Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bay Area Book Tour 2018: Friendship, Music and the Berkes Family

Saturday, September 8

When I was at St. Monica Parish in Moraga in the 1990s, we had a succession of good people who served as youth minister until I eventually said Yes to the job. Through all the changes, there was one constant: Andy Berkes, an enthusiastic teenager who grew up to be a remarkable young man. We could always rely on Andy to lead prayer at our weekly youth group meetings or take charge of the ice breaker. He was a natural leader at our annual summer workcamps where we helped build or repair homes in struggling neighborhoods around the country. We stayed in touch over the years and it came as no surprise to me when Andy decided to study theology at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis and became a youth minister himself. He eventually went into a career as a teacher at Catholic high schools. 

In the early 2000s, Andy shared with me his joy in finding his soulmate Unni Elizabeth, and they asked if I could provide the music at their wedding liturgy. How could I say No? Their wedding in San Bernardino was one of my highlights of that decade as I shared in that special day with their family and friends. 

Our lives unfolded in divergent paths but we followed each other on Facebook. Jesse Manibusan and I even did a concert at their parish in St. Louis back in the mid-2000s. Eventually, Andy and Unni resettled back in Moraga and I so enjoyed their annual Christmas photo cards as I saw their three children growing up with each passing year. As I planned for my 2018 Bay Area book tour, I knew I had to make time to visit with the Berkes family. 

I rang the doorbell of their Moraga condo and was greeted enthusiastically by Andy and Unni’s two smiling daughters, Sarita and Sonali. I immediately saw in them their father’s endearing personality. Inside, Daniel was warming up on his clarinet. The three children are budding instrumentalists and they were planning to treat me with a concert. How delightful! 

I was very impressed with the kids’ musicianship. Daniel and Sarita have great tone on their clarinet and flute. Sonali played her piano lessons well and she has a commendable sense of good beat and timing for someone so young. I predict these children will go far as musicians if they stick with it. Then it was my turn. Their parents asked me to play piano and I obliged with some Scott Joplin ragtime, and Sonali kept watching my fingers. We eventually sang my song, “Fly Like a Bird” that I composed while I was youth minister at St. Monica. The kids and their mom sang along and it was a very moving experience. 

As we munched on appetizers, Andy shared with me the challenges and joys of teaching religion at De La Salle, a Catholic boys high school in Concord. Some of the students are obviously only trying to meet a course requirement, but then there are those who are actively engaged and show deep interest in their faith and in what’s happening in the Church today. It was a thoughtful conversation and it did my heart good to see how far this young man had come since our youth group days at St. Monica Parish. 

Then the doorbell rang and Unni’s family walked in to join us for dinner. Her parents and other relatives made the decision to move to Moraga from San Bernardino so they could be with the grandchildren. Andy’s parents also live in Moraga, so the kids have the joy of living in close proximity with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. God has deeply blessed this remarkable family! 

Unni’s father, Dr. Joseph Malancharuvil, is also an author, so we had a lot in common as we shared how we do our craft. He gifted me with his latest book, The Spirit of Joy. I have already started reading it. Very insightful and enjoyable! 

The home cooked dinner was delicious and I truly cherished spending this wonderful evening with Andy and Unni’s family. Thank you, dear friends! 

Andy and Unni are also involved in the ministries of liturgy and faith formation at their parish, St. Perpetua in Lafayette. We are in preliminary discussion about the possibility of my giving a workshop at their parish after the New Year. I will look forward to that! 


  1. Ken, it was such an honor to have you over for dinner and so fun to watch the kids share their music with you and connect that to all that you do in your music ministry! Introducing you to the whole family was such a gift. What a great night we had playing music and singing and sharing! We so look forward to seeing you again and deeply appreciate your offer to help us with our new band at Saint Perpetua! Your friendship all these years is such a blessing in our lives!!

  2. Ken, it was such a blessing to have you come over and sing with us, dine with us, and share great memories! I'm so glad we have stayed in touch over these years and I'm truly blessed to know you!!!

  3. Unni and Andy, thanks again for a truly memorable evening together. Your family is such a joy! I look forward to seeing you all again. God bless!