Everyman Catholic Priest Named Cordova’s Citizen of the Year

By Effie Caldarola, Originally Published by the Catholic Anchor

(Re-posted with Permission)

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Father Thomas Killeen, OMI pastor of St. Joseph Church in Cordova, had three words to say when it was announced that he was Cordova’s Citizen of the Year at the 2017 Iceworm Festival.

“This is nonsense,” quipped the 84-year-old Oblate of Mary Immaculate, with characteristic humility and humor. He went on to say, according to parishioner Debbie Collins, that he couldn’t believe the love he saw in the room at the event — and he good-naturedly pointed to all the babies in the audience as proof of that assertion.

The Iceworm Festival, a bright spot in the long, dark Alaska winter, is a zany and festive celebration, one that the warm and humorous Father Killeen easily embraces.

“The whole town knows him,” Collins said. “Choosing him for this honor was a way to recognize someone who is really admired.”

The feelings are mutual. Father Killeen, who has served in Cordova since 2002, described the little fishing village on Prince William Sound as “paradise.”

The priest walks a lot, making him a familiar face in Cordova, which sits in an area of great natural beauty on Prince William Sound, accessible only by plane, boat and regular ferry service. The population of a little over 2,000 fluctuates seasonally, with fishing and tourism boosting the summer numbers.

“He’s very present in the community,” Collins said. “He attends the weekly ecumenical pastors’ meetings. He has an open door, and people are always stopping to see him. He’s the unofficial counseling center. Everyone thinks the world of him.”

Collins said he’s particularly understanding of people with addictions, and has become the usual baccalaureate speaker at the public high school. And Collins, who has lived in Cordova for 30 years and raised four children in the parish, said his homilies are so good that there’s hardly a Sunday when she and her husband Richard don’t talk about them all the way home from Mass.

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