The 105-degree heat did not deter parishioners and friends of Father Kenneth Walker from packing St. Catherine's in Phoenix to standing-room only for his Requiem Mass Monday, June 16.
The nearly two-hour Mass, celebrated in the Extraordinary form, began at 10 a.m., but priests, religious sisters, and faithful began filling the pews nearly two hours beforehand to pray for the beloved priest.
A Rosary was recited at 9 a.m., followed by a solemn silence broken only by tears.
Fr. Walker, 28, was shot and killed on June 11 during an attempted burglary at the Rectory of Mater Misericordiae Mission in Phoenix where he served as associate pastor. Father Joseph Terra, pastor of Mater Misericordiae, was critically wounded in the incident but was released from the hospital Monday morning and was in attendance at the Requiem Mass.
Hours before the Requiem Mass on Monday, police arrested a homeless convict with a history of drug abuse and violence. According to authorities, 54-year-old Gary Moran brutally attacked Fr. Terra with a piece of metal after he was spotted by the clergyman in the church courtyard.
The priest managed to escape to his room to retrieve a handgun, which Moran then wrestled away from him. Moran then shot Fr. Walker who had rushed to defend Fr. Terra.
The homilist for the Mass, Father Eric Flood – a member of the priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter along with the deceased – said Fr. Walker was known as “a priest without guile.”
“He was very honest, courteous, kind, and I know even now he would not want me to extol him much more from the pulpit. He would say, ‘talk about why I am a priest,’” said Fr. Flood.
Fr. Flood described how as a priest, Fr. Walker forgot himself and thought of others. He was drawn in to the vocation by the beauty of the Mass.
“There is no closer moment you can have to another person than in the Eucharist with Our Lord,” he said. “It is a greater bond than any earthly bond.”
From all eternity, God knew he would need priests, said Fr. Flood, and from all eternity, God knew He would call Fr. Walker to the priesthood.
“If Fr. Walker would have been asked as a seminarian studying for the priesthood, ‘If you knew one day that as a priest you would be killed at a young age, would you still pursue the priesthood?” said Fr. Flood, “His answer of course would have been ‘yes, even to say Mass just once.’”
In his short two year ministry, Fr. Walker likely celebrated more than 700 Masses. Fr. Walker's parishioners gathered at St. Catherine's described him as a holy priest who was close to his flock.
“He was more than a priest, he was a friend,” parishioner Brian G. told CNA, “That was how everyone felt.”
Fr. Walker was known for regularly visiting families, dabbling in photography and playing soccer with the children in his parish.
“He came to our home on numerous occasions,” said parishioner Mary Langlois. “He had a special devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, and on the parish website parishioners could sign up for him to bring the statue to their house. He would bring the statue and bless the home and leave her there for a week, then he’d come pick her up a week later.”
Arizona Speaker of the House Andy Tobin said that although he did not know Fr. Walker personally, he has been impressed by the response of the Arizona Catholic community.
“I think it's just a loving response of forgiveness and love,” Tobin told CNA.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery added that the Catholic community has united over the tragedy.
“There's deep sadness,” said Montgomery, “But also I think unity and prayers for the soul of Fr. Walker and the well-being of Fr. Terra, and then until last night that the suspect would be caught so that no one else would be at risk. I think we’ve all come together as one Catholic family in support.”
Bishop Thomas Olmsted told CNA said he has been encouraged by the response of the people in the diocese.
“It’s been overwhelmingly beautiful and inspiring because there’s been such strong faith among the people,” he said. “And priests themselves, you just see the fraternal love and support they have for one another.”
Bishop Olmsted stressed that the Catholic perspective brings hope even in tragedy.
“As soon as I heard about (the shooting,) I was just aware of the communion of saints praying for us, but also how we’re caught up in that communion when we die,” he noted.
“And I think even the name of their parish, Mater Misercordiae, Mother of Mercy – Our Lady was certainly there in that moment. It’s painful, but the faith of the people has been really beautiful.”
The Requiem Mass was held for the parishioners and Catholic community in Phoenix. The funeral for Fr. Kenneth Walker will be this Friday, June 20 at 11:00 at Sacred Heart Church in Paxico, Kansas, near Maple Hill. The body will be viewable the day before at Piper Funeral Home in St. Mary’s, Kansas.