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‘It is my reason for being, for living’

April 15, 2020

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff Writer

MALONE – St. Thomas Aquinas and Hollywood appear to have something in common: Jimi Kohler.

For 30 years, Kohler worked 12-hour days, six days a week, as a chief lighting technician in the movie industry. These days, though, his focus is very different. Echoing Aquinas, he explains: “I have, we all have, ‘an invitation to the ineffable banquet.’ That’s what draws me here.”

“Here” is St. André Bessette Parish. Each day Kohler quietly and faithfully spends several hours performing the duties of sacristan: setting up for Mass, clearing the altar after Mass, keeping the sacred vessels clean and polished.

Kohler is also privileged to care for the monstrance, and for the altar before and after daily Adoration.

“This is an overwhelming blessing for me to be so close to the Tabernacle,” he explains. “And of course, spending this time in Church also gives me plenty of time for prayer. I’m in love with God, with the Church, with all of it. That’s why I do what I do.”

Kohler is quick to point out that his life did not always look like this, though his faith story did have a promising beginning. Born in Hollywood, California, and raised in that area, Kohler credits his “devout Catholic parents” with having sent him and his siblings to Catholic grade school and later to Sunday school.

“This was an important formative time for me,” he recalls. “With 35 nuns and seven priests on campus, the faith surrounded us constantly. Mass and Benediction were a regular part of school life, along with Sunday Mass with our parents. This really taught me my faith. I thank God and my parents that they made me a Catholic.”

After two years of college, Kohler went to work in Hollywood.

“I had grown up working with my dad, who owned an electrical contracting business,” he relates, “so I had plenty of experience with lighting and electrical codes. And there was plenty of work: movies, TV, videos, commercials, we did them all. I was a gaffer, a lighting director. I even had a chair with my name on it.”

The demanding work and the glamorous socializing that went with the job exacted a high price.

“I was a self-described ‘bad boy’ for a long time,” Kohler said. “And I put my faith on the back burner while life was so busy.”

Then everything changed in an instant. After three decades in Hollywood, Kohler had a terrible accident on the job. Devastating injuries left him with multiple health issues, unable to work again. Then, having lost so much, he began at last to recover his faith.

“My parents’ funerals really brought me back,” recalls Kohler, “especially my mom’s. At her funeral, I asked the priest if I could receive Communion. He reminded me that I would need to go to confession first, which really started me thinking.”

The homecoming process continued when Kohler moved to Malone in 2002 to be near his brother and family.

“I started coming Sundays to Mass, and soon it was all days of the week,” he said. “Faith was a gift my parents had shared with me, and I wasn’t going to let them down. Above all, I did not want to let God down. I wanted to make up for lost time. And I rediscovered the truths of our faith, learning again that the Eucharist is the Food of life, given for us by Jesus. I found the joy of those 15 minutes after Communion, when God’s presence is strongest in your heart. What a gift!”

In addition to the Eucharist, Kohler treasures his daily prayer, especially the Rosary, and reading the saints.

“Thomas Aquinas has always been special to me, since he was the patron of our parish and school when I was growing up,” he said. “But once I began reading about him, and using his book of prayers, my appreciation really deepened. He has prayers for everything, but my favorites are those for Adoration and Communion.”

Another favorite, St. Therese of Lisieux, inspired Kohler toward evangelizing.

“I prayed to her very day for an opportunity,” he relates, “and even brought it up in confession. Two weeks later, it happened. One morning after Mass, on my daily trip to the drugstore, the young cashier whom I saw every day, asked me why I was always smiling. I was awed! I explained that I had just come from Mass, from receiving Jesus. Chelsie wanted to know what it took to be a Catholic, so I invited her to Mass. She came and has never stopped coming. She knew Jesus was present and yearned to receive him. After going through RCIA, Chelsie was baptized, confirmed and received the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil in 2019. What joy! I am still in touch with her, and of course I still pray for her.”

Kohler’s zeal to share the faith continues. “Recently Andre’s Brothers (parish men’s group) prayed a 54-day Rosary novena for the return of Catholics to the faith. I was glad to join this, because I pray non-stop for this intention. I pray constantly for those in need. Sometimes people will ask me about the medals I wear. I don’t push but am more than happy to answer questions and encourage people to come to Church. And God is good to allow me to help the person in front of me any way that I can.”

“My faith means more to me than anything, and it only gets stronger,” Kohler concludes. “It is my reason for being, for living.” If he could tell others how to find what he has found? “Believe! Truly believe. Be in Church as often as you can because God waits for you there. He loves you! There is no finer thing than to be in relationship with God – Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Remember that God can do all things, and that he always hears our prayers. And look to Mary, the human being utterly transformed by God. Her faith and love gave Jesus to the world, and she still gives him to us.”

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