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: Historical clarity and today’s Catholic contentions

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One of the curiosities of the 21st-century Catholic debate is that many Catholic traditionalists (especially integralists) and a high percentage of Catholic progressives make the same mistake in analyzing the cause of today’s contentions within the Church — or to vary the old fallacy taught in Logic 101, they think in terms of post Concilium ergo propter Concilium [everything that’s happened after the Council has happened because of the Council]. And inside that fallacy is a common misreading of modern Catholic history. The traditionalists insist that everything was fine before the Council (which many of them therefore regard as a terrible mistake); the progressives agree that the pre-Vatican II Church was a stable institution but deplore that stability as rigidity and desiccation.

But that’s not the way things were pre-Vatican II, as I explain at some length and with some engaging stories in my new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform (Basic Books). And no one knew the truth about pre-Vatican II Catholicism better than the man who was elected pope during the Council and guided Vatican II through its last three sessions, St. Paul VI.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII, thought to be an elderly placeholder, stunned both the Church and the world by announcing his intention to summon the 21st ecumenical council. That night, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who would be known as Paul VI four and a half years later), called an old friend. An experienced churchman who had long served Pius XII as chief of staff, Montini saw storm clouds on the horizon: “This holy old boy,” he said of John XXIII, “doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”

That shrewd observation turned out to be spot on –– and not simply because of the Council, but because of the bees and hornets that had been buzzing around the ecclesiastical nest for well over 100 years.

Contrary to both traditionalist and progressive misconceptions, Catholicism was not a placid institution, free of controversy and contention, prior to Vatican II. As I show in The Irony of Modern Catholic History, there was considerable intellectual ferment in the Church during the mid-19th century, involving great figures like the recently-canonized John Henry Newman, the German bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (grandfather of modern Catholic social thought), and the Italian polymath Antonio Rosmini (praised by John Paul II in the 1999 encyclical, Faith and Reason, and beatified under Benedict XVI). That ferment accelerated during the 25 year pontificate of Leo XIII, who launched what I dub the “Leonine Revolution,” challenging the Church to engage the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools in order to convert the modern world and lay a firmer foundation for its aspirations.

American Catholicism, heavily focused on institution-building, was largely unaware of the sharp-edged controversies (and ecclesiastical elbow-throwing) that followed Leo XIII’s death in 1903. Those controversies, plus the civilization-shattering experience of two world wars in Europe, plus a rapid secularization process in Old Europe that began in the 19th century, set the stage for John XXIII’s epic opening address to Vatican II. There, the Pope explained what he envisioned Vatican II doing: gathering up the energies let loose by the Leonine Revolution and focusing them through the prism of an ecumenical council, which he hoped would be a Pentecostal experience energizing the Church with new evangelical zeal.

John XXIII understood that the Gospel proposal could only be made by speaking to the modern world in a vocabulary the modern world could hear. Finding the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for contemporary evangelization didn’t mean emptying Catholicism of its content or challenge, however. As the Pope insisted, the perennial truths of the faith were to be expressed with the “same meaning” and the “same judgment.” Vatican II, in other words, was to foster the development of doctrine, not the deconstruction of doctrine. And the point of that doctrinal development was to equip the Church for mission and evangelization, for the modern world would be converted by truth, not ambiguity or confusion.

Over the past six and a half years, it’s become abundantly clear that more than a few Catholics, some quite prominently placed, still don’t get this history. Nor do the more vociferous elements in the Catholic blogosphere. Which is why I hope The Irony of Modern Catholic History helps facilitate a more thoughtful debate on the Catholic present and future, through a better understanding of the Catholic past.