On the night of June 11, 2014 a man recently released from jail who was under the influence of drugs and alcohol broke into a Catholic church in Phoenix and shot a young priest. His name was Fr. Kenneth Walker, FSSP. He was just 28 years old, and had been ordained for 2 short years. (Fr. Terra, the other priest at the parish was also attacked, suffered terrible wounds, but survived. He was giving his brother priest absolution and Last Rites when the police came.)
The tragic story shocked Catholics around the world, but as he was a priest for the Fraternity of St. Peter, the group of priests dedicated to the offering of the Latin Mass who ran my own parish, my circles of friends in person and online were incredibly affected. It felt so close to home, losing a priest who went to the same seminary as my own – in fact, the priest who did our marriage preparation wasn’t able to offer our nuptial Mass because it was he that was sent to Phoenix to take Fr. Walker’s place at his parish.
I had never heard of Fr. Walker before this tragedy, but what I learned of him afterwards always stuck with me. Here was this man just a few years older than I, gone, but he left this earth having lived a life so open to God’s will, determined to follow Him.
He didn’t preach sermons that were heard across the globe.
He wasn’t known far and wide for anything extraordinary.
But in his death he touched the world by the story of a young man who gave everything in his short life to God, and who all who knew him insisted would be praying to God for the conversion of his killer.
On a spring break vacation to Columbus, Ohio a few years ago, Ethan and I visited a Catholic museum when I was struck by a familiar photo on a sign displayed next to a dirty work cassock – it was Fr. Walker.
The curator of the museum asked if we would like a piece of the cassock. She cut a little piece out of the back, which is treasured in our home.
For our anniversary that summer, Ethan surprised me and got a little reliquary for our scrap of his cassock.
Permission was granted by the local bishop to pray to Fr. Walker for his intercession, and I believe one miraculous healing of cancer through his intercession has already been documented.
We now live not far from the seminary where he lived and studied for the priesthood, and on a Sunday evening a few weeks ago we had the great honor of visiting his grave.
It was incredibly moving to be able to kneel at the grave of the priest we ask to pray for us every night after our Rosary.
I want to leave you with the beautiful words Fr. Walker wrote to the seminary in his application. They bring me to tears each time I read them, and I pray that they will inspire you to pray for his cause of canonization, as well as for all priests to have a similar zeal and holiness for the salvation of souls as he did.
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.” ~ Fr. Kenneth Walker, F.S.S.P.+
If you would like to hear Fr. Walker’s voice yourself, here is a wonderful radio interview from him found on youtube.