‘Our hope for Father Evan is in Christ’

The funeral Mass of Fr. Evan Harkins was held February 1 at St. Therese Parish, North.
(Megan Marley/Key photo)

Megan Marley

What impact can a man have in the world?

The over 2,000 people attending Fr. Evan Harkin’s visitation and funeral—family, friends, parishioners, spiritual directees, school children and families, classmates, brother priests and more—can attest to his influence on them, and miss him.

A priest of the diocese since 2010 and pastor of St. James Parish and parochial administrator of St. Patrick Parish in St. Joseph, Mo., Fr. Harkins took his own life January 28, 2020 at the St. James rectory.

While suicide is contrary towards proper respect for and stewardship of one’s life given by God and ‘voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law, grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide’ (CCC 2282) and ‘by ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance’ (CCC 2283). We won’t fully know this side of Heaven the exact circumstances that led to his death, but negative side effects of a prescription Harkins recently started for stomach ailments most likely affected his mind.

Father Evan Harkins

The eldest of Patrick and Allison Harkins’ five children, Evan Harkins was an intelligent, kind, quirky individual with a funny wit that often made people laugh. According to a 2010 interview with The Catholic Key, his family attended St. James Parish in midtown Kansas City and St. Sabina Parish in Belton in his youth, and he attended the French Magnet school for immersion to learn in the language for his first two years of schooling before being homeschooled. It was during those early years he first felt the call to the priesthood; he attended St. Thomas Seminary High School in Hannibal, Mo., and then went on to Conception Seminary College in Maryville.

“One of the things that inspired me was the selfless love my parents have for each other. I saw holiness lived out in the things they did — things Mother did at home that Dad never knew about. My parents were receptive to the miraculous grace of marriage. Having known and watched them as I was growing up helped bring thoughts of the priesthood to the forefront for me,” Harkins said in the 2010 interview.

He was ordained with a dispensation two and a half months before age 25—the usual earliest age of ordination—on May 29, 2010 by Bishop Robert Finn. His first assignment was as associate pastor of St. Therese North Parish in Kansas City (2010-12), and then parochial administrator (2012-14) then pastor of St. James Parish, St. Joseph (2014-2020); he also served as parochial administrator at St. Rose of Lima Parish, Savannah (2016-17), St. Patrick Parish, Forest City (2016-17), and St. Patrick Parish, St. Joseph (2017-20). Harkins filled a variety of roles on the Pastors’ Board for St. Joseph Catholic Schools, Priests Personnel Board and as Dean of the region XII Deanery (2016-18). He also served as spiritual director for priests and laity alike, including men at Conception Seminary College.

Harkins enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities, including getting his family involved in rock climbing. He also loved baseball: one local priest recalled his organization of the first two diocesan priest teams to play the annual Pitching for Priests game against the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Ks. priests. And above all, he loved being a priest.

“[The priest] brings the channels of Christ’s grace to the sacraments: New life though baptism; absolution thought the sacrament of Penance, His love for us and His grace though the Eucharist.  A priest is a bridge connecting people to God in a sacramental way, and he extends Christ’s love for His Church, in a human way,” Harkins said in the 2010 interview. “I see a lot of pain and sadness in the world. You can see it in people’s eyes.  Satan makes people unsure of who they are. To me being ordained a priest is to be sent out in to the world to give God to people and His gifts of joy and truth. I think that’s awesome; there is nothing beyond that I could want.”

“I don’t know that I have ever witnessed a priest celebrate a more reverent Mass than Fr. Evan Harkins—I’ve been around a lot,” said Fr. Vincent Rogers, a former pastor of St. James Parish, at the visitation January 31. “Every action was done with piety and reverence; he understood that what he was doing on the altar of God reflected the perfect sacrifice of Christ and the beauty of Heaven. He helped us love the Mass more, every one of us; he helped ME love the Mass more.”

The visitation for Fr. Harkins held at St. James parish January 31 was packed to standing room only for the 6 pm Rosary. Fathers Rocha, Rueb, Davis, Kreidler, Amthor, Malewski, Rogers, and Totton led the rosary, a few voices cracking with emotion.

Fr. Vincent Rogers then gave the eulogy.

“Our hearts are broken this evening,” he said. “A lot of us are asking why.”

“We’ve learned a lot about the human mind over these recent decades—it can be a place of beauty; it can also be a place of pain. We’ve learned a lot about depression and anxiety and suicide. Sometimes the human mind can take us to dark places, places we don’t want to be, but have no control over being there,” Rogers continued. “Fr. Harkins was in such a place, and all of us wish we would have known more. This church is filled this evening with people who would have done anything to help him.”

“I hope I speak for each of you when I say that I am not going to allow the last moment of Fr. Harkins life to overshadow the good he accomplished during his entire life. Even though he was a young priest, he taught us beautiful life lessons that we will never forget.”

“Fr. Harkins lived a full life, a life reflecting St. Paul’s admonition to rejoice always, to pray unceasingly, to give thanks to God in all circumstances,” Rogers said, noting the deceased’s reverence in liturgy, service to the sick, instruction through spiritual direction and sunny wit.

“Fr. Harkins lived a deeply spiritual life, and buried hundreds of people as a priest. One thing that he would insist upon was praying for the souls of the beloved dead; every mass, every funeral I attended with him, he insisted on that,” said Rogers. “Now it is left to us to heed his words, but this time for him. If he’s not already with Jesus and Our Mother Mary and all the saints, may he soon be there as a result of our prayers.”

Following the regular visitation, family and friends kept an overnight vigil in the church with the deceased.

The funeral was held February 1 at St. Therese North Parish—Harkins’ first parish assignment after ordination. The 1,500-capacity church overflowed with people wanting to say farewell and pray for his soul at the Mass offered by Bishop James Johnston, Jr.

In his homily, Bishop Johnston expressed his condolences and prayers for the family.

“We also want to express our gratitude to you, because it was consistently clear how deeply Fr. Evan was rooted in your family life his entire life…We are grateful that you formed and gave us such a good man to be our father and our brother,” Johnston said. “It was because of your love and God’s love that we received the gift of this man and this priest.”

He also acknowledged the loss felt by the parishes and brother priests, and asked for continued prayers for those affected by his death.

The bishop recollected one of his final memories of Fr. Harkins from December, when he joined St. James parish in celebrating its 150th anniversary and recent renovations.

“It had reached a crisis point and could no longer be avoided without a potential collapse and danger to the people…when it rained, Father literally needed an umbrella in the confessional. With his firm and gentle leadership, Father not only had a successful campaign to fix the roof, but also to undertake and complete a major renovation of the interior of the church too,” the bishop said. After the Anniversary Mass, Bishop followed Harkins to the reception across town.

“My first thought was, “this guy drives a mini-Cooper!”…Let’s just say there’s a cool factor there.  It was one of those things that was indicative of his personality: a combination of intelligent, curious, kind, artistic, quirky funny, and just fun,” Johnston said.

“We had a great celebration that night and it was just one example of his many gifts that were used for the Kingdom of God.  Most of you here today can speak of similar things…”

“Father Evan Harkins was consistent as a joyful, faith-filled, hopeful, dedicated priest.  He never experienced depression or despair…And so, part of our anguish these past days is this paradox. How could this have happened? How could Father Harkins have died like this?” said the bishop. “While we will never know everything this side of Heaven, there are some things that can help.”

Johnston explained that Fr. Harkins experienced some serious deterioration of his health at the beginning of the New Year; his stomach and gastrointestinal tract stopped working and he could not take in food, and this was accompanied by extreme anxiety. Harkins was prescribed medication and experienced some extreme negative side effects of the drug, including terrible nightmares among other things.

“I share this with you all, with the permission of his family, because I do not believe Father Harkins was in possession of a sound mind when he died earlier this week.  His parents and his friends noticed in the weeks leading up to his death that things were not right, that he was not himself, and something was seriously wrong,” said.

“This is important for you to know, because it is easy to jump to other conclusions without knowing these facts.  It does not take away our grief at his terrible loss, but it does help us to see this in a different light.”

“I’ve spoken much about Father Evan and our love for him, but I now speak of the person that brings us together today: Jesus Christ,” Johnston continued.

“Our hope for Father Evan is in Christ.  Our hope for ourselves is in Christ. We trust in the awesome gift of God’s Divine Mercy that comes to us through the pierced Heart of Christ, a devotion that was central to Father Harkins’ spiritual life,” Johnston concluded. “And so we can all say with confidence, ‘Jesus, I trust in You’ and commend Father Evan to the merciful embrace of Christ.”

At the end of Mass, the 100-some priests, deacons and seminarians sang a farewell ‘Salve Regina’ before the casket was lifted into the hearse which would take Harkins to his final resting place at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Raytown.

To read Bishop Johnston’s homily in full, visit kcsjcatholic.org/2020/02/homily-funeral-harkins.

If you or someone you know is struggling, one is not alone and it’s ok to seek help. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or through chat available 24/7, or text “HELLO” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Warning signs of Suicide and What to Do

Warning signs include:
• Talking about wanting to die
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings

What to do:
• Do not leave the person alone
• Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
• Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
• Take the person to an emergency room, or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

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Monday
March 30, 2020
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph