Father Jack Kieffer
Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky
With a degree in environmental engineering, Fr. Jack Kieffer, SJ, has extensive experience promoting care for all of God’s creation.
Father Jack has served for 26 years as the parish priest for St. Peter Catholic Church in the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky. For 25 years he has also volunteered with Appalachia Science in the Public Interest (ASPI), a non-profit founded by a fellow Jesuit that promotes peaceful, simple and sustainable living rooted in Jesuit teaching.
At ASPI, Fr. Jack helps produce program materials, conduct research, and deliver direct service like teaching workshops or consulting with families. His scientific contributions, such as teaching about low-cost, self-sufficient, sustainable living applications like solar water heating, wild edibles, and cordwood construction are especially important in Central Appalachia, where years of resource extraction in a geographically and technologically isolated region has impacted the relationship between people and the environment.
“We have to know the world the Lord gives us and come to understand it,” Fr. Jack said.
Suzanne Van Etten, executive director of ASPI, said Fr. Jack “personifies peaceful and sustainable living.” She added, “I have found Father Jack to be a much-needed inspiration in our community. I appreciate the opportunity to work beside this knowledgeable, and inspiring person.”
At St. Peter, Father Kieffer has helped the parish grow by fostering a welcoming and accepting spirit among both English and Spanish speaking members, who come together as one faith community. The parish has about 40 Anglo families and 30 Hispanic families. Father Jack learned to celebrate Mass in Spanish and developed conversational Spanish to offer the sacraments in the most accessible way.
The Anglo and Hispanic communities come together to keep up the parish property and to celebrate together at picnics and events, even though there are still some language barriers.
"It's a joy to see people accepting one another and working together," Fr. Jack said, "People only discover themselves as they share themselves. I am blessed by the people here--they have such great faith, and this helps me so much with the Eucharist.”
Fr. Jack has been dedicated to bringing the sacraments to the faithful of rural Kentucky. St. Peter is the only Catholic church in the county and is about an hour away from the nearest Catholic church.
“His honest humility, deep love of God and his concern for others’ challenges each one of us to try to emulate him. He is what I would call a truly “Holy” man and his love for the Eucharist is truly visible,” said Deacon Thomas A. Wagner, retired parish life director at St. Peter.
In the past six years, the parish has welcomed many Hispanic families, increasing the number of registered families by about 50%. At his ministry at ASPI, Fr. Jack works with young people each year--around 50 college students in the immersion program during spring break and more than 700 school age children who visit ASPI's nature center on field trips.