The Helena and Carroll College community remembered the late Frank Kerins on Tuesday as a former president of the college, a veteran of the Korean War, an educator, a husband, a father and a man of deep faith.
With sunlight illuminating the stained glass of the Cathedral of Saint Helena, friends, family and colleagues joined in scripture, song and prayer before laying Frank to rest at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery at Fort Harrison. He died Oct. 2 after a short illness at the age of 87.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Frank received a bachelor’s degree from St. Francis College in New York, a master’s degree from St. Louis University and a doctorate from the University of Denver. He taught philosophy at Loretta Heights College in Denver and higher education at the University of Denver. He served as Carroll’s president from 1974 to 1989. Frank also served as the president of Northern Montana College after his time at Carroll.
The Rev. Thomas O’Donnell eulogized his friend, saying that Frank lived the very essence of Catholic education, melding faith and reason. Quoting the poet T.S. Elliot, O’Donnell said that Frank reminded him of a still point in a turning world.
“The last word is God’s word,” O’Donnell said.
In a celebration of the man and his faith, mourners took Holy Communion at Tuesday’s noon mass, sharing comfort in scripture and hymns as they comforted each other. As they filed onto the cathedral’s steps, bells rang across Helena. Afterward, they joined at a place Frank loved, Carroll College, for a reception in his honor.
Frank made a major impact on higher education, serving as the chairman of the board of the Council of Independent Colleges, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Northern Commission of Colleges. To have that representation for tiny Carroll College in Helena is a testament to Frank’s ability, said Carroll president Tom Evans.
“People in higher education know Carroll through Frank Kerins, and that’s a great way for them to know us,” he said. “And I’m blessed to have known him.”
Frank served during two of the most significant times in Carroll’s history, Evans said. He was the first Carroll president that was not a priest, and also brought the college through the 1989 train explosion that heavily damaged a residence hall and canceled classes for two weeks.
“I think it was heartbreaking for him to see a place he loved so much like that,” said Candace Cain, senior director of development and stewardship, who first met Frank as a student at Carroll. “He basically charged us to do our very best so the campus could get ready to get back to work.”
Cain graduated in 1982 before taking her first position at Carroll in 1984. She remembers Frank as a kind man, an exceptional scholar with an incredible smile who became a mentor.
“I feel like I’ve lost a very dear friend who left a legacy of excelling at Carroll,” Cain said. “It’s wonderful to know how much he loved this institution.”
Math and engineering professor Terry Mullen recalled the train explosion as well and how Frank became a central figure in Carroll’s healing. Frank had announced his retirement, but went to work immediately to bring the Carroll community together.
“That’s probably my biggest memory of him, addressing the whole college and rallied and assured us,” Mullen said.
Friend and colleague Ed Jasmin remembered Kerins as a humble man who was invested in the Helena community.
“He was just a super guy, not a flashy guy, but people in Helena loved Frank,” he said. “He did a lot in building the school, and it's come a long, long way, and he set the building blocks.”
Frank’s son, Frank Kerins Jr., said that family was his mother, Mary, and late father’s main priority.
“They’re both wonderful at keeping in contact with family,” he said. “His kids and grandkids know he was a great man and fantastic dad and for us that’s what he was first.”
As a college president, Frank had to travel quite a bit, his son said, and he believed strongly in vocation and avocation for Catholic education.
His father had the uncanny talent of making brilliant speeches off the top of his head, which included quoting poetry from memory, he said.
“They (speeches) always ended with, ‘Be thankful for what you have and mindful of the needs of others,’” Frank Jr. said. “He just understood how the world works and that we’re on earth to take care of others. He was a good man.”