Priest remembered for intellect, compassion

The Rev. John Kiernan

Father John Kiernan retired 21 years ago from the priesthood, but he didn’t take it easy.

The Catholic priest remained involved in several organizations and activities up to his death. Kiernan, 85, died Monday morning at Hospice Care Center.

“What was remarkable about him, he had such a remarkable intellect, yet, he was loved by everyone for his simply compassionate loving way,” said Grand Valley Peace & Justice Director Karen Sjoberg.

“He could sit at the table with kings and paupers and have a conversation with any of them. He loved simple people. He personified Christ.”

A vigil service takes place at 7 p.m. today at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, 760 26 1/2 Road. Visitation is from 6 to 7 at the church, with a reception following the vigil. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church.

Kiernan was born in New York and was raised in the Bronx. He was ordained a priest as a member of the Cistercian Order in 1955 at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass., and was one of the founding community members of St. Benedict Trappist monastery in Snowmass a year later. There, he became a rancher for the monastery.

He attended the Biblicum in Rome and received a master’s degree in scripture studies. He received a master’s degree in theology from the Angelicum in Rome during the historic Vatican II Council.

“He was inspired by it,” said longtime friend and employee of the Diocese of Pueblo, Larry Howe-Kerr. “He decided he wanted to be a parish priest and asked to be a priest in the Diocese of Pueblo.”

Kiernan was assigned to one of the Catholic churches in the diocese and served parishes in Grand Junction, Delta, Lamar, Gunnison, Monte Vista, Montrose and Fruita.

“He was always changing in his theology,” Howe-Kerr said. “He was open to learning from people.”

Kiernan was a member of Grand Valley Peace & Justice and Western Colorado Congress.

In the late 1980s, Kiernan grew fascinated with the Latin-American culture and learned to speak Spanish. He served as an associate of the Maryknoll Missioners in Guatemala and later established the Hispanic Affairs Project on the Western Slope.

“He identified with the Hispanic community and suffering in different ways,” said Ricardo Perez, executive director of the Hispanic Affairs Project. “He was very smart and very evangelical. He was a very humble person. He understood the quality and Christian commitment only working directly with our communities and our society.”

“In the last six years, he was really tired,” Perez said. “He had problems with walking. People were driving for him, but if we did something without him, he was upset.”

The Hispanic Affairs Project was designed to provide education and training for Hispanics to promote social change. The project has 22 people on the leadership committee and more than 100 members.

“He probably worked just as hard in retirement as he did prior to retirement,” Howe-Kerr said. “He was inspired and nourished in the Hispanic community. He did as many Masses as he could on weekends and writing grants for HAP.”

Kiernan is survived by his sister, Pat Kiernan, two nieces and one nephew. He was preceded in death by another sister, Rose-Marie Clay, and a brother, Edmund Kiernan.


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