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Remembering Kevin Jeans Gail, champion of Catholic social action

Posted by | Catholic Charities Communications

A man who responded to tragedy with love supports Catholic Charities of Oregon in a final act

A prominent Catholic community organizer who cared fiercely about Catholic social teaching has included Catholic Charities of Oregon in his estate bequest.

Kevin Jeans Gail, who helped begin a coalition of churches to address poverty in North and Northeast Portland, died Dec. 26 at age 71 after a stroke.

Jeans Gail was a study in resilience.

A member of St. Rose of Lima, The Madeleine, St. Ignatius and Immaculate Heart parishes at different times in his life, he was an energetic community organizer tapped by local churches when they wanted to improve life in North and Northeast Portland. Jeans Gail was key to the start of the Portland Organizing Project, which attacked urban blight and sought jobs and justice for residents. The organization later expanded and became the Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good.

Jeans-Gail was on the committee of the annual Tobin Lecture, which explores Catholic social teaching. He also was active in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which provides grants to organizations that not only get at the roots of poverty but include low-income people in leadership and decisions.

Later, Jeans Gail was the chief of staff for Jim Francesconi when Francesconi was a city commissioner and mayoral candidate.

Jeans Gail lost his wife Victoria and 24-year-old daughter Kate in 2003 when the two died in a car crash in icy conditions while enroute to Bend for a family birthday party.

Victoria worked organizing improvements for schools and was a trained spiritual director. Kate, a whip-smart graduate of St. Mary’s Academy and Smith College, had worked with Mother Teresa of Kolkata’s sisters.

Kevin Jeans Gail

Jeans Gail’s sons were 16 and 21 at the time of the accident. He raised them the rest of the way on his own.

He later remarried and founded the Portland Workforce Alliance, which connects local high school youths with businesses to gain job experience.

In 2017, at a family reunion on the East Coast, the athletic Jeans Gail went swimming in the Atlantic but was caught in a riptide that swept him outward then inward and crashed his body ashore awkwardly, paralyzing him below the shoulders. He relied on a ventilator to live.

In 2022, he lost his second wife, Sue Brent, to cancer.

Jesuit Father Peter Byrne presided at Jeans Gail’s funeral Jan. 26 at St. Rose of Lima Church in Portland. The priest said Jeans Gail lived on a sacred path with the Hebrew prophets and their “fierce insistence on justice and compassion and mercy.”

Kevin Jeans Gail listens to student Luis Soto speak during a 2017 event for the Portland Workforce Alliance, a youth job program Jeans Gail founded after the death of his wife and daughter.

Father Byrne marveled that Jeans Gail endured suffering with grace and even warmth. Even as he was dying, Jeans Gail sent cards of thanks and encouragement to friends and colleagues.

“Why and how did Kevin’s heart not turn to stone, become hard and bitter, given his sacrifices?” Father Byrne said. “How did his heart remain so supple and tender and caring and grateful and supportive of so many of us here?”

Father Byrne concluded that sometimes a crack in a heart lets out a lot of light.

Jeans Gail was a longtime active donor to Catholic Charities even up until months before his death.

Watch Jeans Gail’s Jan. 26 funeral Mass here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=epxuJYh4QCM