first came to Redfern on Trinity Sunday. I think the
year was 1981. We had recently moved to Sydney,
were living in West
a fair way from Redfern, and had attended Mass at various
parishes near where we lived.
this particular Sunday, having heard of Ted Kennedy
and Redfern, we decided to go there. I saw a man who
was older than I expected but whose voice was strong
enough to fill the church. When it was time for the
sermon, I sat back and remember thinking that after
nearly ten years of theological training, I could practically
predict what Ted was going to say. "Today is the Feast
of the Holy Trinity," said Ted. He took off his glasses
and dangled them from his fingers. "I think there are
solid theological reasons," he continued, "for abolishing
this feast". I sat bolt upright and listened for ten
minutes of theological reflection that was both scholarly
and earthy, that seemed to come bubbling up from the
streets outside, the people who walked them and the
experience of the man who had spent the best part of
his life serving them. Ten years of theological training
shrank into more realistic perspective.
the next couple of decades, I couldnít count the number
of times Ted cracked open the Scriptures to reveal layers
of meaning that I had never encountered. His insight
came from the being at the point of contact where the
Good News was confronted by the reality of the lives
of poor people. Ted it was who made me understand that
people who are the edges of society, marginalised, demeaned,
impoverished, excluded, hear the Gospel in ways that
the rest of us do not, and cannot. We cannot gain this
insight, not because we are not sincere, but because
we are not poor. And "poor" can include all those who
suffer deeply. Hence shutting ourselves off from actual
face to face contact with "poor" people can mean shutting
ourselves off from a large part of the meaning of the
Gospel, the good news, the message of Christ. That was
a challenging message for me, working as I did for an
overseas aid organisation, and taking pride in the belief
that I was doing something about poverty without ever
having to encounter it. Coming to Mass at Redfern continued
to be a challenge. Ted always used to say that the Gospel
was about "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the
comfortable". I was comfortable, and I felt afflicted
more than once.
know from speaking to others who went regularly to Redfern
that I wasnít the only one who experienced something
like this. I kept coming back because I knew it was
important for me to hear that message, and because I
could see it little by little changing me. You couldnít
help but be changed at Redfern. On any given Sunday,
the place was full of people who had lived, were living,
the most extraordinary lives. Many had known Ted for
decades Ė since his days as a University chaplain. Others
were more recent arrivals. Some were aboriginal people,
but the majority were not. Occasionally one or another
would speak of what they were doing or what they believed
or what they had experienced. It was a humbling, privileged
experience to be part of such a community and, having
moved away from Sydney,
I miss it a lot.
the time I was attending Redfern, I began to write songs,
often with a social justice theme, and usually laced
with humour. Ted was very encouraging and invited me
to present some of these songs from time to time after
I eventually wrote a couple about Ted and about Redfern,
and I append these to this reflection. They may convey
more of my feeling than the reflection itself!
song for Ted Kennedy on the occasion of the fortieth
anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood
all you good Catholics whose faith is unshaken
come here each Sunday to Redfern to Mass,
we sit here digesting our eggs and our bacon,
thank the good Lord it has all come to pass.
itís now forty years since Tedís ordination,
those forty years have been interesting times,
Iím singing this song as a small celebration
I wonít let the facts interfere with the rhymes.
teaching, for speeching for pastoral preaching
making the Cardinal toss in his bed
no priest in the nation with such dedication
shaking foundations as our Father Ted.
the suburb of Marrickville early one morning
Kennedy first saw the light of the day.
Dad was a doctor whose patients were poor
he never sent bills they werenít able to pay.
Ted he grew up and he studied at Manly,
raced through the course like an athlete in trim.
they thought they had trained him, the bishop ordained
said, "Thatís the last weíll be hearing from him!"
they needed a chaplain to work at the Uni
Tedís name came up, they said "OK heíll do."
made it a station of life and cognation
anticipation of Vatican
when he went off for a well-earned vacation
hijacked his work and they put up a sign:
chaplaincy zone is for Catholics only Ė
sinners, no thinkers, no dogs and no wine!"
Ted came to Redfern and soon turned the presbytery
a hostel for those with no bed
tried to suggest to the powers that be
the place should belong to the Kooris instead.
how could they make such a frivolous gesture
other demands are so urgently roused?
canít give things away when you might have to pay
million or more for your school and your house.
thank God weíre here on this happy occasion,
thank God for those who were here and are gone,
thank God for Ted, for his heart and his head
his words here at Redfern now forty years on.
else can you hear liberation theology
from the pulpit and practiced as well?
else are there sermons that donít make you squirm
that donít mention building funds, bingo or hell?
of a Sunday celebration at St
Redfern in 1995.
Sunday morningís here again,
from Ryde to RozelleBay
deciding how theyíll spend the day,
theyíll go and what theyíll do -
to the mountains, go to the Zoo
for Bondi Ė thatís the ticket,
just stay home and watch the cricket.
to the Aquarium, see a shark,
the big dipper at Luna Park,
Paddyís Market Ė
can drive your car there, but youíll never park it.)
Sundays usually start off slow,
I always know where Iím going to go.
like the day to start with a treat,
I go to Mass at Redfern
Mass at Redfern
miss, donít miss, donít miss Mass at Redfern!
you meet all kinds of people here
come from far and they come from near
Normanhurst and Cammeray
and Leichhardt too.
comes up from Burrawang,
thereís Eileen and all her gang
Rhonda, Harold, Sam Ė
thereís Angela pushing a pram.
and Dot and Marnie K -
all belong to RSCJ,
and David, saying "peace"
Barry, Diana and Annolies,
and Maggie, Kathy, Dan,
whoís that down there behind your backs?
can only see his hat Ė oh, itís Uncle Max!
we have all kinds of celebrations,
and weddings, funerals, wakes,
once a month thereís tea and cakes
like no church youíve been before,
a cricket match going on outside the door
kids all running round, being human
Ted, quoting from Cardinal Newman
John Shaw Neilson or Thomas Aquinas,
a hundred others, plus or minus.
the only Sydney Church that features
from women preachers
case the Archdiocese raises objections,
donít call them sermons, just "reflections").
give pride of place to Koori people
no support for St Maryís steeples.
Sunday morningís here again,
cold or summerís heat,
go to Mass in Redfern
you get there early with your Sunday missal
have you up to read the epistle
blow the whistle, or say the dismissal.
we go home now, Mum?
a moment, darling, it wonít be long
man with the beardís going to sing another song)