Joseph James Balko died Saturday, May 21st after he collapsed as he finished a race in the Regional Track and Field Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska. He was 15 years old. While they say “there are saints known only to God,” Joseph is a saint well-known to God and to the Fairbanks community.
Joseph left a legacy of Godly Play story materials that he lovingly made for the Catholic Schools of Fairbanks. When he was just 13 years old, Joseph identified the need for more story materials for his school’s Godly Play program. So Joseph decided to produce the materials as his Eagle Scout project. Because of this gift, Joseph’s loving, faithful spirit lives on through all who now–and all who will–work with the Godly Play story materials he produced.
Joseph became interested in Godly Play when his mother, Kathleen Balko, became a Godly Play storyteller with the help of Godly Play teacher Wendy Anderson. At that time, the Catholic Schools of Fairbanks had only one Godly Play in the preschool. Joseph’s work enabled the school to open another space in the school library which could be used by all teachers and students in the Pre-K through 12th grade school.
In Joseph’s obituary, his father Jim Balko said: “Joseph finished everything he started. He finished Boy Scouts with the rank of Eagle Scout. He finished his freshman year at Monroe Catholic High School with highest honors. And Joseph finished his last race with a time of 13 minutes and 10 seconds.”
Catholic Schools of Fairbanks’ Godly Play mentor Wendy Anderson tells us that “Joseph had an extraordinary faith. His kindness and sunny disposition enriched the lives of those around him, and his work will live on even as he has crossed the threshold to the life beyond.”
With deep gratitude and many prayers for all who guided Joseph spiritually and nurtured his deep, personal relationship with his community and with God, we honor Joseph Balko for his service and his legacy.
May you rest in peace in Christ’s eternal light, Joseph. We thank you for the gifts you have given to this world, and our prayers are with you in the next. Every ending is like a beginning and every beginning is like an ending. This is incredibly sad, and we offer prayers to all who grieve your passing and who grieve the passing of children whose time on earth ended early. But we also know there is an Easter kind of joy to your story.