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When the Blakemans learned they were about to become first time parents, they shared the news with family, a few friends and a special someone who always had a way of making them smile. BLAKEMAN were in 2010 at St. John’s Chapel on campus.

“I will never forget the way that Monsignor Ketcham made every attendee feel welcome and included, Catholic and non Catholic alike,” says Katie, Champaign County’s circuit clerk. “Friends who had fallen away from the church remarked that if they had had a priest like Monsignor Ketcham years ago, they would never have left. It was a beautiful and very special day, and it is the way I will always remember him.”

The popular priest who from 2006 to 2014 served as St. John’s chaplain and director of the Newman Foundation is on a lot of people’s minds these days.

Just before the holidays, it was announced that he had been placed in hospice care, a year and a half after sharing with his parish in Bloomington that he had been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Since that first visit to the MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston, the 50 year old Ketcham had been providing regular updates on a special page on St. Patrick Church of Merna’s website, but the news turned less hopeful lately.

In August, he thanked everyone for their prayers, cards and texts, which his sisters had been answering since he could no longer text or write. Then, in December, came the hospice news, posted by the Rev. DUSTIN SCHULTZ: “Fr. Greg and his family are much at peace, and though Fr. Greg does continue to struggle and get worse, the Lord continues to give them the grace they need. On behalf of Fr. Greg and his family, I thank you for all your love, support and prayers.”

There are plenty of the latter, coming from fellow clergy and others the monsignor touched.

After being ordained in 1994, Ketcham was assigned to be parochial vicar at three churches in western Illinois. Among his parishioners then was a young LEE BROKAW, who would cross paths with his childhood priest years later, when he transferred to the University of Illinois and joined a group of his Nabor House Fraternity brothers at Sunday Mass.

He remembers high tailing it back home right after Mass, “to avoid signing up for extra activities at Newman.”

But one Sunday, Brokaw got separated from the group, leaving enough time for Ketcham to approach, ask how his year was going and then, “without wasting too much time, he introduced me to a FOCUS missionary.”

One thing led to another, and before he knew it, Brokaw himself was on a path to priesthood.

“Monsignor Ketcham was the first priest to propose to me that I could be called to be a priest, even though I had never considered it as an ag econ major and planned to work in agribusiness and return to the family farm,” says Brokaw, who was ordained last May and now serves as parochial vicar at Champaign’s St. Matthew Parish. “He encouraged me to pray, and he encouraged me to not only live my faith myself but to share it with those in Nabor House and the people I hung around regularly. He is a virtuous man and incredible priest.”

One of The Rev. LUKE SPANNAGEL’s favorite homily openings is one he has heard Ketcham give a time or three:

“He would start by saying: ‘I’ll never forget my first love. She was amazing. Beautiful. Fast.’ He would go on a bit and made it sound like it was his first girlfriend. Then he would finish by saying it was his first car.”

Spannagel hopes to pay Ketcham a visit today. The two share a special connection: Now the pastor at Urbana’s St. Patrick’s, Spannagel succeeded Ketcham at St. John’s and as chaplain of the Illini football team.

Former UI quarterback EDDIE McGEE, now a Connecticut based content producer for ESPN’s “E:60” program, remembers Ketcham for his kindness, passion and genuineness.

“Yes, that can be a typical compliment, but it really is a perfect description because he truly embodied those qualities,” he says.

TRISTAN PISARCZYK, director of operations and finance at the Newman Center, still uses a Ketcham ism at the start of every UI school year:

“When training the RAs at Newman Hall about our mission, he always told them, ‘When people leave here, regardless of their faith background, they should say those are the kindest, most warm and loving people I’ve ever met.'”
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