Sunday, December 03, 2006

God rest your precious, faithful soul, Father Kevin...


Friday, August 11, 2006

Parishioners and friends remember Father Fete

By Joanne Malene
Staff Associate

NORTH CANTON — There’s a big hole in the heart of Little Flower Parish that will probably take some time to heal. The recent death of Father Kevin Fete has left many of his old friends and parishioners desolate and yet, at the same time, laughing as they told stories of Father Kevin about his spirituality, his humanity and his humor.

David Schmidt, pastoral associate at Little Flower, first met Father Fete 28 years ago when the two of them were at what was then St. Gregory’s Seminary in Cincinnati.

“He was a junior in the seminary when I was a freshman, but our friendship grew over the years,” Schmidt said. “We became stronger friends after the seminary. In many ways, he was the same person after he was ordained as he was before he was ordained. I used to joke that he had mellowed over the years, but through and through, he was genuine. When my wife and I started having kids our friendship really blossomed. He often said if he had not been called to celibacy he would have had a dozen kids. He really liked hanging out with the kids.”

“Father Fete took a very active role in RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults],” Schmidt noted. “He was a good pastor, but he was also a great teacher. People were hungry for truth and for knowledge of the faith and he gave it to them. He was brilliant and insightful and had a great sense of humor. He saw things other people couldn’t see. That made him a tremendous homilist. He would grab people with his humor and, once he had them, he would drive home the point.”

Father Michael Mikstay, a Youngstown diocesan priest and an active duty U.S. Navy chaplain stationed at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla., also got to know Father Fete in the seminary.

“He was in his first year at St. Gregory’s and I was in my last year,” Father Mikstay said. “Except when I have been deployed overseas or on a ship, there weren’t even two or three weeks that we didn’t talk. I grew up in St. Paul’s Parish in Canton and he grew up at St. Joan of Arc so we had a lot in common.

“I guess the biggest thing we shared was a love of the priesthood and we had a mutual support for each other and for our unique ministries,” he said. “We shared some of the same hobbies. We actually lived together in several rectories when I was home in the diocese. I have to say he was my closest and dearest priest friend.”

Father Mikstay said that Father Fete had a dedication to teach what the Church teaches and a dedication to spreading the faith, not only to his parishioners but also to people with whom he crossed paths. But, he said, Father Fete’s sense of humor was a key part of who he was.

“The man probably could have been a stand-up comic,” Father Mikstay said. “He was extremely witty, extremely imaginative and had a tremendous sense of humor. But I would say just as humorous as he was and with his ability to joke and tease, he was as deeply spiritual and caring and compassionate. The Diocese of Youngstown – and I personally – has lost a rich and wonderful benefit. I have suffered the personal loss of a once-in-a-lifetime friend, colleague, confidant, brother. I believed Kevin to be one of God’s great blessings in my life. I am a better man and priest for having known and lived with him during my lifetime.”

Michele Schafer was director of religious education at Little Flower for six years before becoming director of Campus Ministry at Walsh University in 2004.

“As our pastor and shepherd, he was most definitely a preacher of powerful and eloquent words and he was full of challenge,” Schafer said. “Now that I look back, I see that the way he lived his life, was the living proclamation of God working through him.

“He took very seriously his vocational call to be a priest,” she said. “He displayed much patience with us and he had a really beautiful balance between his pastoral ministry as a priest and his very humaneness to be with the people of God. He was always very personable. Christ is always pictured with people, eating with them, bringing them together; Father Fete was like that. He would walk into a room and just bring people together. He really lifted people up and he showed that he believed in their dignity and that they were important.”

Bill Melvin and his family converted to Catholicism because of the ministry of Father Fete. Melvin came from an evangelical background, working as a Bible study teacher at a fundamentalist church before meeting the priest.

“We joined Little Flower about eight years ago and went through RCIA,” Melvin said. “We were drawn to the parish because of the orthodoxy of Father Fete and his incredible way of explaining the Catholic faith. We heard about Little Flower from friends who had started going there. And, I think there were three or four couples from my Bible study who came to the Catholic faith because of him.

“You have to understand, that everything with Father Fete was to the ‘nth’ degree, whether it was in football or the Catholic faith,” Melvin said. “Everything with him was by the book. If the Church taught it, then that was it. He had an incredible gift for homilies and for making everything seem so real. The faith just came alive under him.

“Father Fete had a way of making everybody feel important,” he continued. “No matter who they were, he cared about everyone – whether you were a janitor or a rocket scientist – it didn’t matter who you were. If he met you once, you were in his heart.

“It was an honor to learn the Faith under him. His homilies were so wonderful. We have lost a cherished gift in someone who can explain the faith as he could. He was by far the most gifted human being I have ever met in my life.

“Two things I would say personified Father Fete. First, he never said goodbye; he always said, ‘Be at peace.’ And, if you asked him how he was, he would always say, ‘by the grace of God, brother.’ We will sorely miss him.”

Gloria Mitchell, a parishioner at North Canton St. Paul, first met Father Fete when he came to St. Paul’s. She said there are a number of things she will remember about him.

“First, it would be his no-nonsense Catholicism,” she said. “There wasn’t any room to stretch the rules; I think my faith deepened from knowing him. He had a wonderful sense of humor. And, he was incredibly intelligent. He was so knowledgeable about a vast number of topics that I was always amazed. And, he was very adventurous. I think he inspired people to live their lives to the absolute max.

“Father believed in abiding by the laws of the Church and he thought that was very important,” Mitchell continued. “I am a cradle Catholic and I think I learned more about the Church from him. You could ask him about anything.

“He loved things big; he did things in a big way and he liked it that way. And, he had such a wonderful sense of humor. Have you heard about the socks? He always wore bright colored socks. It was a way to express himself with his black clothing, but he loved any wild or brightly colored socks. In his casket he had bright pink socks and during calling hours, his family wore bright colored socks. And that is how he would have liked it. I feel honored, especially for the past few years and the past couple of months, to have known him and been part of his life.”

Mitchell was part of a group that traveled to Tanzania. She said that wherever they went, in all of the little churches, Father Fete would preach.

“It all had to be translated, of course, but the people loved him. At his funeral, a letter was read from the people of Moshi, Tanzania and I could feel that the people were truly grieving with us from the other side of the world.”

Michele Schafer noted that Father Fete was known to say, “Do not make the minimum requirement your maximum responsibility.”

“He understood the preciousness of life in everything he did,” Schafer said. The people of God were definitely his passion. He proved that to the very end, in the way he died. He was a great witness to all of us as we now have to move forward without him.”

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