Saturday, September 01, 2007

Father Joseph M. Kakalec, S.J., 1930-2007.

Yesterday afternoon I belatedly learned of the passing of Jesuit Father Joe Kakalec, who died in Philadelphia this past Sunday at the age of 77. Father Kakalec was something of a legend in Philly, as you can gather from his obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
In the 1970s, the Rev. Joseph M. Kakalec harnessed the power of Philadelphians by creating a coalition of neighborhoods. A decade later, he organized suburban communities when problems of crime, poverty, and deteriorating housing overflowed from the city.

Father Kakalec, 77, who died of renal failure Sunday at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, was remembered yesterday as a soft-spoken Jesuit priest who brought people together to improve their neighborhoods.

He was the "George Washington of the modern neighborhood movement," said Edward A. Schwartz, a former City Councilman and city housing director. In the 1970s, Schwartz said, neighborhood activism was considered reactionary and suspect. "Joe gave it moral leadership. He had enormous ability to connect with people one-on-one."

"He could make blacks and whites, men and women, comfortable with one another," said Allen Hornblum, a professor at Temple University and former director of the Southeastern Chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action. He gave people the confidence to fight City Hall, Hornblum said.
I met Joe Kakalec twice, years after his career in community organizing had ended. The first time when was when he was staying briefly at Georgetown University, our common alma mater (he graduated in 1953 and I in 2001). The second time was last November, when I was in Scranton for a weekend to help promote vocations to the Society of Jesus. At the time, Father Kakalec was engaged in pastoral ministry to Byzantine Catholics at a parish in Scranton. In a couple of conversations over the course of the weekend, Father Kakalec shared some of his own story with me and encouraged me in my vocation. On Sunday morning, I visited his parish and assisted him at the liturgy. Grateful for Father Kakalec's hospitality and kindness during my brief time in Scranton, I had hoped to see him again. I regret I didn't get the chance, at least not on this mortal coil. I'll be praying today for him and for all who mourn him. Give, O Lord, to thy priest Joseph eternal rest, and may his memory be eternal! AMDG.


Post a Comment

<< Home