By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Known for his ‘larger than life’ personality, Father Brian Kaskie was a gem of a priest to those around the Diocese of Jackson for almost 30 years.
Father Brian, 57, died Friday, March 26 after an extended bout with medical issues.
Brian David Kaskie was born Feb. 17, 1964 in Forest, Mississippi and attended St. Michael Catholic Church while growing up, assisting as an altar server and active in CYO. In high school, he was a multi-sport athlete, playing on the basketball, football, baseball and tennis teams for the Forest Bearcats.
He was a graduate of Mississippi State University earning his bachelor’s degree in geology. He received his Master’s in Divinity in 1992 and was ordained June 6 that year as the first native-born priest from Scott county.
After his ordination, presided over by Bishop William Houck, Father Brian said, “Many people have different demands and expectations of priests today. A priest has to be able to compromise and meet people where they are.”
That is something Father Brian was able to do well, with is zest for life, God, science, family and community. His obituary read, “He never met a stranger and always engaged in friendly conversation.”
This was so true with the flood of comments to social media after news of his death.
“You were always so funny and kind. We enjoyed your hunting adventures and stories of the pink bathroom at the rectory. I loved being your ‘ace in the hole’ as you called it because I would speak at Mass when you couldn’t find someone else. Heaven has gained a true angel. We will miss you here!” – Amy Hornback of St. Alphonsus parish.
“He made such a difference in the lives of the parishioners of St. Mary in Natchez, especially the youth there and at Cathedral School. To the CYO members in the 90s, he was just one of them!” – Betsy Pitchford of St. Mary Basilica, Natchez.
“You were the best boss. We always had fun. You can have all the Diet Coke, Double Stuffed Oreos and pizza you want. Your angel wing(s) will support you.” – Laura Tarbutton of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Jackson.
“I pray you know how much you were truly loved. I can’t imagine a world without your radiant smile and beautiful homilies … your words touched countless souls over the years, and I feel humbly blessed to have grown up beneath a blanket of Father Brian blessings. – Ashley Hemleben, who first met Father Brian at St. Therese Jackson and grew up with him as chaplain of St. Joseph School.
“I always appreciated his unique sense of humor. When we realized we were birthday twins – at a CYO convention no less – we figured out he was several hours older than me. His response was that he got here in time for three meals that day, while I was only here in time for two.” – Teresa Hayes of St. Therese Jackson.
And the list of memories could fill pages of a novel of the love and humor Father Brian brought to those around the diocese.
In the early 2000s, Father Joe Tonos, who was in seminary with Father Brian in the late 80s/early 90s, wrote a column for Mississippi Catholic and would occasionally have a cartoon in place of the column that would often feature Father Brian.
Some featured Father Brian as a “Kris Kringle,” another series was entitled “Father Brian’s Big Bucket O’ Catholic Trivia,” that went through topics like, “who is in hell?”, “why saints have symbols” and the trivia fact that priests do have interests outside of church.
In the 90s, Father Joe and Father Brian were frequently together at youth retreats and CYO events around the diocese. Father Joe reminisced about the time Father Brian was chaplain at St. Joseph School Madison and he was responsible for doing the senior retreat.
“He gathered the students around a bonfire and celebrated Mass outdoors with them. As part of his homily, he decided that he would take each person in the class and say something about that person. He was winging it. So, he would just look at a person and begin to eulogize this kid and talk about what they meant to him and highlight some stories or qualities. As the stories dragged on into over 20 minutes, … if I remember (correctly), a teacher gently asked him, during the homily, to ‘wrap it up.’ I honest to goodness do not remember how that ended. I don’t even know if I stayed awake for it,” said Father Joe.
“But thinking now, … what a divine gift! To have a chaplain of your school notice you and to be able to say something about you. I know of hundreds of people but can’t really give a ‘homily’ on each member of my congregation. … The shepherd knows his sheep.”
In his 29 years as a priest, Father Brian served parishes in Natchez, Madison and Jackson, where he was rector of the Cathedral. He also served as director of seminarians and vocations for the diocese, as well as chaplain to St. Joseph School in Madison. In 2009, Father Brian made his way to Pike County with assignment as pastor of St. Alphonsus parish in McComb, St. Teresa Chatawa and St. James Magnolia.
Daniel Kaskie, Father Brian’s brother, spoke of the love his brother had for St. Alphonsus at his Funeral Mass at the parish on Tuesday, April 6.
“Brian was one of those gifts that, I think, we all like to hold onto. I found out pretty quickly once he became a priest that he was in very capable hands in the communities he was in. Everyone loved and cared for him and when he found his home here in McComb, man, he loved McComb and McComb loved him right back, and it was a perfect fit I think for his last moments,” said Kaskie.
Father Aaron Williams, administrator of St. Joseph parish in Greenville, gave the homily and spoke of his years and experiences with Father Brian between third and eighth grade and then again entering seminary. He wanted to be a priest from a very young age and Father Brian encourage him through his journey to the priesthood.
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.”
Father Williams began his homily with an excerpt from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as he can’t help but think of Father Brian when he thinks about the Harry Potter series.
“For one thing,” he told family gathered for the funeral, “Brian borrowed and never returned more than one of my volumes,” joked Father Williams.
“My parents used to talk about how well read he was, and you could hear it in his homilies. He had this masterful ability to find the good in all sorts of things in the culture – in books, movies and music and to use that to explain the love of God.”
Daniel Kaskie mentioned something similar at the close of Mass, saying “I’m sure he’s thinking ‘Quote the Beatles! Quote the Beatles, Daniel’”
“But there is no song, no lyric, there’s no book that is going to sum up Brian. But I think the shared experience y’all have is one bond that I think binds us all together,” said Kaskie.
That experience surely must be love.