In an age of specialization and simplistic labels, it’s not easy to find true Renaissance men, but Dr. Kevin Vost easily fits the bill. The husband, father, author, psychologist, philosopher, professor, evangelist, and longtime bodybuilder died April 11, 2023, in Springfield, Illinois, leaving many loved ones, friends, and fans bereft at his sudden passing at the age of 62.
Vost was born in Springfield, Illinois, on Jan. 31, 1961, grew up, married, and raised two sons with his wife, Kathy. According to his obituary, he worked for the Department of Disability until his retirement, after which he became a full-time public speaker and author, writing more than two dozen books and bringing together his knowledge of classical Greco-Roman and medieval scholastic philosophy with modern cognitive psychology and strength training to bear on issues of faith and life. Vost also taught psychology and gerontology at Aquinas College in Nashville, the University of Illinois at Springfield, MacMurray College, and Lincoln Land Community College.
After years as an atheist, Vost became a Catholic in his 40s. Finding faith later in life was perhaps part of what drove him to want to share what he had discovered — he certainly didn’t waste any time.
At the premiere screening for a documentary Vost appeared in called “Convinced” in 2015, he said that reading philosophy as a teenager drew him to atheism but when he began to read Thomas Aquinas much later he realized that faith and reason were not contradictory. This led him to the Catholic faith.
Director and producer of “Convinced,” Don Johnson of DonJohnsonMinistries, who called Vost’s death “a complete shock and a devastating loss,” said he first met Vost when he interviewed him about his conversion.
“I was on my own journey to Catholicism at the time, and Kevin’s clear explanations of Thomistic thought really helped me understand the faith [and become attracted to it].” Johnson told CNA. “His story and books ultimately played a big part not only in my conversion, but in many others I have heard from over the years, as his testimony became a major part of the documentary ‘Convinced.’”
Johnson said Vost “was the consummate gentleman scholar” and spoke about his impressive virtues and abilities.
“Kevin was an inspiration. I never could figure out how he could write so many books while still maintaining that level of fitness, and yet he was one of the most kind and humble men I knew. I always loved our time together.”
Vost was more than a scholar and writer — he engaged fully in life. His obituary mentioned how he loved to travel and taught his grandkids to disco dance. He was “a Mensa member, ... a Highland games competitor, a lover of gentle wordplay, and an evangelist for classic mnemonic systems,” according to Todd Aglialoro, who wrote about Vost in a Catholic Answers blog post April 13.
Aglialoro also wrote about their first meeting and his discovery of what guided Vost’s entire life.
“Seventeen years ago, I answered a publishing query from this extraordinary fellow. He wanted to write a book applying the method of loci — a classical memory technique that had been revived in the Middle Ages — to remembering the doctrines of Catholicism. I thought this was a little too quirky, but in our correspondence I learned of his zeal for fitness and its connection to the spiritual life. Thus ‘Fit for Eternal Life,’ his first book, was conceived, and in the years that followed it has been helping readers become what Kevin called ‘dynamos of charity’ by cultivating the body-soul unity that was the guiding concept of his life.”
Aglialoro also said that Vost “was universally regarded as a gentleman of the business” and was “unfailingly polite and good-humored in professional dealings: never quibbling over edits or rewrites, never griping over media demands, always prompt and cheerful in correspondence. He was also quick to extend himself personally: to faith-seekers, to fans looking for help with the Summa or their free weight routine, to friends (or friends of friends) needing an encouraging word in their trials. And to me in mine.”
Others who worked with Vost on his books said similar things about him. Sophia Institute Press published 12 books by Vost. The company’s president, Charlie McKinney, told CNA: “Kevin was one of the nicest and kindest of all the authors we have worked with over the years. He was brilliant at taking complex ideas and making them understandable to everyday readers. What a shock it was to learn of his passing. He will be dearly missed by all of us at Sophia Institute Press who deeply enjoyed working with him over the past two decades.”
Sarah Lemieux, director of publicity at Sophia Institute Press, added: “Kevin was so authentic and genuine. He radiated the love of Christ in all that he did.”
One of the last books Vost wrote was published by Ascension Press on the topic of humility. In an interview with Aleteia in October 2022, Vost spoke of how the virtue of humility “does not keep us small but sets the stage for full development of all the natural and supernatural powers God gives us.”
Vost spoke about how humility helps to heal our relationships, saying: “Another way to heal relationships and resolve divisions is by cultivating ‘intellectual humility,’ never pretending we know what we don’t know and always being open to learning from others. This kind of humility is dearly needed in our modern world where more and more people seem to think it best to silence people with opposing views rather than striving to understand why they think as they do.”
Those who knew Vost said this was him to a tee; he practiced what he preached. Meredith Wilson, product manager at Ascension Press, said Vost “was a kind and humble person … and he lived out the virtues he wrote about.”
When asked for comments about Vost, many friends and colleagues remember keenly the very first time they met him.
Matt Swaim, host of the Son Rise Morning Show, remembers when Vost was one of his very first guests in 2007.
“He’d recently come out with‘Fit For Eternal Life,’ a book on faith and exercise, and ‘Memorize the Faith,’ which I’d found extremely helpful as a new Catholic when I first came into the Church,” Swaim told CNA. “Frankly, I was a little surprised at how generous he was with his time, since we were a new show on a local Catholic radio station. Over time, I came to realize that it wasn’t that there was anything particularly special about us that caused him to return our call — he was that responsive to just about everyone who reached out to him … He loved meeting new people and sharing the joy of his faith.”
That first interview began a longstanding friendship and collaboration between Swaim and Vost.
“We did a series on just about everything he put out, because he had a way of writing and speaking that was so simple, profound, and practical that it was hard not to smile talking to him,” Swaim said. “Our last live interview with [him] in March of this year was a wrap-up of our series with him on his book ‘You Are That Temple,’ which was a revisiting of the concepts in ‘Fit for Eternal Life,’ the book that was the basis for our first interviews with him … I had the privilege of contributing to that book, along with others. Dr. Vost’s approach to faith and fitness always came back to the idea that being healthy was not merely for the sake of vanity or endorphins; we were to take care of our bodies so that we could have the energy to serve others.”
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Swaim said he had been trying to figure out for days how to capture Vost in words and to explain him to people who didn’t know him in this life. “The best I can say is that he was a childlike mind in a grown man’s body with an old man’s soul. If he had any enemies, I don’t know about it. He radiated joy, humor, charity, and love for Christ. And I will miss him dearly.”
Mick Souza, who won the Mr. Universe pageant in 1992 and came back to Catholicism several years ago, was also a contributor to “You Are That Temple” and was eager to pay tribute to his friend with whom he had a lot in common.
“We were just 12 days apart in age. We both trained from a very young age. We both competed in powerlifting and I competed in bodybuilding. Kevin also had a lot of interest in bodybuilding. We were both very interested in nutrition and would talk about how I prepared for bodybuilding competitions and how that differed from my powerlifting diet. We were both very interested in eating for longevity,” Souza recalled. “I will really miss talking to Kevin; I loved the way he thought.”
Souza also recalled the great respect Vost had for others.
“I only have a high school education and Kevin has many degrees. When we first spoke I did not expect to be on the same page as him. To my delight, Kevin had the utmost respect for me despite my lack of formal education. We would of course talk theology. I liked that the most… The Bible was the first book I ever read at 31 years old. Through my time knowing Kevin I was most amazed at his ability to read and remember. I learned a lot from him about nutrition and how to think like Aquinas. I learned more about the gifts of the Holy Spirit from one of Kevin’s books. Kevin in my opinion was one of the greatest thinkers of the 21st century. I am a better man because I knew Kevin Vost.”
The tributes shared here are from just a small handful of Vost’s friends and colleagues who struggle to find words to describe a man who was exemplary in his zeal for truth, zest for life, and love for others.
“Now Dr. Vost has gone to eternal life, at an appointed time that nonetheless seems premature,” Aglialoro wrote in his tribute. “The champion of body and spirit is now for a while just spirit. Pray for that spirit, that God may receive him into heaven with the speed and directness that his zealous earthly witness surely merited.”
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois doesn’t generally introduce himself as a runner. His first love is hockey, which, at nearly 70 years old, he still plays regularly. He even coaches the goalkeepers at a local Catholic high school.