Fr. Ken Himes: The Power of Mentors

by Amanda Judah


In the second-to-last Agape Latte of the year, Fr. Kenneth Himes regaled Hillside Café with stories about the power of mentorship. Himes has taught at Boston College since 1996, and serves as a full-time professor of Theological Ethics. In his April 10 talk, the professor recounted several stories about his coming of age, with an emphasis on the important role his mentors played in the process. 

Himes began in 1966, his senior year in high school, when his teacher Mr. Monahan “opened up a whole new world to [him] about political awareness, the suffering of people in the world, racial tensions, and the struggles of working people.” After Himes moved apartments in Brooklyn, his teacher offered to give him a ride to school, and continued to do so the entire year. Before these interactions, Himes assumed his teacher did not like him. However, he soon learned this was far from the truth, as they discussed current events in a tumultuous time period. Mr. Monahan’s socialist beliefs were eye-opening, since Himes came from a conservative family. The conversations caused him to wonder, “How do you live...a decent, responsible life?”


Two years later, as a sophomore in college, Himes faced an even more uncertain landscape. The nation was reeling from the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and riots occurred nationwide. Himes described how he became “absolutely cynical about normal politics, about making change [within] the system,” and did not trust adults to understand his experiences. 


In the midst of this confusion, a charismatic priest named Fr. Noel Fitzpatrick moved into his dormitory and encouraged Himes to reevaluate his choices. After admonishing his humor “at other people’s expense,” Fitzpatrick gave him a book about the life of St. Francis of Assisi. After completing the novel, Himes was struck by the realization that “life is radically contingent: it need not [exist].” He decided that while the world could have been created by accident, it more likely came about “because somebody loved it into being.” This revelation dispelled his pervasive cynicism and marked a paradigm shift in the the future priest. 


Himes mused how his mentors changed his frame of mind at a time when he needed it most. He clarified that the relationships were mainly one-sided: while the mentors themselves may not have benefited equally from the interactions, they had a strong impact on their mentee. According to Himes, these relationships were distinct from friendship, and often involved participants from different stages of life—“None of these people became [his] friends,” he said.  


Still, Himes lauded the unique role of mentors, describing them as “one of the greatest gifts” and part of an “incredible, rich grace.” The priest then spoke of gratitude, which he called “the most underappreciated virtue in the Christian life.” Himes encouraged the audience to be grateful for all of the relationships they experience throughout their lifetimes, since they didn’t deserve them. “It is all gift,” he said.


The priest concluded his talk by recommending a daily practice of gratitude, of recognizing God’s forgiveness and mercy no matter the day’s events. As part of this practice, Himes urged the audience to be observant of others, to prepare for the possibility of serving as their mentors later on. 


Featured image by Agape Latte/C21 Center

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