When the Rev. Marvin Mottet thought about the Rev. Joseph Kokjohn — his longtime friend and colleague, a smile crossed his face and his eyes lit up.
“Joy is the echo of God’s life in us,” Mottet said as he sat Thursday in the gathering space at Christ the King Chapel, St. Ambrose University, Davenport.
“Joe had that, and I benefited from it.”
Mottet was among about 100 people who gathered to learn that Kokjohn, who died May 21, 2009, at the age of 80, left a $1 million legacy gift to the university he called home for more than 60 years.
The Rev. Joseph E. Kokjohn Endowment for Catholic Peace and Justice has been established to further the education of St. Ambrose students in the Catholic tradition of peace and justice.
The endowment’s earnings will be used for teaching, research, and activities in areas such as the early church, ecumenical councils and 20th century figures and movements in non-violence.
As the endowment grows, other uses could include funding for workshops and convocations.
Eventually, the endowment will support the establishment of the Kokjohn Chair of Catholic Peace and Justice, a faculty position in theology, philosophy or a related discipline.
“This is a happy day for us,” said Sister Joan Lescinski, president of St. Ambrose.
“Father Kokjohn’s generous and thoughtful legacy gift to the university is truly a gift to all future generations of students who will come to St. Ambrose. The university, as a Catholic institution, holds peace and social justice as core values. So, too, did Father Kokjohn. His endowment enables us to realize these values and our mission more fully.”
She also spoke of a time she was taking a trip, and asked Kokjohn to bless her.
“He said ‘yes, if you’ll bless me,’” she said. “This gift is a part of his continued bless for all of us.”
Kokjohn’s legacy should be inspiration to everybody to support whatever good causes they are involved in, Lescinski said.
“We hope this gift will inspire people to do the same,” she said. “There are so many non-profits that do so much important work in society.”
Among those attending Thursday’s presentation was a large contingent of Kokjohn’s family, including many nieces and nephews.
“He talked about it for several years,” Tom Kokjohn of Appleton, Wis., said of the endowment. “This university is his family. He was a part of it for so many years.”
The Rev. William Dawson said he and Kokjohn were classmates in 1950.
“He was a very close friend all through the years,” Dawson said.
What he remembered most about Kokjohn, he said, was that “he had such a good sense of humor. He could not resist laughing. If something was funny, he couldn’t resist repeating it.”
Mottet remembered when Kokjohn spent a summer at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
“He called and said, ‘I’m going to Notre Dame, and you can use my car during the summer,’” Mottet recalled with a bit of a laugh. “I almost wrecked it.”
Virtually everyone who spoke of Kokjohn on Thursday remembered his love of life, laughter and sense of humor.
That seemed altogether appropriate to his family.
“He could have been anyone’s best friend,” Tom Kokjohn said. “That’s just who he was.”