Brother Kenneth Smits, OFM Cap., died peacefully on Saturday, February 4, 2023 at the age of 84 at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center in Appleton, Wisconsin. Br. Ken was born May 23, 1938, in De Pere, Wisconsin, the 2nd of seven children. At an early age, he developed a love of reading. He would carry this passion with him his entire life. In 4th grade, he began piano lessons. His love for reading and music would be intertwined with his vocational calling. Learning of the desire to follow a vocation, his local pastor enrolled Br. Ken at Saint Lawrence Seminary in 1952. While his family could not afford to send him money while at school, Br. Ken found a richness and beauty in the seminary choir. This propelled his musical talents.
In 1957, Br. Ken entered the novitiate for the Capuchin friars, where his acumen for liturgy and music were given space to spread their wings. Through novitiate and his years in post-novitiate formation, he received encouragement to direct choirs and liturgy. His writings were published regularly in Brownfriars. He took solemn vows in 1961.
During his theological education for priesthood, he continued to nourish himself with education and music. His gifts continued to serve the friars through his studies, and he became active in the Round Table of Franciscan Research, publishing a variety of articles. He learned Latin, German, and French in addition to his studies and love of liturgy.
After Br. Ken’s ordination in 1967, he continued to study. He received a Master’s degree in Theology from Ottawa University, a licentiate from the University of St. Paul, as well as studying Liturgy at the Catholic Institute of Paris. It was in Paris that Ken found the limit of his zeal for education. His separation from friars, as well as exhaustion from his studies, required that he step back. In 1971, Br. Ken became a professor of liturgy at St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, which he described as some of the most enjoyable and successful years of his life.
As the Catholic Church began to re-imagine liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, Br. Ken was at the cutting edge of educating new priests, permanent deacons, and lay ministers for the new rites. In Br. Ken’s words, “For me knowledge was an invitation to grow, not a weapon of competition.” Under the growing stress of grading papers and degree programs, he left academia in 1981. After a year of formation in Chicago, he began working in retreat ministries. He joined the retreat team at St. Anthony Retreat Center in Marathon, WI in 1984. In 1990, he became part of Capuchin Retreat Center in Washington Township, MI. In 1991, he became part of the team at Queen of Angels in Saginaw, MI. In 1993, he again succumbed to exhaustion and took time away from ministry.
In 1994, Br. Ken began ministry at the St. Benedict Center in Madison, WI as a liturgist and retreat director. He was deeply invested in the Benedictine community, where he was able to share his gifts and talents for 12 years. The ecumenical community at St. Benedict Center gave him the freedom to share his liturgy to a wider community.
In 2009, Br. Ken began ministry with the Nazareth Court & Center, a chaplaincy ministry to the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du Lac, WI. Br. Ken would touch a variety of communities during his time here. He seemed to draw strength by accompanying others through their struggles. He would continue with these ministries until he retired in 2022 to Appleton, WI.
During his time in Appleton, his health continued to deteriorate. He was admitted to the hospital in Appleton in January of 2023, where he passed. Br. Ken committed his life to the work of the people, enriching the world around him as he navigated the storms of his own life.
Br. Ken was preceded in death by his parents Marvin and Gertrude (Dennisen) Smits, his brother Richard, his sister and brother-in-law Carolyn and George Hall, his sisters-in-law Judy Smits and Diane Smits, and his niece Robyn Wallace. He is survived by his brothers James, Robert, and John (Jo); his sister Marlene (Terry) Geurts; as well as his many Capuchin brothers with whom he lived, prayed, and ministered for over 60 years.
The funeral liturgy for Br. Ken will be held at 10:00 AM on Friday, February 10, 2023 at Holy Cross Catholic Church, located at 308 Church Street in Mount Calvary. Visitation will be held directly at the church on Friday morning from 9:00 AM until the time of the service.