Father Ken Robinson anticipates semi-retirement, new challenges
MUENSTER — Gregarious, convivial, never shy about joining in on the heavy lifting, soon to be much missed, and similar descriptions bandied among the several hundred Sacred Heart parishioners tucking into German sausage, fried chicken, and too many dessert options to list during a post-Mass May 26 retirement celebration for Father Ken Robinson.
“Father Ken brought stability, and everyone could tell he really cared,” parishioner Gary Endres said. “He’s leaving quite a legacy, and, while we look forward to our next priest, he’s going to have a hard act to follow.”
Fr. Robinson, ordained in 1992 at the age of 41, has served at Sacred Heart since 2007, having previously served at St. Michael in Bedford, St. Francis of Assisi in Grapevine, and St. George in Fort Worth.
Born in Austria — his father served in the U.S. Military — Fr. Robinson lived in Europe until he was 12 when his family moved to Texas, his mother’s home state.
Fr. Robinson said he had no youthful inkling he would one day be a Catholic priest.
“No, because my family wasn’t Catholic although my uncle married a Catholic and my first cousins are all Catholic,” Fr. Robinson said. “But from early on, I knew I wanted to be involved in the church, whatever church that was. As I moved into my twenties I recognized that was probably going to be the Catholic Church.”
Fr. Robinson entered the Church while he was a student at Baylor University.
“That was a challenge for some family members,” Fr. Robinson said.
Fr. Robinson earned bachelor’s degrees in secondary education and medical technology from there, in addition to a master’s degree in history from Ohio University. He later worked at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas and became active at St. Rita Parish in Fort Worth.
“The time came when I needed to move forward, take that big step, and say, ‘OK. I really feel I should be a priest,’” Fr. Robinson said.
Fr. Robinson paused momentarily when asked what has surprised him about being a priest.
“I suppose the administrative work involved,” Fr. Robinson said. “You’re trained to be a pastoral minister, but you also end up doing a lot of administrative and other work. You find people in the parish to help with those things but ultimately the buck stops with you.”
Which is why Fr. Robinson decided now is the time to, if not retire exactly, at least step back.
“It isn’t a case of I don’t want to be a priest still,” Fr. Robinson said. “I am a priest. That doesn’t change. I’m not tired of being a priest. I’m looking forward to just doing pastoral ministry.”
Next up is a move to St. Francis Village in Crowley, where Fr. Robinson will continue to celebrate Mass while leaving the administrative duties to others.
Sacred Heart, founded in 1889, is one of seven parishes to have been part of the Galveston, Dallas, and Fort Worth dioceses, something the parishioners, several of whose families date back to Muenster’s founding, are rightfully proud of.
“Muenster’s a German community founded in 1889,” Fr. Robinson said. “They placed the church in the very center of town when they platted the community. Behind the church the school, right behind that the cemetery. Cradle to grave they’ve got you covered.”
Comments made during Fr. Robinson’s farewell lunch made clear the love his parishioners hold for him.
Laura Fuhrmann noted that he married her and her husband and baptized their four children.
Robert Miller and his wife, Betty Miller, characterized Fr. Robinson as personal, wonderful, and dedicated to the parish.
And Endres added, “When we redid the community center, he was on the lift cleaning the ceiling and you’d see him pulling weeds and sweeping. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.”
Fr. Robinson in turn credits Sacred Heart’s “vibrant” parishioners.
“When you come into a parish you don’t tell people what to do,” Fr. Robinson said. “You ask and listen. The parish hadn’t been renovated in 20 years when I came, and a lot asked why we couldn’t. I said, ‘Let'’ just do it.’ They said, ‘We don’t know if we can.’ I said, ‘Yes, we can.’
“We started with the community center. I didn’t know how many would show up but about 80 did —everyone from grandmothers to young children.
“I said, ‘All right folks. If you want to improve things, we must identify what they are and then you have to raise the money. If we can’t pay for it, we can’t have it.’ They had a capital campaign and raised $2.5 million in about two months.”
In his spare time Fr. Robinson loves to read and enjoys classical music. He joked that a Peter, Paul and Mary album purchased long ago was about as close as he got to rock ‘n’ roll and added that he hasn’t been to the movies in about 20 years, the nearest theater being too far away to bother.
The May 26 retirement lunch, falling more than a month before Fr. Robinson’s actual last day at Sacred Heart, found him in the now.
“A sister used to tell us, ‘Don’t think about food until you’re in the cafeteria,’” Fr. Robinson said. “That was her way of saying if you focus too much on the future, you’ll miss the present. So, while I’ll miss Sacred Heart and have a few things to sort through, I still have work to do here for an entire month. I’ll worry about that first, then the next chapter as it gets closer.”