During a Mass in the 1960s, then-Bishop Fulton J. Sheen predicted that there would be a religious vocation from the Kester family, which filled up one of the front pews at Holy Trinity Parish in Webster.
For years, the family wondered which of Leo and Helen Kester’s 13 children it would be.
Nearly two decades later, the family had its answer, and it wasn’t who it expected. Leo A. Kester, the family patriarch, was ordained a permanent deacon with the Diocese of Rochester’s first class of permanent deacons in 1982.
After ordination, he was assigned to serve his parish, Holy Trinity, and continued his diaconal ministry there for more than 25 years.
Deacon Kester extended his ministry to Cherry Ridge in Webster after he and Helen moved to the St. Ann’s Community complex several years ago. He continued serving at Cherry Ridge up until December 2009, when a battle with recurring cancer took its toll on him, his wife said. Deacon Kester, 83, died March 3, 2010, just a few weeks shy of his 84th birthday and just a few days into his favorite month of March.
According to Father Thomas Nellis, who was pastor of Holy Trinity for 11 years, Deacon Kester worked to build the parish from both the inside and out. He helped oversee nearly every building project at Holy Trinity, including the two-phase expansion of the parish called the Trinity Life Center. He drew on his 23 years of work experience as an architectural engineer with Kodak.
It was a part of Deacon Kester’s nature to get involved in projects and see them done right, Father Nellis said. He stuck with projects for years, and his wife said he still had plans from past projects on his desk. His countless volunteer hours were a great service to the parish, Father Nellis said.
"He was an institution at that parish," the priest remarked.
Deacon Kester also helped build parish spiritually, assisting in the celebration of daily Masses, participating in the Knights of Columbus, volunteering for Cursillo, helping couples prepare for marriage and teaching faith-formation classes.
As part of his diaconal faith formation, Deacon Kester had visited prisoners at Monroe County Jail with the Rochester Interfaith Jail Ministry; those receiving mental health care at Monroe Development Center and patients at the former Genesee Hospital.
And in performing diaconal duties, he always remembered his own sinful nature, Father Nellis said.
"Leo didn’t like funeral homilies or eulogies that painted too glowing a portrait of the deceased," Father Nellis said in his own homily at Deacon Kester’s funeral Mass on March 10. "He wanted people to pray for him, remembering that he was a sinner in need of redemption and forgiveness."
That need for redemption was one reason Deacon Kester placed such an emphasis on prayer and had such a strong Marian devotion, his wife said. Prayer played a large role in major building projects at Holy Trinity, including the Trinity Life Center.
It also was an important component of the Kester household, his wife noted.
"We had prayed for a large family, and we were blessed with it," Helen Kester said.
Father Nellis said Deacon Kester was devoted to his wife and for many years served as her caregiver. He noted that they were able to share what they learned about their vocation of marriage with the many couples who received marriage preparation from them.
"They were a wonderful team," Father Nellis said.
Helen Kester said her husband enjoyed life to the fullest. Even when he was very ill and in pain at the end of his life, he was still working to cheer those around him, she said.
"His niece walked into his room when he was in hospice care, and he told her a joke about a snowman," Helen Kester recalled.
In addition to his wife, Deacon Kester is survived by his children, Mary (Don) Quant, Timothy (Carol), Therese (Greg) Christo, Margaret (George) Heissenberger, Joan (Dennis) DuRocher, Frances Kester, Monica (Marc) Whittington, Patrick (Heidi), Ruth (Peter) Mania, Ann Nybeck, Elizabeth (Timothy) Prinzing, Daniel, and Helen (Paul) Sleeman; 33 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; his sisters, Marie Kosel and Claire (Oscar) Snyder; his sister-in-law, Joy Kester; and nieces and nephews.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark celebrated Deacon Kester’s funeral Mass March 10, 2010, at Holy Trinity Church. Interment was in Holy Trinity Cemetery. Memorials may be made in the form of Masses or donations to the Trinity Life Center.