THOUGHTS ON THE LIFE OF FR. LEONARD KENNEDY:
Eulogy/Homily given Monday, April 5, 2010
during Evening Prayers for the Dead
Chapel, Cardinal Flahiff Basilian Centre
Remembering and celebrating the life of Leonard Kennedy is a daunting task. He moved through the world having a substantive impact on the lives of generations of students; sharing substantively his time and compassion with people from diverse walks of life; finding ways to bring to life a reasoned, systematic approach to a living a faithful life in times of dramatic transformation in the church, in his community, in the world.
Fr. Kennedy was born in England, in 1922 and came to Canada as a young boy. He grew up in Hamilton, in the shadow of steel mills and in the dark years of the great depression. His family was a loving one, giving shape to the man who delighted in the many delights of the world, from candy to musical theatre, who was able to love and care for others simply and honestly because that was what he experienced in his most formative years.
It is easy to focus on Fr. Kennedy’s life in academia. He had a long and distinguished academic career—scholar; professor and administrator—doing well in these often contradictory rolls. Former students of his whom I’ve met spoke of him with fond memories. His scholarly work, most notably on Thomas Aquinas, ended up as required reading. He served as president of Assumption University, Dean of Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, and Vice-Rector of the diocesan seminary in St. Lucia—helping to shape the structures in which formal learning could truly be nourished.
But the sheltered life of academia didn’t completely enfold him. From publishing pamphlet sized summaries of the ideas of Thomas Aquinas that brought ideas out of the classroom into the hands of the broader community to his writing for publications such as Catholic Insight, he actively strived to touch the world and help shape the response of many to current struggles in the faith.
Fr. Kennedy was a compassionate conservative—he cared about the need of people to be valued, encouraged people to think seriously about the decisions they made and the consequences of their decisions on themselves, on those they cared about, on those around them. And yet, despite or perhaps because of, his conservativeness, he was one of those priests who laid the groundwork for the breaking down of generations of barriers that helped to open up the church and permitting it to be a living presence in times of massive transformation. He was ordained before Vatican 2, making a firm commitment to both the church and those it served in a different era and found a way to make sense of, and keep, these vows when his whole world changed.
He didn’t spend much of his life in traditional pastoral work, yet he always strove to find ways to engage in such work as he wove his way through his different formal positions. From offering hospitality to colleagues to providing a quiet ear to many to celebrating mass in parishes short of clergy, he shared with many the ebbs and flows of communal celebrations and personal tragedies. Despite his reserved behaviour and appearance, children genuinely liked him—one doesn’t get called The Good King without reason.
It was hard to see the change in Fr. Kennedy in recent times. When I first met him he was newly retired, had a challenging intellect, could beat me at Scrabble and surprised me (having been told of his conservative nature) with his strong admiration of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker community. On occasion he’d slip theatre tickets my way—from The Magic Flute to Dry Lips Ought to Go to Kapuskating. In more recent times, he became physically frail and less intellectually capable, but he’d still talk about things in ways that surprised me—from Mao to problems in Catholic education. And most recently he laid on a bed, barely present to the world. He had welcomed me into his world in his good times and bad and I am better for it.
Leonard Kennedy was a very stubborn man, one who put up barriers between himself and the world. But whatever barriers he put up, he struggled hard to find a way around them. He wanted to be in community with those who shared his calling, to be a part of his family that nurtured and formed him and to give something to the world that made things better for individuals and society as a whole. His faith was real; his commitment genuine; his love abundant. We’ll miss him.