The Clown Priest

St. Louis’ Carl Kabat is back in the home he knows best -- a prison cell

Kabat grew up in Scheller, Illinois, about 80 miles southeast of St. Louis. He was ordained in 1959, and in the 1960s and '70s he did missionary work in the Philippines and Brazil. For the past three years, he's lived and worked at Karen Catholic Worker House, a shelter for homeless women and their children in the St. Louis Place neighborhood. It was founded in 1977 by social justice champion — and anarchist — Dorothy Day.

"A lot of his interactions revolve around humor," says Tony Hilkin, who works at the shelter. "He's someone that would have a new joke every day."

Though Kabat didn't tell his co-workers of his plans before embarking for North Dakota, Hilkin says, the protest and subsequent incarceration surprised no one. "He just mentioned he was meeting with folks and that he was going to 'do an action.' So, we figured he was probably going to get arrested. We knew that Carl's happiest in prison, if that makes sense."

Untrue, says Kabat with a chuckle. "I don't go to jail — that's where they put me. I would just as soon be home in St. Louis. Does a person like changing diapers on a baby? No, but it has to be done. These bombs could kill more than three million people."

If nothing else, Kabat says, prison gives him time to catch up on his readings of philosophy and theology. "When I'm out, I don't get as much of a chance to read as much as I would like," he says. "In a sense I'm freer in than out. When I'm out I know I should be protesting. We still have 500 insane nuclear weapons out there."

Perhaps the only downside of Kabat's incarceration is that he won't be able to spend time at a new shelter around the corner from Karen House, which serves the needs of refugees. Opened a month ago, it is known — in the clown priest's honor — as the Kabat Catholic Worker House.

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