Father Ted Kennedy
St Vincent's Redfern 1971 - 2002
A compilation of reflections by Community members presented to Ted Kennedy on his retirement as parish priest of the St Vincent's Catholic Church in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern.
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Fr Ted Kennedy

Reflections 1
Reflections 2
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Reflections 4
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Visitors since 12 April 2004
  Church Mouse

I came to St Vincent's Church in the early 1990s. An important reason for going was that I had been living around Redfern for a number of years and, while interacting with Aboriginal beggars on the comer of Lawson Street, I hadn't really talked with any Aborigines or developed any friendships.

It made me feel uncomfortable that there should be such a gap between my opposition to racism and this inability to find a bridge to communicate on a personal basis. I heard that the church was a place where I could meet Aborigines and talk.

I felt very uncomfortable going to the church. I hadn't been to a church for about thirty years and I was not expecting a good experience.

The first thing I noticed was the beggars at the gate. I felt confronted by their presence; not offended, just made embarrassingly aware that possessing an analysis of racism meant nothing when individual relationship was what was required.

Inside the church I observed the ceremony and noted how simple and genuine it seemed. Then Ted Kennedy began his sermon. The ABC documentary Cop It Sweet had just been shown on TV and he began to speak about it. I was expecting some kind of mealy-mouthed, priestly whitewash of the cops.

Instead he let loose on them, denounced their racism, and listed, in detail, racist crimes that he knew of that the Redfern police had committed. I was amazed. I remember thinking to myself, “This is a place that I can come to”.

My experience of attending that church was like a multi-faceted diamond. There were the friendships that I developed with many different Aboriginal people. Many of them were street living heroin addicts and alcoholics. My life has been deeply enriched by those friendships. I could not count the number of times that I had profoundly moving, deeply spiritual conversations with these people. I have learnt more about the Spirit of God from those people than I have ever learnt from any priest.

There have been many moments at St Vincent's when the Spirit was so thick in the church that the air was charged. One time was when Tommy and Dicko, the leaders of the Black Theatre Mob of street drinkers, took over the running of midnight Mass one Christmas. They were completely drunk but they brought forth the Spirit in a way that to this day brings tears to my eyes.

At the church we attend currently there is a strictly organized, hierarchical order in which communion is served out. At St Vincent's Ted would bless the elements and put them on the altar. Whoever felt called would walk up and distribute the bread and wine. Some weeks it was children, sometimes an elderly white matron would be standing next to an Aboriginal alcoholic or junkie. Whatever happened was an expression of the Spirit.

At the end of Mass Ted would sit down and parishioners would get up to speak. Sometimes it was formal announcements but often it was people just talking about ideas they had or reflections on current events. All were heard and respected.

Annolies’ and my wedding was a product of the St Vincent’s experience. We printed invitations for about fifty people with a message on the bottom for them to bring anyone we had forgotten. They also said to bring a plate for a shared meal after the ceremony. About 300 people turned up and crowded the church. People spontaneously took charge of organising the food and greeting at the door and all the rest. We conducted the ceremony ourselves. It was a wonderful event.

St Vincent's is still special to me and it always will be. The beggars at the gate who know that they own the church taught me more than I can convey. It's a simple church that is more interested in the reality of the Sprit than the formalities of the Church.

by Barry Healy


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