When Father David Carkenord considered what he might do in 2018, he thought about retirement. But a night late in February made that thought a reality.
“I really didn’t think I was having a heart attack,” he said.
The unusual feeling he had for two evenings led him to drive himself from the St. Michael the Archangel rectory in Waterloo to the hospital in Auburn “just to get checked out.” After seeing a doctor and having his diagnosis confirmed, Father Carkenord thought he might just drive himself back home. He laughs now at the thought.
Instead of driving home, he underwent quintuple bypass surgery. He has spent the last few months recovering at Presence Sacred Heart Home in Avilla. And while he’s ready to retire from parish ministry, Father Carkenord said he’s hoping to find a new ministry right at Sacred Heart Home, ministering to the residents and families alongside Tom Novy, director of Spiritual Services. “I still have some life left,” he said with the hint of a grin.
The youngest of four children, Father Carkenord grew up in Fort Wayne and attended St. Jude School and Central Catholic High School for his freshman year. “My call to the priesthood was probably a little strange,” he admitted. “I went to the seminary because my friend was going.”
His sophomore year of high school, he transferred to Our Lady of the Lake Seminary in Syracuse. The five years he spent there sealed the call to his life’s vocation.
“I joke that I almost got kicked out of CC. I got in trouble with every nun there.” He added, “I was an ornery son of a gun.”
But the seminary seemed to suit him.
“We had everything we needed at Our Lady of the Lake … there was the lake and athletic fields and the Crosiers to teach us.” After finishing his studies there, Father Carkenord continued his formation for priesthood in Cincinnati and was ordained in 1962.
His ordination class shares a distinction with this year’s ordination class: “There were five of us ordained for the diocese … we were the largest class until this year.”
He looks back with great fondness on all of his assignments over his 56 years of priesthood. His first two years were spent at St. Henry Parish, followed by nine years at Queen of Angels, and then six at St. Andrew, his first pastorate.
He ministered for 10 years at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Elkhart and finally landed at St. Michael the Archangel in September 1989.
He said he fell in love with every parish he served. “The people became so important. You get to know the people and there is no end to the beauty.”
During his nearly 30 years of pastoring at St. Michael, Father Carkenord was also given responsibility for St. Mary of the Angels Oratory, the mission church at Big Long Lake. “It’s the easiest job I ever had,” he joked about being made administrator of the tiny church that is run by volunteers.
His tenure at St. Michael the Archangel included a major renovation in 2010 of the country church that was built in 1921. Everything from the baptismal font to the floors and walls to the heating and air conditioning was restored, refinished or replaced.
As the oldest priest in active ministry in the diocese, Father Carkenord continued his parish ministry well beyond the usual priest retirement age of 75.
He will complete his cardiac rehabilitation in the next couple of weeks and then hopes to stay at Sacred Heart Home in assisted living for a few months to finish his recovery. His years of helping with Masses at the senior community in Avilla are evident as he greets people passing along the hallways.
Never at a loss for visitors, Father Carkenord praised his friends and parishioners for their support. “When I first had the heart attack, having visitors was too hard. But people respected that.”
When asked about his most special moment as a priest, Father Carkenord doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, it had to be ordination.” His advice to young men is to seriously pray and ask God about a vocation to the priesthood. “It’s a life that can’t be beat.”
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