May 6, 2011

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Thanks for the kindness, Father Joe

David SilerHe was short in physical stature by just about any measure, but he was a giant in the virtue of kindness.

Today, the world is a little less kind after the passing of Father Joseph Kern, a retired priest and the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery.

There are just some people that touch our lives in a way that make us confident that there is still plenty of goodness in the world. Father Joe was one of those people for me.

I had the privilege of getting to know him through his service as the president of our Catholic Charities advisory council in Terre Haute.

While he was an active priest—and then in his retirement—he probably had the best attendance of any council member. And I don’t believe that he ever attended a meeting without leaving behind a significant financial donation.

I think he attended every single fundraiser or event that Catholic Charities has ever held. Just like everything that Father Joe did, he was in it heart and soul—and pocketbook.

Father Joe was a true leader—in the sense of leading by example. The heart that stopped beating on April 16 was a true servant’s heart.

Every opportunity that he had to personally minister to people in his quiet, pastoral way or to fill in for priests after his retirement in 2001 he did so with great joy.

I asked him a few years ago after he gave me a rundown of his Mass schedule the previous weekend why he did so much in his retirement.

He simply replied, “I retired as a pastor of a parish, but you never retire as a priest. I love being a priest, and celebrating the Eucharist with people is such a privilege.”

I wish for every priest to have the joy in their vocation as Father Joe did. He would tell people that he just loved being a priest, and that he couldn’t imagine any other life.

But these weren’t just words. This attitude could be seen in everything that he did. He lived a priestly vocation at all times.

Even though Father Joe retired, he continued in his role as dean for the Terre Haute Deanery up until the very end.

One of his last tasks as dean was to lead a study of the deanery to discern its future pastoral needs. For a variety of reasons, the study took far longer than he anticipated. He used to joke at council meetings that the report would not be complete until after he was good and dead. Well, here we are, Father Joe!

A quote that is attributed to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta explains, “The three most important virtues in life are number one, to be kind, number two, to be kind, and number three, to be kind.”

If this is true, then Father Joe was a very virtuous man. And isn’t the world in need of a whole lot more kindness?

I hope you will join me in honoring Father Joe by taking every opportunity to spread kindness.

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at

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