RIP Fr. Kenneth Walker
20 June, 2014: Sermon of Very Rev. John Berg, Superior General, at the Funeral Mass of Rev. Kenneth Walker
O death where is thy victory? O death where is thy sting?
Your Excellencies, dear Rev. Monsignor, my dear confreres, dear family of Fr. Walker, fellow priests, religious and dear faithful,
Just as a father is stunned by sorrow when he must mourn the death of a son who has gone before him, so too, as a superior of such a young community, one never expects to have to carry out such a terrible duty, and yet today we are gathered to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and carry out the absolution and burial of Fr. Kenneth John Walker, a young man of 28. Just two years ago he was ordained a priest at the hands of Bishop Bruskewitz. Two years ago I stood at his side as he joyfully offered his first Mass as a priest, but today we have the sad and untimely duty to commend his soul to God.
This last week we have seen and heard and perhaps even shared the full range of emotions in reaction to his death: outrage; questioning; and heavy, heavy sorrow. Seen with purely human eyes we have before us a wholly senseless tragedy. Death seems to sting more than ever amidst the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.
And yet the Requiem Mass for a priest contains the cry of St. Paul: “O death where is thy victory? O death where is Thy sting”, as if to stir us from our sorrow and remind us that death is but one half of the Christian paradox: for because of the victory of the cross, death has been transformed into the very gateway to life. This same cross is understood by so few that St. Paul says it is “unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Gentiles foolishness.” (1Cor 1:23)
The Gentiles whom St. Paul was working to convert understood that man had a natural desire within himself to live forever. But without the true faith, they thought this could only be achieved through great deeds which would live on in the minds of generations of men forever in works such as those of Homer and late Plutarch.
The Church rightfully forbids eulogizing at a funeral as it would be an abuse to the liturgy which has the glorification of God as its end. And Fr. Walker himself never lived his life as such a man who would need to have his own chapter written about him in Church history or even that of the Fraternity of St. Peter. He was probably not infrequently the most knowledgable man in the room, but he would be the last one to put himself forward or into the spotlight.
And yet despite his quiet and unassuming nature, now his name, his life and his virtues have been published in a multitude of news outlets both nationally and internationally. A news media which in our day and age can’t seem to bring up the Catholic Church – and especially its priesthood – without trying to attach it somehow to scandal and abuse, has been resoundingly respectful in recognizing the life of a steadfast priest who served his flock. It is remarkable that this man, who did not call attention to himself or accomplish feats which would be considered as great by the world should by his example now goad so many to a greater awareness of God and perhaps even cause them to the return to the Church. There may be some here today who are among them.
If this is the case then, “O death, where is thy sting?” When Father Walker prostrated himself before the altar on the day of his priestly ordination, and there sounded over him the voice of the cantors invoking God, Our Lady, and the great saints of the Church (and many who are here today responded as with one voice "ora pro nobis") we hardly expected to need to reaffirm those words once again in such a context as that which calls us together today. On that day two years ago Father Walker offered himself wholly to God and therefore, as we know that death is not an end but a beginning, we beg God to accept his offering even as we grieve the necessity to do so.
The events of the last ten days have shown the inspiring unity of brother priests in Father's community and highlighted for the world the unity of Catholics in Phoenix who have come together to pray for the soul of a priest whom they consider one of their own even if he hailed from Kansas and the Fraternity of St. Peter. We are proud to be able to work in such a Diocese.
From our limited all too human vantage point this tragedy is abhorrent. In the plans of God, Fr. Walker’s life and death have spoken with a louder and more sustained voice, and have reached a larger number of souls than many in 50 years of priesthood.
When we see these fruits we can only echo rhetorically with St. Paul: “O death where is thy victory? O death where is thy sting?”
Though perhaps not that of a martyr (who strictly dies in defense of the faith), the death of Fr. Walker will undoubtedly be a seed, a grace for souls, and a particular grace for the Fraternity of St. Peter.
In his application to Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, then Kenny Walker already had very clear motivations for becoming a priest: “Along with the Church, then, I am deeply grieved by these errors concerning the nature of and dignity of man accepted by so many people in the world, which deviate them from their supernatural end. In full view of the situation in the world, then, the only vocation that I could be satisfied with would be one that would be dedicated to bringing people to salvation and this work is best carried out in the priesthood.”
We are all aware of how badly man’s vision of his rightful end is obscured in this modern world and how it seems to worsen every day. Every day in and outside of the confessional, the priest sees how badly the world is in need of the example of those who will imitate the Good Shepherd. But I ask my fellow priests, especially those in the Fraternity: how will we rightfully honor the memory of our confrere? Will we occasionally take out of our breviaries the holy card we received today commemorating his burial and recall that we ought not to take anything for granted in the service of the Lord; that we are instruments to serve in the place and in the time in which He chooses; that we are simply called each day to do so more faithfully than the day before? Will we recall the simple, honest, quiet, and consistent strength that we saw in our confrere, which is the mark of the Good Shepherd, who is always keeping watch over his flock, and be reminded that as long as each action of our priesthood is seen as an opportunity to work as an instrument of Christ there will never be any question of drudgery in attaining the arduous good? In turn then we will not be swept up into judging the work and it fruits with worldly eyes, but only in light of Christ’s Priesthood and the Sacrifice which is its defining act.
Will each one of you, the faithful, do the same; look at the holy card, recall his life and pose the question of St. Ignatius regularly posed to himself: “From where am I coming, and where am I now going?”
If this be the result of the tragic death of Fr. Walker, then indeed we may cry out, “O death where is thy sting!” for it will be clear us that regardless of this terrible crime “where sin did abound, grace will more abound”.
But the fact that death has lost its sting, and that we live not as those who have no hope, but as those who believe that when the soul departs from the body life has changed but not come to an end, it does not mean that there is no place for sorrow today. Our Lord showed us at the tomb of His dear friend that tears can be concomitant with great confidence in God and the resurrection. Today the liturgy has the church and its ministers draped in black to share in the mourning of one who has been lost to his family his friends and his community. The Church as a good mother is compassionate upon our sorrow. She acknowledges the wrenching truth about death but she does not fail to impart hope - even in the very context of that truth.
On behalf of all of my confreres I would express our deep sympathy to all the members of the Walker family. You gave your son to us years ago and entrusted him to our care. I pray to God that we cared for him well, as a family should, in every aspect, especially spiritually, since the day he entered the doors at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary. Two years is such a short time as a priest, but knowing Fr. Walker, I believe he would not have traded in 50 more years in this valley of tears for even one as a priest, as another Christ. Every day of his priesthood he had the consolation of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To do so even once is a gift from God of incalculable grace and lies at the heart of the Fraternity's vocation. If we need consolation it should come from recalling that Father had the gift of standing before the altar each day and renewing the sacrifice "ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam". For Father Walker those words are literally true now and for all eternity.
Our primary purpose today, however, is not to seek our own consolation or commemorate the deceased, but to offer prayer and sacrifice for the repose of Fr. Walker that he may rest eternally in the Beatific Vision, one with the Divinity Whom on earth he was privileged to hold in his consecrated hands. This is our primary and solemn duty as those who knew him; those who loved him; those who were absolved by him; those who received Our Lord in Holy Communion from him; and those who were blessed by him.
The rite of this Requiem Mass expresses this urgency again and again in her prayers: Lux perpetua luceat ei: Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine. But this urgency is also seen in the very gestures of the priest. In this Mass there is no blessing of objects; the priest does not concede a blessing to the deacon and subdeacon at the Epistle and Gospel; not even the final blessing of the congregation is allowed. There is no exchange of peace between the ministers and the clergy. It is as if the Church reserves all for the deceased; as if every last grace of this Mass and absolution is jealously guarded for the repose of his soul.
This urgency was also beautifully seen on Monday when hundreds of priests offered Mass for the repose of Fr. Walker's soul. The first of the day was offered by a confrere at 7 am in Sydney, Australia; eight hours before the break of dawn in Europe, and the last was offered in California by another confrere as the next day was already breaking in Europe. We were mindful of the words of God through the Prophet Malachi:
“For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered up to my name a clean oblation.” (Mal. 1:11)
This urgency is the second reason to keep in our missals the holy card commemorating his funeral; so that we might frequently and fervently pray, offer masses and sacrifices for the repose of the soul of Fr. Walker not just tomorrow or throughout the week, but continually. This is the great consolation of the doctrine of the communion of saints!
And as theologians remind us, there is always some self interest in praying for the holy souls, because someday they will in turn intercede for us before the throne of God. I know how much our Fraternity needs such an intercessor, and given how Fr. Walker has never been one to waste words, I think Our Lord will be keen to hear him when he does pipe up and ask for an intention!
In a few short moments Christ’s infinite sacrifice will be offered to the Father once again for the remission of sins and in particular for the soul of the faithfully departed. Then the absolution will be carried out with its blessings. Finally, as a last word, the liturgy of the Church will provide us with the hymn, In paradisum, as the coffin departs. This last liturgical text is also a very fitting bidding of goodbye, and again, on behalf of all priests of our Fraternity, I would like to make it our own and offer it directly to our confrere:
14 June, 2014: Letter of the Superior General regarding the death of Rev. Kenneth Walker, FSSP
Dear Friends of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter,
In the midst of mourning for our dear confrere, Fr. Kenneth Walker, one great consolation has been the outpouring of prayers and condolences expressed by so many bishops, religious communities, fellow priests and faithful. Many of you have informed us of the hundreds of Masses which have already been offered for the repose of his soul and for the health of Fr. Joseph Terra. By the grace of God and thanks to your prayers, Fr. Terra’s life is out of danger and we expect him to make a full recovery.
By now you have read on various news outlets and websites about the virtues of Fr. Walker as a priest and how badly he will be missed by his confreres and parishioners. In an age where we seem so centered upon ‘clerical stars’ and are constantly searching for the ‘newest approach to evangelization’, the life of our confrere gave witness to one of the greatest priestly virtues, a quiet and consistent strength, which is a mark of the Good Shepherd who watches vigilantly over his flock in season and out of season.
He has been described by the parishioners he served in the same manner that he would be by his confreres; he was earnest: he was persevering; he was ready first to serve; nothing ever seemed to inconvenience him. Our Lord’s description of Nathaniel perhaps fits him best: he was a man without guile. He will perhaps be remembered as an example to us as confreres more for what he did not say; one would be hard pressed to find anyone who ever heard him complain or speak badly about anyone. As a former professor of Fr. Walker in the seminary, and as superior, I also knew him as one who took correction well; never pridefully objected; and sincerely sought to improve in all areas of formation both as a seminarian and a later as a priest.
In such tragic circumstances I realize that it can be easy to fall into hyperbole, but there was an innocence to Fr. Walker which is rarely found in this valley of tears.
His life and his priestly work here below have been cut tragically short – just two short years serving in the vineyard of Our Lord. But we are grateful for the time he had to serve in the Fraternity and that he was given the vocation that he sought. His reason for becoming a priest was already beautifully formulated in his application to the seminary:
“God, in His infinite love, desires all men to be saved and so achieve their true end. Along with the Church, then, I am deeply grieved by these errors concerning the nature and dignity of man accepted by so many people in the world, which deviate them from their supernatural end. In full view of the situation in the world, then, the only vocation that I could be satisfied with, as a work, would be one that would be dedicated to bringing people to salvation in whatever way God wills for me to do so.”
As confreres we know that Fr. Walker would not want us to waste our time in anger over what has happened; over the gross injustice which has been done. As great as this is a tragedy for us, so too it will bear great graces for our Fraternity: O altitudo divitiarum sapientić, et scientić Dei: quam incomprehensibilia sunt judicia ejus, et investigabiles vić ejus!  The first grace will be as an encouragement to each of us to take nothing for granted in the call of Our Lord to the Sacred Priesthood. We are His instruments to serve, and must do so always more faithfully in accordance with His will and that of the Church for His greater glory. For the moment let us waste no time, and simply concentrate our efforts in praying for the repose of the soul of Fr. Walker.
We thank the many parishes which have organized Holy Hours and will hold Masses of Requiem on Monday; again, we are humbled by your charity. Fr. Eric Flood, District Superior of North America, will offer a Requiem in Phoenix on Monday in the presence of Bishop Thomas Olmsted, and I will offer one here at the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Fribourg on the same day. The funeral arrangements are on hold until the body of Fr. Walker can be transferred to Kansas. The Fraternity will of course publish these details when they are in place.
Veni Sancte Spiritus, Consolator optime;
Mater Misericordiae, Ora pro nobis
Requiem Aeternam dona ei, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Ember Saturday of Pentecost, June 14, 2014
Very Rev. John Berg
Biography of Fr. Kenneth Walker
Rev. Kenneth Walker, FSSP, was born September 13, 1985, in Poughkeepsie, NY. He was baptized on October 13 of the same year at St. Mary’s Church in Wappingers Falls, NY. During his high school years, his family discovered and began attending the Traditional Latin Mass. He was strongly influenced by both the Mass and the devotion of his family, and began considering a vocation to the priesthood. After high school, he attended Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, Barry’s Bay, ON, pursuing a classical formation in liberal arts from the fall of 2003 until April 2005. After the influence of his parents, Fr. Walker always credited the College as being essential to his formation in the faith prior to entering the seminary.
By this time, he was dedicated to the idea of becoming a priest, and attended a vocations retreat with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. His motivation to become a priest is beautifully summarized in his own words, taken from his application to the seminary:
“God, in His infinite love, desires all men to be saved and so achieve their true end. Along with the Church, then, I am deeply grieved by these errors concerning the nature and dignity of man accepted by so many people in the world, which deviate them from their supernatural end. In full view of the situation in the world, then, the only vocation that I could be satisfied with, as a work, would be one that would be dedicated to bringing people to salvation in whatever way God wills for me to do so. This work is best carried out by the priesthood, which was instituted by Christ specifically for the care of souls; for by means of the Sacraments and the teaching of the Faith to the people, the people receive both the truths of the Faith and the sanctifying grace needed for the spiritual life.”
Fr. Walker was accepted to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, the Fraternity of St. Peter’s International House of Formation for English speakers in Nebraska, in the fall of 2005, and began the normal course of studies and formation. His dedication to fulfilling the ideals with which he approached the priesthood was evident in his time in seminary. He performed very well academically, always receiving high marks in his courses. He immersed himself in the fullness of the program of formation, from the life of prayer and liturgy to recreation with other seminarians – especially in his love of playing soccer, a popular sport at the seminary.
After completing the First Year of Spirituality, he was first incorporated into the FSSP, received the cassock, and received Tonsure from Bishop Alvaro Corrada, SJ, on October 6, 2006. After five more years of prayer, work, and study, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz ordained him to the subdiaconate on January 29, 2011. He was permanently incorporated into the FSSP on March 18, and on the next day, March 19, 2011 – the feast of St. Joseph – he was ordained a deacon by Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhagen.
As a deacon, he traveled to our Fraternity’s other seminary in Wigratzbad, Germany for several months in order to complete further studies and gain the perspective of the Fraternity’s international presence. He also assisted for a number of months at the Mater Misericordiae Mission of the FSSP in Phoenix, AZ. Interestingly, he performed his first Baptism on October 13, 2011 – the anniversary of his own Baptism. Returning to Nebraska in May of 2012, he made a retreat in preparation for his priestly ordination, the culmination of his seven years of studies and prayer life.
On May 19, 2012, Kenneth Walker was ordained to the Holy Priesthood of Christ our Savior in Lincoln, Nebraska by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz. He offered his first Mass at the Chapel of Sts. Peter and Paul at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, and was assisted by Fr. John Berg, Superior General of the FSSP. He received his first priestly assignment that summer, returning to Mater Misericordiae in Phoenix as an assistant priest under Fr. Joseph Terra, FSSP.
His priestly life and ministry at Mater Misericordiae was a continuation and affirmation of the ideals that led him to the priesthood. He dedicated himself to his priestly mission, offering Holy Mass in the Traditional Latin Rite daily and hearing confessions regularly. He was remembered for visiting parishioners often as both priest and friend. Desiring to spread devotion to Our Lady, he made a practice of personally bringing a replica of the “Pilgrim Virgin” statue of Our Lady of Fatima to the homes of parishioners. He also assisted in starting a Knights of Columbus council to aid and encourage the men of the parish in their prayer life and the works that they performed for the community. His works of charity among the homeless population in the area were well known by both attendees of the mission and the neighborhood community.
On June 11, 2014 – Ember Wednesday of Pentecost – Father Kenneth Walker was tragically and fatally shot in an incident at Mater Misericordiae Mission. Fr. Joseph Terra, critically injured in the same assault, was able to give Fr. Walker absolution and the Last Rites before being rushed himself to the hospital.
The members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter join together in prayer and remembrance of the life and priesthood of Fr. Walker with his entire family, the members of the Mater Misericordiae Mission, and all those whose lives were touched by his. The great outpouring of prayers and Mass intentions gives us great hope and consolation that he may rest eternally in the Beatific Vision, one with the Divinity whom on earth he held in his consecrated hands.
We ask for your prayers for the repose of the soul of Fr. Kenneth Walker and that God in his Love and Mercy might grant great consolation to his family and his parishioners in this terrible tragedy.