Jesuit Father Theodore E. Kestler died in a house fire in Chefornak, Alaska, on Oct. 12, 2016, at 72.
Fr. Kestler was born in Tacoma on Dec. 18, 1943, along with his twin sister, Mary Ann. He entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Sheridan, Oregon, in 1964 and was ordained a priest in 1975. In 1980, while at Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Washington, Fr. Kestler first learned of the need for more priests in Alaska and volunteered with two other priests to go north.
In 1982, Fr. Kestler was missioned by the Jesuits to serve in Alaska. His first assignment was in the remote village of Kaltag. There, Fr. Kestler met fellow Jesuit, Alaska church historian Fr. Louis L. Renner, SJ, who had come to Alaska to help lay in a winter’s supply of stove wood. Father Kestler helped saw, split, and stack wood. He was named pastor of the Catholic missions in Kaltag and Nulato (Our Lady of the Snows) for three years, commuting between the two small villages by boat when the Yukon River was open, and by snow machine when it was paved over with ice and snow.
In his own words he “loved every moment of it.”
In 1985, Fr, Kestler was appointed rector and president of St. Michael’s Institute at Gonzaga University. All the while, however, his desire to return to Alaska continued undiminished.
In 1990 he was appointed to serve as general superior of Jesuits in Alaska, which he did for nine years. In 1997, he became superior also of the St. Mary’s Jesuit community of approximately 10 priests serving in western Alaska. In addition, he worked with the Native Ministry Training Program, which equipped Alaska Natives to better know and share their Catholic faith, while remaining true to their traditional lifestyle.
At the time of his passing, Fr. Kestler was serving in the Yup’ik village of Chefornak with a population of just over 400.
(www.catholicanchor.org contributed to this report.)