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Father Joseph R. Kern, a retired priest who continued to serve as the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery and provide sacramental assistance at parishes, died on April 16 at the Cobblestone Crossing Health Campus in Terre Haute. He was 80.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on April 26 at St. Benedict Church, 111 S. Ninth St., in Terre Haute.
The visitation will be held from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. on April 25 at St. Margaret Mary Church, 2405 S. Seventh St., in Terre Haute, with a vigil service at 7 p.m.
Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, the auxiliary bishop and vicar general, will be the principal celebrant for the Mass.
Father Rick Ginther, the pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes in Terre Haute, will be the homilist.
“As the dean, he was a gentle, effective leader from 1998 until the present,” Father Ginther said. “He made it his business to get around to the parishes. He helped out in every parish in the deanery after he retired in 2001. He was always willing to be of whatever help was needed.”
Even after his retirement, Father Kern continued his sacramental ministry at the Terre Haute Deanery parishes. He suffered a stroke in November 2010.
“He would assist with daily Masses and fill in on the weekends [for eucharistic liturgies] at parishes,” Father Ginther said. “… He never completely retired from priestly service.”
Father Kern was a lifelong learner, Father Ginther said. “He loved to learn about anything, including physics and astronomy. He loved music and liturgy. He loved to lead the people of God in prayer. One of his basic principles was to encourage everyone to exercise their baptismal priesthood, … which was so much emphasized by the Second Vatican Council. He wanted people to be active and share their gifts [in the Church]. He was a great collaborator. He liked working with lay people, and enjoyed working with his brother priests and the parish life coordinators.”
Father Kern “loved his brother priests,” Father Ginther said. “He genuinely cared for them and encouraged them [in their ministries]. … He ministered to us to the very last. … He loved people, and he loved helping them.”
Father Gerald Kirkhoff, the vicar of the archdiocesan Vicariate for Advocacy for Priests and the pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Indianapolis, grew up with Father Kern in St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis.
“We grew up on the same street, just about two blocks apart on Oakland Avenue,” Father Kirkhoff said. “When he was ordained in 1957, I was in the eighth-grade at St. Philip Neri School. He was ordained at Saint Meinrad early in the month, and he came back and talked to us eighth-graders about the seminary and the priesthood.”
Father Kern had a lot of energy, Father Kirkhoff said, and “was always thinking about how to do [his ministry] better.”
Father Stephen Giannini, the vice chancellor and vicar for Clergy and Parish Life Coordinators: Formation and Personnel, said Father Kern was “very kind to everyone,” and “always smiled at people and welcomed them.”
Father Kern was “very interested in inter-parish cooperation,” Father Giannini said, “and working together … to be a better Church and of better service to the people. That was a hallmark of his ministry as a dean.”
St. Monica parishioner Robert Kern of Indianapolis said his younger brother was “such a nice guy.”
Joseph Raymond Kern was born on Oct. 11, 1930, in Indianapolis to Henry and Rose Marie (Seiter) Kern. He grew up in St. Philip Neri Parish on the near east side and received the sacraments there.
He attended St. Philip Neri School, Cathedral High School in Indianapolis for one year, the Maryknoll Junior Seminary in Akron, Ohio, for two years and Saint Meinrad’s former minor seminary in St. Meinrad for one year.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in theology at Saint Meinrad’s major seminary in St. Meinrad in 1957, a master’s degree at Indiana University in Bloomington in 1965, a master of divinity degree at the Saint Meinrad School of Theology in 1970, and a graduate certificate in gerontology at the University of Evansville in 1983.
He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Paul C. Schulte on May 3, 1957, at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einseideln in St. Meinrad.
Father Kern celebrated his first holy Mass on May 5, 1957, at St. Philip Neri Church.
His first assignment on May 20, 1957, was as the associate pastor of St. Michael Parish in Brookville.
On May 25, 1959, he was appointed the associate pastor of St. Michael Parish in Charlestown.
On Aug. 25, 1964, Father Kern was named the administrator of St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Spencer, and granted permission to pursue graduate studies at Indiana University in Bloomington.
He was appointed the chaplain of the former Muscatatuck State Hospital and Training Center in Jennings County on Aug. 30, 1965, where he ministered to people with mental disabilities.
On Oct. 27, 1972, Father Kern was named the associate pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg.
He was appointed the temporary associate pastor of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville on Jan. 27, 1973.
On July 5, 1973, Father Kern began his first pastorate as the co-pastor of St. Michael Parish in Cannelton and St. Pius V Parish in Troy as well as the associate pastor of St. Paul Parish in Tell City.
On July 8, 1975, he was named the co-pastor of St. Paul Parish in Tell City while retaining his assignments as the co-pastor of St. Michael Parish in Cannelton and St. Pius V Parish in Troy.
Ten years later, on July 10, 1985, Father Kern was appointed the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Rockville and the administrator of the former Immaculate Conception Parish in Montezuma.
He began his appointment as the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery on Sept. 3, 1997, while continuing his assignments as the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Rockville and the administrator of the former Immaculate Conception Parish in Montezuma.
On Sept. 3, 1997, Father Kern also was named the temporary administrator of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Terre Haute while continuing his assignments at St. Joseph Parish in Rockville and the former Immaculate Conception Parish in Montezuma.
He was reappointed the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery on Feb. 18, 1998, while continuing his parish assignments.
On July 2, 2001, he was granted permission to retire from active parish ministry while continuing his service as the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery.
Also on July 2, 2001, Father Kern was appointed the priest moderator and sacramental minister of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle.
On July 30, 2003, he was named the temporary administrator of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Terre Haute while continuing his service as the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery.
In 2007 and again in 2010, Father Kern accepted three-year appointments to continue his archdiocesan service as the dean of the Terre Haute Deanery.
Surviving are a brother, Robert Kern of Indianapolis; two sisters, Good Shepherd Sister Rose Kern of Columbus, Ohio, and Rita Moravec of Palatine, Ill.; and several nieces and nephews.
Memorial gifts may be given to St. Margaret Mary Parish, 2405 S. Seventh St., Terre Haute, IN 47802. †