By Dan McWilliams
Those attending the Chrism Mass on April 12 at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus beheld a miracle standing before them.
Deacon Ken Conklin served as deacon of the Eucharist at the annual liturgy, an act no one more than six months ago thought he would be able to make.
Deacon Conklin was ordained a permanent deacon at his home on Sept. 25 by Bishop Richard F. Stika, months earlier than his class of 2022 deacon candidates, who are scheduled to be ordained June 11. In September, Deacon Conklin was in hospice care during a battle with cancer that he had fought since 2018.
Bishop Stika at the Chrism Mass suggested that Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan of Chattanooga might deserve credit for Deacon Conklin’s miraculous r ecovery.
“There is a man in this cathedral who did not think he was going to be here for the Mass of Chrism. I ordained Ken at home in September because the doctors were saying he had only a couple weeks to live,” the bishop said at the beginning of Mass. “That was 50 pounds ago. I truly, truly, truly believe in miracles, and I believe maybe through the intercession of Father Ryan. Ken was just accepted into the chaplain program for the Knoxville Police Department.”
Bishop Stika’s next statement produced a long round of applause for Deacon Conklin.
“I just want you to give thanks to almighty God today for Deacon Ken being here with us,” he said, then added to the deacon: “Don’t cry, because then I’ll cry. OK, back to work.”
Deacon Conklin said that “it’s been a long and miraculous journey” to the Chrism Mass.
“Prior to my going into the diaconate, I was just an average guy. I went to church Easter and Christmas and whenever I could,” he said. “I was at a Bible study, and there was a woman who was in the Order of Carmelites, and I prayed to the Holy Spirit over her. And she said later, ‘Ken, your guardian angel was trying to tell me something.’ I joked around and said, ‘Tell him I said hi.’ Two weeks later, I saw her again, and I asked her, ‘What’s this about?’ She said, ‘Well, I prayed, and your guardian angel was saying that you are in danger.’ So, I’m thinking, oh, my gosh, my soul is in danger, so I go to confession, I meet with a priest, I do all the things I need to do. And my spiritual journey started then. It started sinking in.”
That led to the medical diagnosis that would change his life.
“Two months later, I was up in Kentucky having lunch with my daughter, and there was a doctor in the restaurant. That night, the doctor called my daughter and said, ‘Your dad needs to see a doctor right away,’” Deacon Conklin recalled. “So I went to the doctor, and they told me to get to the hospital right away. I was short two units of blood. They took out my left kidney and a foot of small intestine.
“So, I’m trying to piece together: was my soul in danger, was my body in danger? Through my study I’ve learned they’re connected. They are connected, and my suffering is my cross that I need to carry, and I accept that wholeheartedly. And the covenant I made with God right from the beginning was, ‘As long as you keep me here, I’ll continue to do your work.’ So, in the diaconate I help as many people as I can. As a chaplain for the Knoxville Police Department, I help as many people as I can.”
And was it a miracle?
“It sure is a miracle,” he said. “Through all the prayers I’ve received with my family and my wife, it’s just amazing. Attitude is so important. I always put goals in front of me, like the diaconate. Through the five years I’ve been dealing with the cancer, I was going for the diaconate every month, studying. Then the Police Chaplain Academy, I saw that as another challenge. I finished it. I’m actually going through now working with a mentor, an experienced chaplain. He’s showing me around, meeting people, and in May I officially start wherever I need to be.”