STEM shooting hero remembered for his unwavering kindness and faith

Aaron Lambert

He loved the outdoors. He loved technology. He loved his friends. He just plain loved.

Kendrick Castillo was a faithful, kind and caring individual whose life was tragically cut short May 7 when he heroically lunged toward a shooter that attacked STEM School Highlands Ranch and gave his life to protect his friends. He was 18 years old, and just days away from graduating high school.

The week after his death, a series of events were held in the Denver Metro and surrounding areas in remembrance of his life, culminating in a funeral Mass held May 17 at St. Mary Parish in Littleton and presided by Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez.

“Kendrick gave everything he is, and everything he had — family, a future, a degree, his life — so other young men and women could go back to their families, have a future, graduate and live,” Bishop Rodriguez said in his homily. “Kendrick’s life is like the echo of Jesus’ words: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.’

“Only a young man with God in his heart and possessing a big, good heart can do what he did: to lay down his life to save his friends. I’m sure [Kendrick’s parents] John and Maria, that you feel proud of your son. God, too, is very proud of his child, Kendrick.”

Kendrick Castillo was killed in a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch May 8. His life and heroic actions have served as an inspiration for the local Catholic community, as well as the wider Colorado and national communities. Photo provided

Kendrick was an alumnus of Notre Dame Catholic School, where his dad, John, said he fit in so well. A few days after his funeral, John told the Denver Catholic he was sitting with his wife, reflecting on their son’s life and looking through his old schoolwork, when he came across an assignment where students were asked to choose their favorite saint. Kendrick chose St. John Bosco.

“I was reading and getting familiar with St. John Bosco, and it was really profound that he would’ve picked him because it’s how he lived his life,” John said. “He modeled [his life] off the saints.”

Upon graduation from Notre Dame, Kendrick went to STEM School Highlands Ranch for high school. John remembered being a little worried for his son transitioning from a Catholic school to a non-Catholic one. However, Kendrick remained true to who he was and what he learned at Notre Dame.

“He made it a point to seek out and find people that he shared his faith with there,” John said of Kendrick’s time at STEM. “[But even] those who didn’t practice religion, he was still a friend to them and would hang out with them.

“I believe he walked his faith, and I was so proud of that.”

In addition to praying before meals and always being the first to volunteer to altar serve at funeral Masses, Kendrick joyfully served with his dad in the Knights of Columbus at Notre Dame Parish. He especially loved helping out with the pancake breakfasts.

Kendrick and his dad, John, would volunteer with the Knights of Columbus at Notre Dame Parish in Denver. Photo provided

Kendrick was an only child and was very close with both of his parents. The relationship between Kendrick and John was different than a typical father and son, John said.

“It was more of a friendship than it was a father-son type thing,” John said. “We had a special bond.”

It’s because of that special bond between Kendrick and his parents that John believes he loved others the way he did – and why he didn’t hesitate when giving his life to save his fellow students during the STEM shooting.

“When you’re lucky enough to have the relationship the three of us had, you almost don’t even realize you’re doing things,” John said. “It’s not like you’re planning to raise someone a certain way. If there’s love in that family, it’s what you do.

“There’s no changing what he would do. He wouldn’t waver from doing good.”

As news broke about Kendrick’s actions, many have used the word “hero” to describe him.  John feels very proud of his son’s act of heroism, but he said that it’s the way that Kendrick lived his life that he’s most proud of.

Kendrick poses with his mom, Maria. Kendrick was an only child who was very close with his parents. Photo provided

“I believe God used him for what he needs him for. He was a tool, a faithful follower…he saved his friends,” John said. “The fact that he did what was in his heart for his friends is more powerful to me than that word ‘hero.’ It really represents who he was.”

The pain that John and Maria are bearing is a pain that will never go away. “It’s a really tough thing,” John said through tears. “Kendrick is the most devout, holy person I’ve ever known. He was a beautiful spirit. He was my strength.”

As unbearable as the pain is, John and Maria rest in the confidence that Kendrick is enjoying eternal life in heaven and that they will be reunited with him there.

“I truly believe in my heart that Kendrick was on loan to my wife and I,” John said. “I think he’s with his true father.”

Featured image by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic

COMING UP: Denver’s first Catholic classical high school opens under patronage of Our Lady of Victory

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Nearly half a millennium ago, thousands of Catholics heeded Pope Pius V’s call to pray the Rosary requesting Our Lady’s intercession for the deliverance of Europe from Turkish invasion.

In a miraculous triumph, at what came to be known as the “Battle of Lepanto,” the outnumbered Christian “Holy League” overcame the Turkish forces, winning Our Lady of the Rosary a new advocation: Our Lady of Victory.

Today, Denver’s new and first Catholic classical high school has chosen Our Lady of Victory as its patroness, with the mission of developing the whole person and forming students who are holy, well-educated and prepared to engage the present culture and contribute to society.

Our Lady of Victory High School is part of the Chesterton Schools Network, which encourages parent-led Catholic schools across the nation, inspired by the life and work of G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a poem about the victory at Lepanto.

Although the school is not an archdiocesan high school, it has been officially recognized by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila as a Catholic school. This fall’s inaugural 9th grade class will launch at the St. Louis Parish School building in Denver with nearly 20 students.

“Chesterton’s model of joyful Catholicism draws upon the classical tradition but is very evangelical: It engages the culture with a joyful approach to being Catholic… rather than a reactionary one,” said Dr. R. Jared Staudt, President of the school, Director of Formation at the Archdiocese of Denver and Visiting Associate Professor at the Augustine Institute. “We want to form saints to go out and do great things for the Lord within our culture.”

The classical education approach highlights the trivium (logic, grammar and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy).

“We emphasize Socratic dialogue as well as the trivium: how to read texts carefully and understand them through grammar, how to think about them in a coherent manner through logic, and then how to express yourself well in writing and speech through rhetoric; but also the quadrivium: How do we understand the logical order and beauty of the universe?” Dr. Staudt explained.

The benefits of this type of education are many, he assured.

“It’s not just a practical output, but about forming strong dispositions of thinking, of being able to evaluate things, being able to form a plan of action for your life that will translate into being successful in the future.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things,” Dr. Staudt said.

Part of what makes this goal possible is the communion between faith and reason. Students begin the school day with daily Mass; read Homer, Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dostoevsky, G.K. Chesterton, etc.; and study the Bible and the Catechism. They participate in a curriculum where history, philosophy, literature and theology are “braided together,” as their website states.

Part of what makes it unique is also its approach to the fine arts and to mathematics and science.

“We emphasize the fine arts because we want the students to be engaged with beauty and wonder… We want to humanize them, to make them more fully alive,” Dr. Staudt said.

“I would say we also approach math and science from that perspective. We take math and science very seriously, but not as something dry and textbook based, but something that is engaging the beauty, the logic, the wonder of the universe, and the fact that we can logically understand [it] because it is itself something that is a creative work of a mind, of God’s mind, and his beauty is impressed within it.”

As part of this approach, the school has implemented in its unique formation a lot of time in the outdoors, beginning the year with a three-day backpacking trip with the students and ending with a whitewater rafting trip.
The school also plans on having retreats throughout the year, attending and hosting fine arts events and providing service opportunities for its students.

“I think that’s truly part of what makes us unique, that we want to develop the whole person: body, mind and soul,” Dr. Staudt explained.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things.”

The seed for the foundations of the school began with the desire of a group of Denver Catholic parents for a holistic, classical formation for their children, also motived by the need for a Catholic high school in the South Denver metro area.

Hoping to open a Catholic classical high school for their children in the future, six dads organized a series of monthly talks titled “The First Educators” at St. Mary Parish in Littleton from September to November 2018 as a first step to help in this direction.

Little did they know that their dream would become reality only a few months later, with the help of Dr. Staudt, the Chesterton Schools Network and the support of other parents around the archdiocese.

With six experienced teachers on board, the mission-driven school is set to begin forming students in the classical tradition.

“We want them to be holy. I would say that is our biggest overarching goal, that we want to form saints in the sense that they are thinking people who are well-educated and well prepared to engage the world and make a contribution in society – but [in a way] that holiness integrates everything else that we do,” Dr. Staudt concluded.

For more information, visit ourladyofvictorydenver.com.