By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT – John Kiley, who would have turned 62 today, touched the lives of many people in the Diocese of Davenport through his love of neighbor. Kiley was serving as director of the diocese’s Social Action Department when he died unexpectedly Feb. 15, 2009, in Davenport.
His wife Katie and their family established the John R. Kiley Memorial Scholarship Fund in honor of his commitment to the community and his belief that every child should have a chance at college. The scholarship fund, administered through Community Foundation of the Great River Bend, is intended “to keep his memory alive and all that he did with great passion, intelligence, grace and energy for our community,” Katie Kiley said.
He participated in Upward Bound and Youth Service Bureau programs in the 1970s, cared for and counseled troubled youth at Annie Wittenmyer in Davenport in the 1980s; mentored children to young adults via Big Brothers Big Sisters, Junior Achievement and Success by Six programs throughout the 1990s and 2000’s; and promoted a college education initiative called Davenport Promise.
Sister Bea Snyder, a member of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, recalled how Kiley joined her and others in a successful effort to open Café on Vine in Davenport, which replaced a soup kitchen that had closed because of financial problems.
“As we moved forward, he was present and active in helping any way he possibly could. John was so ‘in the know’ with people in the area and he called upon individual ‘expertise’ to help with the work that needed to be done. John walked the Gospel path witnessing his love of God and neighbor. His life’s work with United Way and the Social Action Department of the Davenport Diocese put him in contact with the people of God in many walks of life. I believe that John gave generously of himself to help the poorest of God’s people and he did so with a loving heart and cheerful spirit,” Sr. Snyder said.
“He was always upbeat and joyful. He was a lot of fun, and creative. He made his staff and his Social Action team feel important and appreciated,” said Msgr. Marvin Mottet, who started the Social Action Department of the Davenport Diocese. He remembered how Kiley had paper placemats made with an illustration of the outline of a pair of shoes, representing the two feet of social action. He’d set the placemats out at dinner and describe how you needed both feet — charity and justice — to move forward.
“John was a passionate advocate of social justice,” said Dan Ebener, who led the diocese’s Social Action Department for more than 25 years and later recommended Kiley for the post. “One issue that was close to his heart and relevant in today’s political climate is jobs. He spent many years working in this area before his years at United Way or the diocese. But John’s concern for jobs was framed much differently than today’s politicians. John was concerned about the people who were without jobs, or those without just wages and benefits. He was an advocate of job training and daycare and transportation and services that would enhance the ability of the jobless person to find meaningful work. He was concerned about ‘the dignity of work and the dignity of workers,’ to quote the U.S. bishops’ economics pastoral.
“Today’s politician seems more concerned about providing economic incentives to big companies who are offering to create jobs. John would promote entrepreneurialism as a way of creating jobs. Housing was another concern for John: transitional, emergency and permanent housing. He was involved in helping to create several transitional housing organizations such as Ecumenical Housing Development Group; emergency housing such as the Humility of Mary Shelter; Hearts and Hammers (now called Rebuilding Together), which helps low-income homeowners fix up their housing; Habitat for Humanity, which helps low-income people to become owners; the Domestic Violence Shelter at Family Resources; and many other services to assist the poor and homeless,” Ebener said.
Kiley also enjoyed running, a sport that served as a metaphor of his zest for life and desire to keep moving forward.
The John R. Kiley Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in honor of his commitment to the community and the belief that every child should have a chance at college. The first 50 donors at any level will leverage a $2,500 matching grant — please call (563) 326-2840 or go to cfgrb.org, click on “donate now” and note John Kiley in the gift details.