our new home in Troy, Illinois, which he so greatly appreciated doing. I guess having done these things for me in only two months of knowing each other, he also had one thing he wanted me to do. He, as well as a number of others at St. Michael’s, made sure that Judith and I attended Cursillo. So just four months after our arrival, we spent our Cursillo weekend at Toddhall Retreat Center, Columbia, Illinois, like “lambs to the slaughter.” But it was a wonderful spiritual weekend! After completing our Cursillo weekend, John remarked to me, “Now that you are a cursillista, I expect that you will serve or help me sometimes as Spiritual Director” (with a smile on his face). I asked jokingly, “Was that the reason, you asked me to attend?” We both laughed.
When he was called as rector of St. Paul’s, Carlinville and St. Peter’s, Chesterfield, he was delighted about the call but concerned that our friendship and monthly lunch meetings may not continue because of the distance. But our friendship and monthly lunch meetings continued. We would meet half-way between our two churches at a small Italian restaurant named “Gasperoni’s” in Livingston, Illinois, and spend two to three hours in conversation on a range of topics including family, the church, the priesthood, life issues, the challenges of ministry, life in general, and the like. His dear wife, Elisabeth, was always fond of John and my monthly lunch meetings when we both served as priests in the Diocese of Springfield. She would regularly call me to tell me how happy she was that John and I were close and dear friends and how upbeat he was after our meetings.
John and I always felt a connection with each other and yet we were opposites in some ways – he was an introvert, although you would never know that when he exercised pastoral ministry, and I am the extrovert. He saw me as the bold, younger brother and he was the shy, elder brother. And we had a lot in common as well including similar theological and political views. It was interesting how quickly he understood me – he knew when I was serious and when I was joking. John was an avid reader, with a fine intellect and was very knowledgeable in a number of areas.
In September 2010, we both learned that we were leaving the diocese around the same time – he and Elisabeth were moving to the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, while Judith, our children, and I were moving to sunny Florida where I had accepted a call as Rector of Holy Sacrament Episcopal Church, Pembroke Pines. We pledged to stay in touch on a regular basis, which we both did, and to visit each other as often as possible.
In July of last year, Judith, our children, and I visited John and Elisabeth at their new home. We preferred to stay in a hotel since they had only moved three months earlier, and we also wondered if they would be able to cope with our two rambunctious kids. But John and Elisabeth insisted that we stayed with them. And yes, we did stay…and it was absolutely wonderful. With the assistance of Mary Alice Shaw, John’s former secretary, they were unpacked and ready to entertained guests. They were relaxed and delighted to see us and we were happy to see them. We all had a great time and they enjoyed themselves with our two children. As a welcome gift, John gave me a bottle of Barbadian rum from Mount Gay Rum Distilleries which he had purchased in Asheville with a note that read: “Tony, A small touch of home for a dear friend! John+”
When we left Asheville, at the beginning of August 2011, we would never have imagined that in eight months I would have lost two very close and dear friends in Elisabeth and John. They had looked so happy and comfortable. John was settling into retirement and although he hoped to be able to celebrate Mass on a regular basis, he was enjoying life with his beloved wife, Elisabeth, of over 35 years, and the two of them were very close. They spent most of their time sitting in the sun room enjoying the beautiful nature that surrounded them.
In my last conversation with John, which was the Easter weekend, he was preparing to go back to the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, to be one of the Spiritual Directors of Cursillo, while Judith and I were about to leave for a cruise to the Bahamas. We spoke for some time and were going to connect when he returned on Tuesday (April 17). This did not happen.
After seven months without his Vibeke Elisabeth, John has returned to her and to his Father who created him. I have lost a dear and treasured friend, confidant, and colleague but have lots of lasting memories. Thank you very much, John, for being such a loving person, a true friend, a faithful priest, a cherished colleague, and a wonderful human being. We love you, Father John, and will miss you. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Judith and our children join me in expressing our heartfelt condolences to his children, Theresa and Greg, his daughter-in-law, Ashley, grandchildren, Nicholas, Jaeden and Isabella, to Nina, Tanya, Britta, and Stella, all the family members and friends, to the many parishioners he has served, and colleagues with whom he has shared. We also extend to them our prayers.
May John, priest, and Elisabeth, rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon them.