.- The twin steeples of Sacred Heart Catholic Church tower over the green summer cornfields just outside of Paxico, Kansas.
Inside, a simple scripture verse painted on the walls of the sacristy surrounds the high altar.
“Come to me, I will give you rest.”
This peaceful country parish filled to over capacity on Friday, June 20, for the funeral of Fr. Kenneth Walker. Friends and family of the deceased were joined by dozens of young priests from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), to which Fr. Walker belonged, who came to pray for and say goodbye to their brother priest.
Fr. Walker, 28, was shot and killed while coming to the aid of Fr. Joseph Terra, who was attacked at the rectory of Mater Misercordiae Mission in Phoenix. Fr. Terra, 56, suffered several injuries but was released from the hospital Monday.
A priest for just two years, Fr. Walker completed studies at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in 2012. The homilist for the funeral Mass, Fr. John Berg, was a professor at the seminary, and knew Fr. Walker as a smart but humble student.
“He was not infrequently the most knowledgeable man in the room,” Fr. Berg said, “but he would be the last one to step forward and put himself in the spotlight.”
Fr. Berg, who is now general superior of the FSSP, also noted that while the media is often quick to portray the Church and priests in a negative light, they have been “suddenly and resoundingly respectful in recognizing the life of a steadfast priest who simply served his flock.”
While it is always hard to understand death and necessary to grieve, it is a comfort that Fr. Walker’s Christ-like qualities will continue drawing others back to God, Fr. Berg said.
“From our limited, all-too-human vantage point, this tragedy is simply abhorrent,” Fr. Berg said. “But in the plans of God, Fr. Walker’s life and death have spoken louder and has reached a larger number of souls than most priests who serve for 50 years.”
Drawing people to Christ was the conviction that led Fr. Walker to become a priest. Fr. Berg recalled that on his seminary application, Fr. Walker wrote:
“The only vocation that I could be satisfied with would be one which would be dedicated to bringing people to salvation.”
He was well suited to the post. Parishioners at his Requiem Mass in Phoenix on Monday described Fr. Walker as a good and holy priest who was close to the families in his parish.
“He came to our home on numerous occasions and would pray the rosary with my children and our family,” Mary Langlois told CNA June 16.
Fr. John Rickert is the pastor of St. John Vianney parish in nearby Maple Hill, where Fr. Walker’s parents attend Mass. He told CNA after the funeral that he remembered Fr. Walker as being quiet and smart, “a really good fellow.”
The strong faith of Fr. Walker’s family has also helped to carry them through this time, Fr. Ricker said.
“The family is doing well, by the grace of God,” he said.
After the funeral, family and friends drove to Mount Calvary cemetery on a hill overlooking St. Mary’s, Kan. A gentle breeze blew through the Jesuit cemetery as one by one, all of the priests sprinkled holy water on the grave and gave Fr. Walker a final blessing.
“It’s fitting that he’s buried in a Catholic cemetery that also has a lot of brother priests buried there,” Fr. Rickert said.
As the only house of formation for the FSSP in the United States, Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Nebraska hopes to establish a permanent cemetery for the priests of the society of apostolic life.
During the homily, Fr. Berg commented on the urgent duty of the priestly fraternity and of the faithful to offer prayer and sacrifice for the repose of Fr. Walker’s soul. On Monday, priests were already offering Mass for him throughout the world and around the clock.
Fr. Berg also said that while the faithful pray for Fr. Walker’s soul, they in turn hope he will intercede for them once he meets Christ in heaven.
“I know how our Fraternity needs such an intercessor in heaven,” Fr. Berg said.
“And given how Fr. Walker was never one to waste words, I’m fully confident that Our Lord will be keen to listen when he does pipe up and ask for attention.”