May 19, 2012 was a historic day for staff and former students of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College (located in Barry’s Bay, Ontario). On that day, the college rejoiced to see alumnus Kenneth Walker ordained to the priesthood as a member of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. Father Walker was the first alumnus to become a priest.
Though calling him “Father” brought momentous rejoicing, permit me here to call him simply Kenny, for this is how I primarily knew him.
I still remember when I first met Kenny back in the fall of 2004. It was at an opening day barbecue at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College. I had abruptly abandoned my university business studies back in Saskatchewan, caught a plane, and ended up at this (then) diminutive college, affectionately labeled “in the middle of nowhere.” It was my first day at the college, and I pensively wondered what to expect that sunny late-summer day.
I was quietly dawdling at the barbecue when a skinny young man with thick glasses and a comb-over haircut came dashing onto the scene. Instantly, all of the second-year girl students at the event jumped from their seats and starting screaming and running over to see the boy. They were giddy, to say the least.
“Gee,” I promptly judged, “is he the Big Man On Campus here? … Where am I? What am I doing here?!”
I soon learned that Kenny was a returning student, the only male returning student from the previous year, and he was essentially a quasi-brother to the girls. Indeed, it took Kenny almost 30 seconds into our first conversation for him to inform me of his intention to be a priest for “the Fraternity.” For Kenny, there was never any interest in getting married.
It didn’t take long to get to know Kenny. There were only eleven of us guys living in the upstairs of the college that year. Kenny was quite the guy. He loved to talk (especially in Latin), play sports, serve Mass (especially for dear Fr. Leonard Kennedy, one of the last good Basilian priests), study, and stay up late talking about anything philosophical or theological. I think he was happiest when he could discuss the Catholic Faith.
I remember one day when some young men, perhaps best labeled “hotshots,” came from a nearby university in Ottawa to check out our humble little college. They were students in a Master of Philosophy program. It didn’t take long for Kenny to get into a debate with them on a Thomistic topic. I sat in amazement that night as Kenny, barely in his second year of studies, ripped these conceited visitors apart with fierce precision on the subject they were debating. Yet Kenny did so with a gentleness and kindness that spoke as: “Sorry, but since I must defend truth, I will now thoroughly destroy your ridiculous arguments.” Kenny had a clear and incisive mind.
Kenny had a devout disposition as well. He reminded me of what a Catholic from some past generation might be like. Kenny was a soul who genuinely sought holiness through tried and true means — such as the the traditional Latin Mass. However, Kenny’s love for the Mass was born not out of wanting to stay in the past; rather, it was for him simply the best possible way to become close to Our Lord. He loved beauty, chant, and praising God the way the Church has done for centuries. He strongly believed that the Mass is a foretaste heaven.
Kenny was saddened when the Mass was not given its due reverence, and he even became known around campus for calling much of the contemporary abuses at Mass “theologically ghetto.” Often Kenny would repeat a story of how he once saw a priest simply play a violin for the homily. The banality caused Kenny to shake his head in strong disapproval. But soon his face would return to its usual optimistic orientation.
Speaking of music, I remember choir lessons with Kenny. Now, he was one of those people who struggle to sing on key. Actually, he didn’t struggle at all; he just belted out loudly the note that he was singing. It was the rest of the choir that was off key! But we discovered one day that when he sang a Latin chant on his own, he indeed had the most beautiful and sincere voice around — childlike in beauty. It was the same when we prayed the rosary together. I always remember how his voice changed when reciting a Hail Mary. It was if he was speaking with his most precious dear Mother, and he wanted to let her know he loved her — which is exactly what he was doing.
I think I remember most one night when Kenny and I, and a vanload of other students, drove to a nearby city to watch a movie. However, both Kenny and I weren’t much for spending $12 to watch a piteous show, so instead we walked around and talked for the two hours. That’s when I really got to know him.
As we talked, I truly found out how Kenny was a simple and trusting soul. He loved learning the Faith. He thought frequently about his family back home. He couldn’t understand why people spent so much time loving this world when we were created for Heaven. He worried about and prayed for certain people in his life. Most of all, and perhaps with an air of impatience, he just wanted to be a priest. A holy priest. He wanted to be another St. John Vianney and to lead souls to Heaven.
This brings me to the phrase La flèche. “Kenny La Flèche” is what we would call him at the college. La flèche in French means “the arrow.” Why the arrow? Whenever Kenny walked, or ran, or did any activity, he did so with compelling force. He put his whole self into it. He moved with purpose. Kenny was like a driving arrow. Wherever he had to go, be it after a soccer ball, to visit a professor, or to walk to Mass, he did so on a straight path, and he arrived there as quickly and precisely as possible.
Well as we live, we die. Kenny’s main focus was always the priesthood and Heaven. It is fitting that Kenny La Flèche, our beloved arrow, was called to leave this world so quickly. As many remember, Kenny was the young priest murdered in his rectory in Phoenix, Arizona on June 11, 2014.
It has been seven years now since Kenny fulfilled his deep longing to be ordained a priest. God willing, Kenny’s death quickly propelled him toward Heaven as well. It all happened so fast. Just like an arrow.
Kenny La Flèche, the Arrow, forever Father Kenneth Walker. Surely, Our Lord always fills His quiver with the finest.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.