Fr. Kokjohn, 1928-2009, was spiritual guide to many

Father Joe Kokjohn

By Father Bill Dawson

Father Joe Kokjohn, who died May 21, was our friend. Very likely he was your friend, too, if you were one of his fellow priests or if you were a student or staff member at St. Ambrose Academy or University in Davenport while he was teaching there. Fr. Joe was a friend and spiritual guide for so many during his years at St. Patrick’s in Clinton and during his retirement years as chaplain on cruises, one of which went around the world.

Fr. Joe was an extremely talented scholar and a master teacher. As professor and writer, he complemented his background in Shakespeare and English literature with a strong interest in contemporary theology and spirituality. Many of his short stories were published and I remember particularly his Commonweal article entitled, “Hell, one hell of a problem.” He brought so much good humor to his writing, stories and conversations. Humorous happenings were a passion with Joe and he seldom resisted sharing them with all who would hear. Occasionally, someone would question his “earthiness,” but to most all of us his good spirit was a joy and a blessing.

Fr. Joe had a special concern for the poor and for peace and justice. Many will remember his success in leading an ecumenical project to provide affordable housing in Clinton. Near the end of his life, he was most generous in purchasing a home for a new peace and justice center at St. Ambrose University.

Fr. Kokjohn enjoyed the life that he knew was God’s gift to him and helped us to treasure that gift of life also. Joe, we are so grateful.


(Fr. Dawson is a retired priest of the Diocese of Davenport.)

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