Selflessness Was His Vocation, Friends Say

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 2, 2007

Even to those who saw him every day, Ken Jacques could be something of a holy mystery. He had the qualities of a saint and was a memorable, often inspirational presence in the lives of those who knew him, many people say. He was well-informed about politics, baseball and theology, and he seemed to be everywhere that people were in need.

For more than 35 years, Jacques worked for little or no money to improve the plight of the homeless in Washington. He was a nighttime supervisor at shelters, he distributed food to the poor and he volunteered all over the city.

"That was his vocation," said Dave Christian, who met Jacques at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown. "He was steady, he was focused, he was modest, he was reliable, he was ubiquitous."

Jacques attended Holy Trinity several times a week and was co-chairman of its social justice committee. He also went to a weekly Bible study at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in the District and counseled friends through divorces and other problems.

He rode his bicycle throughout the city and knew the bus schedule down to the minute. He loved baseball, particularly his hometown Detroit Tigers.

Everyone knew these things about Ken Jacques when he died Aug. 4 of congestive heart failure at George Washington University at 62. Five days later, hundreds of mourners, including priests and the homeless, filled Holy Trinity for his funeral.

As people began to share stories about Jacques, they discovered how little they really knew about him. With his selfless devotion to others, he had all but erased the outlines of his own life.

Ed Guinan, who met him in 1971 at the Newman Catholic Student Center at George Washington University, knew him longer than anyone else in Washington.

"I don't know where he lived or how he made his living," Guinan said.

Jacques never married and was not known to have had a romantic relationship with anyone. One friend, Jo Owen, once asked him how he earned his money.

"He'd just smile and say, 'How do you get your money?' He'd never answer. He'd always pivot and parry."

Kenneth Richard Jacques was born in Detroit, the oldest of five children. He was nicknamed Mickey, after Tigers catcher Mickey Cochrane. He attended Catholic schools, was an altar boy and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Detroit, a Jesuit college. He edited the university's yearbook as a freshman.

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