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Jack Andrew Saarela

June 12, 1949 — May 25, 2024

Jack Andrew Saarela

Jack A. Saarela passed away on May 25, 2024 at the age of 74. Jaakko Antero (Jack) was born in the northern Finnish city of Oulu on June 12, 1949 to Elsa (Aijala) and Veikko Saarela. Together with his delightful little sister Riitta Kaarina (Karen) the family spent the first few years on the family farm until the family made the life-changing decision to try their luck in a new country, Canada. This was a decision they never regretted. After making the move to Toronto in 1955, Jack quickly learned English and began his lifelong love of learning. He attended Franklin Elementary school and Roden Public School in east Toronto. His high school years were spent at Riverdale Collegiate Institute during which he excelled in his studies. At Riverdale he became Student Council President, yearbook editor and Valedictorian of his graduating class. With the help of his many scholarships awarded to him, Jack attended the University of Toronto, Trinity College where he graduated with a degree in English.

        It was after university that Jack met the love of his life, Diane Stanley, and the two of them were married on August 28, 1971. Jack was intending to continue his education to become a doctor, but felt God’s calling to enter the ministry. He enrolled at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, CT. While at Yale, Jack was awarded the John A. Wade prize for preaching. Jack was ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Eastern Canada Synod of the Lutheran Church in America. Jack completed his pastoral training at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba before accepting the call to his first congregation, Augsburg Lutheran in Brampton, Ontario. In 1981 Jack and family made the move to the United States when he accepted the call at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Lake Worth, FL. His work in Lake Worth allowed him to serve the congregation in both Finnish and English. In 1986, Jack fulfilled a lifelong dream by becoming campus pastor at University Lutheran Church in Gainesville, FL serving students at the University of Florida. After 16 years in Gainesville, Jack accepted the position of Deployed Director of Campus Ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) based out of Philadelphia. In 2009, Jack became the interim campus minister at Luther House at his Alma Mater, Yale University. Jack then embarked on interim positions at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, St. Mark’s in Conshohocken, PA and St. Andrew’s in Perkasie, PA.

       After retiring from the ministry in 2015, Jack pursued a lifelong dream of being a novelist, authoring five books. Jack also translated his mother’s letters from the Finnish language to English and graciously gifted the bound books to his children, nieces and nephew.

       Jack lived the same way he died, for the glory of his God and for the well-being of God’s children. He was attentive to the plight of the underdog and the voices of those whose pleas were drowned out or silenced. Jack ministered to inmates on death row. He was full of pride for his sponsored family, the Lobo family from the Repulic of Congo, for their courage in beginning life again as refugees in a new and unfamiliar land. Jack was known for his undying love and support of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies.

       Jack is survived by his loving wife of 52 years, Diane, his sons Luke Saarela and Jesse Saarela (Victoria Stutzman), grandchildren Diamond and October, his sister Karen Toppila (Robert Wildbore), nieces Raakel Toppila (Matt Pelletier) and Lana Toppila (Dave Jamieson), and nephew Erik Toppila. 

        A memorial service will be held at 11am on Monday July 8th at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 1224 Melrose Ave, Elkins Park, PA 19027.


The following are some quotes of tribute from some of Jack’s dear friends:


“Thank you Jack for all the work on behalf of Lutheran Campus Ministry....your insights, wisdom, sense of humor and your great love for your work was shown through in interactions with Colleagues and Boards.”  -Imogene Stulken Campus Minister


“Looking back at moments and lessons learned in high school during our Students Council days in terms of our personal honesty and integrity and the importance of doing what was right proved to be a moment in which we understood that standing by our principles and friendship would lead us to a better place in how to deal with challenges and relationships moving forward.” -Tom Baker


“Thank you, Jack, for making me a better person. Your enduring example of compassionate consideration for others was in evidence from the first time I took noticed you at Riverdale CI. You never trumpeted your own superior intellect and you were always generous in acknowledging the special talent in others. It is fair to say that your kindness toward your fellow students contributed significantly in enabling those of us less blessed to strive to be our better selves.”  -Jeff Allen

“Your easy laughter, your thoughtful ideas and your caring presence are part of the legacy with so many people.” -Galen Hora


“Memories of the few short times that we shared together had a lasting effect on my life. the first two books of yours, did the same, I felt them in my soul.” -Pentti Sipila

“In all of my years in campus ministry, you stand out in my memory as one of my most supportive and encouraging mentors.” -Joyce DeGreeff

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