Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olsted, centre, is seen with Frs. Kenneth Walker, left, and Joseph Terra, right, in a recent photo. On June 11 the priests were victims of a violent attack. Fr. Walker died of a gunshot wound while Terra is recovering from serious injuries. CNS photo/courtesy

Phoenix priest’s murder felt in Barry’s Bay

  • June 19, 2014

The death of Fr. Kenneth Walker at the hands of unknown gunmen has left the Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy community shocked.

“It was a shock,” said John Paul Meenan, a professor of theology and natural science at the Barry’s Bay, Ont., school where Fr. Walker studied from 2003 to 2005.

“It is curious that the past week has been filled with various random acts with guns. Even during the week I was wondering what it is like for the people who hear the news and knew or were close to (the victims) and then when I heard the news about one of our (former) students it hits home.”

Fr. Walker, an American priest who served in downtown Phoenix, suffered a fatal gunshot wound during a June 11 evening attack at his parish Mater Misericor-dia (Mother of Mercy) Mission Catholic Church. He and fellow member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter Fr. Joseph Terra, parish pastor, were in the rectory when police discovered the wounded duo while responding to a 911 burglary call made at about 9 p.m. local time.

Both men were found suffering from gunshot wounds and were transported to hospital where Fr. Walker, 28, passed away the following morning. Terra, 56, survived but remains in hospital.

Gary Michael Moran, 54, was being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, burglary and armed robbery, among others charges, Phoenix police said June 16.

“We are grateful for the time he spent here, and ask that you keep the families of both Fr. Walker and Fr. Terra in your prayers,” the school said in a statement on its web site.

“All of us in the Our Lady Seat of Wisdom community offer our condolences to the family of Fr. Kenneth and assure them of our prayers.”

Meenan called Fr. Walker “an overall exemplary student” who fully embraced his Canadian community both inside and outside of the classroom.

“He did quite well in his courses, particularly those related to theology and philosophy,” he said. “He liked to do everything that we did at the school. He wasn’t a wallflower.”

As a man dedicated to his faith, academics and the community, Meenan said Fr. Walker set an example for his peers.

“He left a very strong impres-sion on the school (and) the un-derlying foundation of that is his dedication to his faith,” said Meenan. “He gave a very powerful example to the other students that choosing your vocation when young is possible and that being called by Christ to a particular vocation, you don’t have to be old or older — you know in your late 20s or 30s — to decide.”

The two last saw each other when Fr. Walker visited Our Lady Seat of Wisdom to celebrate Mass in 2012.

Meenan said the school intends to hold a memorial service for Fr. Walker at its local parish, St. Hedwig’s Church, on June 26. Walker’s funeral was to be held at Sacred Heart Church in Paxico, Kansas, on June 20 with viewings at that location the day before.

Meenan found out about his former student’s passing when faculty secretary Jenna Henry, a former classmate of Fr. Walker, phoned him at home. Although Henry didn’t consider Fr. Walker a close friend, her eyes still flooded with tears upon learning of the tragedy.

“I sat down at my desk and I was overwhelmed and even though we weren’t friends really I started crying because you can’t believe this happened,” said Henry. “With a school only having about 20 students it is kind of hard not to get to know everyone. You never expect to hear the word murder in a circle of people you know.”

She said she will always remember Fr. Walker as a “quirky” man dedicated to his faith.

“One of the clearest memories is his love for the faith, his love of the Church, his love of Mass, his love of all things Catholic; it was who he was through and through completely,” she said.

Fr. Walker’s former housemate, Stephen Vajdik, also remembers the holy nature of Fr. Walker.

“He is a modern-day saint, there is no doubt about that in my mind,” said the Brandon, Man., farmer. “He was a very holy individual yet he had a mischievous side to him that was always well enjoyed around the school; he always had something funny to say. If anyone had to go, as bad as it is, I think he was the one most ready for it.”

Vajdik said he will never forget the way Fr. Walker carried himself.

“His smile, it was like a holy pure smile,” he said.

“He would always have legs crossed and hands folded together, it was kind of his position — it seems to be like a philosopher’s position. He would sit and talk and have all the time in the world for you.

“You would just feel like he gave all of his attention to you even if there was more than one person in the room.”

An e-mail from the school tipped Vajdik off about the murder but it didn’t sink in at first.

“At first when I saw it I wasn’t quite paying attention to the name, I was busy doing something else,” he said. “When I saw the age, the 29, that is when it clued in because it has been a few years since I had spoken to him and the fact that he had Father in front of his name was a bit of a surprise. (Then) I didn’t even really know how to react really, I was just lost in thoughts.” 

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