Pat Finan, diocesan faith formation/youth ministry coordinator:
John Kiley’s passion for social action was matched by his lightning-quick creativity. Sometimes these both outpaced reality, but that never bothered John.
About a year ago, John pitched an idea to me about helping youth develop social action plans based on their own concerns. It combined my two great passions, so I was all ears.
John’s wild hope was that in a three-hour session, young people could learn key concepts of Catholic social teaching, identify issues, develop strategies and receive approval for matching-grant funds. Never mind that life rarely works so quickly. John preferred to think outside the box.
Of course, we needed to test-drive the session, preferably with real-live teenagers. The problem was that John hoped to do this on a Tuesday morning, when most teens are engaged in an activity known as school. And on top of that, John thought it would be swell if we could find teens from outside the Scott County area to come to Davenport. Wishful thinking, I thought.
I was resigned to tell John no, using as an excuse the fact that we had a Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) retreat in Davenport right before that particular Tuesday. As much as his idea excited me, I was busy and youth would be busy. A reality check was in order.
As I was packing up to leave TEC in Davenport that Monday, my cell phone buzzed with calls from people telling me not to travel west.
It had snowed heavily that weekend, and strong winds were making roads across the diocese impassable. I might have ignored these warnings except that I had promised to give rides west to four young people who were involved in TEC. Lucas and Sallie from Grinnell and Sarah and Jessica from Oskaloosa were stranded with me. We found refuge with the Cassel family in Bettendorf that Monday night. We’d have to wait well into Tuesday until we ventured west.
So what to do? Four teenagers, many hours to burn… can you say “captive audience?” I called John that Tuesday morning. I’d deliver his guinea pigs. He was delighted! Things couldn’t have gone better if John had planned it that way. Oh, that’s right, he did!
John welcomed them with his natural grace and gratitude. He accepted them as they were — four exhausted teens — and energized them with his own enthusiasm. Along with Mark Schmidt, Glenn Leach, Loxi Hopkins and Esmeralda Guerrero, John made them feel part of a worthy effort. He affirmed their input and acknowledged the bugs in the session plan that needed more work. When the pizza arrived, he ate at their table.
Like many dreams from John’s way-too-short time with us, that plan is still on the drawing board. It’s one of many fine John Kiley ideas I hope someday bears fruit. Regardless, what stays with me is how John’s spirit transformed those four exhausted young people that day. It was his God-given gift, and we can’t forget it.
Suzy Hartung, Davenport:
Having had the privilege of working with John, I was struck by his deep commitment to Jesus’ mandate to love and serve the poor, which was central to John’s life and work for more than 30 years.
I was in awe of John’s awareness of the issues, his courage to step forward, and his amazing ability to bring people together to address issues of need and injustice. People who didn’t ordinarily work together managed to accomplish so much, with good spirit, when John was involved.
My sincerest sympathies to his family, friends, co-workers and all others who loved and respected John.
Char Maaske, chief financial officer, Diocese of Davenport:
John’s death will leave a void in our lunchroom conversations. Of course we often talked about the social justice issues he was involved in and the political controversies. But he also talked a lot about (his daughter) Julia’s plans for college and about being happy to baby sit his new grandchild in Chicago, by himself. He was full of life and had packed a lot of rewarding experiences into his 58 years of life.
He had an impact on many lives through his social justice initiatives. He will be sorely missed, but we feel blessed that he had at least a short time to spend with us.
Victoria Navarro, longtime friend:
He had a passion for life and was one of those rare people you meet in life who is nonjudgmental and just finds the good in everyone. He was so active in so many community things — from the arts to helping the homeless. He worked for so many social-action-type groups. He just led an exemplary life — too short.