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: Repenting and renewing our role as shepherds

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Jesus tells the disciples in St. John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” contrasting his goodness with the thieves who come only to steal and destroy.  This past week my fellow U.S. bishops and I sought to act as good shepherds by approving three measures to increase our vigilance and prevention of the evil of sexual abuse by bishops, shepherds who have betrayed the flock entrusted to them.

This last weekend we celebrated Father’s Day, which should remind biological and spiritual fathers of their great responsibility of protecting and raising up new life. This mission is further emphasized by the Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop, which says, “In the Church entrusted to you, be a faithful steward, moderator and guardian of the mysteries of Christ. Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, be mindful always of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them, and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.” This is the model for all bishops.

But the scandals of Theodore McCarrick, Bishop Bransfield and others have made it clear that our vigilance has not been adequate. To quote from the just-issued “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitment” statement, “We, the bishops of the United States, have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside of the Church over these failures.  The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance, and a desire to do better.” This sentiment was clear in my interactions with my fellow bishops in Baltimore this past week.

As evidence of our commitment, we overwhelmingly passed a set of directives for the bishops’ conference to implement Pope Francis’ Vos estis lux mundi document on handling abuse by priests and bishops. These directives include the creation by May 31, 2020 of a third-party phone and online system that receives reports of potential violations by bishops, the establishment of a protocol in which the Holy See designates and authorizes metropolitan archbishops to investigate cases of alleged abuse by bishops, and the expectation that the investigating bishop involve lay experts in assisting with these inquiries. For any investigations that falls under my jurisdiction, I will ensure that lay experts are involved, as I’ve done throughout my time as a bishop. As the new directives indicate, I will also appoint a lay person to receive complaints from the third-party reporting system, publicize how to make reports, ascertain the credibility of reports and gather any additional information necessary for an investigation to commence.

I also want to highlight that the bishops overwhelmingly approved protocols for imposing limitations on former bishops who were removed from office for grave reasons and that we adopted a code of conduct for bishops, which explicitly states that the Dallas Charter will now include bishops.

All these measures are in addition to those we have been enforcing since 2002 in relation to preventing sexual abuse of minors by priests. The Archdiocese of Denver has a strong track record of actively working to protect children, including annual audits, background checks of employees and clergy, and a code of conduct that previous bishops and I have all signed, and a robust training program aimed at fostering safe environments for children. The effectiveness of these measures over the past 20 years has made us a model for other institutions seeking to combat abuse.

Pope Francis rightly noted in a January 2019 personal letter to the U.S. bishops that the consequences of our failures cannot be fixed by being administrators of new programs or committees.  They can only be resolved by humility, listening, self-examination and conversion.

My brother bishops and I hope that by obeying the Word of God, seeking the will of the Father and embracing what the Church expects of us, we will imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Read more

Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi can be read at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190507_vos-estis-lux-mundi.html

The USCCB Directives implementing Vos estis can be read at: http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/2019-june-meeting/upload/usccb-modified-amended-directives-2019-06.pdf

Reach out

Christi Sullivan serves as the Protection Specialist for the Office of Child and Youth Protection and can be reached at 303-715-3241 or Christi.Sullivan@archden.org.

Victims of abuse can reach out to Dr. Jim Langley, the Victim Assistance Coordinator, at 720-239-2832 or Victim.Assistance@ArchDen.org.