Bishop Stika presides at funeral Mass for Deacon Ken Conklin

By Bill Brewer and Gabrielle Nolan

Deacon Ken Conklin, whose story of courage and perseverance in the face of life-threatening illness inspired many within and outside the Diocese of Knoxville, lost his battle with cancer on Nov. 18, a year and two months after Bishop Richard F. Stika advanced his ordination into the diaconate because of his failing health.

Bishop Stika was the celebrant at the funeral Mass for Deacon Conklin on Nov. 21 at All Saints Church in Knoxville, where the deacon served.

All Saints pastor Father Doug Owens and associate pastor Father Jorge Mejia concelebrated the Mass, which was attended by more than 25 brother deacons, many of whom were in Deacon Conklin’s diaconate class of 2022, including Robert Denne, who served as deacon of the Word, and Jim Bello, who served as deacon of the Eucharist.

Bishop Stika described Deacon Conklin as a miracle man, who was surprisingly reinvigorated after his ordination to the point where he gained weight and strength, was able to actively serve his parish as a deacon, and even assisted Bishop Stika at the altar during the Chrism Mass last spring.

“One of the most powerful gifts we have on this earth is the gift of prayer. We commend our brother, our deacon, a husband, a father, a father-in-law, a grandfather, to God, that he might be in peace from his pain,” Bishop Stika said to begin Mass.

Deacon Conklin’s daughters, Cassandra Akin and Lindsay Russell, served as the Mass readers.

Bishop Stika told Deacon Conklin’s wife, Diane, how much he cared for Deacon Conklin and his family. The Conklins were married for 46 years. Bishop Stika recalled ordaining Deacon Conklin in September 2021 at the Conklins’ home in Dandridge. The newly ordained was surrounded by family, friends, and his fellow diaconate candidates, who were not to be ordained until last June.

Bishop Stika described that beautiful autumn day with a brilliant blue sky, the mountains, and Douglas Lake serving as a backdrop and called it God’s church.

“I have a question. What is the shelf life of a miracle? Is it forever?” Bishop Stika asked to begin his homily. “We know of the miracle of Lazarus. … All of those people who have witnessed or received the gift of a miracle, especially for the extension of life, they eventually die, or are born again. They pass from one life to another. The shelf life of a miracle.”

“I absolutely believe, without a doubt, that on that September day there was a miracle. Could it be the grace of holy orders that I, through the imposition of my hands, the gift that has been given to me that I passed on to Ken, who was supposed to die maybe a week or two later?” the bishop asked again.

He said that through the miracle, Deacon Conklin was given another year plus. He was able to stand in the All Saints sanctuary and preach. He was able to study to become a police chaplain. He was able to be a part of important family events.

“He had a year to receive hugs and say the words ‘I love you’ and to hear those words, ‘I love you.’ For someone who was only given two weeks, he gained weight and rode his brand-new lawn mower,” Bishop Stika said.

“All of these things he was able to experience because God gave him extra time. Some people may say it’s so sad that he died. He was released from a body that had cancer. He was given more time, just as Lazarus was given more time. To me, that’s the miracle; a very special gift: time,” Bishop Stika continued. “He was able to live his diaconate ministry. I admire him because just as he was beginning his extensive studies for the diaconate, five years, he was diagnosed with cancer. He hardly ever missed the classes.”

The shepherd of the Church in East Tennessee called the outdoor ordination “a beautiful moment.” He said the most important part of Deacon Conklin’s ministry was to witness, to share, to be of service.

“He never gave up. He wore his suffering,” the bishop said. “He was able to die at home, with his family, surrounded by love. In the Gospel, Jesus talks about a beautiful thing, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.’ Isn’t that what death is all about, especially for those who suffer from cancer or an extended chronic illness? It wears you down. It can break your spirit sometimes. But not Ken. He was worn down, but he followed the path. … He’s free, and he still witnesses to us.”

And in giving the family hope in the resurrection, Bishop Stika said of Deacon Conklin, “for him, life has changed. It has not ended.”

At the conclusion of Mass, after Bishop Stika gave the prayer of commendation, and after a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” as the recessional hymn, the priests and deacons in attendance each sprinkled the coffin with holy water in the narthex.

Priests and deacons sprinkle holy water on the casket of Deacon Ken Conklin in the narthex of All Saints Church following the funeral Mass for Deacon Conklin. Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated the funeral Mass on Nov. 21.

Diagnosed in 2018 with colon cancer, Deacon Conklin endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy and surgery; however, over time, the cancer spread to his liver and stomach. Following an emergency surgery that revealed tumors in his intestines and stomach, the doctors sent Deacon Conklin home on hospice care.

Deacon Tim Elliott, who serves as the diocesan director of the diaconate and deacon formation, alerted Bishop Stika of that news in mid-2021. Bishop Stika offered to ordain Deacon Conklin early, as his diaconate class was scheduled to be ordained the following June at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Deacon Conklin was ordained on Sept. 25, 2021, during a private Mass held at his home in Dandridge, with Bishop Stika presiding over the ordination Mass. More than 70 members of his family, friends, and deacon class were present.

In less than seven months following his ordination, it seemed miraculous that Deacon Conklin’s health improved. He assisted Bishop Stika at the Chrism Mass on April 12, serving as deacon of the Eucharist.

Deacon Conklin was born in Jersey City, N.J., on April 24, 1954, as the son of Barbara Conklin and Kenneth Conklin Sr. Sports and cars were his interests growing up. His interests later in life turned to dancing, traveling, running marathons, hiking, and climbing, including Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

He graduated from Garfield High School and met Diane while they worked at Dairy Queen in Garfield, N.J. They married in 1976 and began to build a life that included two daughters, four grandchildren, and time lived in New Jersey, Alpharetta, Ga., and Dandridge. He retired in 2020.

In addition to serving as a parishioner and deacon and on the parish finance council at All Saints, he was active in the Knights of Columbus and had become a chaplain with the Knoxville Police Department.

Preceding Deacon Conklin in death are his parents; older sister Debbie Sicliano; younger brother Kevin Conklin; and mother- and father in-law, Maria and Walter Uzar.

Left to cherish his memories are his loving wife, Diane Conklin; daughter, Cassandra Akin; son-in-law, Adam Akin; granddaughters, Charlotte and Georgia; daughter, Lindsay Russell; son-in-law, Brad Russell; grandsons, Jeremiah and Kenny; sister, Cindy Conklin; brother, Bill Conklin; and sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nieces, and nephews.

Donations in Deacon Conklin’s memory may be made to Christ Prince of Peace Retreat Center, https://dioknoxretreat.org.

Comments 1

  1. What a strong God filled spirit man who gave and server. I always thought he was such a handsome man. Love to all of you esp to our friends, adam and case, Georgia and Charlotte

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