I always thought of Ken as a kid—but a big kid, for sure. He had that playful smile that made you feel that, sincere as he seemed, he might be stringing you along just a little bit. But the smile was real. The earliest vivid memory of him was sitting on the hull of our overturned boat with that triumphant smile as Xavier freshmen splashed in the water around him. The boat had been swamped by waves not too far from shore, but Ken and a couple of his buddies held tight to the food packages they had saved from the floor of the lagoon.
Ken was big. No one picked on him when he entered the minor seminary, St. Ignatius House of Studies, on Guam, upon his graduation from Xavier. But why would they want to pick on Ken anyway? He was one of the young men most ready to help in a place that prided itself on producing servants for others.
It wasn’t long before Ken entered the Jesuits and, over the years, won the confidence of those he served: Chuukese during his teaching years at Xavier, Outer Island Yapese after his ordination in 2002, and Pohnpeians for the last several years of his life.
But his life wasn’t all smiles. As I recall, there were tears in his eyes as he said goodbye to us at the Pohnpei airport just before leaving for the US. Ken might have thought this was his final farewell to the islands, but he was back a year later. Soon after his return, however, began the health problems that plagued him until the end of his life. Since he found it increasingly difficult to stand because of the problem with his legs, he soon began celebrating mass seated at the altar. It brought back to mind Joe Cavanagh, who also had been forced to sit while offering mass. He experienced growing internal problems until he was brought to Guam, where he underwent dialysis until the end. Ken passed away just one week before Christmas on December 18, 2023.
Another Micronesian priest who passed away in his 50s! Even so, we’re all grateful for what Ken offered us, and we’ll long remember that playful smile of his.