Wednesday, August 04, 2010

St. Cloud Visitor article

‘The Collar and the Gun’ recounts life of Father Kaiser
Tuesday, 13 July 2010 13:25 | |
10th anniversary of death sparks new book, commemorations

By Nikki Rajala
The Visitor

Dean Urdahl didn’t plan to write a book about Father John Kaiser, the Mill Hill Missioner with roots in central Minnesota who was killed in Kenya 10 years ago. But once he’d read a series of articles in the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2001, he was hooked. His book, “The Collar and The Gun,” was published recently.

A history teacher at New London-Spicer Middle School for 35 years, Urdahl had been working on a book of essays about courageous Minnesotans for a wide audience. People of all ages need heroes, to learn from those displaying courage, he said.

Urdahl soon realized, however, that an essay about the priest wouldn’t be enough.

“After reading about Father Kaiser, I wanted to do his story in more detail. He was a courageous leader of human rights of the people in Kenya.” (See related article: “Who was Father John Kaiser?”)

Father Kaiser’s story stayed with Urdahl — while serving the Minnesota State House of Representatives since 2002 and while teaching, until retirement in 2006.

Urdahl wanted to tell about this “man of God, standing up against injustice. It was always in my mind. I thought about it for years, even while writing other books.”

He consulted with Father Bill Vos, a long-time friend of Father Kaiser, retired priest of the St. Cloud Diocese and former missionary in the Musoma Diocese in Tanzania. Father Vos had provided information for Urdahl’s essay in 2002 and encouraged him to write the full story.
Urdahl wrote “The Collar and the Gun” as historical fiction, using dialogue. His first book, “Uprising,” had been called a “history lesson disguised as a novel,” he said, and Father Kaiser’s story was done similarly. “The Collar and the Gun” tells the riveting story centered in Kenya through Father Kaiser’s eyes. At the end, Urdahl lists his interviews and resources.

“A textbook wouldn’t get the same reaction and interest,” Urdahl said. “ ‘The Collar and the Gun’ is strong on history, based on the facts of how things happened, to the best of my knowledge. The very last chapter, a summary, is all true.

“I like to tell a story through dialogue,” he said. “Obviously I wasn’t there, so most of the dialogue is conjecture, though some is actual. The end of the book is my conjecture on what happened — it’s fiction.” Urdahl changed people’s names to steer clear of possible legal repercussions.
Father Vos, who edited “The Collar and the Gun” for Urdahl, said it was well done regarding historical events.

“The heart of the story for me — the issues John dealt with as priest and pastor in Kenya — was accurate,” Father Vos said. “I appreciate the amount of in-depth information Urdahl provided, interviewing key players who dealt with Father Kaiser. The way he started each chapter with a different person was a clever approach.”

Gathering information
To complete the book, Urdahl and his wife Karen traveled to Kenya in 2009. Father Gregory Ombok, a Kenyan priest serving then in Bowlus, made arrangements with Father Christopher Wasonga to host the Urdahls.

“Father Wasonga was invaluable as a guide,” Urdahl said. “We stayed in his home and he provided transportation to Father Kaiser’s home parishes.

“I had many casual conversations with people who’d known Father Kaiser and shared times when they’d met him. I taped the in-depth interviews — most people had their own conjecture [about what happened].”

Urdahl also read newspaper accounts of Father Kaiser’s testimony at a government hearing in Kenya sent to him by Bishop Colin Davies, Father Kaiser’s bishop. Official records from the hearing had been expunged.

Urdahl was aided by Bishop Davies, priests and church members, and, he said, by Sister Nuala Brangan, who was with John Kaiser at the Maela refugee camp and who offered important suggestions.

A real hero
Father Vos, a classmate of Father Kaiser at St. John’s University, said, “John was very influential in sparking my own interest in working in Africa. We were neighbors there, separated only by the Tanzania-Kenya border, so it was easy for us to get together — we vacationed several times and frequently fished and hunted.”

Father Vos remembered his friend as “an ordinary person who did extraordinary things, with tremendous loyalty to the Gospel and the church. He stayed the course and accepted what came his way, leaving the rest in the hands of the Lord. None of us feel we are heroes, but he was a real one.”

Urdahl would agree.

“Father John Kaiser provides inspiration to people of all faiths, not just Catholics,” said Urdahl, a member of Zion Lutheran in Litchfield, Minn. “Researching to write this book changed my outlook and my wife’s.”

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