Reading about murder of Minnesota Catholic priest 10 years ago makes my blood boil all over again

August 31, 2010

Bobz Book Reviews

collar and gun cover

“The Collar and the Gun,”

by Dean Urdahl

It took three weeks, but I finally finished Dean Urdahl’s historical fiction about the life and death of Father John Kaiser, a Minnesota priest who was murdered in Kenya in August of 2000. “The Collar and the Gun” is only a 232-page paperback, but for the sake of my rising blood pressure I found I had to put the book down after just about every chapter.

Each successive section of the story adds to the damning portrayal of corruption in government and to a horrific ending. And the reading of this North Star Press work brings an element of shame to Americans for what our own government did and did not do before and after Father Kaiser was shot in the back of the head.

Urdahl, a teacher and member of the Minnesota House of Representatives who lives near Grove City, MN, gathered the data and the stories about the missionary who spent 36 years ministering to the people of Kenya. Urdahl interview people there as well as those in this country who kept in contact with the priest who always kept his connection to his home Diocese of St. Cloud.

“The Rhino of the Poor”

We meet John Kaiser as a boy growing up on a Minnesota farm, but his story quickly jumps to Africa and the work he did as a member of the Mill Hill missionary order. He built churches and schools by hand, setting the beams and bricks himself, and he used the hunting skills he learned as a boy to help feed his parishioners in the Rift Valley area of Kenya.

He served several parishes and thousands of people, and became involved in seeking justice after watching his parishioners chased off the land they held deeds to, sometimes being murdered for resisting forces backed by ruthless, land-grabbing elected officials, including the leaders of area in which his missions lay and the president of Kenya himself, Daniel arap Moi.

When he challenged the country’s so-called “big men” they denied wrong doing yet warned him to end his involvement or suffer the consequences. No threats could stop Father Kaiser’s determination to help the Kenyan people be treated justly by their own leaders. Those he served came to call him “the rhino of the poor” for his refusal to back down in the face of danger to his life. When he collected statements from displaced farmers and publicly accused government leaders of stealing the land to line their own pockets, he became a marked man.

When two teenage girls came to him to tell of being raped by another civic leader, Father Kaiser challenged him personally and for all intents and purposes sealed his fate.

Moi and other Kenya politicians got rid of any opposition by simply having those people killed, and the newspapers that were controlled by Moi’s KANU party dutifully reported that the murdered either committed suicide or died in an auto accident. Father Kaiser avoided attempts to run him off Kenya’s rutted roads, but eventually he couldn’t escape his murderers.

Our FBI falls in line with dictator

As was the way in Moi’s Kenya, the first police on the scene declared Father Kaiser’s death a homicide, but soon after they were overruled and a suicide theory proposed.

Urdahl wrote that to verify the finding, “The Federal Bureau of Investigation was asked to come in from the United States. They agreed with the Kenyan pathologist that it was likely a suicide.” Urdahl implies that the U.S. made a deal with Moi to cover up Father Kaiser’s murder, because Moi offered access to the harbor at Mombasa in any Middle East conflict.

Suicide, however, appears to be frankly impossible. The Catholic Church asked a Norwegian doctor to do a post-mortem on his body, and he found that the gun that killed Father Kaiser was fired at a distance of approximately three feet from the head. To shoot himself in the back of the head, Father Kaiser would have had to have arms that were six feet long.

Of course we want to think the best of our country, but reading Father Kaiser’s story will make you wonder what it might take for the U.S. government to come clean on the cause of death of one of its own citizens, and on what it may have received in trade for our FBI lying about the murder of a priest at the hands of a corrupt and greedy dictator like Kenya’s Moi.

Besides crying out for justice for Father Kaiser, “The Collar and the Gun” should serve as a catalyst for Americans to do more reading about Kenya and other nations that receive U.S. foreign aid.

“The Collar and the Gun” is available for $14.95 at http://www.northstarpress.com.

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

View all posts by Bob Zyskowski