January 14, 2016 — Father Marvin C. Kitten, SJ, died January 12 at Opelousas General Hospital in Opelousas, Louisiana. He was 84 years old, a Jesuit for 62 years and a priest for 50 years. As vocation promoter and director, his impact on his Jesuit province will be felt for years to come, as many Jesuits entered the Society of Jesus after discerning with Fr. Kitten. His funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, January 23 at St. Charles College Chapel in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, with visitation one hour beforehand. Burial will be in the Jesuit Cemetery at St. Charles College.
The son and grandson of cotton farmers, Fr. Kitten was born in Slaton, Texas, on March 13, 1931. He graduated from Cooper Rural High in Lubbock in 1948 and earned a B.S. in mathematics at Texas Technological College in Lubbock in 1952. He entered the former New Orleans Province of the Society of Jesus on July 30, 1953, at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau. Following first vows, he studied humanities in Grand Coteau and philosophy at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, earning his M.A. in philosophy in 1959. He earned a bachelor of sacred theology at St. Mary’s College in St. Marys, Kansas, in 1967. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 7, 1965, at St. Joseph’s Church in Mobile. He pronounced his final vows on February 2, 1971, at Dallas Jesuit College Preparatory.
Fr. Kitten served for 12 years at Jesuit College Preparatory in Dallas (1967-79) first as a teacher of theology, then as a counselor. He then moved to Strake Jesuit College Prep in Houston as a counselor (1979-85). In both high schools, he was tremendously effective in his work with the students. When New Orleans Provincial Father Edmundo Rodríguez, SJ, received a request from St. Mary’s Parish Student Center in College Station, Texas, for a Jesuit who could assist with their campus ministry at Texas A&M, he made what he later called “probably one of the best long-range decisions that I have made as provincial” and sent Fr. Kitten to Texas A&M. Fr. Kitten’s ministry there (1986-91) was hugely successful: not only was he beloved by the students, but there are a number of Jesuits in the Central and Southern Province who trace their vocations back to his influence there.
Fr. Kitten was a natural as vocations director and served in that capacity for the New Orleans Province for 16 years (1991-2007). While he was always eager and happy to invite men to Jesuit life, he saw his role as one not of recruiting but of helping with discernment. When his time as vocation director came to an end, after a sabbatical, he became part of the campus ministry team at Spring Hill College in Mobile. Once again, he connected easily with students and staff, even as he moved into his 80s.
Last fall, after celebrating his Golden Jubilee as a priest, due to fragile health following surgery, he was missioned to the St. Alphonsus Rodríguez Pavilion in Grand Coteau.
Fr. Kitten had the gift of making each person feel special and a remarkable memory that allowed him to recall many details even after many years. No one can recall ever finding him too busy to pay attention. He was a gifted teacher, one who could make things easily understandable and interesting. He had prodigious energy. The heart of his approach might be summed up in his own words: “You don’t sit in a closed environment and ring the bell and think that they’re going to come to you. You meet them where they are. And if you have a vision that’s attractive, chances are they’ll notice it.” And notice it they did.
Fr. Kitten was preceded in death by his parents, August A. Kitten and Helen Strube Kitten; and his brothers, Wilfred, A.J., and Calvin Kitten. He is survived by his brother Clarence H. Kitten. We remember with gratitude all that God has done through Fr. Kitten’s life of service to God and God's people.