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Memories of a Craftsman, Educator, Priest

June 16, 2016

At first glance, they look like disciples in a boat.Noah's Ark sailboat

But a closer look reveals a story nearly lost in Viatorian lore: of seminarians working under the direction of then Br. Kenneth Yarno, CSV, to build a sailboat.

“I don’t think we were thinking about discipleship,” quips Fr. John Milton, CSV. “We were thinking about fun.”

They called their boat, Noah’s Ark, and they built it out of wood from dismantled telephone booths. A discarded wooden railing from the chapel at the Province Center, provided the mast.

Br. Kenneth Yarno, taking the reigns of the tiller and mainsail

Br. Kenneth Yarno, taking the reigns of the tiller and mainsail

Br. Yarno, who had a master’s degree in industrial arts and had always been good with his hands, led the project. He passed away June 8 after suffering a stroke.

Signs of his handiwork remain throughout the Chicago Province — from the auditorium at Saint Viator High School — where he oversaw its reconstruction after a fire in 1968 — to the baptismal font at St. George Parish in Bourbonnais, to the many clocks at the Viatorian Province Center which he built.

However, the story of the boat nearly vanished.

Sailing Noah's Ark on the waters of Pistakee Bay offered seminarians a breath of fresh air during their seminary years

Sailing Noah’s Ark on the waters of Pistakee Bay offered seminarians a breath of fresh air during their seminary years

According to his classmates, Br. Yarno sent away for design plans, and they worked  on it during the mid-1950s, in the large garage at the former Viatorian seminary in Evanston, IL.

“It was ingenious how he pictured creating a boat out of telephone booths,” says one of the former seminarians who helped in the effort, Fr. James Michaletz, CSV. “But he was a master craftsman.”

They launched their boat in 1958, while spending parts of their summers at the Viatorian Retreat House located on Pistakee Bay in McHenry, IL.

Those seminarians would go on to become high school administrators and college professors, but they still cherish the leisurely time spent together in their boat.

In Fr. Yarno’s case, he would retreat to the edge of the water, for picnics and fishing, throughout his ministry and even in his final days, a friend took him to one of his favorite places: to the lake.